Watch This: Vol. 85

by Steven Spoerl

Welcome to the 85th installment of Watch This, the annual Sunday series that celebrates some of the finest performance captures to find release over the past week. Courtney Barnett, Girlpool, and Torres all continue their respective strangleholds on this series’ feature spots. Heavy on full sets, every artist featured here has earned several words from this site in the past. Of course, as usual, there was stiff competition for the feature spots. Artists responsible for those performances included: Tahiti Boy & the Palmtree Family, Christopher Owens, Christopher Paul Stelling, Sorority Noise, Leon Bridges, Viet Cong, HEALTH, Calexico, Dave Monks, Sam Prekop + Archer PrewittMolina y Los Co´smicos, Forth Wanderers, Shana Cleveland and The Sandcastles, and footage from the FORM Acrosanti anti-festival. It’s another lineup that’s indicative of the five featured clips’ astounding strength. So, as always, grab a drink, sit back, adjust the volume to whatever best reflects your preference, and Watch This.

1. METZ – Spit You Out (3voor12)

METZ are one of the fiercest live bands on the planet right now so their inclusion here isn’t really all that surprising. What’s definitely unexpected, though, is the gorgeous scenery. Performing at the Best Kept Secret festival, the trio took to a house’s front yard and delivered an absolutely blistering rendition of METZ II highlight “Spit You Out”. It’s an exhilarating tour de force from one of this generation’s most exciting bands.

2. Girlpool (NPR)

By now it’s very likely that the trio of songs the duo of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Lebel-Tividad play here have graced this series more than any other songs. However, they’ve never been played on a stage even remotely similar to NPR’s vaunted Tiny Desk Concert series. Now, more than ever, it’s abundantly clear how ingrained these songs are in both members. Intuitive playing, effortless harmonies, and a genuine love for their work and each other once again carries their performances to near-transcendental heights.

3. Speedy Ortiz (unARTigNYC)

First thing’s first: this is not a complete video. Understandable, because the weather started threatening everyone’s equipment, not just Speedy Ortiz’s (who had several technical difficulties throughout a spirited, memorable set). I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for this show- held for free on a pier in Manhattan as part of Hudson River Parks’ Hudson RiverRocks concert series- and weathered a fairly brutal rainfall sans umbrella until the bitter end (the rain started- and the wind picked up- during a beautiful version of “Doomsday”, a song that still manages to elicit goosebumps and stands firm as a Song of the Decade contender). Although it’s not featured in the video, I’ll have a permanently embedded memory of the band losing pedal after pedal (and then amp and PA connections) during a particularly fierce take on “American Horror” that ended with Sadie Dupuis opting to take her guitar off and hold it above her head, allowing the feedback to ring out, like some ritualistic sacrifice to the gods. It was a stunning moment. Unfortunately, Waxahatchee’s set had to be cancelled due to lightning before it even started- but it would have been hard to have made much of an impression after what Speedy Ortiz accomplished in the face of what could have easily been disastrous.

4. Torres – A Proper Polish Welcome (Sunday  Sessions)

There’s something about Torres’ “A Proper Polish Welcome” being played as a solo piece that manages to come off as intrinsically haunted. One of the most arresting moments on one of the year’s best records, it’s lent an even greater pathos when it’s stripped bare. With Sunday Sessions placing all of the emphasis on Mackenzie Scott, the clip nears a strange voyeurism as Scott completely loses herself to both the song and the performance. Gripping and beautiful, it’s a masterclass in solo performance.

5. Courtney Barnett (Moshcam)

Courtney Barnett seems to be making a habit out of crashing Watch This‘ weekly party with astounding full sets and this excellent performance- beautifully lensed by Moshcam- sees the continuation of that pattern. This time around, the songwriter unloads a career-spanning powerhouse homecoming set to an appreciative audience. Barnett’s a preternaturally gifted performer and the band she’s assembled plays well to her seemingly endless strengths. A staggering 16-song set, this serves as one of the definitive documents of Barnett’s abilities and still-ascending level(s) of success.