It may seem like a strange thing to say about a band that strictly plays cover songs, but Nouvelle Vague has found their niche. But then, Nouvelle Vague are a far cry from the visions typically connoted by the words “cover band”. If their three studio albums and international touring didn’t already solidify that fact, then one only needed to be present at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall Friday night listening to the crowd demand their second encore.
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With temperatures hovering around minus 20 degrees Celsius, Thursday was the perfect evening to stay home under blankets, on the couch, watching a movie and sipping hot chocolate. But Toronto does love live music and when one of the night’s performers happens to be local talent Barzin, its well worth it to bundle up and brave the elements. The opening act of a three-band sold out bill, Barzin (playing acoustic guitar) treated fans to his special blend of melancholy folk-music supported by Nick Zubeck on electric guitar, Marshal Bureau on drums, Darren Wall on bass and Terri Parker on keys. The saturating red glow of the Drake Hotel’s custom stage lighting created a mellow ambience to the dreamy fluidity of “Let’s Go Driving” and “Past All Concerns”. Sitting and listening, it was easy to block out background conversation and get lost in the heart-felt sadness that Barzin’s voice so easily conveys. The band also performed newer material such as “Queen Jane” from the 2009 release Notes To An Absent Lover. A highlight performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me To The End Of Love” and “Just More Drugs” ended the set. A more personal highlight moment was actually meeting Barzin on my way out. One on one, he is soft-spoken, friendly and genuine, further convincing me that his stage persona and the emotion in the music he writes are completely authentic.
Tommy Tavern’s is an anomaly in Greenpoint, a neighborhood gentrifying faster than you can say “is the G train running this weekend?” It’s more dive bar than you’ll find almost anywhere; the kind of place where your vodka tonic is a glass of rubbing alcohol topped with a splash of stale sugar water. Two dollar Schaffer’s are the house specialty and the only thing in the place that has been replaced or cleaned in the last decade is a shiny digital juke box, which spews Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, and if you’re lucky, Queen. At the back of the bar is a door that could lead to a closet but instead opens into a amorphous room painted in haphazard crimson. Inside is the bar’s bathroom, and a “stage”. When I entered, the lead guitarist of the night’s headliner, Pop. 1280, was collecting money at the door. The vibe in the room was pretension-free. Everyone was just waiting for the music, noticing little else.
Before Danes Oh No Ono took the stage, the Mercury Lounge capacity crowd was treated to a sporadic set by Brooklyn locals ArpLine. Their electronica sound, regularly augmented by guitars and other live instruments, had the bouncy qualities of Javelin but lacked the complimentary zeal. They came out flat, unable to register a single melody in my head.
In the backwoods of the imagination lies Mike “Yes Yes” Ersing, nestled somewhere between Daniel Johnston, Kimya Dawson, drug addled dreams, and a healthy portion of crooner meets beat poet. Perpetually shifting between wistful and angry freak folk with occasional country undertones, this Buffalo native played on Tuesday January 5th to an intimate crowd at Arlene’s Grocery.