Anyone even remotely familiar with the British music scene of the 1990s might have heard of Adam Franklin who played an instrumental role in Swervedriver, a band that teetered around the shoegaze movement with a slightly more aggressive sound than many groups in the genre. If bands like Slowdive provided the dream pop lullabies, Swervedriver recalled the most visceral points in any live My Bloody Valentine set.
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Not long ago I read an article by New York producer and DJ extraordinaire DJ/Rupture expounding on the nature of auto-tune. Essentially, he considered the phenomenon an exemplary synthesis between man and machine. While listening to the rising producer/songwriter Annabel Alpers at Brooklyn’s Union Hall Tuesday night—performing under her Bachelorette moniker—I was thinking the same thing. As an electronica nerd who’s best friend it seems is her laptop, Bachelorette calmly elicited longing, sorrow, and deep introspection in between melodies of shimmery synths and the occasional disco beat. Instead of an unrelenting dance cadence, her songs pulsated with feeling and sentiment. Her awkwardness and self-deprecating quips about her New Zealand origins only further emphasized her strangely sensitive electronic sound. The small crowd and space gave the performance a living-room vibe. While songs like “Doo Wop” and recent single “Mindwarp” were expressive and danceable, Bachelorette’s chipper unease left a cloud of tension in the room—despite her LED bedazzled dress. Listening to Alpers’ latest album, My Electric Family, at home just might suffice next time.
At their best, Pink Mountaintops is reminiscent of a more feminine Jesus and Mary Chain with a distorted sense of psych rock in songs like “The Gayest of Sunbeams”, which sounded increasingly raw and energetic live in comparison to the album recording. There was a rougher rasp to Stephen McBean’s vocals tonight, with less added reverb, and backing vocals that complimented him each step of the way. The evening often returned to a distorted melancholic folk style, though, with “Closer to Heaven”, a song full of bittersweet romantic lyrics and a building instrumental part, intensifying as it progressed.
Vancouver’s Stephen McBean is no stranger to the Canadian psychedelic rock scene. He’s a pivotal member of the awe inspiring Black Mountain and, as a special treat, this tour finds him playing with vocalist/violinist Sophie Trudeau, who also plays with Montreal’s Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra La La Band. While McBean is certainly productive—he has put out three full-length albums with Pink Mountaintops and released two full lengths and 3 EPs with Black Mountain—it’s interesting to see how both bands have developed separately with only some similarities. This can be partially attributed to the involvement of different band members in both groups, though Pink Mountaintops’ members seem to differ more. One key element is Amber Webber, who doesn’t join McBean on stage as she does in Black Mountain, allowing her to pursue her own side project, the more feminine and abstract sounding Lightning Dust.
Though it contained moments of catchy rock, the set seemed full of the band’s more sentimental folk songs, with the violin heightening the sentiment in the title track “Outside Love”, for example. They ended the main set appropriately with “And I Thank You”, and during the encore McBean brought out perhaps their most engaging rocker of the night, “Single Life” from the out of print seven inch bearing the same name. “Tourist in Your Town”, an old crowd favorite from their first 2004 self-titled release, did not serve up the same high as “Single Life”, but provided a great ending nonetheless.
The Parks Foundation knew they wanted Josh Ritter for the SummerStage season, but booking him opening night created an incentive for panache, so organizers told us. Thus the New York Pops were called upon to accompany the plainly eloquent singer-songwriter for his park debut. Ritter—backed by Zack Hickman, bass, Sam Kassirer, piano, Austin Nevins, lead, and Liam Hurley, drums—pulled out some older tunes over the course of his one-and-a-half-hour set (“Other Side”, “Bone of Song”, “Kathleen”), though most were saved for the end. Mostly the set stuck to his Animal Years and Historical Conquests repertoire. The latter record was also full of orchestrations and arrangements, setting up hopeful recreations. Unfortunately from the opening notes of the Pops’ overture it was abundantly clear that they would be the one blight of the evening. Even by community orchestra standards they were plagued by intonation issues—and technical ones beyond their control. They were able to scrap together competent accompaniments for a few numbers, though (“Kathleen”, “Empty Hearts”).
Salvation came in Ritter himself. He was unabashedly excited about his Summerstage gig, repeatedly doling out thank yous. In other words, he was his usual sympathetic, earnest and boyish self, practically speechless from the enthusiastic crowd and setting. His voice sounded strong throughout, particularly on “Girl in the War” and “Temptation of Adam”, as it either ached for a wronged lover or spun tall tales. His gorgeous melodies resonated with both equanimity and passion, and occasionally picked up the tempo as well (“To the Dogs or Whoever”). Two special guests also appeared, usurping the Pops in substance and style. Violinist Hilary Hahn joined Ritter for a duet of “Thin Blue Flame”, imbuing Ritter’s sound with warmth and feeling. And for his encore Ritter invited Glen Hansard to sing a duet on “Come and Find Me”. Hansard ended up running back onstage for the finale, “Empty Hearts”. It was a satisfying end to a dreary week of rain and an ideal start to the SummerStage season.