Shilpa Ray Continued Her Rise to Power at Northside Festival 2015 (Photos)
Shilpa Ray’s performance held sway in its largely minimal presentation, captivating many a weary festivalgoer on the Brooklyn-based Northside Festival's closing Sunday night.
Although not as publicized as Northside Festival sets by the likes of Luna and Run the Jewels, the Northern Spy Records showcase at Rough Trade exemplified the festival’s mission as well as any throughout the four-day, Brooklyn-based festival. Much of this is due to the presence of Shilpa Ray on the Northern Spy bill. Ray has been a standalone talent in the bustling Brooklyn scene for years, cutting her teeth in countless small-to-mid-sized venues before landing a touring spot with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and releasing her full-length, Last Year’s Savage, last month. Last Year’s Savage consists mostly of songs Ray has been developing in those Brooklyn and Manhattan clubs, material that sounded more potent than ever in Rough Trade’s pristine acoustics. Sandwiched between label mates PC Worship and the Sun Ra Arkestra (on loan from El Ra Records), both of whom gave similarly immersive sets, Ray’s performance held sway in its largely minimal presentation, captivating many a weary festivalgoer on Northside’s closing Sunday night.
The set began with a sleeping figure wearing the same baboon mask featured on the Last Year’s Savage album cover. This eerie character rose and danced in a silky white dress to album opener “Burning Bride” before drifting off into the audience. After that, blistering song followed blistering song, with a couple of breathers granted in the form of instrument changes and well-placed banter. Despite a set that wasn’t quite an hour, Ray touched on a couple of periods throughout her career, including a song from her mid-'00s band Beat the Devil and a few cuts from her 2013 EP It’s All Self-Fellatio Shilpa Ray. The Last Year’s Savage single “Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp” gets special mention for its pounding singalong quality and its ability to feel even shorter than its 2:30 run time. It’s the sort of song you wish were twice as long, although it still manages to stick in the head for days despite its brevity. It would be easy to say that “Johnny Thunders” is the strongest song on the album, but tracks such as “Oh My Northern Soul”, “Moksha”, and “Pop Song For Euthanasia” make such convincing cases that it’s impossible to state such a thing with much assurance.
Ray’s impassioned and titanium-strength voice and harmonium-pounding is the star of any show, but a few words of praise are also due her backing band, dubbed the Rayettes at one point in the set. These musicians include the multi-instrumentalist talents of guitarist / bassist Alistair Paxton and pedal steel player / bassist Jon Catfish Delorme, plus the invigorating drumming of Russ Lemkin.
The set closed on non-album cut “Morning Terrors, Nights of Dread”, a throwback ditty with backing vocals from Paxton and Delorme. It’s a cute move that belies the anxieties which populate the song.
With Northside’s mission of helping festival-goers find their “new favorite band” before moving on to see “your all-time favorite band play down the block”, Ray can be seen as an artist who’s filled both these roles, positioning herself as a prospective new favorite in 2009 while playing on a Williamsburg corner, and growing into an act with songs that Rough Trade’s front row knew all the words to. With her engrossing singing style, head-turning lyrics, and scorching harmonium, Ray probably deserved this graduation more than many. Although Northside isn’t required to chart an artist’s growth, it is doubly inspiring to see Ray’s rise filtered through this festival lens.
(All photos by Dean Keim and used with permission)