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Friday, Jun 12, 2009
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

Chicago was given a rare gift when St. Vincent (known to her friends as Annie Clark) stopped by the city to play on two consecutive nights. Both shows—a rainy Sunday at the Metro and on an overly humid Monday night at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park—were filled with songs such as “Black Rainbow” and “Marrow” that started out pretty and climbed to a transcendent climax.


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Thursday, Jun 11, 2009
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

Though they are categorized by many as an indie rock band, Toronto’s Rock Plaza Central defy genres in many ways. The experience of seeing the band play live ranges from religious (especially during songs such as “My Children, Be Joyful”) to intense and experimental (the group’s 2006 Are We Not Horses was a concept album about robotic horses with feelings). Their music also contains tinges of country with fiddle, mandolin, and banjo all making appearances, marking their live sets and recorded material as far from simple, straight ahead rock music.


After an interim that felt longer than it actually was—mainly because many have been anxiously anticipating the band’s creative lyrics and diverse musical accompaniment—Rock Plaza Central are back. Their newest effort ...At the Moment of Our Most Needing formed the backbone of this hour-long set, as the new songs were interspersed with tunes from their previous two records. And though the exploration of concepts is very different from release to release, there was still a tying sense of cohesiveness and tone throughout. 


Touring this time around as a five piece, Rock Plaza Central are one of those bands that makes full use of each band member to create a rich palette with the absence of any musical dead space. Many of the songs throughout their albums contain a great sense of choral unity, where all band members at various points sing the main idea of the song, but violin and trumpet were equally prominent during this set. Even the new songs were incredibly tight with frontman Chris Eaton, whose writing is not limited to lyrics but also includes two novels, leading the way with a voice that sometimes sounded ripe with anguish.


Highlights of their set included new songs like “(Don’t You Believe the Words of) Handsome Men”, which begins with a warning as foreboding trumpet backs the song’s title echoed repetitively throughout the song as band members join in to increase the intensity. In contrast, their new song “Oh I Can” was more of a hopeful refrain of human possibilities, while “Holy Rider” was a pivotal fast paced climax. Going as far back as 2003’s The World Was Hell to Us, they even played the fantastic “The Things That Bind You”. Stellar tracks played from Are We Not Horses included “Fifteen Hands”, “When We Go, How We Go”, and “How Shall I To Heaven Aspire?” Certainly seeing them on this tour is not to be missed by any fan of their previous albums, their most recent album, or—as many are—a devotee of their whole back catalog.



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Wednesday, Jun 10, 2009
Photo Credit: Sachyn Mital

Hailing from Manchester, England—home of The Smiths, Oasis, and New Order plus many, many other artists—Doves gained acclaim in the latter half of the ‘90s after switching from creating electronic to rock oriented music. The first two albums, Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast, each earned prestigious Mercury Music Prize nominations and the third release, Some Cities, was another high caliber work.


Four years later, the trio are touring in support of their newest album Kingdom of Rust, a diverse record with some quieter songs such as “Compulsion” and new influences, like the Spaghetti Western elements in the title track. At this show, the group’s three core members, Jimi Goodwin on bass and brothers Jez and Andy Williams on guitar and drums respectively mostly kept in a triangle while the unofficial fourth member, Martin Rebelski, remained aside at his keyboards.


Showcasing their dynamic songs against a video projection background, Doves tirelessly tore through songs during a 90-minute set with Goodwin barely pausing to address the audience until later on. Opening with “Jetstream”, a song from their new album with subdued vocals and warped electronic effects, built up the crowd’s expectations. Doves followed with “Snowden”, letting Goodwin’s vibrant vocals fill the venue as he inquired, “why should we care?” and the frothing guitar and keyboards reached climax.


Continuing to alternate between a sparser sound and full stadium rock, Doves sandwiched the quieter songs (“Almost Forgot Myself” and “10:03”) between the powerful works (“Pounding” and “Words”). And they pushed the audience into the break on a high; after stomping along to the Motown-tinged “Black and White Town”, pulses quickened on the tense almost frantic “The Outsiders” until finally the guitar-propelled “Caught by the River” bathed everyone in its warmth.


