Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Videos

Half Waif – Lavender (Album Review, Stream, Live Videos)

Last Friday offered an extraordinary outpouring of new records with several of those releases seeming poised to be legitimate Album of the Year contenders. While those records hit hard, Half Waif’s Lavender hit hardest. A handful of the record’s songs have been featured here already but it’s the cumulative effect of the record that elevates the songs from heartrending to heart-stopping.

Nandi Rose Plunkett, Half Waif’s fearless bandleader, wrote Lavender in the waning days of her grandmother’s life and found a way to preserve her memory in astonishing fashion with Lavender. Imbued with familial love and meditations on the joys and consequences of mortality, Lavender ceaselessly finds ways to grapple with heavy burdens through a series of open questions, some unanswerable. The examination process is one that becomes intimately familiar to anyone whose ever had to confront the death of a loved one and it’s not hard to read into Lavender as a personal reckoning from someone in the throes of that journey.

It doesn’t take long for the ghost of Plunkett’s grandmother to find a home in Lavender, appearing as early as the record’s breathtaking opener “Lavender Burning”.  That specific song is a perfect introduction to the record as it marks a slight — but distinct and extremely important — stylistic shift for Half Waif, who move into a more subdued realm that’s enhanced by a re-dedication to introspection, more naked here than at any point in their discography.

“Watching my grandmother walking her garden, she’s lost her hearing does not notice the cardinal”, Plunkett sings, cardinal breaking up into lilting syllables as the memory overwhelms. It’s one of many small vignettes that litter Lavender‘s landscape, flowers dead and blooming. It’s not long before the burden of knowing sinks in and cries of “Is this all there is?” ring out over lush beds of synth and intuitive instrumentation. Confined to a confrontational solitude, Plunkett starts wrestling with existential autonomy: a sense of place, the weight of decisions, and the fear that accompanies free will.

All of these questions, all of these backwards looks and sideways glances are more immediate than any single narrative Half Waif’s presented in the past. They’re also by far the most gripping, as the music Half Waif has afforded these moments is their most expansive, textured, and ambitious to date, leaning hard into the band’s more ambient sensibilities. Lavender‘s rhythm section pulsates with purpose, reverberating throughout the record with the clear knowledge that the stakes here are legitimately life and death. From start to finish, it’s a fight for the means to survival.

If Plunkett’s grandmother is the foremost figure of Lavender, New York City and Plunkett herself aren’t too far behind. The relationship between the two, specifically, anchors some of the record’s most breathtaking stretches, including both “Lavender Burning” and “Back In Brooklyn”, which the songwriter penned an incredibly moving essay for over at The Talkhouse. “Back In Brooklyn” is a song that lands with exceptional force for anyone who’s ever been wrapped up by the titular city’s formidable being and goes a long way in laying out Lavender‘s gently beating heart.

Not coincidentally, the song resides in the album’s central stretch, arriving just after “Silt”, the two constituting Lavender‘s most breathtaking moment. It’s here where Plunkett comes nearest to breaking down completely, stretching out a hand for guidance, assurance, or even just a small moment of clarity in the fog of uncertainty. The closing moments of “Silt” offer up one of the record’s most haunting moments, an outro that beautifully segues into the painfully gorgeous “Back In Brooklyn”.

Everything that leads up to those two songs makes their back-to-back even more potent, the themes splintering apart into what feels like a million pleas, some from the city, some for the city, some from Plunkett, some for Plunkett’s own well-being. It’s here where Lavender finds its path to becoming transcendental. Those two songs combine to retroactively strengthen the songs that have preceded them while setting up one of the most memorable closing runs of the present decade.

It’s here where the allusions stop becoming guarded and are faced with no hesitation, Plunkett seemingly locked into a white-knuckle grip on the legacy of family, self-understanding, and the trials of knowledge. The latter of the three has one of the more potent dichotomies and that scale is explored through the framing of the former two. It’s that dynamic which makes the final quarter of Lavender so harrowing and so beautiful, the acknowledgment of the necessity of the scars and bruises that allow us to move forward towards our own destiny and towards the same fate that will take everyone we’ve ever loved.

Rather than waist time on hypothetical situations, Plunkett discards them in the service of realism and a commitment to the bravery the bandleader strives for on “Parts”. There’s a dissection of shame and anxiety in that song, one that resonates through to Lavender‘s end, before the tacit acceptance of the fearlessness required to continue existing. By the record’s end the only home Plunkett seems to have is forward motion, abandoning cities, clinging to friends, family, and lovers, doing whatever it takes to find a measure of peace in life’s restlessness.

