Popfest NYC: Cats on Fire | Don Hill’s | 6.13.2008

Catsonfire_donhills Scandinavians are made of different stuff than us Americans. Cats on Fire singer Mattias Björkas looks like he was gene-spliced from equal parts Low-era David Bowie, James Dean, and Morrissey. His look was perfect, from the boots and perfectly rolled jeans to the ascot and perfectly jelled hair. I was sort of mesmerized by his hair, I'm not sure why.

Cat's
on Fire's music is just as immaculate. A delicate — though sometimes
speedy — jangle with occasional country flourishes (and a love of
Motown), it's the perfect soundtrack for biking in the countryside, or
walking through the park. And you can dance to it… in an indie-pop
kind of way. It's hard not to bop along to rediculously catchy songs like "Draw in the Reins," "I am the White-Mantled King" and "Higher Grounds." I'm pretty sure this is the first Finnish band I've ever seen (here's hoping The Dø make it this way soon, though) and from this one experience and say that they don't quite have the command of the English language their Swedish neighbors do, and Björkas stage banter came off stilted and a bit cold. But the music was warm enough.

MP3: Cats On Fire – Higher Grounds (from The Province Complainsbuy it)

This was Night Two of Popfest NYC, this time way the hell West at Don Hill's for a party co-sponsored by the party people at Mondo NYC. The late set time (1AM) didn't seem to phase anyone. The Pelle Carlberg autographed guitar made another appearance. If it was too late for you, word is Cats on Fire will be playing tomorrow at the Popfest closing BBQ at Union Pool. It's a great lineup, with The Cannanes, The Hermit Crabs, and lots more. Starts at 2pm.

I also shot video of their song "Mesmer and Reason":

NYC Popfest: Oh! Custer + In Interview + The Pinefox | Cake Shop | 6.12.2008

Popfestguitar
I don't know if you can make the signature, but the acoustic guitar in the above photo was autographed by Pelle Carlberg. I'm not sure whose guitar it actually was — more than one person used it at Cake Shop last night — but that sort of summed up Popfest for me, that someone would want Pelle Carlberg to sign their guitar.

This was the kickoff night for the NYC Popfest 20008, a celebration of all that is jangly, gentle, pleasant, generally polite, literate, charming… and yes, that dreaded signifier, twee. Indie-pop fans are obsessive by nature, as you have to make a point to listen to it, as you're not going to hear it any other way. And of course you'd want Pelle Carlberg, the highlight of last year's inaugural fest, to autograph your guitar. And of course he has really nice handwriting.

There were at least 30 or so people milling about outside Cake Shop when I showed up around 8:30, which had me immediately worried. Love is All were headlining the night, which meant the show was sold-out and sought-after, and for me Cake Shop is miserable when it's packed and you can't see anything unless you're within ten feet of the stage. That said, if you are that close, there is an intimacy with the place you can't really get at any other venue in the city. (Not counting semi-legal Todd P spots.) But when I descended into the underground performance space I found it sparsely populated — the people who were there for Popfest were inside. The people who were there for Love is All were outside killing time.

Thepinefox
First up was Joe Brooker, who wasvone half of The Pines (the other half being Black Tamborine/Glo-Worm/chickfactor''s Pam Berry) and also The Foxgloves (with Stephen Troussé of Papercuts 'zine). Here he was, appropriately, The Pinefox, playing a mix of songs from his career, some of which he said he'd never played live before. His delicately arpeggiated stylings probably would've better suited a different venue, but it was a nice set.

MP3: The Foxgloves – I Dreamt Love Was a Crime

In_interviewNext was Brooklyn outfit In Interview. who take the same approach to jazz and disco as Joseph K. Not as scratchy, definitely more pop, but there was something discordant in the arrangements. Indie trumpeter for hire, Gary of Ladybug Transistor, was there with his horn on a few songs. At times it seemed like the bass player and guitarist were playing either different songs or in different keys or time signatures. I couldn't quite get my head around it enough to say I actually liked them. But I am intrigued enough to seek out their records… when they finally release something.

Ohcuster
Unfortunately I had to leave four songs into Swedish duo Oh! Custer's set 'cause they were definitely the most enjoyable set of the night. Typifying that Scandinavian indie-pop sound (loads of reverb, '80s-style drum machines, super-catchy melodies), they also were totally charming with an understated sense of humor. "This song is about the public transportation system in my hometown," was the intro for one song. "It's called 'late.'"

MP3: Oh! Custer – Post

Brooklyn Vegan has coverage of Love is All's set, and NYC Taper has the whole thing for you to download.

NYC Popfest continues tonight at Piano's — it's an early show, starts at 6pm. Then later tonight, Cats on Fire at Don Hills. Supposedly they'll be on before 1am. We'll see.