Sissy Wish + Fresh Air Kids | Union Hall | 7.6.2008

Is there a tougher night to play than the last night of a three-day weekend? There were about 15 people at Union Hall last night and that includes whichever bands weren’t on-stage at the time. But the show must go on, and it did and all three bands put on brave faces and had a good time despite facing a mostly-empty room.

I’m not sure why Norway’s Sissy Wish hasn’t gotten more attention in American. Maybe it’s the name, which is off-putting. “What am I doing tonight? Going to see Sissy Wish in concert.” I digress. Unfortunate moniker or not, her music is really appealing, not that far off from what Lykke Li has everyone in such a tizzy. Her latest album, Beauties Never Die (nominated for a Norwegian Grammy), is dancey, but with an organic feel to it that separates it from the glitchy, Frenchy, dirty, chopped-up sounds that are so in fashion with club-fillers.

Live, Sissy Wish are definitely more laptop-oriented with Siri Wålberg singing and playing various electronics, and cohort Bjare Hundvin providing additional accompaniment. They played as much as they could live, with some electronic drumpads and guitar. They also got the audience (all 15 of us) in on the act too for the ridiculously catchy “Ya Ya Ya.” Hopefully more will come out to see her tonight (7/8) at Knitting Factory tap bar or any of the rest of Sissy Wish’s U.S. tour dates.

MP3: Sissy Wish DWTS (buy from Emusic)

Opening the night were Fresh Air Kids, playing their first-ever show — though the band are NYC scene veterans, made up of former members of Arbor Day, the Isles and the Shapes. (None of whom I was ever familiar with.) Three of the four members took turns on lead vocals, and while none of them were particularly strong singers they all good musicians and songwriters. We’re talking Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and ’90s indie rock as the main influences — though Thin Lizzy-esque boogie rock crept in here and there as well as some Steve Vai/ Eddie Van Halen worship in the solos. They also did a good job with Santo and Johnny’s 1959 instrumental standard, “Sleepwalk.” I look forward to seeing these guys again.

MP3: Fresh Air Kids – Melodrama in the Afternoon

Sissy Wish US Tour Dates
Jul 8 Knitting Factory Tap Bar     New York, NY
Jul 9 T.T. The Bear’s Place     Cambridge, MA
Jul 10 Metro Gallery     Baltimore, MD
Jul 11 Brillobox     Pittsburgh, PA

Fresh Air Kids upcoming NYC shows:
Jul 13 Pete’s Candy Store
Jul 26 (11AM)
Jul 26 Pianos
Aug 1 Rehab

Out of Swede Puns, but Go See Mary Onettes Anyway

For as many quality Swedish bands as there are, we don’t get a whole lot of them touring in America. Which makes The Mary Onettes’ current US tour exciting… for me at least.

One of Labrador Records’ best bands, The Mary Onettes are like, many of the groups from Sweden, obsessed with the ’80s. And they’re not denying it. Their MySpace page actually lists "mostly bands from the eighties…" in their Influences section.

You can hear some Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order, The Cure, The Lucy Show, The Chameleons, and other bands creeping through on The Mary Onettes’ eponymous debut but they do it well and, most importantly, the songs are good. And according to my friend Toby at Seattle blog The Finest Kiss, they’re even better live than on record.

The touring is wrapping up this week with dates on the East Coast, including two stops in the NYC area, one being tonight at the Mercury Lounge:

May 19 | Mercury Lounge, NYC
May 20 | M Room, Philadelphia
May 21 | DC9, Washington, DC
May 23 | Union Hall, Brooklyn
May 24 | Middle East, Boston

Here’s a couple MP3s from their album which you should buy of course…though chances are it will be cheaper at the show merch table than the $20 they’re charging for it on Insound.

MP3: The Mary Onettes – Void

MP3: The Mary Onettes – Pleasure Songs

Opening for The Mary Onettes, on the NYC and Boston dates at least, are Blacklist who I caught a couple weeks ago at Death By Audio opening for Film School. They kind of sound like every band signed to Beggars Banquet between 1979 and 1983 — to the point where I’m not exactly sure how serious they are. But if you have any affection for Bauhaus, Southern Death Cult and the like, be sure to get there early.

MP3: Blacklist – Blue Shifted

South | Union Hall | 4.26.2008

South_unionhallIn March 2002 I saw Elbow open for South at Bowery Ballroom… the first time I’d seen either band live. All I remember about that show is it was Guy Garvey’s birthday and that
I thought South suffered a bit from having to follow Elbow. I’ve seen both bands since, each has gotten better, but that certainly crossed my mind as I hopped into a cab right after Elbow’s Webster Hall show Saturday and raced across the Manhattan Bridge to catch South at Union Hall.

