This past week, I spent my Easter Sunday at the Black Cat with the Wooden Birds, the latest project from American Analog Set frontman Andrew Kenny. AnAmSet fans will feel right at home with the Wooden Birds, as the band finds Kenny marrying his hushed delivery with dulcet tones and understated arrangements yet again. That’s not to say, however, that the Wooden Birds are just the American Analog Set with different players. Longtime fans will notice that Kenny’s latest vehicle favors acoustic over electric instrumentation and has a more rhythm-heavy bent (nearly every one of the band’s songs features maracas and tambourine).
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I like Mecanique Ondulatoire, the venue where I saw the ascendant fuzz rock royalty A Place to Bury Strangers, but by most standards – with just a 150-person capacity—it is too small for this band. (APTBS played Paris last November in the Nouveau Casino, a 400-person capacity venue.) Descending into its basement concert lair, the Mecanique Ondulatoire, with its arched form of huge sand-colored rectangular stones, looks like a medieval torture chamber. And with a sardine-packed sold out crowd inside, the venue is more a closed-off tunnel than a room.
Craig Owens has always been a shy guy, but on his solo tour he’s become more available and open. When he came up with the idea of a solo run, without Chiodos and Cinematic Sunrise, the bands he fronts, he originally wanted to play in front of less than 100 people every night. In order to meet the high demands of ticket sales, he eventually embraced the idea of playing bigger shows. Although the setting was not as intimate as he’d like, the packed out Highline Ballroom show was hardly small, brimming at a 700-person capacity.
Running a total of three and half hours with two intermissions, the Theater for a New Audience’s production of Hamlet at the Duke Theater, like the character Polonius, fails to be brief. Fortunately, director David Esbjornson made every line count and managed to keep almost everyone in the theater, and fully engaged.
In order for a modern production of such a canonical (and ubiquitous) play as Hamlet to succeed, it must unearth new mysteries. Shakespeare buffs will easily revert to the usual banalities such as “how will they decide to stage the ghost?” These questions are inevitable, but a stellar production must transcend them to acquire sufficient raison d’etre. In Esbjornson’s version, that compelling, thought-provoking tension stemmed from a dexterous treatment of moral ambiguity and emphatic emotion. The set was a minimalist yet seductive blend of shifting black, whites, and grays; each tone a deliberate but naïve instrument of inevitable confusion and discontent.
The Presets and The Golden Filter represented opposite ends of the disco spectrum in terms of volume, tone, and intensity at this show. Disappointingly, I only caught the very tail end of Golden Filter’s set, but, from what sparse recordings I have been able to get my hands on, their disco is a nod towards the era of roller-queens and hazy, hedonistic, introspection. Which isn’t to say it was too light. Their beats were sugary but prodding, propelling their songs to desirable places.
By contrast The Presets devoted themselves to a dark, grimy, and almost painfully loud electronica. Its completely minor soaked chromatic melodies were macabre and aggressive (that would be the “Apocalypse” part of their recent release Apocalypso), but the crowd seemed to thrive on the redundancy of their structure. Thankfully Kim Moyes’ periodic live drumming added a captivating live dynamic whilst Julian Hamilton, in his levitating white blazer, proved a competent and consistent singer. In fact he was practically a young Rod Stewart on stage, running between his keyboards and center stage to strike theatrical profiles. Their best tracks were their first and last, proving that they’re apt at opening and closing shows—it was the meaty part of the set that was lost on them. “Kicking and Screaming” was a dramatic beginning as was the segue into “My People”. Ending with “This Boy’s In Love”, their best song, they then came full circle with a massive “My People” reprise.