Crossing Brooklyn Ferry: 4 May 2012 – New York

Working late and a semi-debilitating springtime virus caused me to miss out on one of the acts I had most hoped to see at night two of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry: composer Missy Mazzoli’s fantastic experimental string outfit, Victoire. Unfortunately, I arrived at BAMcafé just as the stage was being cleared away. Although doubtlessly a moving performance, the Howard Gilman Opera House, where the likes of St. Vincent and other headlining artists performed, would have been a more complimentary setting to Victoire’s dramatic sounds.

Ava Luna – Photo Credit: Rebecca Greenfield

My evening instead began with Ava Luna, a septuplet with at least three harmonizing vocalists. Although its Facebook page sites post-punkers such as ESG and This Heat as influences, Ava Luna has more of a garage-influenced R&B soul sound. Think of the xx with a bit of vim and vigor subbing for intimacy. Primary vocalist Carlos Hernandez has a sturdy soul man voice to match the band’s ripping sound, but the real stars are the female vocalists, particularly Felicia Douglass, who provided the highlight of the set when she left her synthesizer port to take a solo. Although Ava Luna’s music is engaging live, the band members appeared a bit mismatched onstage, with the white-jump suited harmonizer Becca Kauffman being the only one committed to a soul revue look.

Tyondai Braxton – Photo Credit: Rebecca Greenfield

Feeling inspired by Ava Luna delivering in spite having little previous knowledge of who they are, I opted to take in a similarly mysterious act, Tyondai Braxton. Little did I know that I had already seen Braxton once before, albeit in an entirely different role as the frontman for Battles. Braxton is an artist with experimental music in his blood, he being the son of avant-gardist Anthony Braxton. While not what one would call compelling to watch, Braxton’s performance was an intriguing cacophony. He began with what sounded like sound effects for a game of electro ping-pong, then upped the ante to something more distressing; at its peak, what emerged was the sound of someone’s heart beating at an unhealthily rapid pace as a metal beast whipped its tail about. Toward the end of the piece, Braxton showed off his knack for live overlaying, playing a guitar riff then folding it into the preexisting sounds. Unfortunately, the most arresting part of Braxton’s stage presence was the cross-legged position he maintained for a solid 45 minutes of high end gadget-fidgeting. As someone behind me observed, “…no, that last guy was really cool, I’m glad I saw him…I feel like sitting cross-legged that long would really hurt.”

Antlers – Photo Credit: Rebecca Greenfield

Next were the Antlers, a band with some of the more poignant recorded output in recent memory, but also one who is still experiencing growing pains in a live setting. Passion is far from nil however; at times lead singer and guitarist Pete Silberman seemed so lost in the sounds he and his bandmates were producing that one almost felt they were intruding by watching him. Despite this, there was a very lucid sweetness to Silberman’s between-song banter, and all the Antlers seemed genuinely pleased to be performing in as fine a setting as the Gilman Opera House in their home city. The band stuck to songs from their most recent release, 2011’s texturally deep Burst Apart. Although there is nothing wrong with artists manipulating their songs in a live setting, The Antlers’ songs felt distended at times, particularly during the molasses in January take on “Rolled Together”. Some of Burst Apart‘s more immediate songs, such as single “Every Night My Teeth are Falling Out” were dispensed with altogether for headier tracks such as “Hounds” and “French Exit”. Still, this is a young band with a clear abundance of talent, and The Antlers have plenty of time to hone their live skills.

St. Vincent Crowdsurfing – Photo Credit: Rebecca Greenfield

Friday’s headliner was St. Vincent, an artist for whom I will admit a mild disregard. At first, I feared my only justification for this was my assumption that — in the sexist world of indie rock and music criticism — Annie Clark was given a free ride due to being incredibly cute. After witnessing her (admittedly, largely very good) live set, I can state that I find the provocative aspect of her songs and stage presence a bit forced. Clark also took to backing up like a defective wind-up doll whenever she soloed on her guitar, and this soon grew slightly annoying. The set overall was very rock-inflected, most likely to go with the two ferocious songs Clark released on vinyl for Record Store Day, “Krokodil” and “Grot”. Showcasing her songs’ sharper edges highlighted the post-punk angularity inherent in them and prepared the audience for the set’s closer, a cover of the Pop Group’s incomparable “She is Beyond Good and Evil”. Again, why one must meddle with such perfection is beyond the mental capacity of most mortals, but Clark’s decision to crowd surf was kind of fun, I guess. It still could not keep me from rolling my eyes when I remembered Clark called “Dilettante” her “love letter to New York”, however.

A nice aspect to the night’s performances was the equal set length afforded to each artist. These abbreviated sets worked as a nice introduction to each act while still satisfying the die-hards in the crowd. BAM’s excellent performance spaces, lighting, and acoustics also worked wonderfully in upholding the professionalism unfolding throughout its venues. All in all, a fine evening for this fledgling festival.

Ava Luna – Photo Credit: Rebecca Greenfield

Buke and Gase – Photo Credit: Rebecca Greenfield

St. Vincent – Photo Credit: Rebecca Greenfield

St. Vincent – Photo Credit: Rebecca Greenfield

St. Vincent – Photo Credit: Rebecca Greenfield

RATING 7 / 10