Posts Tagged 'Mercury Lounge'

Living up to the hype? An evening with Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten + Kyp Malone – Mercury Lounge – October 9th

For once, the Mercury Lounge was nearly full for the opener, but I suppose that’s hardly surprising considering the opener was Kyp Malone (of TV on the Radio).

Kyp Malone (Courtesy of artist)

Kyp began his show not with a song, but with a candid opening speech of sorts that helped establish the warm tone for the evening. He even reached out to the sound guy. “Hi. Who are you?” he asked, peering out over the crowd. “Kevin? I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet each other before and now we’re working together. I don’t get wi-fi at my house.” No doubt he would have taken the time to introduce himself to the whole room if he had had the chance, but knowing that time was in short supply, he began to play. As if to echo his verbal introduction, Malone kicked off his set with a long, wandering instrumental intro on the guitar before he began to sing.

As soon as he stopped playing, the banter picked up again, and this time the focus was on Sharon. “You guys have the new record? [pause] This guy says no. Well you should get it. It’s fucking fantastic.” He leaned away from the mic. “And I mean that,” he said conspiringly to the guy who had spoken out.

“I have a lot of songs I could play,” he continued with the mic, once more. “But a very limited time.” “Play the good ones!” someone in the crowd yelled. “The good ones? Well that’s relative. How about the ones I know the words to?” Malone countered.

He continued to eyeball his watch between each song. “Oh, where does the time go?” he asked with a sigh. If  this review is unusually heavy on the dialogue, it’s because Malone’s set was just as much about the banter as it was about the music. I mean it isn’t exactly a normal occurrence to have a musician tell a story about a ‘zombie Hitler character’ that he encountered in Eastern Europe (don’t worry, all turned out well. Apparently just hearing Sharon sing was enough to sever its head).

After just six songs and more effusive praise for Sharon (“Get ready for beauty”), Malone vacated the stage. Sharon didn’t walk on stage until midnight, but the late set time didn’t deter the fawning crowd. The room was packed. After suffering through a warm opening act, luckily someone thought to turn on the A/C.

“Hello. How is everybody?” Van Etten asked, shyly. “I’m excited to play these songs with my band, but first I’m going to play one by myself.” She picked up her guitar and began her set with “A Crime,” the first song off her latest album. When she had finished, she quickly welcomed three musicians to the stage. “This is my new band.” She stood in silence, tuning her guitar for a few moments, but upon realizing how quiet the room was, she nervously admitted that she sill didn’t quite have a handle on the impromptu stage banter.

Sharon Van Etten at Hopscotch (Photo Ash Crowe)

Despite this warning, she did just fine for herself. If anything, her nervousness only endeared her more to the crowd. “I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for Kyp dragging my ass to New York. Kyp Malone. I love that man.” “I love you, too, Sharon!” came the response, presumably from Kyp. “I love all you guys,” Sharon said, continuing the love fest. “I look down and the people are smiling at me. I want to take a picture.” Needless to say, it was all pretty charming, and she had the entire room on the verge of simultaneously swooning.

After playing a few songs from Epic, she introduced a new one – so new that it was still unnamed. (But she’s open to suggestions for the title.)

Doug Keith and Cat Martino lend a hand at Hopscotch (Photo Helena Price)

Van Etten was clearly enthused to have a band behind her to share the spotlight and to bolster her sound, and her excitement was contagious. Despite the nervous banter, she also seemed to have gained some confidence (maybe Kyp should stand backstage with her at every show, just whispering praises into her ear). Whatever the reason, she was at the top of her game last night, which is definitely a good thing, considering all the recent (and highly effusive) praise she has gotten in the blogosphere and beyond. But as with Kyp Malone’s set, time was again limited. “I think we have time for one more,” she said, breaking the spell. “No! 80!” came the response from one particularly enthusiastic fan. “80? That’s ridiculous!” laughed Van Etten. At the conclusion of her last song (“Holding Out”), she thanked the packed room for making it out so late on a Saturday night, then walked over to the side of the stage.

