Last night, two of the most buzzed-about new bands of the moment rolled through Washington: San Francisco’s Girls and New Jersey’s Real Estate. Though both bands mine similar sonic territory (lo-fi indie-pop,) and have impossible names to google, in a live setting, their approaches clearly diverge. Real Estate ably demonstrated that beneath all the haze hides a tight ensemble. Belying their beach bum reputation, there was nary a stray note to be found in the band’s set, though they certainly made it look effortless. What’s more, the band imbued their sunny, midtempo compositions with a palpable sense of warmth, rendering tracks off of their self-titled full-length even more inviting than they are on record. Girls, by way of contrast, felt sluggish, though the slower tempos of their songs could be partially to blame. Still, they seemed to lean too heavily on frontman Christopher Owens’ unhinged personality, relying on his delivery to carry most of the songs’ weight. When this approach worked—most notably on the skuzzy shoegaze of “Morning Light” and the bouncy breakup pop of “Laura”—the results were stunning. When it didn’t, the set tended to drag. While Girls show a great deal of promise, they clearly still have a ways to go as a live act. They might want to start by learning a thing or two from their tourmates.
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It truly was a family affair for the Yonder Mountain String Band (YMSB) in Chicago last week as the newgrass quartet kicked off their annual two day run at the House of Blues. Opening the show was banjoist Danny Barnes, accompanied by YMSB mandolin player Jeff Austin.
Every time I attempt to see the Boss, disaster strikes. In May, Bruce Springsteen and company rolled through town and, needless to say, I was looking forward to the show. But on the eve of the concert, upon returning home from a trip, I discovered that my apartment had been flooded, no thanks to a busted water pipe. Out of desperation, I asked my colleague Wilson McBee if he would attend and review the show in my place while I mopped. (He kindly obliged and did one better by writing a more thoughtful review than I ever could have.) Luck was on my side, however, because just six months later Springsteen and the E Street Band were back at the Verizon Center, somehow managing to sell out the 20,000 seat Verizon Center yet again.
The Phenomenal Handclap Band played a funky, fun, lively set at the 9:30 Club to kick off their international tour. Hardly the “eye-popping spectacle that overwhelms the senses” that their press materials promise, they do have a great stage presence and a better sound. It also doesn’t hurt that upfront duo Laura Marin and Joan Tick are nice to look at, in addition to having great voices. For a Sunday night at 10pm, they definitely rocked.
New York City’s Bishop Allen took stage just after midnight at the El Mocambo in Toronto. Supported by Darwin Deez, also from NYC, and Throw Me The Statue, from Seattle, the band had their work cut out for them since both openers played lively sets that had onlookers impressed and actually paying attention. Frontman Justin Rice announced his pleasure at being back in Toronto, noting how much warmer the weather was than his last visit in January—which the crowd reacted to with enthusiastic clapping, cueing the band to get the set rolling. Performing a nearly gapless stream of light-hearted indie-rock ballads, Rice played his guitar peering shyly into the crowd over the top of his glasses while other core member and guitarist Christian Rudder strummed beside bassist Keith Poulson. Darbie Nowatka on keyboards also provided backing vocals while former We Are Scientists drummer Michael Tapper completed the five-piece. Musically, the band played very well together; however the first group of songs started to sound indistinguishable from one another and lacked any real uniqueness to make them memorable. I wasn’t alone in this thinking as the audience’s enthusiasm began to dwindle and their chatter to increase. A set break a few moments later had the audience paying attention again. Rice took the opportunity to share his knowledge of the El Mocambo’s rich musical history, citing such momentous events as The Rolling Stones performance there and the scandal involving Margaret Trudeau (wife of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau ) and getting the fans laughing by stating, “Margaret Trudeau hooked up with Keith Richards here.” With the crowd once again enthralled the band resumed play with older material such as “Like Castanets” and “The Chinatown Bus” from The Broken String. These much catchier, toe-tapping numbers, including fan-favorite “Click, Click, Click, Click,” pulled the audience back in and kept them there for the remainder of the set. A great cover of Devo’s “Gates Of Steel” and an the encore performance of “Flight 180” ended the evening on a high note.