NYC Popfest 2009: Liechtenstein + The Tartans | Mondo! @ Don Hill’s | 5.15.2009

While Cats on Fire and The Radio Dept. were the main attractions at Friday night's show at Don Hill's, but really the whole bill was pop-solid. Swedish trio Liechtenstein, recent signees to Slumberland, played their first ever American show. Dressed alike in white tops and black skirts, Renée, Naemi and Elin kept banter to a minimum and ran through a set of their best songs so far, including "Apathy," "Roses in the Park," and their best song, "Everything's for Sale." (Which should really be amended to their Slumberland album, but it's not.) The obvious, and most common, comparision is with the Vivian Girls, but where VGs came to their sound somewhat accidentally, it's clear that Liechtenstein are fans of the Shop Assistants, Mo-Dettes, Would-Be Goods, Talulah Gosh, and other C-86 touchstones. They are also are better musicians, though Vivian Girls might have an edge in the tunes department. Melodies and stage presence are a bit chilly, but it's a cool blast nonetheless.

MP3: Liechtenstein – Everything's for Sale
MP3: Liechtenstein – Roses in the Park

Liechtenstein's debut album, Survival Strategies In A Modern World, is out June 9 on Slumberland.
Los Angeles' Tartans, meanwhile, are warm as the California sun. They are cute, dance constantly (on stage and off) and are clearly huge fans/scholars of indiepop, from the glockenspiels and melodicas to their clothes to the great cover of early Go-Betweens single "People Say" they played. I do wish they had more songs that rival their great "Cats of Camerford" 7" but as they've only released two singles so far, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

MP3: The Tartans – The Cats of Camerford

NYC Popfest: The Radio Dept. | Mondo! @ Don Hills | 5.15.2009

Nobody really knew what to expect of enigmatic Swedes The Radio Dept. who were playing their first ever New York show, which was also second-ever show in the United States. There's an air of mystery around the trio — they aren't big on interviews or press photos or playing live in general or releasing records in a timely manner — which fits well with their dreamy, often amazing music. With all the other bands on the bill (Liechtenstein, Cats on Fire, The Tartans), most people's expectations were lowered, kind of amazed that we were actually going to see them play at all.

The verdict: pretty good. Playing drummerless and with a lot less guitar pedals than I was expecting, the band recreated the hazy charm of songs like "1995" and especially "I Don't Like This" the latter of which is from their near-perfect This Past Week EP. The smoke machines and moody lighting kept things mysterious. It sort of reminded me of the Cocteau Twins, who didn't get a drummer till late in their existence. I do wish they'd worked up at least one song with one of the other Popfest bands' rhythm sections, and maybe played one song as a full band — say, "Where the Damage Isn't Already Done" from Lesser Matters — but the laptop percussion and bass sounded pretty good. And loud. You could feel those subfrequencies in your stomach.

The set was short, a "warm-up" for their proper show at The Bell House, and included "Freddy and the Trojan Horse" and, I think, "Pet Grief" and "Why Won't You Talk About It." (I could be wrong about those last two.) The show finished with a new song, perhaps upcoming single "David" (out June 23), which if its thumping, distinctive beat is any indication, the new album will bear a distinct balearic influence. ("Freddy and the Trojan Horse" was already heading that direction.) Maybe they've been hanging at fellow Swedes Studio's studio.

 MP3: The Radio Dept. – I Don't Like This (buy it from Labrador or Emusic)

Frank from Chromewaves make the trek down from Toronto for the show and will probably have a review up Monday or so. Meanwhile, here are a couple more pictures from the show:


NYC Popfest 2009: Cats on Fire | Mondo! @ Don Hill’s | 5.15.2009


"America, your economy is shit." Cats on Fire singer Mattais Björkas was addressing  the NYC Popfest crowd at Don Hill's with grave seriousness. "Our is too of course. And greenhouse gasses are at an all-time high. Of course, that didn't stop us from bringing a suitcase full of Finish bottled water on the airplane with us." Rimshot! It was at this point that I realized I had him figured all wrong. Impeccably dressed and coiffed, prone to pursed lips, I thought he was kind of a sourpuss when the Finnish band played Don Hill's at last year's Popfest.

But last night I got it — he's hilarious. And I don't mean laugh at this person prancing around onstage. Björkas is a genuinely funny guy with a bone-dry wit and tongue planted firmly in cheek. And when not playing guitar, he has the guts to dance onstage the way many of us dance to the Smiths when no one else is at home. The rest of the band are ace, it should be noted, ably replicating the immaculate, arpeggiated pop (think Aztec Camera, Smiths, Felt, Eggstone) found on 2007's The Province Complains and the excellent, just-released Our Temperance Movement. And Cats on Fire are a flat-out great live band, the whole group has chops, and the audience was lapping it up, dancing… well, more of a bob and sway than the geek-out the music really meritted.

