Kelley Stoltz + Sonny & the Sunsets | Union Hall | 10.01.2010


Dear Sub Pop Records: Please put out a Fun with Kelley Stoltz On Stage album. I’m not kidding. Digital-only would be fine. I love Stoltz’s music, but the dude is seriously hilarious. He had everyone at Union Hall on Friday in stitches the whole time. Anecdotes, accents, one-liners…Stoltz is a master of them all. He would also make a good Color Commentator for baseball games, or some other role on television.

Of course he’s a great songwriter and performer too. To Dreamers is Stoltz’ fifth album (not counting Crokodials, the front-to-back redo of the first Bunnymen LP), and third for Sub Pop, and is his most polished collection of ’60s influenced pop yet. Mind you when I say “polished” we’re talking about a devout home taper, who works exclusively in analog. But the new album is full-on mid-fi, probably using a lot of the same equipment his heroes considered to be high fidelity back in the day.

Stoltz told some good stories about the new album. “Pinecone,” which has an undeniable Fred Neil/Harry Nilsson vibe to it, came from him trying to bring back the titular item from New Zealand and getting stopped at Customs. For “Fire Escape” he talked about an old apartment that had a wooden fire escape that the landlord liked to store old cardboard boxes underneath. It didn’t end well, though the story was hilarious. “This song, is about happier fire escape memories.” 

Good spirits all around thanks in part to the unique nature of this tour. Kelley is currently on the road with fellow Bay Area band Sonny & the Sunsets who doubled as Kelley’s backing band. And when Sonny played, Kelley was on drums. (He’s a good drummer, chalk up another skill.) You need a lot of camaraderie when everyone is doing double duty. Sonny and Kelley joked a lot on stage, the former more of a straight man to the latter’s setups and punchlines.

As to the music, both were pretty solid. I was a little disappointed with Stoltz’s setlist. We didn’t get “To Speak to the Girl” (my favorite off Circular Sounds) or the current single “I Don’t Get That,” which they eschewed in favor of that jam the incorporates both Lou Rawls “Groovy People” and Pharaoh Sanders’ “The Creator’s Got a Master Plan” which I’d seen him do before. But “Pinecone” was awesome, as was “Do You Want to Rock and Roll With Me” and “I Remember You Were Wild” and TV commercial favorite “Birdies Singing.” His voice is dropping, octave-wise, sounding more and more like TSOOL’s Ebbot Lundberg.

Sonny I was a little disappointed with Sonny & the Sunsets’ set. The album is very minimal, yet nuanced. Live they are much more a rock band and I missed the little production and arrangement touches that grace Tomorrow is Alright. I think if I hadn’t been wanting to hear the record reproduced live, I woulda liked it more. The band was tight enough, it just wasn’t the Sunsets I was expecting.

It was however a treat to hear Stoltz on the drumkit, to which he excels at. During his own set when he was praising The Sunsets and, especially, their drummer… well, we get it now. Somebody get this guy a TV show. Rimshot!

MP3: Kelley Stoltz – I Remember You Were Wild

If you pre-order To Dreamers from Sub Pop, you get a free CD of unreleased songs. Also the vinyl comes with a song not on the CD! I haven’t seen that since “Hey You!”

MP3: Sonny & the Sunsets – Too Young to Burn (buy it)

Pelle Carlberg | Union Hall | 5.30.2009


Singer by name, storyteller by heart, Pelle Carlberg's songs are little vignettes into his life: hearing an I'm from Barcelona song on the radio while visiting Spain ("Pamplona"); phoning the critic who gave him a bad review ("Go to Hell Miss Rydell"); his teenage years in Stockholm ("1983 ("Pelle & Sebastian). And his between song banter and introductions are just as compelling. The guy's a real charmer and the crowd at Union Hall hung on every word, spoken and sung, wildly applauding and demanding not one but two encores. Carlberg seemed genuinely taken aback by the crowd reaction. I think we would've had him play all night.

