Chicago was given a rare gift when St. Vincent (known to her friends as Annie Clark) stopped by the city to play on two consecutive nights. Both shows—a rainy Sunday at the Metro and on an overly humid Monday night at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park—were filled with songs such as “Black Rainbow” and “Marrow” that started out pretty and climbed to a transcendent climax.
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Though they are categorized by many as an indie rock band, Toronto’s Rock Plaza Central defy genres in many ways. The experience of seeing the band play live ranges from religious (especially during songs such as “My Children, Be Joyful”) to intense and experimental (the group’s 2006 Are We Not Horses was a concept album about robotic horses with feelings). Their music also contains tinges of country with fiddle, mandolin, and banjo all making appearances, marking their live sets and recorded material as far from simple, straight ahead rock music.
After an interim that felt longer than it actually was—mainly because many have been anxiously anticipating the band’s creative lyrics and diverse musical accompaniment—Rock Plaza Central are back. Their newest effort ...At the Moment of Our Most Needing formed the backbone of this hour-long set, as the new songs were interspersed with tunes from their previous two records. And though the exploration of concepts is very different from release to release, there was still a tying sense of cohesiveness and tone throughout.
Touring this time around as a five piece, Rock Plaza Central are one of those bands that makes full use of each band member to create a rich palette with the absence of any musical dead space. Many of the songs throughout their albums contain a great sense of choral unity, where all band members at various points sing the main idea of the song, but violin and trumpet were equally prominent during this set. Even the new songs were incredibly tight with frontman Chris Eaton, whose writing is not limited to lyrics but also includes two novels, leading the way with a voice that sometimes sounded ripe with anguish.
Highlights of their set included new songs like “(Don’t You Believe the Words of) Handsome Men”, which begins with a warning as foreboding trumpet backs the song’s title echoed repetitively throughout the song as band members join in to increase the intensity. In contrast, their new song “Oh I Can” was more of a hopeful refrain of human possibilities, while “Holy Rider” was a pivotal fast paced climax. Going as far back as 2003’s The World Was Hell to Us, they even played the fantastic “The Things That Bind You”. Stellar tracks played from Are We Not Horses included “Fifteen Hands”, “When We Go, How We Go”, and “How Shall I To Heaven Aspire?” Certainly seeing them on this tour is not to be missed by any fan of their previous albums, their most recent album, or—as many are—a devotee of their whole back catalog.
Hailing from Manchester, England—home of The Smiths, Oasis, and New Order plus many, many other artists—Doves gained acclaim in the latter half of the ‘90s after switching from creating electronic to rock oriented music. The first two albums, Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast, each earned prestigious Mercury Music Prize nominations and the third release, Some Cities, was another high caliber work.
Four years later, the trio are touring in support of their newest album Kingdom of Rust, a diverse record with some quieter songs such as “Compulsion” and new influences, like the Spaghetti Western elements in the title track. At this show, the group’s three core members, Jimi Goodwin on bass and brothers Jez and Andy Williams on guitar and drums respectively mostly kept in a triangle while the unofficial fourth member, Martin Rebelski, remained aside at his keyboards.
Showcasing their dynamic songs against a video projection background, Doves tirelessly tore through songs during a 90-minute set with Goodwin barely pausing to address the audience until later on. Opening with “Jetstream”, a song from their new album with subdued vocals and warped electronic effects, built up the crowd’s expectations. Doves followed with “Snowden”, letting Goodwin’s vibrant vocals fill the venue as he inquired, “why should we care?” and the frothing guitar and keyboards reached climax.
Continuing to alternate between a sparser sound and full stadium rock, Doves sandwiched the quieter songs (“Almost Forgot Myself” and “10:03”) between the powerful works (“Pounding” and “Words”). And they pushed the audience into the break on a high; after stomping along to the Motown-tinged “Black and White Town”, pulses quickened on the tense almost frantic “The Outsiders” until finally the guitar-propelled “Caught by the River” bathed everyone in its warmth.
Though this venue has never been acoustically friendly to any artist I’ve seen here, the audience remained receptive despite the muddled sound. So Doves returned for an encore to a crowd applauding for older favorites. Goodwin took a moment to thank New York, as well as their “favorite couple ever” Dennis and Lois, then crooned “The Cedar Room” a slow, steady missive before trading places allowing Andy to sing “Here it Comes”. Doves closed out the night with “There Goes the Fear” as Goodwin and Andy banged away in a Stomp-like percussion frenzy at the end. The crowd, similarly enthused, applauded ardently, letting Doves know they are always welcome on this side of the Atlantic.
Sunday afternoons are inherently lazy, especially those bathed in grills, sangria, and sunshine. Thus the Sunday afternoon summer dance series—Sunday Best—on the banks of the Gowanus Canal at BKLYN Yard was a lively way to mobilize and relax all at once. Quesadillas and fresh watermelon nourished the crowd between Sapporo’s and a cool breeze maximized the informal vibe. Dogs and babies alike danced to resident DJ’s Justin Carter, Doug Singer, and Eamon Harkin who warmed up the crowd before Andy Carthy, a.k.a. Mr. Scruff, took the helm later in the afternoon. The dance floor swelled as Mr. Scruff mixed mostly eclectic funk and other retro-tinged tunes, like “Summertime”. But despite the healthy turnout of kids and proximity to the canal Mr. Scruff abstained from playing any of his fish-themed repertoire. All in all, it was an ideal afternoon on a canal in Brooklyn.
Though unable to attend the event as a member of the press, I was lucky enough to win two contests (from 101.9 RXP and Moby’s Twitter) to get me into the Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium for a listening party for Moby’s new album Wait For Me (out on Mute on June 30th). I missed out on the free booze and the schmoozing unfortunately, and as Moby was there, a chance to speak to him. But for the 250 people, press and contest winners alike, gathered within the gorgeous Rose Center, the listening party was an utterly unique event; the entire album played with accompanying visuals from our solar system selected by the resident astrophysicist for the evening.
The venue could not have been more fitting given Moby’s fascination with space. He titles songs “We Are All Made of Stars” and his ‘Little Idiot’ alien is often a lonely space oddity across many music videos. Snippets of “Pale Horses” playing in the lobby show the alien crafting imaginary friends on the moon or in the older “Why Does my Heart Feel so Bad” he feels excluded after he floats to Earth in a wheelbarrow. And Moby has another direct connection to the Planetarium; it is home on weekends to SonicVision, a mix tape he selected accompanied by visual effects of an abstract universe and giants robot dancing.
Moby humbly introduced the event, noting that the sound system was not operating at 100 percent but thanking everyone for coming. Wait For Me, a more ambient electronic album than his most recent works, has a very cohesive sound though the dynamic changes quite a bit. Some tracks featured the distinctive gospel vocal samples in rotation since Play, at least two tracks had contemporary vocals from Moby and a female friend, and surprisingly one song in the middle had a danceable four-to-the-floor beat. But the majority of the record is rich and lush instrumentals, similar to Little Idiot, the bonus disc to Moby’s 1996 album Animal Rights. And to experience all of this while traveling through the universe, pulling back via the Milky Way, plunging close to the mountaintops of Earth and amidst the rings of Saturn was a grand experience. What a way to introduce a great album to the terrestrial world.