Lavender‘s final verse acts as a summation of the themes Plunkett can’t escape through the course of the eleven songs and diverts them in a fruitless bid to forget what most of the record has exhausted itself in staring down before its final, heartbroken declaration: I don’t wanna know this/I don’t wanna know how this ends/In the grand scope of things/I know. It’s right then, in that last word, Lavender becomes complete. Not just a record about confronting death, Lavender is a record about the allowances of life, the difficulties that make it harsh, the people that make it worthwhile. In the end, when all is said and done, what’s left is the weight of knowing, and allowing it to sink to oblivion or float just a little while longer.

Listen to Lavender below (and watch a packet of live videos beneath that) and pick it up from CASCINE here.

Dusk – The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy (7″ Review, Stream, Live Videos)

A solid round of full streams (or expanded samplers) have arrived over the past couple of days, coming from acts as varied as Say Sue Me, Bacchae, Spring Onion, Oceanator, The National Jazz Trio of Scotland, DEWR, Marbled Eye, and Playboy Manbaby. However, just as was the case in the last post, the focus here will shift to a release that’s been out for a bit but only recently became available for full streaming: Dusk’s new 7″ — and their first release for Dirtnap Records — The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy.

Made up of a laundry list of some of central Wisconsin’s finest musicians, Dusk’s most unenviable task is likely distinguishing themselves from bassist/vocalist Amos Pitsch‘s main vehicle, Tenement. Making things a little hazier was the decision to tour the US as an expanded version of Tenement, suggesting that the distinction might not matter to them as much as the connection. It’d fit Pitsch’s history, which has long leaned more towards a familial collective than compartmentalized separation.

Still, even in the face of their similarities (and not to mention the fact that virtually every member of Dusk also spends time playing in other projects), Dusk sounds so wildly different from most of the band’s associated acts that they seem to have garnered a sterling reputation solely on their own merit. It’s been interesting to track their progress, with many people surprised to find out which members of the band they’ve seen and heard before, but it’s also been deeply worthwhile.

Dusk’s songs tilt in a more classically country-leaning direction than anything else, each release laced with the requisite amount of attitude to bring their singular charisma through the recordings. They inflect their songs with a little bit of a lot of genres, from Motown to soul to honky tonk to basement punk, creating something that’s simultaneously enigmatic and familiar. There’s a sense the band’s striving to create the sounds that they love and don’t hear enough anymore, re-contextualizing the influences of separate eras by viewing them through a decidedly modern lens.

They’ve tapped into something that’s given their name some weight and it shows again on their latest 7″, The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy. Both songs are full of the well-worn charm and conviction of the band’s past releases but ably showcase how comfortably they’ve embraced their identity. The harmonies are as gorgeous and ever and they’re still finding ways to pull new tricks out of their sleeves, with guitarist/vocalist Tyler Ditter taking a turn on lead vocal duties in “Go Easy”.

Both tracks are imbued with the same kind of breezy, wide-open road feel that the band’s successfully touched on in the past. Pitsch lends a trademark bite to the A-side while Ditter anchors “Go Easy” with a honeyed sweetness that serves the band’s sound extremely well. Packaged together, it’s another strong entry in a discography that hasn’t stopped improving since the band’s staggeringly strong demo. Easily one of Wisconsin’s best acts, this kind of release suggests they’re well on their way to being regarded as far more than a local act.

Keep their name and their releases filed away somewhere safe, there’s no telling what they might wind up being worth.

Listen to The Pain of Loneliness (Goes On and On) b/w Go Easy below (and watch a package of videos of the band playing live beneath the stream) and pick it up from Dirtnap here.

PUP – Live at 7th St. Entry – 6/3/16 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

IMG_4291

Last Friday night, Minneapolis’ famed 7th St. Entry played host to a powerful bill that included three bands who have earned coverage on this site: Charly Bliss, Rozwell Kid, and PUP. The three and a half hour drive out to catch the show had been a foregone conclusion since its announcement and a large part of that decision had been the involvement of Charly Bliss, who opened the show. Ever since the band topped this site’s list for EP’s in 2014 with their best-of-decade contender, Soft Serve, they’ve been covered and endorsed relentlessly in these pages. One of the most unavoidable factors in ensuring that heavy focus was their overpowering strength as a live act.

Over the past several years, the band’s been meticulously tweaking their stage show and seeing their dedication paying a steadily increasing number of dividends. They’re an extremely dynamic act making exceptionally well-crafted basement pop that comes with a serious bite, despite the immediate sugary high that it so frequently induces. Guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks is (understandably) the focal point of their live show, operating as a bundle of joyous squeals that can’t be contained for longer than a few seconds at a time.