Of course it had been two years since the Swede had played New York, and who knows when he'll return, so we were going to get as much as he would give. Backed by Jonathan, his bassist/drummer/harmonica player/harmonizer (sometimes all at once), Pelle played an hour-long set that seemed to me heavier on his first two albums (2005's Everything Now! and 2007's In a Nutshell) than last year's somewhat disappointing The Lilac Time,. (My phone's unlisted.) We did get it's best songs, "Because I'm Worth It," the aforementioned "1983 (Pelle & Sebastian)," plus two covers: a genuinely awesome version of Elton John's "Rocket Man" and a rusty but fun rendition of the Darkness' "I Believe in a Thing Called Love." The evening finished with "Fly Me to the Moon," a sweet-sounding but bile-fueled invective against European cheapo airline Ryan Air who gave him the worst travel experiences of his life. Hopefully his trip back to Sweden was uneventful.

There's a lot of free, legal Pelle Carlberg MP3s out there, including some of his best songs. Here's a few of them:

MP3: Pelle Carlberg – Go to Hell Miss Rydell (buy Everything Now!)
MP3: Pelle Carlberg – Clever Girls… (buy In a Nutshell)
MP3: Pelle Carlberg – 1983 (buy The Lilac Time)

Abby from Sup Magazine shot a whole lot of video, some of which is after the jump…

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Uninhabitable Mansions + Spacecamp | Union Hall | 2.27.2009


Spicy Times is a monthly party at Union Hall put on by the blog of the same name that's a joint production of a couple other bloggers: Jinners and Nora of I Rock I Roll. This was the second edition and featured a couple hot new-ish bands, too much free Colt 45, which led to some silly dancing to '80s hits.

This was my second time seeing Uninhabitable Mansions, a band that features Robbie and Tyler of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Annie from Au Revoir Simone. Whether it's that they've been practicing a lot or just that I'm now familiar with some of their songs via MySpace, but I thought they were decidedly better than their Cake Shop show back in January. UH also more my kind of thing than CYHSY, poppier, warmer friendlier to these ears, with a strong '80s Flying Nun kind of vibe. I'm also a sucker for male/female vocals. This show was a release party for their debut 7", pressed on lovely white vinyl. I especially like "Do You Have a Strategy?"

MP3: Uninhabitable Mansions – Do You Have a Strategy?

You can pick it up at your favorite NYC-area independent record store or via their website. I also shot video of an as-yet-unnamed song, which you can watch further down this post.

Also on the Spicy Times bill were Spacecamp who, full disclosure, are friends of mine and I've written about before. As all three members are Professional Musicians and back other artists collectively and separately, they are tight and have their act together. While a bunch pros forming their own band might inspire visions of Toto for some (ok, maybe just me), Jon, Chris and Steven are good songwriters too and, most importantly, seem to be doing this 'cause it's fun. Somewhere between The Kinks and The Police, they are party rocker in the best possible way, with totally catchy songs like "Girls on Bikes" and "Puppy":

MP3: Spacecamp – Puppy

The guys just finished up work on Lightspeed Champion's second album, and Dev was in the house. While hopes that he might take the mike to debut a new song with the band didn't happen, he did join them onstage to play some pretty smokin' guitar on a brand new song which I think is called "Teen Idol." (Video of which is also below.) Rumors also abounded that night that Spacecamp's next paid gig might be backing Joaquin Phoenix on his new career as a hip hop artist but maybe that was just the free Colt 45 talking.

The night started with Staten Island's all-girl Vessels who play lovely chamber pop, complete with a string section. Lovely stuff, but maybe a bit too delicate for a Friday Night party that also featured the aforementioned free malt liquor and subsequent dancing to "Ghostbusters." 

Those videos after the jump…

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Ida Maria | Mercury Lounge + Union Hall | 1.15.2009 + 1.16.2009


Ida Maria's songs are little vignettes and she's a total method actor. On songs like "Louie" and "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," she's brimming with infectious joy; but with "Drive Away My Heart" and "Stella" she's accessing some dark memories and ripping her guts out on stage for all to see.. And on "Queen of the World" it's joyously drunken until things get a little too soused and the melancholy sets in. But whichever mood the song's in she lives it. By the end of her 30-minute set each night she was soaking wet (via a water bottle), lipstick-smeared and emotionally drained. The sets may seem short on paper, but we were joking after the Mercury Lounge show that if she did any more she might die. You know, for her art.

