The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) hosted indie music fans May 3 – 5 for Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, a festival curated by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National. With two performance venues booked with acts throughout each night plus a film program, there were tough scheduling decisions to be made, although it was easy to shift from one performance to another within the building. As explained in a handy graphic published by The New York Times opening day, over thirty acts were selected from the twin brothers’ contacts over the years, since they left Ohio to make Brooklyn their home. The Dessners were on hand as the evening began in the BAMcafé, as the intense JACK Quartet brought its serious musicianship to the proceedings. You could hardly call it “playing” instruments to allow such ferocious attacks with their bows, creating alien sounds that belie classical strings. The group works closely with composers of new works, and three out of the four pieces actually had the composer in the audience. The last piece, “The Open Road” by David Cole, pulled back enough from a frantic mode to settle the sound into meaning.
yMusic – Credit: Stephanie Berger
Chamber ensemble yMusic appeared next in the BAMcafé, expanding the experimental tone of the festival to include more melodic offerings. While looking at each other for musical cues, the sextet never lost sight of the role of each individual. They played a few pieces off their latest release, including the title track “Beautiful Mechanical” and “Proven Badlands” by Annie Clark (who performs as St Vincent, scheduled to appear the next night). A new composition by Jeremy Turner, “The Bear and the Squirrel”. introduced as a piece with “pretty long notes in it”, allowed the audience to catch their breath and linger over notes emanating from each instrument.
People Get Ready – Credit: Stephanie Berger
The rows of chairs were removed to allow an open space in front of the stage for Brooklyn band, People Get Ready. They had to put out the promise “we won’t bite” to edge the crowd closer, and the room filled to full strength as the set progressed. Led by Steven Reker, who as a dancer brings sense of movement to his performance. The group creates percussion-based music utilizing odd meters, calling themselves an “interdisciplinary” band. This percussive backbone could mean handclaps, foot stomps or even slapping their instruments, while vocals are layered over this foundation (usually using vowel sounds as lyrics). They played songs from their self-titled EP as well as the playful tune “Shoe”.
Twin Shadow – Credit: Stephanie Berger
Over in the Opera House, Twin Shadow presided over the grand stage, bringing a dance party with “Shooting Holes”. This band embraces the ’80s new wave idiom as the musical project of George Lewis Jr., who was born in the Dominican Republic and then grew up in Florida. He commanded the set from center stage in a brocade jacket, Prince-like funky shaped guitar and plenty of dry ice. The 2010 debut album, Forget, was produced by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear (who also clings to layered ’80s-influenced synths with his own band, Cant). Their pop vibe crosses into well explored territory, with banal lyrics that recall when you’re fifteen and “looking for life to start.” New songs from an upcoming release, Confess, proved the infatuation continues with mixed results.
Aaron Dessner + Sharon Van Etten – Credit: Stephanie Berger
Sharon Van Etten took to the stage next in tight black jeans and four-inch heels to lead her band through ballads galore. As a Jersey girl now based in Brooklyn, she could command her voice to pour through the venue while playing indie rock songs on guitar — taking tuning between songs very seriously. “This is a crazy place to play,” she told the audience. “I’m not going to lie”. With bangs over her eyes and bright red lipstick, Van Etten sang of “moving to New York and falling in love” as well as “moving back in with your parents and being O.K. with that”. (After this song, she graciously acknowledged the presence of her parents in the audience.) Aaron Dessner produced her most recent album, Tramp, and he made an appearance to play guitar on a song not included in the final cut, “Walking Too Fast”, with Van Etten on Autoharp. The final offering was a punched up version of “Serpents”, the popular single off this collection with soaring guitars and of course, vocals.
While waiting for The Walkmen to perform, a simple shout to “play music” rung out over the tiers of the Opera House. The band then entered to rousing cheers, ready to deliver. They eagerly began a new song with a lilting guitar introduction and three-part harmonies, “We Can’t Be Beat,” from the upcoming release, Heaven. Next up came the title track, a solid single over a fast beat for a “tale of distant years”. It was textbook Walkmen, with overlapping guitars and one building chorus after another. Singer Hamilton Leithauser thanked the audience and confessed that he “had no idea how nice this place was,” even though he lives right down the street.
The Walkmen – Credit: Stephanie Berger
The Walkmen have known each other since their childhood in the Washington, D.C. area, although members now hail from New Orleans and Philadelphia, as well as Brooklyn. Leithauser towered over his mike in center stage wearing a black suit and white shirt, holding the mike off its stand while fingering the chord with his other hand, thumb raised. He stands so tall while singing in his impassioned, lyrical tenor that he is often on his toes, lifting one foot to the side. Older songs such as “On the Water” and “In the New Year” from 2008’s You & Me, were interspersed with the new songs, along with “Woe is Me”, “Blue as Your Blood” and “Angela Surf City” from 2010’s Lisbon. The very first song they ever wrote, The Walkmen’s first hit “We’ve Been Had”, made a suitable encore: an echoing sing along of fans and band to end the night. Afterwards, a few Bravos rung out in the crowd, befitting the elegant Opera House.
Callers – Credit: Stephanie Berger
JACK Quartet – Credit: Stephanie Berger
David Byrne performs w Jherek Bischoff – Credit: Stephanie Berger
Sharon Van Etten – Credit: Stephanie Berger