But the reception was so warm, that she walked back over to the mic. “I was hoping you’d do that!” she said with excitement before quickly changing gears. She concluded her set with a lovely, sad song that she confessed she usually isn’t “drunk enough to play.” As the house lights came back on, she walked back over to her band mates who had been hovering over on the side of the stage, and gave them all a group hug. Though the action was localized, the warm, celebratory sentiment pervaded the crowd.


Sweet show and home by 10

Fol Chen + Baths – Mercury Lounge – August 3rd

It’s kind of odd to go to an indoor show that starts when the sun is still up, but the Mercury Lounge’s back room makes you lose your sense of time. The opener of the early show was the one-man electro-pop act Baths, which is the project of 21-year-old Will Wiesenfeld. “Hi. Whoa! Sorry to scare you!” Wiesenfeld said as his voice suddenly broke through the soft chatter. “Hi New York. It’s very sweaty here. I’m not used to it, but it’s cool… I’m going to start playing music.”

Will Wiesenfeld of Baths (Photo Philip van Hirtum)

Baths consists of a laptop, a mixer, and vocals. Wiesenfeld projects the kind of lovable (but somewhat awkward) intensity you might expect from the ‘hero’ of a Judd Apatow movie. Though his work required him to be at arms length from the mass of knobs, dials, and buttons, he didn’t let that stop him from some serious upper body dancing, and his energy was contagious.

After playing a handful of songs, Wiesenfeld began to talk over the concluding notes of a song. “This is going…” He stopped, and switched off the reverb. “This is going to be my last song. Stay tuned. Fol Chen is next… Oh!” he exclaimed, momentarily switching off his music. “And I’m Baths. B-A-T-H-S,” he said excitedly, almost as an after thought.

When Fol Chen singer/guitarist Samuel Bing walked on stage in his bright red shirt and pants combo, the crowd snickered a little. But when the remaining four members of Fol Chen joined him – each wearing the same outfit (save Sinosa Loa, the sole female member who wore black tights to match the shiny black buttons of her red shirt), the reaction changed to something akin to amusement. “Matching outfits? Yes!” said one audience member toward the front of the room. Maybe I was just influenced by the White Stripes-like aesthetics, but the instrumental interludes seemed reminiscent of a tasteful soundtrack to an old sci-fi movie – playful, but definitely eerie as well.

Fol Chen, wearing different matching outfits (Photo Bruno Lestrade)

In the studio, a significant portion of Fol Chen’s music consists of samples, but their music translates well to a live setting. Their sheer weirdness mixes irresistibly with their alluring vocals, irrepressible beats, and 80s-tinged keyboard riffs. The frenzied drumming propelled the music and threatened to transform Fol Chen into a hypnotic martian marching band of sorts. (The brief addition of a trumpet for one of their songs only reinforced the image.) Everyone but the drummer – who was working up a real sweat – contributed backing vocals, but even he approached the mic for one song near the end of the set. Fol Chen was also joined on stage by vocalist Kárin Tatoyan whose cover of “In Ruins” appears on the band’s EP by the same name.

During the song “The Idiot,” back-up singer (and recent New York-transplant) Patrick-Ian sang, “Everyone here thinks it’s a joke,” which seemed to be an interesting tag line for the evening given the borderline cult-like and somewhat ridiculous matching outfits, but joke or no joke, their music is worth a listen.

Windy city invasion

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone + Magical Beautiful – Mercury Lounge – April 27

Ahhh, Chicago. Home of our president, the Bears, and more importantly, the two bands that are the subject of this post. With two separate shows on the agenda on Tuesday night, things got started early at the Mercury Lounge.

Magical Beautiful (Photo Leslie Deckard)

I had never heard of the opener, Magical Beautiful, but when I saw a melodica propped up on Alance Ward’s drum kit, I figured it was probably a good sign. Experts in sound manipulation, the four members of Magical Beautiful did some interesting things on stage. At times, it was hard to tell where one song stopped and the next began. Often, one song seemed to flow into the next without so much as a pause to separate them. The only indication would be a swift change of tempo.