Last time Ida played NYC, during CMJ 2007, there was a crowd of about 15 but that was before she'd officially released anything. This time, with her debut Fortress Round My Heart already a hit in the UK, both shows were way sold out — I don't think I'd seen Mercury Lounge that packed since the Arctic Monkeys. This was probably, technically, the better show of the two. The crowd was amped, and Ida wore a gold flapper dress and burned like a sparkler until dousing herself with water for the big "Oh My God" finale and everybody I talked to left kind of blown away. "Stella" was especially great.

For the Union Hall show, she wore flannel and corduroy which suits her better, and she was just as intense but her voice was totally shot, singing at least an octave lower than the night before and leaving a lot of the singing (especially the choruses) to the guitarist and bassist of her pro backing band. She also broke a string two songs in and didn't have a second guitar at the ready so she went the total lead singer route for the rest of the show, which isn't a bad thing. The string incident also gave us an extra song — a solo performance of b-side "Going to Hell." Union Hall has an intimacy that Mercury doesn't so there was definitely more of a "connection" with the audience which made up for some of the other shortcomings.

MP3: Ida Maria – Going to hell

I also shot video of "Queen of the World":

I left my camera's memory card at home for the Mercury Lounge show but you can see photos  and read reviews at Brooklyn Vegan, Music Snobbery, and the NY Times. Ida's coming back to the States for SXSW which will hopefully include a tour that hits more than just NYC and LA. It should give her time to rest up her voice too so when she's back in March she'll hit us with full force — which might be more than we're ready for.

Sound Bites Best of 2008: Gigs

"Seeing Jarvis Cocker makes you realize that almost all other bands are chumps. This is how it's done. This is a show. This is charisma. This is It. You can't take your eyes off him. My #1 show of 2007 was his show at Webster Hall (and I hate Webster Hall) and this one was better."

And also these…

"Featuring members of infamous garage rock collective CPC Gangbangs, this was Red Mass' first-ever live show and clearly they wanted to make a statement. As their name would suggest, Red Mass were about 10 strong and all-clad in red… apart from the one dude who wore only a Speedo and gold paint."

"The Muslims played an astounding 10 shows during CMJ, and this was the last… despite being obviously tired and guitarist Matty McLoughlin having his fingers wrapped in black electrical tape because he'd busted them open repeatedly over the week, with blood spattered all over his guitar, they played like it was their first show of the week."

Casiokids | Cake Shop | 10.25.2008

"…It was at this point that Ketil squeezed through their wall of keyboards, past the monitors and got face-to-face with the crowd, basically standing directly in front of me the whole time. My friend Erin said it looked like I was being serenaded."

Late of the Pier | Music Hall of Williamsburg | 10.22.2008

"These are youngsters but they rock like pros, pulling off the guitar heroics, the funky parts, everything. And we danced to it. Even more than the Klaxons, Late of the Pier seem to truly come from outer space. But they make it seem like the most natural thing on earth."

Women | Cake Shop | 10.21.2008

"Women are so much better live than on record. The album, while good, is a little too drenched in Animal Collective-style reverb, while onstage (or in Cake Shop's case, the floor) they hit pretty hard."

Kirsten Ketsjer | Lit Lounge | 10.16.2008

"This is the definition of power trio (not to compare them to Cream or anything, there's no bass), three as one — you know, very New Testament but in a rock sort of way… If you like Velvet Underground, Television, Bettie Serveert, the Greatful Dead, Marnie Stern, metal, indie rock, Denmark, spoken word, noodling, no-bass bands, twin-leads, or Nordic good looks… this might be the band for you."

