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Monday, May 18, 2009
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

As the Roots slowly adjust to their new day job accompanying Jimmy Fallon and New York-centric lifestyle, their bi-weekly residency at the Highline Ballroom, “The Jam”, has become an unpredictable yet approachable setting to see the group in its element… at least elements of the group. This evening found only Black Thought, ?uestlove—the mainstays of the group—and bass player Owen Biddle leading an open mic night of sorts.


 


The late night set consisted of dozens of young, fledgling musicians sharing the stage with their musical heroes (many gave personal shout outs to the group and/or ?uestlove). It was unclear whether they were all alumni of the same performing arts academy as the Roots themselves (Philadelphia’s High School for Creative and Performing Arts) or just an assortment of their favorite up and coming rappers, vocalists, guitarists, horn players, and percussionists. Regardless, the sell out crowd was supportive and encouraging of the raw talent making its rounds on stage.


However the real story of the night was the stellar rhythm section holding the jam session together—that the Roots are one of music’s best rhythm sections should surprise no one. Naturally de facto music director of the Roots, ?uestlove, was at the helm, micromanaging the shuffling list of musicians from behind his drum kit and also calling out changes and key signatures to the other players. His ambidexterity is awesome, but his real talent is his ability in seamlessly transitioning and transposing multiple musical epochs into one fluid jam. He does it every night and I suspect his work on Late Night is only improving this skill. Along with ?uestlove, the celebrated songwriter and keyboard player James Poyser played back up. Perfectly in sync with ?uestlove the presence of Biddle, on six-string bass, rounded out the extremely adaptable and agile rhythm section.


Given that the Lonely Island (Andy Samberg’s comedy group) had performed on Late Night the previous evening, I was holding out hope that their collaboration with the Roots would spill over into the Highline gig. The band’s ephemeral sets are just another reason to keep coming back for more.



Tagged as: the roots
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Thursday, May 14, 2009
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

To say the Twlight Sad’s songs are intense would be a drastic understatement. The heartbreak is on the level of Shakespearean proportions. But while the band is clearly one of the most emotional out there in terms of songwriting, they don’t fit into any emo genre. It’s true that the Scottish quartet paint images of kids on fire in bedrooms (“That Summer At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy”) and explore the drunken mind (“And She Would Darken the Memory”), but the bleakness of the lyrics is backed by a turbulent sound that touches on shoegaze at times.


Like the disarming lyrics, the delivery of lead singer James Graham’s vocals—both on record and live—has an intensity that is matched by very few. He caresses the microphone gently, but by the end of each set you feel as though he’s confided some of his deepest and darkest thoughts and experiences. There’s no calming peace as the music behind Graham builds to loud heights. The feeling of conflict in the air is augmented with Graham’s frantic drumming done on his knees to create a crashing effect. Despite this, the crucial element of what holds the songs together never fully dissolves and each climax seems a necessary conclusion.


What’s most surprising is the level of accomplishment in the songs. Most bands struggle through their first few albums to create something as completely alive as the Twilight Sad’s only full length to date Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters and still many never quite make an album this devastating. Likewise, it’s an unusual experience to witness something this honest live and the effect is truly memorable.



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Monday, May 11, 2009
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

The show must go on. So the old adage goes at least, but that was before electronic music and before bands became completely dependent on alternating current and all the gizmos, computers, and samplers that it brings to life. An electronic-based band should hardly have amnesty from such showbiz dogma. And yet the Junior Boys pulled out all the scapegoats at Webster Hall when Matt Didemus’ sampler cut out. Singer Jeremy Greenspan had the unfortunate task of conveying all the bad news to the crowd, though. They chastised the sampler’s manufacturer, AKAI, stressed the frustration of having such problems in New York City rather than Kentucky, and shot out that, “I bet this never happens to Fleet Foxes.”


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Friday, May 8, 2009
Words and pictures by Thomas Hauner

It’s been over a year and a half since Ben Harper’s last release (2007’s Lifeline, recorded in Paris with the Innocent Criminals), but three years since anything of his has really reverberated on American shores (his bifurcated 2006 effort, Both Sides of The Gun). He’s huge in Europe. But despite the prevalence of francophones and the excitement of releasing yet another work (White Lies for Dark Times, this time recorded with a new trio, calling themselves the Relentless7) Harper and the Relentless7 eased into the new repertoire. Opening with Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” deliberately instilled the raw, punishing but harmonic hard rock tone that embodies the new album. “Better Way” became a passionately hard effort on its own (sans tablas), and proved an apt segue from old to new songs.


 


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Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

Adeptly skirting the line between indie pop and indie punk, Portland’s three-piece The Thermals seemed to be having as much fun as the audience at this show. There’s a visible chemistry between the band members on stage, especially Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster. This undoubtedly makes their songs sound tighter live, even when their over-amorous fans add their own volume to the mix. In fact, it was undeniable how anthemic the Thermals’ songs had become—especially to the younger members of the crowd.


 


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