All of the band feeds off of her example and put their heart into the kind of showmanship that clearly underlines that they have a legitimate love for playing music. No one’s overshadowed and everyone seems like they’re continuously out to prove something that they couldn’t accomplish with just a music-related degree (something that’s been acquired by all four members). A handful of recognizable favorites were brought out into the set — including recent single “Ruby” — but the real power was derived from a trio of brand-new tunes.

The band’s been sitting on a collection of songs for well over a year that’s more than enough to constitute a great album (an album that they hope to have out sometime in the relatively near future) so to see them confidently surging ahead with even more material is a great sign that the various delays in release haven’t left them deterred. On the contrary, those delays seem to have set something off in the band that makes them even more eager to obliterate the slowly-forming expectations surrounding their eventual debut. After yet another set that was constantly on the crest of perfection, the question no longer rests with whether or not the band will have their breakout moment, the question is when that moment will come.

Playing in the wake of such an explosive act can be a daunting task but Rozwell Kid seemed more than up to the challenge (and have had a long history playing intimidating bills) and they stuck to their formula: conjure up some propulsion by blending recognizable recent influences with over-the-top stage theatrics that go back a little further, all the while maintaining ear-shattering volume. While the constant mugging, windmills, rock poses, and general mugging from the band’s bassist and lead guitarist could be slightly off-putting at times, the other half of the band kept things relatively grounded to create a weirdly compelling contrast effect.

Every bit of the band’s theatrical gimmickry was balanced out, at one point or the other, by something that felt more genuine than showy from one of the band’s less complacent members. At times, the physicality of the theatrics largely overshadowed the band’s music, which veered from Guitar Hero-aping classic rock stompers to numbers that felt more indebted to a surprisingly unexplored space between late-era Replacements and early-era Weezer. Even with all of the additional Rock God 101 bells and whistles, Rozwell Kid never inspired active boredom and wound up being a very strong connecting bridge between the spiked-punch rush of Charly Bliss and the no-holds-barred chaos that PUP was about to set off.

The fourth article that ever ran on Heartbreaking Bravery — and the very first album review — centered on PUP’s self-titled record, immediately after it was released in Canada. The band had just recently changed their name from Topanga, put out a music video that would begin a shocking dominance in that format, and weren’t anywhere close to breaking through stateside (that would come well over a year later). In the time that followed those events, I tried and failed to see the band on multiple occasions. A perfect combination of circumstances positioned me at the lip of the Entry’s stage, anxiously anticipating what would become one of the most formidable displays of angst-powered aggression I’ve ever witnessed.

PUP, the band’s official debut full-length, impressed a whole lot of people and led to an ever-expanding cast of die-hard fans. This year’s outstanding The Dream Is Over didn’t just aid that trend, it increased its velocity tenfold. One of the best punk records in years, the record played a large role in selling out the Entry and packing it to the brim with a cast of characters (that ranged an impressive spectrum), who seemed hell-bent on throwing down. All it took was the intro of “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” to get things started.

Literally less than thirty seconds into PUP’s set, the entire main floor of 7th St. Entry became a thriving pit of chaos, unchecked aggression, and intense camaraderie. Guitarist/vocalist (and principal songwriter) Stefan Babcock would later reveal to me that in those moments, the crowd established his ideal for an audience: rowdy to the point of violence but never crossing the threshold into a territory that made its participants afraid. That mode never ceased for what was over an hour of blistering anthems about self-doubt, self-loathing, anger, regret, fear, and loss.

In the first five minutes alone, Babcock asked if the audience was alright on three separate occasions, unable to suppress a grin as the audience grew increasingly out of control. After “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” bled into “DVP”, just as it does on the record (easily 2016’s best moment of sequencing on record), I was forced up onto the stage, clinging to a PA for dear life while attempting to maintain enough balance to shoot/film the show. Not long after, the show was stopped so that an audience member could look for their glasses. A “very busted” pair made their way up to the stage but turned out to belong to an entirely separate owner. Later, a single show made its way up to the stage and the show was stopped once more. Glasses: repeat.

A handful of songs into their set, Babcock could sense that the crowd’s insane levels of aggression weren’t going to wane and instructed everyone on the rules of a “Canadian mosh pit”, which mostly just amounts to apologizing to anyone you touch. It was the first of two Canadian-themed jokes of the night, with an endearing crack later on about how “no one wants to hear four white Canadians cover Prince”, following a very sincere expression of gratitude over being able to play in a space that was The Purple One’s de facto home.