This was a swoon-worthy night. The Bunnymen are 30 this year, hence this celebration of what they consider their crowning achievement with three shows: London, New York, and their hometown of Liverpool."The Killing Moon" is what a lot of people were there to hear, and many unbelievably left after that, but for me it was the album's more obscure gems that made my knees a bit weak. 

"Main Oh See John Dwyer is one of those mike eaters, it spending more time in his mouth than not, all the better to get that overdriven, distorted vocal sound. But I wouldn't want to be the band that used it after them. He's also a Give 100% performer, who slams his guitars around and whose eyes bug out a little when he sings. The rest of the band are no slouches either (they've got a whalloper of a drummer) and there was a nice interplay between Dwyer and Thee Oh Sees' other singer, Brigid Dawson. They played their hearts out."

BOAT | Cake Shop | 8.17.2008

"If BOAT lived here instead of Seattle I have a feeling they'd be my favorite local band.  All their songs are catchy, and funny without being jokes. The band also has good stage banter and a penchant for props — big signs, confetti and shakers made out of Solo cups."

Witch Hats | Santos Party House | 8.11.2008

"Witch Hats really benefit from clear sound; the sludge turns into organized noise, even if it's just as loud. (Super loud!) It still takes a minute or two for hooks to break through the chaos, but they are there. Witch Hats are wild but with purpose, a bit gothy without looking the part, and possess a wise-ass sense of humor."

Metronomy | Union Hall | 8.01.2008

"Metronomy are better live than you think they're going to be. It probably has something to do with the stick-it-and-clickit lights they had affixed to their chests. Aware that they are three dudes playing keyboards and guitars and bass (and occasionally saxaphone and melodica) with no drummer and a fair amount of pre-programmed music, they know you have to give the audience something more if you want them to actually pay attention to you."

"We are in the midst of a heatwave here in New York with temperatures in the upper '90s during the day and only dropping to around 80 at night. I have spent a lot of it in semi-legal performance spaces with zero air conditioning. There has been a lot of sweating but Sic Alps were the first band I've seen all week that made it feel like the heat was being generated from the stage."

ants Yell! | Pianos | 6.13.2008

"A tight cohesive trio with a beast of a drummer, Pants Yell! were on fire in the packed room. On their excellent third album from late last year, Alison Statton, they sound polite, but live it's more hyperkinetic. You could even say they rocked."

"I texted my friend Don before they started: "There are like 10 girls here. Five are bartenders, the rest are here against their will." I was excited to see Swervedriver's first NYC show in ten years, but all this, um, dudeness was freaking me out. But then Swervedriver came out and just killed it. Like the last ten years never happened. Jaw-droppingly, why-aren't-you-still-a-band-and-making-records good."

"I know this wasn't the coolest show of the night (Sigur Ros) or the coolest show of Love Is All's visit (Cake Shop or Market Hotel win over this) but what show! And band-for-band one of the best I've seen this year."

Violens + Savoir Adore + Amazing Baby | Union Pool | 5.10.2008
"It pleases me greatly to go into a show mostly blind and come out a fan of every band on the bill. That never happens anymore. Maybe I'm just going to the wrong shows."

"This was the first night of their American tour for Elbow's great, just-released fourth album, The Seldom-Seen Kid which is full of the heartfelt mini-epics the band are so good at. Joined on this tour by two violist/backup singers, Elbow were grander than usual, but it was Garvey's charm, humor, and smokey voice that makes people lifetime fans."

"Liela Moss is a pistol. As much as you wanted to check out the rest of the band, it was hard to take your eyes off her. She knows what she's got and she knows how to work it. There is no doubt Moss is beautiful, but she's got the pipes to match and, obviously, a stage presence to hold it all together. Moss held the crowd but certainly the rest of the band kept her up. A lot of crushes were made Wednesday night but The Duke Spirit are the total package."