Who can say why bands become more or less popular? South have genuinely gotten better over the years, I think, with 2003’s With the Tides being the album that shoulda been their Big Breakthrough, and 2006’s Adventures in the Underground Journey to the Stars their creative peak. South’s fourth album, You Are Here, is a little to new to rank it, but I do like it and certainly think it’s better than today’s middling Pitchfork review.

MP3: South – Opened Up
(buy You Are Here)

It is a little weird hearing some of their sweeping epics in such a small venue, but I guess I should view it as a treat. The songs from Journey to the Stars worked best (the New Order-y "Shallow" and fused "You Are One") in this environment, but it was a good, not great, show overall. But they are certainly one of this decade’s most underrated bands and if they’re playing near you, they’re worth a look:

Apr 30 North star bar     Philadelphia PA
May 1 Great Scott     Boston MA, Massachusetts
May 3 Rock & Roll Hotel     Washington DC, Washington DC
May 5 Abbey Pub     Chicago IL, Illinois
May 6 Turf Club     St Paul MN
May 8 Marquis Theatre     Denver CO
May 9 Mesa Theater & Club     Grand Junction, Colorado
May 11 Doug Fir Lounge     Portland OR
May 12 Nectar Lounge     Seattle WA
May 14 The Independent     San Francisco CA
May 15 The Echo     Los Angeles CA
May 16 Brick by brick     San Diego

I spied Matt from the Music Slut from across the room, singing along to every song. His report is a little more detailed than mine.

Kelley Stoltz Playing Union Hall

Trying to figure out where Kelley Stoltz is going to be playing on April 9 has been a bit of a puzzle, even if it was one only I was trying to solve… or wanted to. He’s on tour with the Dirtbombs (they play Bowery on April 9) but had an off night and was going to use it to play a smaller venue. For a month or so, Stoltz had the date on his MySpace as being at Mercury Lounge. Which would put him with Jason Collette — a nice double bill. But Mercury’s website never had him listed. Or anyone for the early show. I actually asked Kelley at SXSW what the deal was and he insisted he was playing there.

But then the Mercury website finally listed an opener for Collette, and it was Robert Gomez (signed to Bella Union which makes me interested now). Then Kelley Stoltz’ Myspace listed an April 9 date at Union Pool, which would be a great place to see him, a very cool room for his awesome brand of retro-ish pop. (Bonus… really near my apartment.) But Union Pool never listed it on their site. I emailed them about it yesterday, no response… but a visit to Stoltz’ Myspace today saw that the venue was now Union Hall. And a visit to UH’s site confirmed it.

Aren’t you glad I wasted two paragraphs leading up to something I gave away in this post’s title. Just a peak into my thought process.

Union Hall makes as much sense as Union Pool, maybe more so. Tickets are ONLY $5 ONLY $10 and it’s a late show: doors are at 10:30. (Melissa Ferrick plays earlier.) And it’s billed as "An Evening with Kelley Stoltz" so maybe we’ll get a longer than usual show, with some nuggets off Antique Glow perhaps? He probably won’t do it, but I’ve always been partial to "Mean Marianne":

MP3: Kelley Stoltz – Mean Marianne

His new album is called Circular Sounds and it’s really great. Finally, a couple YouTube items. First, the video to "Your Reverie":

And video from SXSW I shot of Circular Sounds‘ gem "To Speak to the Girl":

Sail the Silver Seas this Week in NYC

SilverseasJust in time for the Spring temperatures we’re supposed to be getting this week, Nashville’s lush  Silver Seas are returning to New York for the first time since changing their name from The Bees last summer. When I wrote about them last year, I referred to them as soft rock, which there’s not denying that tag fits, but I don’t think there’s any hipster irony with what they do, which is probably why I’m still listening to their album, High Society, nearly a year later.

That said, there is an air of Steely Dan about them, as these guys are pro musicians whose day jobs are as Nashville session and touring musicians. (Main man Jason Lehning is a bigtime producer with loads of CMAs on his mantle.) So the gorgeous harmonies on the album should be ably reproduced when they play The Living Room (Wednesday, April 2) and Union Hall (Thursday, April 3) this week. If you haven’t heard the record, here’s a taste:

MP3: The Silver Seas – The Country Life
(buy it)

The Living Room show is part of the venue’s 10-year Anniversary Extravaganza and The Silver Seas are on a bill with Life in a Blender who I didn’t even realize were still together. It’s a free show (well, they suggest a $10 donation) so why not stop by? The Union Hall show, which I will be attending, is with locals The Postelles. No advance tickets, the door’s $8.