Immediately after that announcement, PUP hit the highlight of the night in a searing, volatile run through “Old Wounds” that saw Babcock leaping into a stage dive while still screaming his brains out. Unsurprisingly, “Old Wounds” wound up amplifying the audience’s energy, allowing both band and audience to feed off each other in a state of total symbiosis. Each propelled the other forward to the point of near-exhaustion, loving every single moment of collision that the relationship generated on either side.

Every shout-a-long became a scream-a-long and every riff, snare hit, and Cheshire Cat grin took on additional meaning as the band ripped through what’s already an astonishing arsenal of songs only two full-lengths into their career: “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will”, “DVP”, “Dark Days”, “Lionheart”, “Familiar Patterns”, “Old Wounds”, “Factories”, “Yukon”, “Mabu”, “Guilt Trip”, and “Reservoir” all earned particularly strong reactions, while the audience used brief moments of the songs that came between to re-position, reset, and resume their wild-eyed thrashing.

“Reservoir”, the band’s final song, left everyone scrambling for extra breaths as they screamed, writhed on the stage, flung themselves off the rafters of the Entry’s ceiling into crowd-surfing the mosh pit, or — in the case of one fan — laid flat on the stage, screaming into a microphone that Babcock brought down to his level so that they could share in one of the evening’s final defining moments. As they screamed into the mic together, the communal aesthetic of the night solidified even further and the barrier separating band from artist was temporarily lifted so that everyone could truly be in it together.

Through the whole ordeal, like Charly Bliss at the start of the night, PUP wore their feelings with pride; no moment in the show looked like anything less than a moment that meant something to the band on a very real, personal level. After the smoke from the scintillating run through “Reservoir” cleared, the band would lean over the lip of the stage to embrace the battered front lines, shake their hands, give them high-fives, and mouth “thanks” repeatedly.  Babcock would express this throughout the night in repeated asides of affectionate expletives and stunned exclamations, gazing out over the crowd like the band had found a new home that they never wanted to leave.

Watch live videos from each of the bands sets below (including some very shaky PUP captures) and underneath the embed, view an extensive photo gallery of the show. Enjoy.

Ronnie Stone & The Lonely Riders – Live at Baby’s All Right – 8/29/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

Ronnie Stone & The Lonely Riders LII

Release shows are generally difficult propositions to pull off due to the expectations to create something genuinely memorable. Over the course of the summer, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a handful hit their mark (the release shows for both Sharkmuffin and PWR BTTM immediately spring to mind) but, in terms of scale, neither had anything on the intentional grandeur of the release party for Ronnie Stone & The Lonely Riders’ excellent Møtorcycle Yearbook. Of course, that’s probably to be expected when the identity of the band in question is thoroughly intertwined with its own mythology.

Leading up to the celebration at Baby’s All Right, the band had played a handful of shows that created, perpetuated, and existed within an additional thematic narrative (the previous show saw the enigmatic Ronnie Stone being banished from the stage and crawling into an open coffin, which was then closed and carried away through a somewhat shellshocked audience at Aviv). While the exit of the previous show was bold and engaging, the entrance of this one immediately set the tone for the kind of bombast that was set to follow. Kicking things off by literally driving a motorcycle into a venue is always a bold gambit but when the driver’s then hounded by a swarm of paparazzi through a crowd and into the green room? It goes beyond attention-getting and starts tipping towards an ourtright spectacle.

Here’s where Ronnie Stone & The Lonely Riders separate themselves from the rest of their ilk; a spectacle usually implies an inherent hollowness and lack of substance. While the band certainly isn’t without panache, they’re also a genuinely skilled band that pays an obscene amount of attention to their own machinations, injecting vibrant life into even the smallest functions while letting the memorable live show carry its weight. Furthering the considerable list of things working in the band’s favor are the songs themselves, each of which- while frequently tongue-in-cheek- have commentary to offer. Impressively, this commentary is tied into the worldview that’s contained in the band’s mythos and underscored by the seemingly tangential aspects of their show.

There’s an emphasis on community, togetherness, and timelessness that can be found in the music of Ronnie Stone & The Lonely Riders and those points were never driven home harder than they were on stage at Baby’s, where the band brought up a small army of collaborators, all in various guises that paid both respect and tribute to the band’s tantalizing vision. Extra musicians, guest vocalists, and backup dancers littered the late-night performance, each bringing a new trait to the table that operated as a perfect complement to the band’s music. Inevitably, this led to a few surprises throughout the course of the band’s set, with one particular highlight being an extremely fiery take on Cyndi Lauper’s “I’ll Kiss You” that whipped the sold-out audience into a frenzy.