Liars | Warsaw | 2.09.2008

At 6-foot-somethingorother, Liars front man Angus Andrew is a magnetic, kind of menacing presence. Even in a raspberry colored suit. While sitting down. As you may have heard, Andrew threw out his back shortly before Liars were to begin their current tour with No Age so he's being doing the shows from a chair. (The accompanying table is a nice touch.) For some bands this might have been a major setback but it didn't seem to affect Liars' ferocious performance at Warsaw one iota.

"Jeepers, how good are The 1900s? It's been almost two years since I saw them open for Midlake at Mercury Lounge and had kind of forgotten how good they are. And they've gotten better since. Watching last night's fantastic show at Union Hall makes me wonder why I left their album Cold & Kind off my Best of 2007 list." 

Whiskey Please: Ida Maria Playing NYC in January

Ida Maria writhes on the floor during CMJ 2007
Don't say I didn't tell you. Norwegian firebrand Ida Maria is finally coming back to NYC for two shows, her first since knocking me for a loop when she played CMJ 2007. In the meantime, Ida released her debut, Fortress Around My Heart, which took me a while to warm up to after falling for her demos, and the UK press has become smitten with her. Basically, I think anyone that sees her live becomes smitten. Here's what I wrote back then:

Diminuitive, and dressed in a mint green school marm top, a dark teal leather skirt, purple tights and bright blue boots she looked pixie. But when she strapped on the guitar and opened her mouth, she transformed into a whirling, wailing little powerhouse… pouring every ounce of energy and emotion into her songs to the point where she seemed lost in them some of the time. Mikes were knocked over, drums stumbled into and more than once she dropped to the floor onto her back where she continued to sing and play guitar.

So, seriously, don't miss one of these shows. She won't play anywhere this small again. The first show, January 15 at Mercury Lounge (tickets!), also happens to be my birthday, so come out, see a great show and help me mark another year off the calendar. Or if you can't make that show, she's also playing Union Hall (tickets!) the next night, January 16.  Neither show is sold out yet, but they will. L.A. is getting her before NYC, on Jan. 12-13. Hopefully, Fortress Around My Heart will get a U.S. release date soon. Go see her!



Don’t Forget: Sky Larkin Tonight and Tomorrow

Just a friendly reminder that Leeds, UK band Sky Larkin are in town this week for two shows — tonight at Pianos and tomorrow at Union Hall. The band just signed to Wichita Recordings (UK home to Bloc Party, The Cribs, The Dodos and more) so expect to be hearing a lot more about them in the coming months. If you give them your email address, they'll give you the new recording of "Molten."

Tonight's show at Pianos is a good bill all around. After Sky Larkin (8PM) stick around for Boston band Passion Pit who are signed to Frenchkiss and gaining a lot of attention. In between the two is Murray Flexor who sort of sounds to me like the Brooklyn equivalent to Grovesnor.

You can buy advance tickets to tomorrow's show at Union Hall that also features The Nouvellas and Theresa Andersson.

Metronomy + White Williams | Union Hall | 8.01.2008


Metronomy are better live than you think they're going to be. It probably has something to do with the stick-it-and-clickit lights they had affixed to their chests. Aware that they are three dudes playing keyboards and guitars and bass (and occasionally saxaphone and melodica) with no drummer and a fair amount of pre-programmed music, they know you have to give the audience something more if you want them to actually pay attention to you. Slapping their chests in between strums (plus LEDs on their wrists and instruments), Metronomy made their own low-rent light show which fits well with their DIY dance sound. They also dabbled in choreographed stage moves, all with a knowing sense of humor that was also apparent in Mount's between-song banter.

Devo is obviously an influence, and not just in the stage presentation. At first listen you might think they're just another UK band mining typical post-punk signposts, but instead of looking to Gang of Four, America seems to be the main influence. The jerky rhythms, skwonky keyboards and warbly sounds (everything seems to be run through chorus effects) are very Devo, and some of it also reminds me of Wall of Voodoo. But Mount has crafted a distinct sound over the last three years that is easily identified — both on Metronomy records but also the killer remixes he does for other artists.