Another focal point of the band is lead singer Tyson Torstensen’s strange voice. Delivered mostly in monotone (but with occasional reaches to a higher octave), Torstensen’s voice seemed like it would have been a good fit for one of those Soviet pop songs. OK, so I don’t know much about Soviet-era pop music, but I did have fun imagining Magical Beautiful being commissioned to play it. Torstensen’s vocals are often indecipherable and chant-like anyway (case in point – “Wings in the Sky.”) Who’s to say there isn’t propaganda embedded within their lyrics?

Believe what you will about long, unwieldy band names. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone has a nice ring to it. It’s descriptive, fitting for the music, and it rhymes. Sure it’s not neat or succinct, but then neither are Owen Ashworth’s songs.

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone's Owen Ashworth (Photo Hannah Persson)

I’ve seen Casiotone for the Painfully Alone a few times now, but Monday night was the first time I saw Owen playing with a band, which made for quite the change. On one hand, it was good to hear the music more flushed out. In addition to the usual – a keyboard and some pre-recorded tracks, the stage was flanked by a guitar, bass, trumpet, trombone, and drums for the majority of the Casiotone set. But on the other hand, I have to say the show was a bit less personal. Owen writes such intimate and honest lyrics that it’s a bit strange to have other people there on the stage to partake in the music. There were also fewer entertaining breaks between songs. Traditionally, one of my favorite things about Casiotone shows is hearing Owen’s anecdotes, but there was little time for that on Tuesday night (perhaps due to the double booking and time constraints). Luckily, Owen’s songs each paint a vivid scene, and the lyrics in his songs are much more entertaining than most artists’ banter. In fact, the lyrics are so personal and confessional in all their awkwardness that I feel as if we are friends even though we’ve spoken only briefly. Even though I haven’t never had my mom in on me with a boy or bought a matching outfit for an estranged friend, I find myself identifying and emphasizing with the songs.

Owen played a combination of newer songs and a handful from 2006’s Etiquette (“Nashville Parthenon,” “I Love Creedence,” “New Years Kiss,” and “Bobby Malone”), which were all crowd pleasers. Sadly, there was no time for an encore despite the fact that the audience would have gladly stuck around for more.

An evening with Spoon

Say what you will about Twitter. It does have its uses.

Yesterday, Brooklyn Vegan re-tweeted Spoon’s message about a ‘secret’ show at the Mercury Lounge. Now I already knew that Spoon was slated to play at Radio City Music Hall, max. capacity – approximately 6,000.  But having already seen them in a venue that was much too large, I decided to skip it, and well… let’s just say it worked out. According to the plaque on the wall at the Mercury Lounge, the max. capacity for the joint is a mere 197 people. A-Mazing.

Though I can’t say I’ve listened to more than a few songs from their newest album, Transference, I jumped at the opportunity to see them on such a small stage, and I admit I got kind of a rush knowing it was a ‘secret’ show. (1)

As I power walked down Broadway from work, I thought I wouldn’t stand a chance in getting in tonight, but somehow, the line was still quite short when I got there at 5:15. (Maybe the whole world isn’t on Twitter after all.) Waiting in line outside in the cold sucks pretty hard core, but there’s something to be said about doing it with strangers who are also invested in music. One girl gave me half of her everything bagel.

I was a bit miffed to find out that there was an opening band – Mahogany. I’m still not sure who they know or who they’re blackmailing to have gotten that spot.  The six members of Mahogany varied in enthusiasm, with the main singer being the apex of excitement. Any time he was not busy singing, his face immediately twisted into an unshakable, goofy grin. Save a couple of songs, there music was mediocre and very repetitive.