Capitalizing on their own volatile energy and continuously pushing themselves throughout the night, it almost felt fitting to see Ronnie Stone vomit during the final song of the band’s set; everyone that stepped foot on that stage seemed committed to giving all they had and nothing was going to stop them from achieving that goal. For their part, the audience (most of which adhered to the band’s dress code policy) reciprocated the band’s excessive energy with both movement and adoration. It was difficult to not steal glimpses back at the crowd, which was a non-stop swirling mass of dancing bodies from the first song to the last notes.

People sang along, people danced, the band neared flawlessness, and everyone took a ride together, shedding the loneliness for at least a little while. It was the kind of trip that’s not likely to be forgotten anytime soon.

Watch two clips of the show and view an extensive photo gallery here.

 

 

Watch This: Vol. 93

Occasionally there are weeks where there are simply too many excessively strong live performance clips to highlight with just one entry and this week’s established itself as being of that caliber. It’s a rarity that there are exceptions to the setup of five featured clips and an honorable mentions list of hyperlinked material because it’s generally best to err on the side of brevity for these things. I’m not sure I can conjure up a more ringing endorsement than that for the 10 featured clips that will be running tonight and. as usual, that still leaves out a select few one-time feature candidates. Those performances came from the following acts: The Tallest Man On Earth, All Get Out, Mitski, The Superweaks, Glen Hansard, People Like You, and Screaming Females. The excellent nature of those videos also serve a dual purpose as an indicator of the featured clips’ level(s) of quality. So, as always, sit up, adjust the volume, adjust the screen, lean in, focus, and Watch This.

1. Bully – Bully (Sound Opinions)

A few months ago, Bully lit up Rough Trade and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re an incredible live band. It’s no surprise that this one-off for Sound Opinions crackles with a significant amount of energy. Led by Alicia Bognanno’s stop-you-in-your-tracks vocals it’s- predictably- a seriously impressive example of the band’s considerable amount of charisma and prowess in the live setting. It’s also unmissable.

2. Happyness (NPR)

Over the past few years, Happyness have built themselves a devoted following with their slightly askew approach to a very particular brand of 90’s indebted alt-punk. Now a small handful of records into their career, the trio stopped by NPR’s offices to deliver one of the year’s more memorable Tiny Desk sessions. Wry, wiry, and more than a little droll, they’re a perfect complement to a relaxed Sunday evening.

3. Murder By Death (Audiotree)

For whatever reason, now a large handful of releases into a remarkably consistent discography, Murder By Death still feel at least a little bit like a well-kept secret. This year’s excellent Big Dark Love flew mostly under the radar but saw the band perfecting a mix of their earlier works, which were dominated by a Southern Gothic sensibility, and their more current works, which I’ve frequently described as campfire-haze. Audiotree brought them in for a five-song session that let the band loose in a live setting, where they’ve always had the most pull. Unsurprisingly, the end result is breathtaking.

4. Torres – A Proper Polish Welcome + Harshest Light (Valeria Toumayan)

At this point, Torres has become a staple of this series thanks to 2015 highlight Sprinter and its accompanying post-release campaign. Valeria Toumayan was recently on hand to capture what stands as Torres’ ninth entry in Watch This and sees the young songwriter once again returning to the chilling “A Proper Polish Welcome” (that floating falsetto towards the end of the song kills me every time) as well as the gripping “Harshest Light”. Gorgeous and quietly devastating, this DIY presentation is a bold reaffirmation of Torres’ singular gifts as a solo performer and has a personal feel that perfectly aligns the approaches of the subject and the filmmaker.

5. METZ (KEXP)

METZ are a serious force in the live department. All three occasions I’ve been fortunate enough to catch the trio, they’ve delivered an unforgettable performance that whipped the audience into a feverish frenzy. On the first occasion, it was a small arts center in Champaign-Urbana, on the second it was a blistering homecoming show at a punk bar in Toronto, and- most recently– a midsize venue where the crowd killed the band’s power after being pulled onstage. While all the lights, amps, and various other electronics remain intact for this KEXP session, the band still throws down a blistering set (especially for a radio session) that acts as testimony to their relentless tenacity.

