Reviews

TV on the Radio + Dirty Projectors: 5 June 2009 - New York

Despite a downpour, TV on the Radio was able to use the dreary, soggy night to accentuate the illuminating energy of its music and performance.

Dirty Projectors

TV on the Radio + Dirty Projectors

City: New York
Venue: Central Park SummerStage
Date: 2009-06-05

Shows at Central Park’s SummerStage only get cancelled during thunder and lightening storms, but the rain prior to this show was steady enough to leave the threat of a drown-out looming. Fortunately, the show went on, and TV on the Radio was able to use the dreary, soggy night to accentuate the illuminating energy of its music and performance.

Unfortunately, the Dirty Projectors, who came on first, lacked the same ability to transcend the weather. The band played well, but their light, inventive and curious sound was too refined, and at times too tentative in nature, to push through the rain. The crowd was thin, and everyone held umbrellas a little too politely for a rock concert. Although they failed to rally the hesitant crowd, their set was tight and relatively enthusiastic despite meteorological impediments.

But when TV on the Radio came on, the crowd had filled out, and all umbrellas came down seemingly in unison. Proving to be a force more powerful than the environment, TV on the Radio brought their own storm of sound and light. The enthusiasm, the diversity of sounds, and merging of genres was oddly reminiscent of a carnival -- all-inclusive and culturally explosive.

Thanking the crowd for coming out in the rain, Tunde Adebimpe gave a special shout out to his hometown Brooklyn, which the crowd responded to with shouts of “umbrellas down!” TV on the Radio began the set on a slow note with “Love Dog”, emitting a haunting sound in the first few measures that complemented rather than countered the rain. The song sounded like a long, collective moan, but given the already low energy of the crowd, it was a serendipitously ideal way to lure the audience into concert mode. Halfway through the opening number, the crowd was poised to receive.

And the band was equally primed to deliver. Benefiting from a receptive audience that the Dirty Projectors lacked, TV on the Radio opened up the channel for a steady stream of symbiotic enrapture powered by precision, collaboration, and celebration. What was most apparent, and striking, was that the entirely dry band and soaked crowd shared an equal desire to engage and were able to meet each other halfway. The mood changed quickly with “The Wrong Way”; the speed and aggression of the music got the crowd moving.

Part of the crowd’s willingness to participate came from TV on the Radio’s distinct ability to put on a show rather than just play songs. Most songs benefited from elements that distinguished them from their album versions. “Halfway Home” was far more like a tribal anthem than the Bloc Party-esque version found on Dear Science. Many of the songs came out with a sound aimed at rallying the crowd and the collaborative community created by the performers onstage spilled into the audience.

The aspects of the show blended so well because each performer was able to share in the making of the music while holding closely to his individual style. Not to be ignored is Tunde Adebimpe’s unusually ecstatic dancing, evocative and intricate as the music itself. Jumping from hip swivels that rivaled Elvis, to moon walking like Michael Jackson and air punching like the world's most emphatic sports fan, his dancing not only complemented the music it bolstered the show’s climb towards being a consumptively aesthetic and sensual experience.

Another contributing factor was the staging itself. The concert was part light show, with a bright blue and red glow rolling over the stage that was reflected by the continual fog. The backdrop for the stage was a dynamic but dark patchwork quilt made psychedelic by colored floodlights. Like the music, contrasts in the set design created an aura of all inclusiveness rather than division.

As did the horn section touring with TV on the Radio. The stage acquired the essence of a true ensemble. Both the strong sounds and gleeful attitudes of the horn players added to a textured performance; in particular songs like “Dancing Choose” and “Crying” saturated the stage and incited the crowd. But in some senses, each band member gave an individualized performance; “The Wrong Way” was frenzied, hyper, and had an improvisational quality.

Adebimpe channeled a playful intensity that made each song both intimate and unstoppable. Unfortunately, the mic caused problems during the show and was one element that impeded the cohesiveness. Throughout the show, the vocals seemed a bit dim, perhaps because the microphone was grounded, and Adebimpe was wildly in motion.

In “A Method”, the final song of the encore, the vocals went out completely. It coincided with Dave Sitek’s first venture downstage playing the drums, and a casual shifting of the dynamic on stage that signified a natural end. Several extras had filtered onto the stage, including a small child, and the show trickled to an end just as the rain had a few minutes earlier. But it seemed that the power of the performance was not spent but rather transferred to the audience, who re-entered the city drenched but radiant.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



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7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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