The 1900s + Stevie Jackson | Union Hall | 1.10.2008

1900s_unionhallJeepers, 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.

The 1900s are better live than on record, however, and the warm vibe of Union Hall really fits in with their psychedelic/baroque take on Fleetwood Mac. (They even covered Tusk‘s "I’m Not Wrong.") It doesn’t hurt that the band are super-tight and can replicate the harmonies heard on the recordings. Most reviews tend to focus cute redhead vocalists Caroline Donovan and Jeanine O’Toole, and perhaps rightly so, but there’s something about songwriter-guitarist Edward Anderson‘s voice that is appealing. And when mixed with the ladies’ voices it’s tingly good. There were less psychedelic freakouts this time around, though the monster show-closer "Two Ways," which featured Stevie Jackson doing his best Doug Yule impersonation, certainly made up for it…if that’s what you were looking for. Setlist:

Flight of the Monowings | Acutiplantar Dude | Bring the Good Boys Home | Georgia | The Medium Way | Cold and Kind | When I Say Go |I’m Not Wrong | Two Ways

MP3: The 1900s – Two Ways
(buy Cold & Kind)

Speaking of Mr. Jackson (who is exactly one day younger than me, turns out) Belle & Sebastian’s #2 man in charge played a fun, funny opening set. He is integral to B&S though I’m not always that crazy about his songs, which tend to be a little too cutesy Jonathan Richman-ish for me (though he has definitely improved since "Chickfactor"), but in a solo context it’s much better, with him telling stories between songs, encouraging audience participation, and generally having a good time.

He only did one B&S tune, a lovely arpeggiated take on "Jonathan David" (perhaps his most Stuart Murdoch-esque song), though that may be wrong as I missed the first couple songs. Mostly it was new stuff, including a slow-jam rap about filmmaker John Huston. There were special guests too. Laura Cantrell (not to be confused with Laura Gibson, who opened the night) joined him for a cover of Hank Williams’ "Lost Highway" and an original called "Dusty." Then he brought the 1900s out to back him on show-closer "Try Me" which I shot kind of sucky footage:

MP3: Belle & Sebastian – Jonathan David

The 1900s and Stevie play again tonight at the Mercury Lounge and, as of around noon, there were still tickets available.

Euros Childs + David Kilgour + Peter Moren + Pseudosix | Union Hall | 11.09.2007

"This next song is 16 minutes long… and about every two minutes it sounds like it’s ending. But it’s not, so please don’t clap. It kind of ruins the momentum." That was pretty much the only thing Euros Childs said all night I understood, apart from some of his lyrics, what with his thick Welsh accent.  Actually, for all I know he was speaking in Welsh some of those times. He has never shied away from his native tongue  — his former band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci sang more often than not in his native tongue and one of the two albums Childs released this year, Bore Da, is entirely in Welsh.

The last time I saw Childs was, I think, 1999 when Gorky’s was touring for Spanish Dance Troupe. Though I own every album he’s released — Gorky’s, solo, or otherwise — I would still call myself a casual fan. Watching his excellent set Friday night I realize I’ve been taking him for granted. Childs’ solo material may lack the inventiveness and manic energy that made early records like Bwyd Time fun, but it is also absent of the Renaissance Fair embellishments which made them annoying. He’s still a quirky songwriter (dig that 16-minute title-track to Miracle Inn, also released this year), but these days his songwriting abilities are given more of a spotlight, as are the harmonies and his mellow voice. Playing as a trio with Gorky’s drummer Peter Richardson and Radio Luxembourg’s Meilyr Jones on bass, those qualities were abundantly clear. Great set.

MP3: Euros Childs – Horse Riding
(Buy Miracle Inn)

What wasn’t clear is why he was headlining this show. This is not to knock Childs, it’s just obvious that everyone came to see David Kilgour with whom he’s been on tour. Half the room left after Kilgour’s set, which was too bad. But Kilgour is an indie legend of 30 years. His band, the Clean, which he started in 1978 in Dunedin, NZ with his brother Hamish and Robert Scott (who would form his own influential band, The Bats) have influenced  loads of bands, perhaps most notably Yo La Tengo, Pavement and Superchunk. (Of the latter, Mac McCaughan’s Merge label put out a Clean compilation, released Bats albums in the ’90s, and has been releasing Kilgour’s solo albums since 2002.) Ira and James of YLT (both of whom stuck around for Childs and were well into it) were in the audience, actually, as were Kilgour’s brother Hamish, and Carl Newman.

