It was from in front of amps draped with Mexican flags and an enormous psychedelic mural, which encompassed the entire back of the stage, that the Mars Volta unleashed their sonic fury on Friday night at Chicago’s Congress Theater. The band stood six members strong on stage, but the brunt of the performance fell on the shoulders of the band’s founders and chief songwriters, guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala. This was just fine by them.
Latest Blog Posts
If weirdness is wonderful, CocoRosie has a handle on being amazing live. Striking in their colorful and unique outfits, Sierra and Bianca Cassidy had an undeniable stage presence. Of course, the true advantage in being eccentric is that you end up putting on a live show that must be seen to be believed and is much different than the vast majority of bands in your genre. You easily become a desired and, sort of, craved spectacle and the crowd can’t help but want more.
As biological sisters, it comes as no surprise how comfortable Sierra and Bianca Cassidy are with each other on stage. While Sierra alternates impressively between harp and piano, Bianca takes control of the strange toys. Juxtaposed with Sierra’s graceful soprano range are Bianca’s strange and twisted vocals. They’re a touch Joanna Newsom but still quite original. It’s like mixing the sour and the sweet together to create a perfect balance of the bizarre and appealing.
In some ways, their performance Friday night at Chicago’s Logan Square Auditorium felt like operatic hip-hop. The two talented sisters had three men playing backup to their own vocals and playing, including an engaging beatboxer who won the crowd over easily. It was difficult to see the support as they stayed in darkness behind the two sisters but nonetheless their presence was felt and only heightened the appeal of CocoRosie’s songs. The setlist alternated naturally between tracks that the crowd could easily dance to and more nostalgic songs that were nonetheless heartfelt throughout the hour and a half show.
With three albums to their name, CocoRosie was a rare treat to see live as they have not toured in quite some time. The capacity crowd, enraptured, stood ready to enjoy songs throughout their career. One of the songs that came off best, however, and put the crowd in a state of awe, was one of their oldest songs: “By Your Side” from 2004’s La maison de mon rêve. Between their stage presence, eloquent sense of grace and playing for the full effect, it wasn’t difficult for CocoRosie to completely win over their audience.
Shoegaze has evolved. It now includes a lot more fun! The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have just enough etherea and shimmer as a supplement to their ripe indie pop hooks with a bit of twee pop thrown in for good measure. It’s truly impossible not to dance when you’re listening to their self titled album or seeing them live. Their blissful offering is heartfelt, as their name suggests, and delivered in a way to ensure that you know sincerity is behind all the catchiness.
Last Thursday night, I trekked out to northeast Washington D.C. to watch David Bazan perform in the living room of a row house for a crowd of 30 kids. It was easily one of the most intimate, powerful performances I’ve witnessed in a long time. Bazan might no longer identify himself as a Christian but it’s hard to avoid religious metaphors when describing his solo shows: he still delivers his songs like sermons, belting them out with his eyes squeezed shut and his head cast back toward the heavens. Though he focused mainly on songs from his latest solo release, the excellent and deeply personal Curse Your Branches, he reached as far back as Pedro the Lion’s 2002 album Control, introducing that record’s penultimate track, “Priests and Paramedics” by lamenting the fact that Americans don’t spend enough time contemplating their own mortality (“It’s a very healthy endeavor”). And in classic Bazan style, he found plenty of time for between song banter, discussing politics, the ethics of music downloading and Radiohead’s In Rainbows with the crowd throughout the evening (he even managed to turn in a surprisingly solid cover of “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box”). Unfortunately, Bazan’s house show tour has now concluded, though he’ll be embarking on a full-band tour starting next month. For those who missed the house shows, we’ve embedded a recorded webcast of Bazan’s Brooklyn solo performance below (courtesy of Brooklyn Vegan).
Robert Glasper’s album release party was a study in the dynamics of contemporary jazz. Flexing the genre’s malleability as well as his own, Glasper showed off his abilities as both trio leader and experimental hip-hop group collaborator. As he often does on his new album Double Booked, Glasper would either seize each ensemble’s melodic reins or demurely diffuse his harmonies into the underlying cadences, as led by drummer Chris Dave and bassists Vicente Archer (acoustic) or Derrick Hodge (electric) depending on the outfit. In fact, Glasper receded too regularly into the background while playing in the trio but it’s a tendency whose success depends on taste. For fans favoring the Experiment, it allowed Dave to take commanding solos that inverted the possibilities of his small kit. For fans favoring Glasper’s prominence, there were never enough moments of aleatory but refined solos. Everyone, however, appreciated Glasper’s disarming approach to both sets (one with each setup.) Not unlike le Poisson Rouge’s own dressing down of classical music and jazz, it was a reassuring approach to an ostensibly imperious art.