It’s hard to believe that the Alt-J boys went from playing the tiny Mercury Lounge to the vast arena of Madison Square Garden in just three years of playing gigs in New York. Certainly a Mercury Prize win didn’t hurt. The English lads had recently played at the Beacon Theater but New Yorkers’ demand wasn’t satiated, as their sold-out gig can attest to. While in town, Alt-J also appeared on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to perform “Every Other Freckle” off their second album, 2014’s This is All Yours. Lead singer Joe Newman and his bandmates, Thom Green, Gus Unger-Hamilton and Cameron Knight led the audience through multiple sing-alongs, like on fan favorites “Tessellate”. While the band didn’t provide a dramatic performance, the alternating moody smoke that enveloped them in the darkness or the strong lights buoyed their distinct electronic sound throughout the night. Besides, the crowd didn’t need action on stage as they didn’t shy from dancing or singing along and making the night their own. The set didn’t last more than 80 minutes but it covered a lot of both their albums, ending with “Breezeblocks” from their debut An Awesome Wave.
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Björk, along with collaborator Arca, is currently nearing the end of a series of shows in New York City in support of her latest album, Vulnicura. After a couple of nights at Carnegie Hall and a couple at the new Brooklyn venue King’s Theater, Björk will wrap up the mini-residency at NY City Center (two performances remain). So far, every night has featured almost the entirety of Björk’s latest album Vulnicura, a breakup record, with the addition of the Alarm Will Sound string ensemble and Manu Delago on percussion. Although I had never seen Björk before, I know she’s a cutting edge artist on many levels—visually, fashionably, sonically. So it was no surprise to see some of her fans have a unique fashion sense of their own. Of course, their attire couldn’t be topped by Björk’s own—she had donned a unique spiky headdress from designer Maiko Takeda for the first half of her performance.
Andrew Hozier-Byrne has been touring pretty much constantly since the summer in support of his breakthrough self-titled debut album, propelled by lead single “Take Me to Church” (that song with all those “amens”). His current string of US dates climaxed with a show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, where Hozier humbly thanked everyone in his band, touring crew and the audience for all the work and dedication. The front row was packed with screaming young female fans but the sold-out venue was packed with wild fans of all ages, proof that Hozier has a huge following. In fact, the venue appeared pretty full already before the opener, George Ezra, who is also experiencing a quick-rising music career, even took stage. Ezra explained how he created his debut album Wanted on Voyage while trekking across Europe with a Eurail pass. That story helped explain some of his song titles, like “Barcelona” or for his biggest song, “Budapest”. His brief set was very well received by the crowd and he’s someone I would check out again (he has a solo headlining tour beginning in April).
Little Daylight‘s Hello Memory is one of the more memorable pop albums to come my way in 2014 and it is one I find myself listening to more often than other favorites from last year. Their electro-pop is effervescent, highly infectious and danceable. The Brooklyn trio were opening for Jukebox the Ghost, a relocated-to-Brooklyn trio, on a recent string of dates (some are still coming up) and both performed in Connecticut for an all ages show on the second to last night in a cold, cold February. Jukebox the Ghost‘s own brand of piano-pop has made them a rising star as of late. Their 2014 self-titled release was initially out on Yep Roc Records but the band has since been signed to Cherrytree Records (home to Sting and Feist amongst others) and are planning to re-release the album in the near future. Together, in the Hat Capital of the World, the two bands, along with Secret Someones (minus their drummer) gave the youthful audience a memorable show.
I first saw Sleater-Kinney open for all-male band Pearl Jam back in 2003. Their rock was raucous, rough and impressive. I was fortunate enough to see them twice more before they disbanded in 2005. It’s hard to believe, but in the decade since then, there wasn’t any act who filled the hole left by Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss. So, at the end of 2014, it was very exciting to hear that the original line-up were returning with a new album No Cities to Love and a tour to support it. Fortunately, they don’t sound like they were gone at all.
“The new songs are as gnarled and brazen as the rest of Sleater-Kinney’s catalog. They also reflect how 10 years have passed between Sleater-Kinney albums, as lyrics take on current economic insecurities (“Bury Our Friends” declares, “We live on dread in our own gilded age”) and ponder the band’s own future. “No one here is taking notice/No outline will ever hold us,” the band vows in “A New Wave.” During Sleater-Kinney’s absence, Ms. Brownstein found a new audience as a writer and star in the comedy series “Portlandia,” but Sleater-Kinney doesn’t play for laughs.”