It was an unseasonably warm November night in Toronto and the humidity inside the El Mocambo had many patrons wearing t-shirts and thirsting for beer. After a considerable wait, the Fiery Furnace’s guitarist and co-founder Matthew Friedberger stepped onto the stage inciting cheers and whistles. Drummer Bob D’Amico and Bassist Jason Loewenstein accompanied him. It wasn’t until they had instruments in hand that Eleanor, the group’s other co-founder and sister to Matthew, made her appearance causing fans to bolster their enthusiastic greeting. A quick wave from Matthew and the show was under way. Lowenstein led with a bass line that sent the speakers crackling, making them sound like they would inevitably blow. A few adjustments on the sound board had things back under control before the rest of the band joined in.
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In the vain of kids who grew up listening to ABBA and dreamed of playing to millions with a blast of arena rock against some catchy pop hooks, Sweden’s The Sounds are all about delivery. The five-piece has been around for a decade and has slowly seen their popularity increase in North America, allowing them to sell out increasingly larger venues. Though this was the last night of their North American tour, The Sounds seemed far from exhausted while on stage, giving the audience their all.
Upon ascending the stairs at DC9 Wednesday night, I was greeted by a haze of digital chirps and static. Growing, a three-piece noise outfit from Brooklyn, had already launched into their set and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I was hearing. Order did start to emerge from the chaos, however, as I discerned a method to the madness. Using two guitars, an army of effects pedals and countless sequencers, drum machines and synths, the band built up and tore down a series of warped, disorienting sound collages, underpinned by harsh, driving beats. It felt like the ideal appetizer for what was to come: a set full of epic melodies constructed from bits of digital detritus. I’m talking about Fuck Buttons. The group ably lived up to their reputation for captivating, visceral live shows. They opened, appropriately enough, with their latest single, “Surf Solar,” a ten-minute epic that finds buzzsaw guitars and battery-powered crescendos riding atop a massive, club-friendly beat. Throughout the night, the band toed the line between accessibility and inscrutability, making sure to temper big melodic gestures with blasts of atonal noise. Regardless, the crowd was hooked from the first song until the set’s abrupt end, at which point the two band members, who hadn’t uttered a word all night, simply packed up their gear and walked off as if nothing had ever happened.
Not even tickets to game six of the World Series could dissuade some fans from settling down to two-and-a-half hours with Lyle Lovett and his large band—though several Yankee ticket scalpers still paced outside the Beacon Theatre, miles from the big game in the Bronx. It was pretty fulfilling to see so many eschewing the conspicuous pomposity of yet another pinstriped championship for the antithetic Lovett. At times self-deprecating, but always dapper, demure, and humbling, Lovett led his 14-piece ensemble through a broad setlist of sounds old and new, big and small. Though supporting his most recent release, Natural Forces, and its decidedly country sound was the tour’s ostensible objective, Lovett indulged the crowd using his entire repertoire and array of styles (“My Baby Don’t Tolerate,” “Cute as a Bug,” “L.A. County,” and “I’ve Been to Memphis.”) His masterful band, brilliantly agile and polished, was up to the task: condensing into a bluegrass quartet with mandolin player Keith Sewell sidling up with Lovett for perfectly symmetrical harmonies (“Up in Indiana”); or expanding into a riotous blues band, guitars firing on all cylinders (“It’s Rock and Roll.”) One of Lovett’s most endearing attributes is his refusal to take himself seriously, and songs like “Pantry” (about food adultery) and “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel” (chorus: “Choke my chicken till the sun goes down”) exuded that. At the same time he takes his craft and blessings seriously. Intimate numbers like “Nobody Know Me,” “Natural Forces,” and “Fat Babies,” all laced with tangential stories and quips, made the night seem like our very own Vh1 Storytellers—in a good way. Lovett, astute showman that he is, didn’t shy from pulling out “If I Had a Boat” when the moment called for it, and, always the modest gentleman, deflected the crowd’s praise at his band until the end.
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.