As far as venerated venues go, Radio City is pretty much it. It’s the pinnacle of every tour no matter how many times it’s been conquered, bestowing a child-like exuberance to practically all those who grace its stage. So it was for Josh Ritter who opened the evening. Though he’s as excited and sincere as a schoolboy for nearly every show, Ritter was equally courageous by trying out half new material. His new folk narratives (“The Curse”, “Annabelle Lee”) carried over well but “Girl in the War” remains a thing of beauty, and it instilled a quiet contemplative reverence in the crowd.
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The United Palace, a renovated 1930’s New York City movie theatre, set the majestic backdrop for Vampire Weekend’s epic hometown return. Filled with thousands of screaming teenagers and adults alike, the sold out show was positioned as the type of gig to be talked about for months. The question, however, was coming off of the release of their sophomore album, Contra, was the reception of new material going to be as welcomed as some of their debut’s classic cuts?
As gale-force winds whipped rain against City Winery’s exterior, inside the night belonged to cozy hour d’oeuvres, a glass of wine and old-fashioned folk singing. Young banjoist Sam Amidon began the night with his best song, “How Come That Blood”, but never successfully matched the charm of his initial lulling cadence paired with his raspy sonority. The audience (including David Byrne) embraced his deadpan idiosyncrasies and cheered loudly when he saved the intonation on his third song by moving his guitar capo into the same key he was singing in. But his offbeat allure resonated well with his rustic musings, especially when sung in his yodeler’s croak of a tenor. Accompanied by a pianist, he harmonized with Beth Orton—whom he introduced as opening for herself—on “Sugar Baby”, ending his set on a gorgeous note.
“I have a shipwreck fetish you could say,” blurted out the mostly quiet singer of the Wingdale Community Singers. Nina Katchadourian was attempting to explain the inspiration for one her songs, “Castaway”. The song itself was solemn and technical and soaked in old time sorrow. In fact most of Singers’ repertoire on Monday night at the Mercury Lounge was entirely old fashioned yet entirely contemporary—it was creaky and aged while chronicling contemporary Brooklyn life. Despite the group’s tacit reverence for their trade’s history, and their craft, most song’s were innately funny. Lead singer Hannah Marcus grieved an old Les Paul guitar on “Les Paul” and grieved further on “Tears in My Tequila” with vocalist and guitarist Rick Moody. However the mood was light, enabling the group’s finally coalescing vocal lines to suspend briefly during “Willing Sense of Disbelief”. Unfortunately their casual, both-hands-on-the-lap harmonies were rough around the edges more often then not, leaving one desiring a bit more. Thankfully the vigor of their last number, “Rock of Ages”, sung to “This Land is Your Land”, pushed their four-part harmonies into tune while they patronized the exploitation of natural treasures.
The American Museum of Natural History seems an unlikely venue for a music concert (despite having attended a Moby listening party there) but it has regularly stepped as host to One Step Beyond events. When I heard that 2009’s indie darlings Animal Collective would be doing a DJ set there, along with an unannounced “special guest”, I did not know what to expect except that I wanted in.