MP3: Cats on Fire – Horoscope
MP3: Cats on Fire – Letters from a Voyage in Sweden

If you missed them Friday night, Cats on Fire play Bruar Falls with Swedish trio (and fellow Popfest-ers) Liechtenstein on Tuesday, May 19. I highly recommend you clear your schedule. Our Temperance Movement was just released in the U.S. on Matinee Recordings and if you like the MP3s on this post, you're gonna want to get the whole thing.

I shot video of two songs, which you can watch if you click through the jump…

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NYC Popfest 2009: The Ballet + My Teenage Stride + The Metric Mile + Dream Bitches + Soft City | Cake Shop | 5.14.2009

That's 'Up for a Bit with the Pastels' on the turntable, btw.
The third annual NYC Popfest is happening as we speak. Four days of catchy songs, lovelorn lyrics, "bah bah bah" choruses, mostly polite dancing and vintage clothes. The fun kicked off Thursday night at New York's most indie-pop centric venue, Cake Shop, with a stellar lineup of local talent some of whom I've seen before, some not. It was more like a party than a show, everyone seemed to know one another, and it was the kind of event where the DJ played songs like The Pastels' "Comin' Through" or Orange Juice's "Felcity" and they get the kind of crowd reaction that T.I. or Justin Timberlake (or Justin Timberlake featuring T.I.) might get in a Westside club. 

My Teenage Stride

Best band of the night was My Teenage Stride who seem to shed members after each Popfest performance. Last year, they lost a bassist and guitarist. Tonight was MTS' final show with longtime drummer Brett Whitmoyer, and frontman Jed Smith seems genuinely broken up about it. "New York is a shitty place for bands,' he admitted to the crowd before clarifying, "Well, a shitty place for bands to try and make it." It's especially shitty, as My Teenage Stride are at a creative peak if you ask me, with their current string of monthly Emusic singles being some of the best stuff they've done to date. They played their May single, which has yet to actually drop and the name of which I missed, and it rivals "Creep Academy" for awesomeness. (I shot video of it, which is below.) They'll have to rebound quickly, though, as their next gig is Monday night at The Bell House.

MP3: My Teenage Stride – Creep Academy

Dreambitces Second place honors go to Dream Bitches who I'd never seen live and likely never will again as this was supposedly their last show. Too bad, as they were great, sounding more than a little like '90s DC band Tuscadero, with a similar girl-centric POV. Maybe not the most original band, but they do it really well — the harmonies, the attitude, the humor. And it's not like Tuscadero are doing it anymore. Nor Dream Bitches, either. Who'll step up and fill their shoes? Should be noted that Dream Bitches had the most fervent, ready-to-dance fans. One last hurrah.

MP3: Dream Bitches – Video Games

Metricmile This was the first gig for The Metric Mile in at least a year if not more, marking their transition from a keyboard/guitar duo to a five-piece, including current My Teenage Stride's Jenny Logan on guitar and onetime Mahogany member Roy Stiles on "minimalist drums." They haven't quite worked out, exactly, how to pull off their Trembling Blue Stars-esque studio creations in a live setting as a full-on band, and there were some technical difficulties but when it came together there were some really nice moments. Singer Jeff Ciprioni is a good guitarist and I'm a sucker for that kind of spindly lead that intertwines with the bass. Hopefully they'll start writing as a band too which should make things more interesting. 

MP3: The Metric Mile – How to Beat the SAT

Theballet The Ballet got a fair amount of blog coverage a couple years ago and got some pretty choice opening slots (Hidden Cameras, Voxtrot) but they've sort of faded away since then, to the point that I kind of forgot I knew who they were and that they had some really good songs, sonically somwhere between The Magnetic Fields and The Postal Service. Glad to see their still around, or back, whichever the case may be. Live, though, they aren't much to watch and by the time their headling slot came around I was kind of beat. 

MP3: The Ballet – In My Head

Thesoftcity Backtracking a bit, I missed openers Knight School but I've seen them before and like them. I got there just in time to catch the live debut of The Soft City who put out a nice single on Cloudberry Records back in 2007. Since then the band have taken a new direction with founding member Phil Sutton (who spent time in Velocette and Comet Gain) taking a backseat, literally, to the drum stool, handing over vocal duties to Dora Lubin. Was surprised to see Ladybug Transistor/Crystal Stilts keyboardist and all-around funnyman Kyle Forrester on bass, an instrument he seemed to be fairly skilled at. Very jingle-jangle guitar pop, not unlike later period Velocity girl. They seemed to have it pretty together for a first gig. It does seem a waste to only have Ludin sing, as Sutton's got a nice voice too. But we'll see where the second gig takes them.

MP3: < a href="">The Soft City – Wallflower

Video from the show after the jump!

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