Kilgour, who must be nearing 50 but looked much younger than that with a green military cap pulled down over his curly hair, and still sounds great. His new album, The Far Now, is pretty mellow but live, with his band the Heavy 8’s, he’s much more in the Dean Wareham (or Yo La Tengo to mention them again)  school of droney, jangly, blissed-out, VU-inspired rock. Full admission: I am a sucker for this sort of thing when it’s done right, as it was Friday. I think it was the second guitarist playing a boxy-looking 12-string that really took it over the edge for me.

MP3: David Kilgour – BBC World
(Buy The Far Now)

Kilgour and Childs were the main draw but the rest of the bill were notable too. Portland’s Pseudosix opened, previously unfamiliar to me, but I left impressed. Breezy and just a touch country-ish in that early-’70s West Coast sort of way, they reminded me of druggy ’90s band Acetone but with more melody and less reverb.

MP3: Pseudosix – Under the Waves
(Buy it)

There was also a "special guest" on the bill, a badly-kept secret. (The real surprise came later that night.) Peter Moren of Peter Bjorn & John played a short impromptu set of songs he’s working on for an upcoming solo album, working out arrangements in advance of his "real" solo show at Joe’s Pub on November 19. Stress on "working them out." There were stops and starts, flubbed lyrics… but luckily Moren’s a real charmer so nobody seemed to mind. Actually, I would guess half the people there didn’t even realize this was the guy responsible for "Young Folks." Which is probably just how he wanted it, certainly different than his last appearance at Union Hall. He played maybe five originals plus a cover of Richard Hell’s "Time." I shot video of one of the new ones that Peter said was about his time as a music teacher in Sweden. I knew the name of the song but didn’t write it down and now don’t remember…

Pop Tarts Suck Toasted was there too, but left after Moren’s set, I think.

Versus | Union Hall | 11.09.2007

Versus_unionhallFriday was a night of surprises at Union Hall. Earlier in the evening, Peter Moren tried out some solo material. But the real treat was after the night’s show (including David Kilgour and Euros Childs) was supposed to be over.

1990s indie faves Versus reunited for their first second (???) first show in two years — the band broke up in  2001 but have played a few shows since, the last being  Teenbeat’s 20th Anniversary Party in 2005. (Thanks commentors for helping me get this somewhat straight.) This wasn’t the start of a reformation, however — this was a 40th birthday present for former Teenbeat labelmate Matthew Datesman, who has logged time playing drums for various bands on that influential Arlington, VA label, including True Love Always, Aden, and currently Flin Flon. Teenbeat prez and Flin Flon singer Mark Robinson (who still looks like he’s 25) was one of the 50 or in attendence, most of whom were super-psyched to be seeing Versus.

Me, I’m not going to claim that I was ever more than a casual fan of the band, though did like 1996’s Secret Swingers quite a bit. And I’d forgotten just how good they were. And still are, even if Richard Baluyut needed a little lyrical help here and there. It was the end of a long night but damn if they didn’t sound great and if they were flubbing things I didn’t notice. No  real surprise, they’ve continued to play in other projects (+/-, Whyshall Lane, The Fontaine Toups) but it was great to hear some of these songs again. I’ve really got to pull out some of those ’90s records and give them a fresh listen.

MP3: Versus – Lose That Dress  (Buy Versus music)

Hey, someone shot video too:

Onion Holiday Party with Sloan + David Cross | Union Hall | 12.15.2006

"Is anyone recording this?" Chris Murphy yelped midway through a marathon-length version of "Sensory Deprivation" from Sloan's 1999 opus, Between the Bridges. As all four members of Sloan write and sing, when it's Andrew Scott's turn on the mike, Murphy takes over for drums… and goes apeshit. He's already a ham when playing bass, but put him behind the kit and he turns into an exaggerated Keith Moon impersonation, a barrage of constant fills and stick twirls. Andrew Scott's voice seemed to be giving out, so "Sensory Deprivation" became one monster riff jam that kept going and going and going.

Sloan were in town just to play The Onion's Holiday Party at the very cool Union Hall in Park Slope. "Sloan has played a number of these 'corporate gigs' over the years," Murphy told the crowd. "But this is the first one we've actually looked forward to." It probably helped that Between the Bridges was chosen as the inaugural entry in The Onion's feature "Permanent Records:  Albums in the AV Club's Hall of Fame," or as Murphy called it, "The Hall of Commercial Disappointments." In fact, they were giving away copies of Between the Bridges at the door.

The main space Union Hall is a quite large — part ski lodge, part Ivy League library, part bocce ball court — but the downstairs performance space is tiny, maybe holding 150 people. So it was a real treat to get to see one of my all-time favorite bands (who normally play Bowery Ballroom) in such a small venue and who were there mainly to enjoy the party like everybody else.

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