The energetic—nearly riotous perhaps—Cage the Elephant were great openers for the 2016 Summerstage season. The band packed in crowds for two sold out nights and the youthful crowd showered adoration upon them. As the band, and in particular lead singer Matt Shultz, took the stage, their enthusiastic and electric energy leapt into the audience who quickly lit with their own madness. This felt like a rare night for Summerstage—rarely do I see security in the photo pit looking out for over enthusiastic fans or crowd surfers approaching the barriers. Cage the Elephant will return to NYC for a free show May 29th—full details follow below.
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When I first caught Lawrence during CMJ in 2015, it was a completely chance encounter. I was hanging out in Webster Hall and wandering between floors capturing various bands. I wasn’t sticking around for entire sets for the most part until I went downstairs and saw the youthful Lawrence. Led by brother and sister Clyde and Gracie Lawrence, the band’s soulful sound hooked me. I didn’t get a chance to see them again until well into 2016 and by this point the group had finished recording and had just released their debut album Breakfast (streaming below) which was produced by Eric Krasno (of Soullive). So I got a chance to familiarize myself with the album and, enticed by what I heard, I looked forward to the homecoming show for the New York based group.
At Rockwood, the siblings, plus their band of six other musicians including three brass or woodwind players, had tons of friends, family and fans in tow for a sold-out sweaty show during which they were treated to a soulful course of Breakfast. Including Breakfast songs, Lawrence also performed a few energetic covers, including Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” and The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, that were enhanced by the powerful horns and Gracie’s dynamic vocals. The band closed out their set with an encore of “Me & You”, a song whose funky rhythm possesses the confident strut of a classic ‘70s funk anthem. There’s a lot to look forward to from Lawrence and for the band who will be heading out to draw in more listeners this summer at Bonnaroo.
Going into the Red Bull Music Academy’s “Where Spaceways Meet: A Night of Spiritual Jazz” event, I had imagined there would be a few instances of collaboration between the musicians slated to appear. Unfortunately, that was not the case but audiences were still treated to incredible sets from the groundbreaking artists, Sun Ra Arkestra, Pharoah Sanders and newcomer Kamasi Washington. First thing to mention though, I had to miss most of Kamasi Washington’s set, which was a big disappointment for me, but I was truly pleased with what I had seen and heard by that point.
RMBA events are often in venues off the beaten path of the typical NYC circuit. Last year FKA twigs was at Brooklyn Hangar and this event took place in a warehouse near the river in Greenpoint, with the stage set up in the round so the audience could get a 360 view of the bands performing. I hadn’t ever seen Sun Ra Arkestra or Sanders though I have seen Washington twice, including his first NYC run at Blue Note.
As Tegan and Sara were quick to note, before the end of the second song, their joke bickering could have been construed as a “fight” by a reviewer. The salacious details of the rift between the two would spread far and wide before the night was out. However, there would be nothing further from the truth. Instead, the sisters bantered playfully off each other frequently and extensively throughout the night—as Tegan noted early on, the audience ought to expect thirty minutes of chatter. They discussed their middle school and high school eras (some game called raft which was really just charades but on a raft in a living room), their hair styles (Tegan didn’t seem satisfied with hers) and their fashion (few could see Sara’s fantastic shoes as she unfortunately noted). A particular highlight was Sara’s wonderment (and possible disgust) over the couch people had brought to sit on while they waited in line to get into the show—fans were in line as early as noon it seems—given the effort and the possibility of bedbugs it may hold.
Ultimately though the evening allowed Tegan and Sara the opportunity to share their music in an intimate setting with their fans. Within a set which opened and closed with two acoustic numbers, Tegan and Sara performed career highlights, including several off their previous earworm Heartthrob (one of my favorite pop records of the past decade) and several powerful new tracks, like “Boyfriend” and “Stop Desire”, from their forthcoming Love You to Death (June 3rd; Warner Brothers). Supporting them where two musicians new to their crew, Brendan Buckley on drums and Gabriel McNair on keys, who will also be gearing up with them for a huge North American tour at the end of summer. Their four intimate shows were tough tickets to get but Tegan and Sara then took a more populist approach to spreading their music by performing “Boyfriend” live on Jimmy Fallon’s show the next night. Video of the song and photos from the show follow below.
It’s been eight years since Ben Harper had played with the Innocent Criminals live but the band came together in 2015 to record a new album Call It What It Is. On the eve of the album’s release, Harper and the Criminals performed a rousing set at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Opening up for them was NYC based singer-songwriter Christoper Paul Stelling, a live favorite of mine given his penchant for performing within the crowd. While Stelling didn’t have his full band in tow unfortunately, there was a good chunk of the theatre already filled to watch him perform. And those folks were very into his set, rising up from their seats to enjoy his set, a rare sight for an opener.
The main course for the evening arrived not long after Stelling departed the stage (unfortunately not while strumming through the crowd). Harper and the band, including drummer Oliver Charles, percussionist Leon Mobley, bassist Juan Nelson, guitarist Michael Ward and Jason Yates on keys, took the stage to hearty applause and what they witnessed was one of the most sincere, heartfelt performances that any musician ever could give. The group performed a smattering of their classics interspersed with tracks from Call It What It Is. It was a real pleasure to hear Harper croon “Diamonds on the Inside” and follow it up the tender “Deeper and Deeper”. “Excuse Me Mr.”, “Burn One Down” and “Steal My Kisses” were other awesome classic to hear live. During the show, Harper went solo for a couple of songs in the middle and people frequently rose from their seats to dance. It was a smouldering performance of bluesy, reggae-tinged rock that showed the remarkably rich heart of Harper and a fine evening. Catch Harper on tour throughout the summer. Dates follow a photo set from the Beacon Theatre below.