Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker, better known as the acid jazz downtempo sensation Zero 7, performed to a near capacity crowd at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre not quite two weeks ago. The duo, based out of London England and supported by vocalists Eska Mtungwazi and Martha Tilston, was in town for the first time in three years to promote their new album Yeah Ghost. The contributing artists accompanied Binns and Hardaker’s signature synth-driven melodies with a plethora of traditional and unique instruments, often giving the impression that you were listening to totally different bands from one song to the next. The songs constantly transitioned from jazzy numbers, like “Pop Art Blue” with its soulful lyrics, to bass heavy instrumentals, such as “Seeing Things,” that were reminiscent of early “808 State” songs and had the crowd dancing around with reckless abandon. This variety of tempo and style kept the performance unpredictable and very entertaining to watch. A lively three-song encore that included “In The Waiting Line,” “The Pageant Of The Bizarre,” and “All Of Us” concluded an already strong performance and left fans shouting “Zero 7 rules” and clapping long after the band left the stage.
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Last June I was informed of a band, Fanfarlo, and was offered their album, Reservoir, for a $1 download. So nonchalantly I purchased it. It wasn’t until the end of summer though, after I heard they were playing NYC with Jonsi and Alex (Riceboy Sleeps) DJ’ing the same show, that I finally listened to their CD. It did not sink in right away, but I soon found myself listening to it repeatedly. As an aside, Peter Katis, of Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, CT, is the linchpin in this string of relations as he produced both Reservoir and Jonsi’s forthcoming album Go (as well as the new Swell Season album, Strict Joy, amongst others.)
Emulating the first actual cold winter’s night of the season the Phenomenal Handclap Band began their set with the opening track from their eponymous debut, “The Journey to Serra da Estrela.” Its spaced out moaning winds echoed those outside, creating the perfect beginning to a celebratory night (the band returned to New York after months of touring) that was punctuated with repeated surprises. Unfortunately none were musical.
I’ll say this much for Ghostland Observatory—they have a great lighting rig. Wafer-thin sheets and spires in all manner of colors peppered the room the moment the lights went down; it was hard not to get excited with the visuals alone, but just in case, the band members also wore sparkly garb to heighten the effect. Frontman Aaron Behrens’ voice is rubbery and unpredictable enough to be engaging almost no matter what the context, but for the most part this is a duo so dependent on autopilot that there will rarely be more than 1.25 people actually playing anything at any given time. Thomas Turner, actually rocking a cape (sparkly), did his part by pushing the various triggers and play buttons, but Behrens’ purpose is apparently primarily to make it appear as though there is more than just that happening. It only worked sometimes, the most notable shortcomings being the faux-abstract portions that inevitably screamed either FUN WITH PRESETS or else ROSS HAS A KEYBOARD. Oh, and then there was the talkbox, for which Turner channeled not Frampton nor Kanye, but Richie Sambora. (So are we actually supposed to be distracted from the music by all these shiny things?) I think we can all agree that seeing this band is a hell of a lot better than merely listening to them, because this was a wonderful presentation of largely boring songs. But hey, welcome to the music industry.
Recording artist Elvis Perkins and his multi-instrumentalist band of minstrels visited the Bowery Ballroom last Friday, gently closing the gap between folk and rock along the way. It was the first of two stops in the city in support of his latest effort, Doomsday EP, recorded with his trusty backing band Dearland. Fittingly, the group’s set began with a dirge, Perkins and his associates main lining through the Ballroom for “Slow Doomsday” before fully unwrapping it upon reaching the stage. Their sound ached and moaned in all right spots—something that Elvis Perkins in Dearland maintained all night. Though the audience’s dysfunctional dynamics often became their own distractions (the quiet half of the crowd yelling at the less attentive half to shut up; couples making out while groups of guys high-fived each song; Facebook updates from the first row) Elvis and his brilliantly adaptable band managed to transcend it all. Jumping from folk intimacies like “While You Were Sleeping” to “Stop Drop Rock and Roll,” Perkins proved his bygone lyrics could transform any style in his repertoire. But it wasn’t entirely Elvis. A pair of violinists provided swaths of drama to numerous tunes while a trumpet player joined trombone player, gorgeous harmonizer, and instrumentalist Wyndham Boylan-Garnett for a brassy introduction to the full-throttled version of “Doomsday,” which wrapped up the band’s set. Its beer-hall oomph was rowdy and visceral enough to get even the meekest crowd members bobbing (namely the boys from opener Bowerbirds yelling out to Elvis from the front row.) The brief revelry felt as old-fashioned as Perkins’ standard-issue frames, but his insightful lyrics and beautiful arrangements won’t go out of style anytime soon.