High Places steps up live act

High Places + Soft Circle + Bow Ribbons – April 8

Despite its impressive name, Shea Stadium is actually a relatively small loftspace in East Williamsburg managed by none other than the infamous Todd P. It probably holds around 200-250 – not 57,333, which makes it a pretty intimate space for a band like High Places.

I admit I was a little bit afraid that the police would decide to have a field day and raid Shea Stadium like they did with the Market Hotel, but the evening was thankfully free of cops or any other sort of issues… minus a few technical problems during High Place’s set.

If there were a handbook for how to start a hipster band, would the first openers, Bow Ribbons, have a copy of it? Perhaps. Bow Ribbons is just two people – Bow Ribbons and Pete Vogl according to their Myspace page. They apparently don’t have a record out yet, so they played a combination of cover songs and original material.

Bow Ribbons

Bow wore nearly invisible sandals, long brown hair, little to no makeup, shorts, and a flowing cover-up over her blouse that made her resemble something like a church choir member crossed with a hippie. Her voice was raw and raspy, but soulful. It was a bit hard at times to tell if her performance was earnest or affected, but the two played a rather good set, and Pete’s smooth and calming backing vocals were a fantastic accompaniment to the music. In fact, his voice is so pleasant and matches the sparse guitar lines so well that I kind of wish he would assume more of the vocal responsibilities at times. I will be interested to hear more from this duo.

Soft Circle

Next up was another Brooklyn artist, Soft Circle. Soft Circle is actually the solo project of Hisham Akira Bharoocha (formerly of Black Dice), but he was joined by Ben Vida on guitar and synth. The two apparently didn’t have a setlist and instead improvised their songs as they went alone. Their music is trance-inducing to the extend that one song seems to flow into the next and form a single rambling stream of consciousness.

Though Thursday night’s show was the first time I have seen High Places, from what I understand, their live show has changed a lot over the past year or so. Gone are the days when Robert Barber and Mary Pearson would pretty much just huddle over their board and Mary would cradle her mic. Now, they play guitars over the samples and percussion. Sorry. Now we have to take time to tune our guitars… we’re more rock ‘n Roll now, Robert quipped at one point. On stage, the drum machine and dials are set up between them, as if the table were a third band member.

High Places

The show started off with just Mary’s unaccompanied vocals singing out before Robert kicked on the drum machine and samples. Sure, there’s still some reverb added to the mix, but Mary’s voice remains refreshingly clear, smooth, and angelic. High Places is yet another trance-inducing band, but Mary’s voice really adds a welcome element to the mix and helps make the repetitive loops more compelling.

Throughout their set, they played a number of songs from their recently released album High Places Vs. Mankind, which sounds pretty good from what I can tell. They hardly spoke between songs except to ID their band and to offer a few asides here and there. Perhaps they were still a bit shy after their recent decision to leave Brooklyn and move to California. It’s ok, guys… as long as you come back to visit us from time to time. You’re totally disqualified from participating in the annual tug-of-war between California and New York bands though.

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