Live Log 2023: Lael Neale Is The River
At Public Records with Anastasia Coope
On her latest album, Star Eater’s Delight, Lael Neale manages to double-down on the hypnotic, repetitive vein already in evidence on her second album, 2021’s excellent Acquainted With Night, while also increasing the overall variety and deepening her impact. The Omnichord, an all-in-one electronic instrument that includes a keyboard, a track pad, and a drum machine, is still at the heart of her sound, but she and collaborator Guy Blakeslee, have grown more inventive and adventurous in what they surround it with. It also sounds like she’s more confident in the character she wants to portray, a blend of 50s pop innocent and plugged in but low-tech Lorelei.
Describe it how you will, but it’s clear that there has been a leap from the last album to the new one, which is rapidly taking its place as one of the best of the year. I had already wanted to see her in concert, but now the situation became urgent. Fortunately, the stars aligned and I was able to catch her at Public Records in Brooklyn on May 5th, in her first headlining show in NYC. There will most certainly be more of those and you’d be wise to buy a ticket well in advance!
The venue itself was a first for me as well, a super-cool complex in Boerum Hill across from the terminus of the Gowanus Canal and comprising a sleek coffee bar, a postage-stamp record store, a full-service bar and restaurant, and the performance space. The latter is actually a separate venue about 20 yards west and accessed first down a long, covered outdoor path then down a couple of steps into a red-lit hallway that makes you feel you’ve arrived somewhere special. The room itself is wood-lined and anchored by four enormous, custom-build speaker cabinets, each topped off with an impressive array of tweeters and pumping out a retro but hip selection, from Fred Neil and J.K. & Co. to the Velvet Underground and The Beatles. There’s a low stage on one wall, opposite an expansive DJ booth and catty-corner to a well-stocked bar. As soon as I took it all in I felt like I had discovered my next favorite place to hear music.
Neale’s setup fit the minimalist vibe of the place well, with her Omnichord center stage and Blakeslee’s keyboards and guitar to her right. As soon as the electronic drum beat kicked off the set, their was a sense of release from the crowd, who let out a cheer and then quieted down as Neale - instantly iconic in black sparkles - laid out a path to blissful hypnosis with her gleaming high voice. Her manipulation of the Omnichord was deft and assured and Blakeslee provided the perfect support on keyboards or guitar, even tapping a tambourine with his foot for the perfect touch on one song.
Blakeslee’s complete command of all he attempted became clearest when he handed his guitar to Neale for the last two songs. He had been playing it left-handed but Neale played it right-handed - which is when I realized the guitar was strung for her not him and it didn’t slow him down at all. Her guitar work was very fine, too, especially when she accompanied herself on a beautiful cover of Bacharach-David’s Don’t Make Me Over to end the show. And when it was over, it was over. The last song ended, and in a subtly theatrical move she left the stage. and the lights went up. There was no encore - and none was needed as they had already given us so much.
They played songs from both albums and everything blended together marvelously in a set that was monolithic but never forbidding, a quality that was amplified by Neale’s warmth and obvious delight at being there. There was one new song called I’ll Be Your Star, which was as perfectly formed as anything on the album. Keep an ear out as she told me it would be released later this year. She also mentioned that her collaboration with Blakeslee goes back to before Acquainted With Night, when he asked her to sing on a project of his. Long may they continue to blend their remarkable talents, which will soon be on display in Europe as her tour continues.
The show was opened by Anastasia Coope, a dark folk magus in the making. Her songs evinced consistent fascination as repeated chords stubbornly refused to resolve in expected ways and her voice had surprising range. While there were a few unsure moments, Coope was an arresting presence and is clearly on her way somewhere special. She has a few songs out from 2021 featuring intriguingly layered voices but only rare hints at the powerful, mesmeric sounds she delivered on stage. A song or two in, I noticed that she had completely silenced the audience, an all too rare experience for an opening act - but she was just that good.
There was one fan (a friend, maybe?) who stood at the side of the stage and sang along to every song. Next time I see Coope - which I hope is soon - I suspect there will be more like that, especially if she releases these new songs. Until then, I’ll keep an eye on her Bandcamp and Instagram, where she shows her talents at visual art as well and mentioned to a fan that a full-length album is coming “ASAP.” I’m ready!
From the archive:
Live Log 2023: Elana Low Welcomes The Equinox