Girl in a Coma had the distinct honor of opening for indie-rock powerhouse The Wedding Present at the Bowery Ballroom last Saturday. If the preceding sentence just provoked thoughts of a bunch of indie sad-sacks, it’s understandable. After all, their name references a Smiths song, they were playing a Lower East Side landmark and opening for one of indie’s forefathers. Girl in a Coma surely consists of four prematurely balding but bearded young men who together have amassed the greatest sweater collection in the world, right?
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Two things are all but guaranteed at a Xiu Xiu show: frontman Jamie Stewart will turn in an impassioned, harrowing performance and at least some portion of the audience will flee as a result. The band might not clear out a room quite like it used to—at this point, most folks seem to know what to expect—but Stewart’s performances are still as unflinchingly distressing as they ever were. Luckily, the music helps the confrontation go down a bit easier, pegging pixilated melodies and driving rhythms to Stewart’s narratives of violence and exploitation. In their latest incarnation as a two-piece (Stewart and multi-instrumentalist Angela Seo), Xiu Xiu proved that they’re still capable of making plenty of noise, employing guitars, live percussion, electronic instrumentation, various toy whistles and the Hello Kitty-clad Nintendo DS that features so heavily on their latest full-length, Dear God, I Hate Myself.
As good as Xiu Xiu were, opener Tune-Yards, a.k.a. Merrill Garbus, just might have stolen the show with her whimsical pop collages. Building loops on the fly from drum hits, ukulele strums, vocal chants and other spontaneous noises, Garbus proved to be a skillful and charismatic performer who had little trouble winning over the sold out crowd. While her loop station skills recall Andrew Bird’s, her sound is more global in its reach, incorporating bits of indie-pop, hip-hop, West African guitar-pop and various traditional musics. And while she employed a bassist on a handful of songs, she carried the majority of them all by herself—a fact that made Xiu Xiu’s two-person lineup look downright excessive.
Having grown up in refugee camps buried in the deeper Saharan parts of Mali and then come of age during a rebellious uprising by their fellow Toureg tribesmen in the 90’s, Tinariwen could have hard-knock street cred by the bushel—if they had any use for such things. They don’t. Instead their songs are excellent, joyous extended jams with one chord (and it’s a major chord, natch) and what I’d bet would prove to be soaring celebratory vocals, if I could understand them. It’s quite unfortunate that they get filed away, and often subsequently ignored as “world music”; the flavors are West African enough, plucked strings and hand drums and so on, but the mission is solidly rock ‘n’ roll, with guitars and most everything else turned up as loud as they’ll go. (To be fair to the pigeonholers, the African garb and outlandish headdresses are a pretty substantial red herring on this front.)
A disgusting mid-March torrential downpour pushed me back to an 8:11 arrival for Zakir Hussain‘s 8 PM show at the Rose Theatre at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I was greeted by a guarded door, a closed-circuit TV monitoring the performance inside, and the typical theater promise that we’d be escorted inside by ushers as soon as there was an acceptable break in the performance. The problem with this is that, given the North Indian classical program, when you add up the introductory alap of the raga and the long-form virtuoso freak-out solo that follows, you often end up with a 45-minute piece. This quite distressed an elderly Indian woman who ended up stranded outside the theater with me. My distraught friend’s laments convinced them to let us in earlier than planned, thankfully, at which point we were loudly scolded, mid-performance, by Zakir while rooting around for empty seats. It wasn’t the shout out one usually hopes for.
Doing justice to a classic LP in a live setting is harder than it might seem. It requires finding a middle ground between reinterpretation and faithfulness; skew too far in either direction and fans will feel cheated. Luckily, The Wedding Present have a bit of experience in this area, having taken their debut LP George Best on the road in 2007 to celebrate its 20th anniversary. This time around the band dug into the 1989 indie-pop stone classic Bizarro and proved more than up to the task. After warming up with a few new numbers, the band launched into “Brassneck”, rendering the song’s bright, jangly guitars and pent up frustrations expertly. “This is quite an intense LP, in case you hadn’t noticed,” head Weddoe David Gedge quipped about halfway through side one. Eschewing an encore (as they are wont to do), the band played Bizarro front-to-back, channeling all of its energy, charm and lovelorn wit. But that didn’t stop fans from yelling out requests. When asked to play “Box Elder” (a Pavement cover that appears on the U.S. reissue of the album), Gedge explained that they were only running through the “classic” original UK version. When a fan yelled out “Come back next year and play Seamonsters,” however, Gedge seemed more amenable. “I will if you make it worth my while,” he said with a grin.