Mitski – Live at Palisades – 7/17/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

IMG_5331

Last night Palisades played host to a bill that guaranteed the venue would sell out well before doors, so expectations for the evening were considerably higher than usual. The night was headlined by Mitski (who has earned her fair share of words on this site) and made room for other site favorites like Brooklyn upstarts Normal Person and The Epoch favorites Eskimeaux. Throw in Elvis Depressedly (who now comfortably reside on Run For Cover’s increasingly fascinating roster) and any promotion outside of the show announcement practically becomes unnecessary; this one sold on its own.

Normal Person played first to a small but appreciative audience (it would progressively swell in size until the room was finally at capacity for Mitski) and brought their all. Their sole EP, the fantastic #0001, has been floating around online in some form or another for years. Recently, the tape was granted a physical release (a copy can- and should- be ordered from It Takes Time here) and it was the band’s first show to promote the tape. As is always the case with the various LVL UP side projects, Normal Person is a band that comes stacked with intimidatingly talented musicians. I only managed to catch the last stretch of their set but it was incredible enough to inspire the thought that it’ll only be a matter of time before they’re headlining these kinds of shows.

Next up was Eskimeaux, a band that’s part of the prolific Epoch collective and riding high on a wave of national acclaim for O.K., one of 2015’s best records. Unsurprisingly, the majority of their set pulled songs from that record and were played with the characteristic passion that The Epoch has become renowned for exhibiting. Nearly every song came laced with an approach that alternated between delicate and furious, spurring feelings of empathy and heartbreak in the process. It was abundantly clear that these songs carried significant meaning for guitarist/vocalist Gabrielle Smith, who delivered them with an uninhibited grace, leading her incredible band (Felix Walworth’s jaw-dropping drumming is worth singling out) through the emotional fraught terrain and- ultimately- delivering one of the best sets of the year.

Following something like Eskimeaux almost requires a certain wildness and that mania was something that Elvis Depressedly was more than happy to supply. My friend and fellow writer Sasha Geffen once said that Elvis Depressedly were “a band that records in lowercase but plays in all caps.” It’s a quote that, for whatever reason, has stuck with me over the years. I was anxious to find out what she meant and wasn’t disappointed to see the band fully embrace a much more chaotic and maximized version of themselves. They’ve assembled a strong band for this tour, which includes Greg Rutkin of LVL UP (and openers Normal Person) behind the kit. Significantly punchier than they are on record, Elvis Depressedly wound up creating a perfect bridge between Eskimeaux and Mitski with a career-spanning set largely mid-tempo numbers that had some psych flourishes and played into vocalist Mat Cothran’s outsize persona.

At this point, Mitski Miyawaki’s project has more than earned its headliner status and it was heartening to look out into the audience to see a diverse crowd of people that was dominated by a front section that skewed more towards the under 21 bracket (Mitski’s guitarist, Callan Dwan, would later reveal to me that she was very grateful for both the venue and the crowd’s size). Towards the very start of her set, Mitski addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support and encouraging the historically marginalized communities to be proud of their roots and “take up as much space as you can”, with a disarming sincerity that’s seen far too infrequently. It was a moving plea that was rooted in honesty, a dynamic that’s been translated effortlessly into her music (which is one of the many reasons behind Bury Me at Makeout Creek almost topping this site’s Best Albums of 2014 list) and is fully ingrained in her demeanor.

With ex-Diarrhea Planet drummer Casey Weissbuch (who’s also the mastermind of Infinity Cat‘s extraordinary cassette series) anchoring the trio, the band dove headfirst into a memorable set that wound up recapturing a lot of the magic of the last Mitski set to get coverage here (no small feat) while supplementing it with new intricacies. Deceptively nuanced and- a recurring theme throughout the night- unerringly heartfelt, it touched on various points throughout the songwriter’s discography, while- understandably- leaning heavily on the Bury Me At Makeout Creek material. If Mitski was baring her soul on the Palisades stage, the audience was reciprocating that generosity with extremely vocal support between songs.

At one point, in one of the evening’s most genuine and communal moments, Miyawaki ran backstage to collect the bottled water on hand for the artists and passed it out to the audience to help them cope with the uncomfortable humidity that only a small space packed with bodies on a warm day can bring. It was one in a series of moments with the band and the audience playing off of each other, which was itself a slight reflection of how well the band played off of each other during a very affirming set. Following the pained howling that closes out “Drunk Walk Home”, the band left the stage leaving its principle voice alone with the spotlight. Two tender songs later, the set was wrapped, and the audience was screaming for an encore that never came. Even if it had, it probably still wouldn’t have satiated the audience’s desires- and, really- why bother tampering with a perfect closing note?