Metronomy' are currently on a creative high. Their (his) forthcoming second album, Nights Out, has probably six songs that could be singles — a lot of them already have been, actually, as Mount's been trickling out releases over the last year. But with them all in one place, and still managing to sound like an album, not to mention some very high profile I think they're going to have a very good 2008.

MP3: Metronomy – A Thing for Me

MP3Goldfrapp – Happiness (Metronomy Remix feat The Teenagers)

Opening this late-starting and somewhat sparsely-attended show was
unannounced special guest White Williams, who I hope stuck around to
watch Metronomy because he could sure learn a thing or two about how to
perform in front of an audience. Sterogum, Pitchfork, and others have
heaped praise on his debut album, Smoke,
which I have tried repeatedly to like but find kind of structureless apart from a couple good tracks. I'd seen White Williams perform twice before
and found him to be a snooze both times — but had heard he now had a drummer and a
bunch of new songs and was ready to give him another shot.

percussion helped but White Williams still doesn't do much to connect
with the audience. He spent most of his time facing the side stage
wall, fiddling with his laptop and mixer. The sound was muddled, which
didn't help things, but I think the real problem is the songs just sort
of meander. His strength, at this point, are the interesting
arrangements and production flourishes which are actually really interesting. White Williams has great sounds,
he just needs to write some songs. (In the meantime, I'd love to hear him give remixing a try.) But he's young and hopefully this
will come. (It is also my personal tastes: Grizzly Bear and Animal
Collective are only just now becoming interesting to me.) Some of the
new material he tried out showed promise that might have been fulfilled
under better sonic circumstances. But he really, really needs to up his
game in the live arena if he's going to get anyone to care.

Also there: The Music Slut, who liked WW more than I did.

Sky Larkin are Coming to NYC; Second Show Added

I first heard
Leeds, UK trio Sky Larkin‘s “Keepsakes” on a Indie MP3 compilation two or three years ago and have been keeping an ear out ever since. We’re talking a pretty straightforward ’90s-ish indie sound (they remind me of Madder Rose if you remember them) but the songwriting is great with a nice sense of humor, and Katie Harkin’s got an appealing voice.

The band have been a bit pokey in releasing material since then — two great singles (“Molten” and “One of Two”) and an EP of covers — but the band recently spent a month or so recording their debut LP in Seattle with John Goodmanson (The Long Winters, Sleater-Kinney). As far as I know the band didn’t play one show while in Seattle but Sky Larkin are coming to NYC next month where they’ll be playing Piano’s on August 13. I would have to imagine they’ll make the most of the trip and book additional shows (Skippy, they need to play Union Hall) but you might want to clear space on your calendar now.

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive. Sky Larkin play Union Hall on August 14. Next time I’m going to ask for something bigger.

MP3: Sky Larkin – Molten

And a couple videos:

“One of Two”


Two Nights Out with Metronomy

Metronomy: it's gotta be the shoes
Surely a contender for Record of 2008 is Metronomy‘s upcoming second album, Nights Out. It’s dance music, but poppy and skeletal and weird and fun and surprising. There is also whistling, which you don’t get enough of if you ask me. And no bad songs. “Heartbreaker” is my absolute favorite, which they’ve been playing live for more than a year.

MP3: Metronomy – Heartbreaker

Metronomy mounts a short North American tour starting next week with two stops in NYC. On Thursday they play a free show at Hiro Ballroom. You can RSVP here, though I found the process confusing and wasn’t sure whether I had successfully RSVP’d or not. On Friday they play Union Hall, which I’m definitely going to, where they will be playing with “very special guests.” Union Hall doesn’t usually kid around with their “we’ve got a surprise planned” so you might want to get your tickets now.

Here’s all the tourdates:

Jul 28 The Social,     Toronto, ON, Canada
Jul 29 Funky Buddha,     Chicago, IL, USA
Jul 30 Gypsy Hutt,     Cincinati, OH, USA
Jul 31 Hiro Ballroom,     New York, NY, USA
Aug 1 Union Hall, Brooklyn     Brooklyn, New York
Aug 2 MEG Festival,     Montreal, QC, Canada