Though this venue has never been acoustically friendly to any artist I’ve seen here, the audience remained receptive despite the muddled sound. So Doves returned for an encore to a crowd applauding for older favorites. Goodwin took a moment to thank New York, as well as their “favorite couple ever” Dennis and Lois, then crooned “The Cedar Room” a slow, steady missive before trading places allowing Andy to sing “Here it Comes”. Doves closed out the night with “There Goes the Fear” as Goodwin and Andy banged away in a Stomp-like percussion frenzy at the end. The crowd, similarly enthused, applauded ardently, letting Doves know they are always welcome on this side of the Atlantic.



Tagged as: doves
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Friday, Jun 5, 2009
Words and pictures by Thomas Hauner

Sunday afternoons are inherently lazy, especially those bathed in grills, sangria, and sunshine. Thus the Sunday afternoon summer dance series—Sunday Best—on the banks of the Gowanus Canal at BKLYN Yard was a lively way to mobilize and relax all at once. Quesadillas and fresh watermelon nourished the crowd between Sapporo’s and a cool breeze maximized the informal vibe. Dogs and babies alike danced to resident DJ’s Justin Carter, Doug Singer, and Eamon Harkin who warmed up the crowd before Andy Carthy, a.k.a. Mr. Scruff, took the helm later in the afternoon. The dance floor swelled as Mr. Scruff mixed mostly eclectic funk and other retro-tinged tunes, like “Summertime”.  But despite the healthy turnout of kids and proximity to the canal Mr. Scruff abstained from playing any of his fish-themed repertoire. All in all, it was an ideal afternoon on a canal in Brooklyn.



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Wednesday, Jun 3, 2009
Words by Kevin Pearson / Photos by Kate Legere

A Hawk and a Hacksaw are the kind of band I wouldn’t mind playing my wedding or my wake. They alternate between upbeat, oom-pah led numbers, and mournful dirges with the switch of an accordion key. That they do so in such an idiosyncratic way makes whatever musical track they take always sound like them. Of course, this might be due to the fact that no other band in the indie realm—except Beirut of course—utilizes the same variety of musical sources. But while the Balkans and that area’s folk music is a jumping off point for A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Moroccan bazaars, Mariachi bands, and other Eastern influences also seep through into their sound.


Initially a one-man band consisting of former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer, Jeremy Barnes, A Hawk and a Hacksaw doubled in size several years ago with the addition of violinist, Heather Trost, as a permanent member. Over several albums and EPs, the duo’s sound—Trost’s violin and Barnes’ accordion—has been fleshed out by a revolving array of auxiliary musicians, most notably renowned gypsy brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia and the Hun Hangár Ensemble. While neither of these groups back Barnes and Trost on this current European tour, the duo are instead augmented by three additional musicians playing tuba, bouzouki, and trumpet.


At first, it’s fascinating. Each musician is thoroughly engaging. It’s not your typical instrumental set up either. All of tonight’s percussion comes via Barnes’ foot, which stomps out a minimalist beat upon the skin of a solitary kick drum that is also attached to a couple of tambourines. That he does this whilst simultaneously playing the accordion is cool. The fact that he’s always on beat and on key is impressive. Trost’s violin playing is rousing in that it seemingly spirals out of control like a wild steed only to be lassoed at the last moment. “Nimble” is an understatement when describing the bouzouki player, whose fingers dance across the fret board faster than a stenographer covering a front-page court case. The only musician whose playing seems un-chaotic and methodical is the tuba player. But while this might not be as exciting to watch, his deep notes, in lieu of a bass or proper rhythm, ties everything together, allowing Barnes and Co. to cavort in their gypsy instrumentation.


If there’s any complaint to be made it’s that, aside from an encore that found the band playing unplugged amongst the audience, crowd interaction was kept to a minimum. Instead of being encouraged to move and to dance, it seemed, at times, as though we were watching a museum piece. There was a gap between performer and audience that was never gulfed. I am sure that this has a lot to do with the band’s need to concentrate on their dexterous playing, but such joyous music, especially music of an instrumental nature, needs interaction and both band and audience failed to adhere to this. Sure, there were a few handclaps and some nodding of heads, but unfortunately the overall the atmosphere was one of reverence over reaction.



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