A gallery of photos from the show can be found here and a video containing some of each act’s strongest highlight can be found underneath the gallery.

Slothrust – Live at Suburbia – 7/10/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

Slothrust VII

One of the best things about a place like Brooklyn is that if you wind up having to miss out on one show, there’s another one happening just a short distance away that could very easily have or exceed the impact of the show you missed. While my initial plan to see Rainer Maria fell through, it was heartbreaking for a moment- until I was reminded that PWR BTTM and Slothrust were headlining a nearby show. Anyone that’s come across this site lately likely already knows exactly how this place feels about PWR BTTM and eagle-eyed observers with an astounding memory capacity may recall that Slothrust got shortlisted in our round-up of 2014’s best releases for the extraordinary Of Course You Do. Having both acts on the same bill made for an easy decision, despite quite a bit of competition.

Lowlives and Nonsense opened the show and while my late arrival meant having to miss the former entirely, I did manage to catch the end of the latter’s set. Suburbia- the venue that hosted the show- proved to be a better fit for the band than Aviv, where they’d recently played as part of the collaborative Northside showcase that was put on by Ipsum, Gimme Tinnitus, and Exploding in Sound. Playing to an appreciative crowd, Nonsense played off of each other quite well and se the stage nicely for PWR BTTM. Once again, PWR BTTM proved to be an absolute force- even in the face of lost pedals and a string breaking, the charismatic duo never had a moment that was anything less than obscenely compelling.  The band’s putting out Ugly Cherries– one of the year’s best records- in September and their set previewed a lot of material from that release while also still incorporating long-standing staples like the anthemic “Hold Yer Tongue”. As usual, their set was a convincing (and probably even inspiring) demonstration of energy, resilience, mischief, and enviable skill. In short; it was just about perfect.

Slothrust, a band that I’d previously only ever maintained a glancing familiarity with, followed PWR BTTM with a powerhouse set that more than justified their top bill placement. From the onset, it was evident that the band’s built up an extremely loyal and devoted fan base. By the end of their set, it was easy to see what inspired that devotion. Both on record and live, Slothrust are operating on a very different level than just about any band running their circuit(s). Combining elements of grunge, folk, Americana, punk, powerpop, and even prog into something that feels remarkably singular, they’ve crafted an identity that manages to both be accessible and refreshingly unique.

With Leah Wallbaum’s biting- and frequently deeply personal- lyrics leading the band’s frenzied charges in their most chaotic moments (and anchoring the band when they exercise their restraint), Slothrust very quickly transform into a band that people not only strongly identify with but want to see succeed. Even at their most irreverent, there’s a level of conviction that translates so easily for Slothrust that it’s nearly impossible not to be mesmerized by the music they’re making/playing. That aspect of the band held especially true for the 1-2 punch of a genuinely stunning Britney Spears cover (“…Baby One More Time)” and “Crockpot“, their extraordinary closing number and current career highlight. In those climactic moments, the band managed to showcase nearly all of their varying draws and limitless appeal, ultimately providing an emphatic endpoint to an exhilarating set- and ensuring that this site will be covering them a lot more closely in the following months.

A photo gallery of PWR BTTM and Slothrust’s sets can be seen here and a video containing a large portion of both bands’ sets can be found below. Enjoy.

Tenement – Live at The Acheron – 6/25/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

Tenement III

Toys That Kill played an invigorating set at The Acheron on June 23. Two days later, Tenement did the same on a bill where they weren’t even technically the headliner (that distinction went to Warthog, whose set I didn’t manage to catch). Nancy kicked the show off with a costumed, attitude-heavy set. Really, the night seemed to belong to the middle three bands: two of the best acts in hardcore and, of course, Tenement– a band that’s been written about on here with alarming- but entirely justified- regularity.

A night defined by aggression, tension, cathartic release, and genuine surprise (perhaps best summarized by a brief, impromptu cover of Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff”) was highlighted by Ivy, Big Zit, and Tenement. Ivy played as ferociously as possible and Big Zit took that manic energy and injected their own brand of frenetic weirdness. Tenement (with Tyler Ditter filling  in on bass for Jesse Ponkamo) delivered a bruising set- that can be seen in full below- that served as a powerful reminder of why Tenement’s one of the best bands currently operating.

A gallery of photos of Ivy, Big Zit, and Tenement can be seen below. A pair of performances from Ivy can be seen beneath the gallery as well as the full Tenement set. Enjoy.