As Spoon took the stage later, I couldn’t help but think Man. They are the quintessential indie-rock band. There’s no special made-up tag like shoegaze or twee to tack on to describe them. They’re straight up indie-rock. They’re a four-piece clad mostly in black (Britt Daniel wore a leather jacket), and they have slightly stylized haircuts. The vocals are neither grating nor strictly ‘normal.’ The beat is a little off, but the music is far from being discordant. These guys are pros. They’ve been around for an astonishing 16 years, and they’re still signed to a smaller (but reputable) label: Merge Records. They aren’t a fad band. These guys are in it for life. Their music may be getting less experimental and quirky with time, but it still hasn’t really crossed over into mainstream consciousness. Even band-a-minute hipsters still seem to remember them fondly.

So maybe the show was a bit bland at some points (it didn’t help that I wasn’t very familiar with Transference), but it was definitely worth the frozen feet and nearly empty stomach. The people in the audience around me were absolutely enthralled. They danced, sang along, mingled, requested songs, and grinned sheepishly at Britt. The feeling was contagious. This is why I go to shows.

Set list:

Black Like Me
Is Love Forever?
I Saw the Light
Stay Don’t Go
Don’t You Evah
The Ghost of You Lingers
Who Makes Your Money
Nobody Gets Me But You
Don’t Make Me a Target
Mystery Zone
You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
Written In Reverse
Someone Something
They Never Got You
I Summon You
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
Got Nuffin

Chicago at Night
Rhthm and Soul
Fitted Shirt

For some great pics from the show, hit up Brooklyn Vegan.

(1) Wasn’t this the plot of that painful teen flick Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist with Michael Cera? hmmm…

CMJ – day three

Night three of CMJ went by in a blur. I somehow managed to make an appearance at no less than four music venues: Mercury Lounge, Le Poisson Rouge, Bowery Ballroom, and the Suffolk and all without an official CMJ badge! (Thanks, Bob Boilen.)  The sheer randomness of the evening was delightful. This is what a music festival should be like–flitting madly in between venues when the mood strikes, making new contacts, and running into people you haven’t seen in a while.

That said, I have to say that my favorite act of the night also happened to be the first one I saw–Patrick Watson. In many ways, Patrick Watson reminds me of sparser Andrew Bird–his music is beautifully orchestrated with a piano (which they literally wheeled through the audience and onto the stage), interesting percussion parts, and often a barrage of tubas, trumpets, trombones, bass, violins, guitars, bass, pianos, and guitars. His show last night, however, was more sparse.

Check out this video from NPR Music + WNYC to get an idea of Patrick Watson’s style. It’s pretty long, but the first song, “Beijing” from his recent album Wooden Arms is one of the best.

I have to admit though, Patrick Watson was not what I expected. The Mercury Lounge had the lights down low. I don’t know if it was the lighting or Watson’s demeanor, but the show was much edgier and more rock-oriented than I had thought it would be from listening to the album. If this was Andrew Bird, it was Andrew Bird with a kick.

One of the highlights of the performance was the song “Traveling Salesman.” The melody was creepily upbeat and carnivalesque, and Watson sang through a Megaphone, which distorted his voice in strangely gorgeous ways and made the vocals sound like a mesmerizing stream of propaganda. The track “Man Like You,” which I first heard in the great little French film C’est pas moi je le jure! was also fantastic. Watson’s falsetto in the song reminds me a bit of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.

Then, something strange happened. A man started walking through the audience carrying what appeared to be one of those lamps with multiple heads, only in addition to being a source of light, these heads were also PA systems of some kind. Basically, it was a tree of megaphones coming out of a rucksack. I almost got hit in the head with it as it made its way to the stage. For the dramatic finale to his set, Watson then strapped on the contraption and proceeded to walk off the stage to the center of the floor, and there, surrounded by CMJ-goers and accompanied by a tambourine and a drum, he sang through this contraption, which made for quite a memorable performance.

Watson - Joshua Smeltzer

Photo courtesy of Joshua Smelser

Tonday – day four – should be fairly eventful. I’ll be sure to report back when it’s all over…

"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being