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by Sachyn Mital

15 Jun 2009

While a free show at 2 pm on a weekday in the tourist-teeming Rockefeller Center from a multiplatinum musician should draw a huge crowd, Moby’s small acoustic performance at the NBC Café had only been briefly mentioned on his website so people were not packed shoulder to shoulder. Those folks ‘in the know’ and those fortunate enough to be there all witnessed an intimate showcase with Moby as he played a grab bag of songs and humbly chatted in-between.

When not creating music, Moby has made occasional guest appearances at NYC’s comedy venue the Upright Citizen Brigade Theater. At the café, he got to share some of this lighter side. In between songs, Moby jokingly stated that the first goal of showmanship is to interrupt a song as often as possible, or rather during, switching from piano to guitar or when part of a song eluded him. The intimacy even allowed him to offer sandwiches and fruit from the green room to the audience.

Accompanying Moby was Kelli Scarr, his friend and former lead singer of Moonraker. She has lent her talents to his forthcoming release, Wait for Me and in return he is producing her debut release Piece. Scarr’s warm voice substituted for the old gospel very well on “Natural Blues” and “Honey”. She also sang the title track from his new album and “Southside”.

Moby also sang a couple of covers for which he requested help from the audience. People eagerly sang “doo doo” in Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” and vocalized the trumpet within Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”.  Finally, despite requests to play all day, Moby ended his brief show with a Neil Young cover. Clocking in at around 45 minutes, the show was a great way to spend a lunch break. Seeing an artist in a venue where the sound of a blender can overpower the singing makes a person feel a part of something special.

by John Bohannon

14 Jun 2009

Segueing into Saturday after Friday’s festivities, I came to the slow realization that my body can’t quite handle these events like it used to. After a barrage of beat-driven acts on Friday, my goal on Saturday was to seek out a relaxing array of music throughout the day in preparation for the day’s headliner, Bruce Springsteen.

One of the most pleasant surprises came in the form of a press exclusive performance by Nonesuch newbies, The Low Anthem. Combining the droning element of a pump organ and the subtle nuance of atmospheric tones, the band hit a perfect chord, especially the vocals, which were absolutely phenomenal and as pure as can be. Their debut Oh My God, Charlie Darwin will be making it into my hands as soon as the festival is finished, and I suggest it makes it into yours as well.

Now, for the record, I have always had an avid hatred for the music of Jimmy Buffett. I’ve stayed as far away as possible from hotel resorts that might pipe out his tunes as I check in, and you’d never find me in one of his Margaritaville restaurants. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a giant smile on my face during his set with Ilo Ferreira and the Coral Reef All-Stars. There is something mighty charming about the man in person. Whether you like Buffet’s music or not, he knows how to make an audience feel good—and one can do nothing but commend that.

by John Bohannon

13 Jun 2009

After the never-ending ordeal of plunging into the campgrounds, another prolific year for Bonnaroo is underway. Now in its eighth year, it has become one of the world’s most diverse and popular festival destinations and it’s parked dead in the middle of Tennessee. No different from previous years, the backpacked druglords and the eager and willing are in full force. After a setback on Thursday night that involved a torrential downpour and the quick scare of a tornado warning rumor, Friday proved to sit among the row of ducks for impressive days having taken place at the festival. On initial thought, the excitement I managed to muster up for this year’s trek in the mud was minimal at best. Communing with Phish and Public Enemy fans alike, the atmosphere filled with the smell of patchouli and weed smoke somehow draws me in to its, well, unyielding charm.

Friday’s madness kicked off with a phenomenal set from critical-darlings (and David Byrne advocates), the Dirty Projectors. Every little thing about this band is complex in its nature, but simple in its approach. Building layers of beautiful vocal harmonies and spastic guitar-lines, the band somehow finds a groove that is grounded in the pop world of Wings-era McCartney and Paul Simon’s Graceland, and the convulsive, quirky approach of Talking Heads. Considering they were playing on the David Byrne-curated stage, it only made sense for them to have him guest on the Dark Was the Night sensation, “Knotty Pine”—a beautiful way to end a near perfect set.

After having standards set high, it was inevitable something was set to fail. It just happened to be possibly the most hyped band of 2009, Animal Collective. Their set was a complete and utter failure. Full of electronic meandering and slowed down renditions of their otherwise, upbeat and sunny songs, their Merriweather Post Pavilion-driven set fell flat on its face to a monstrous crowd. In order for this band to take the next step in their career, they should spend time learning to wow larger audiences and how to adapt a set in stadium-sized situations.

BELA FLECK [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

BELA FLECK [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

Bonnaroo has always had a knack for exposing world music to American audiences, one of my favorite aspects of the festival. This year, they had the Africa Rising tent featuring the likes of Toumani Diabate & Bela Fleck, Toubab Krewe, Amadou and Miriam, and African beat legend, King Sunny Ade. The Nigerian-based Ade brought the funk from across the Atlantic. Known as the king of Juju, his new compositions sound just as fresh and soulful as those he created over 20 years ago, melding the best elements of the west’s approach to pop music with traditional Nigerian music. The only shame was this was probably the least attended performance I saw on Friday (probably due to the fact they were competing with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). Ade and his band, the African Beats, showed artistic integrity and dedication to an art form unlike anyone else on Friday, and lets hope it paid off with a new, dedicated audience.

TV ON THE RADIO [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

TV ON THE RADIO [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

After a quick nap in the lovely hammocks behind the stage, I managed to get some liquid courage from the fine Tennessean whiskey and pummel through TV on the Radio’s set. I think its fair to say Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone are two of my favorite figures in modern music. They are so charismatic and inimitable with their approach, its hard not to love what they are doing. I’m not quite sure what the hell Tunde is doing when he dances, but after watching the man act in Jump Tomorrow and Rachel Getting Married—it makes complete sense. His awkwardness is his allure, and creates a stage presence that’s unparalleled.

DAVID BYRNE [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

DAVID BYRNE [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

After curating a stage for the day, David Byrne had a performance to take care of himself. There’s a reason why he is one of the biggest figures in the world of avant-garde pop music, and it comes out in every aspect of his live performance. Playing everything from Talking Heads era classics such as “Born Under Punches” and “Burning Down the House” to cuts off of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Byrne is truly a seasoned veteran, controlling the crowd with every word and fluid movement. He also had the help of a brilliantly choreographed dance-routine that was about as offbeat and spastic as David Byrne’s music itself (which I’m sure was intentional). Truly sensational and one of the best experiences I’ve had at Bonnaroo in my six years attending.

PUBLIC ENEMY [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

PUBLIC ENEMY [Photo: Karen Dunbar]

Capping off the night was a solid performance from political-minded hip-hoppers Public Enemy. I have the feeling a good 75% of the crowd came out to see Flava Flav, and rightfully so—the man looks about 65 but holds it down like he’s 25. There’s a reason he was and is the best hype man in the game. Chuck D brought the brains to the operation, doing exactly what he has been doing for over 20 years, informing an audience that’s willing to listen and encouraging them to be socially conscious. That’s a deed to the death for Chuck D, and its obvious even in a constant party environment.

After a day of blistering heat and constant exhausting, the back of my car had never sounded so good (my tent got flooded the night before, which never fails to happen). Prepping for a Saturday of Springsteen and a hefty endurance test is on the horizon. Looks like Bonnaroo will be yet another success.

by Kirstie Shanley

12 Jun 2009

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.

by Kirstie Shanley

11 Jun 2009

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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