Painted Zeros – Live at Alphaville – 6/17/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

IMG_3940

Another night, another absolutely stacked bill of site favorites. Last night, the always-reliable Exploding in Sound presented a smaller show at Alphaville, boasting a strong four-band line-up. Doubting Thomas Cruise Control, Lady Bones, Snoozer, and Painted Zeros (a band that includes a member of a recently-covered act) all played themselves into a sweat, with each seemingly determined to push the venues capacity for volume.

Doubting Thomas Cruise Control played first and their set proved to be a strong introduction to the band’s relatively subdued but occasionally explosive basement pop. With this being an Exploding in Sound presentation, the band’s frenetic songwriting approach was expected and a recurring theme throughout the night. Lady Bones, who have earned a lot of words from this site, responded with an exhilarating (and punishingly loud) set that continued to tip Dying towards a viable status as a year-end candidate.

After all of the smoke had cleared from Lady Bones’ set, Snoozer was up and tearing through everything with a charisma that was almost maniacal. As their set continued at a sprint, the complementary aspects of their pairing with Lady Bones were clearly evidenced in both their musical quirks and affinity for in-the-red volume. Easing the lineup’s sense of tension, they also delivered some deft, well-timed banter.

By the time Painted Zeros took the stage, the small (but appreciative) crowd had noticeably grown in size and they were rewarded with a memorable set from one of Brooklyn’s finest emerging acts. Leaning heavily on last year’s excellent Svalbard (an EP that very neIarly made it into this site’s list of last year’s 14 best and included “Too Drunk”, a song that came similarly close to making its way into the top songs list), the trio delivered their set with the kind of confidence usually found in a band that’s threatening “breakout act” status. If they keep delivering on the level they are, it’s a status they’re bound to achieve sooner than later.

Photos of the show can be seen below and a video (or two) of each band can be found in the player embedded beneath the photographs.

 


Watch This: Vol. 60

[Please refer to Vol. 59 for the introductory paragraph.]

1. Two Inch Astronaut – Cigarettes, Boys And Movies (BreakThruRadio)

One of late 2014’s real gems was Two Inch Astronaut’s current career-highlight, Foulbrood. Filled with a nervous tension and exploring curious bridges between genres, the band zeroed in on the remarkable formula set out by their thrilling debut. Sound in structure, compelling in atmosphere, and engaging live, they make for perfect candidates to places like the venerable BreakThruRadio, which recently hosted a live session for the band which found them delivering a stunning live version of the excellent “Cigarettes, Boys And Movies”.

2. Broncho (3voor12)

Snotty punk’ed out basement poppers Broncho recently swung through Le Guess Who? festival in Utrecht. 3voor12, as ever, was on hand to capture the band tearing through a manic set of earworm-friendly numbers. Broncho, for their part, deliver their songs with a wide-eyed gusto. Legs tap rapidly up and down, hips sway unapologetically, and the band loses themselves in their music. It’s an outwardly strong performance that suggests that Broncho, even having been on the scene for a handful of years, are nowhere close to being done.

3. Liquor Store (3voor12)

Le Guess Who? (and 3voor12) not only managed to rope in Broncho for a stellar showcase but celebrated punk act Liquor Store as well. Anyone familiar with Liquor Store knows what the video immediately below holds in store: an abundance of snarling riffs, shouted lower-register lyrics, an off-the-cuff feel, and a whole lot of deceptive slop. For years the band’s built a sound that plays directly to their strengths as both songwriters and performers. Once this band steps on the gas pedal, they never decelerate; they only know how to apply pressure.

4. Protomartyr (Sound Opinions)

Under Official Color of Right catapulted Protomartyr into the greater public’s eye on sheer strength. One of 2014’s most fascinating records, the band filled it with restraint and a tendency to lean towards an atmosphere of disquiet. At times it’s an almost unbearably tense experience that benefits from a vice-like grip rooted in unrelenting bleakness. Somehow that combination translates to an odd brand of contained catharsis when kept to a singular listening experience. Live, the band taps into the same mood without any kind of hesitation- and they strengthen it with their physical presence. Sound Opinions catches them exactly where they should, right in the act.

Sonic Avenues (KEXP)

One of a handful of smaller bands going who can boast a near-perfect discography, Sonic Avenues have been the deserving center of praise from quite a few genre specialists. With both an incredible reissue and an incredible new record out in 2014, it’s felt (increasingly) like the band’s just a few steps shy of exploding. Affable and energetic, they deliver one of the best sets KEXP’s hosted in some time. None of them seem to be able to contain their excitement while playing and it’s a beautiful thing to watch- so quit reading and click play.