Live Log 2023: Summer Catchup, Pt. 2
Wild nights in Central Park, Bushwick, and Maspeth
The summer concert scene is so packed I could write a whole rhapsody about the shows we didn’t get to! But here’s a few recent ones we did manage to see.
7/20: One Night, Four Bands Along with BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, City Parks SummerStage is the premiere summer concert series in NYC, hosting a stacked lineup of artists from a wide variety of places and genres. While they have shows in every borough, the Central Park schedule alone is enough to make them an essential part of city life. Most of the concerts are free, too, and the last time I was desperate to see one that wasn’t was in 2014, when Beck played with the GOASTT opening.
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For this show, we were treated to an embarrassment of riches, with three of the four bands responsible for some of my favorite arty rock of the last couple of years. The night started with Lifeguard, the band of Chicago high schoolers who are not just strikingly solid on guitar, bass, and drums, but solid enough to be free and really let it rip, whether with bursts of noise or hypnotic repetition. Especially impressive was drummer Isaac Lowenstein, whose older sister’s band, Horsegirl, was also on the bill. His rhythms created foundations as strong as those holding up the skyscrapers ringing the park. As proven by their latest EP, the songs are well crafted, too, not just relying on galvanic volume to get over - although there was plenty of that, too. I have a feeling it’s going to be fun watching Lifeguard develop over the next few years, but for now they were the perfect way to kick things off on a humid night.
Next up was Water From Your Eyes, whose fifth album (and first on Matador), Everyone’s Crushed broke them out of Bandcamp obscurity. While the template had been set since the beginning, with Rachel Brown’s cool vocals and opaque lyrics complemented by Amos’s mesmeric grooves and offbeat pop hooks, the new album finds them at their most focused. As I mentioned in my review, even that wasn’t quite enough to convince me - but the live show sealed the deal. While most of the music was on backing tracks, Amos and another guitarist added heft and presence while Brown’s chill and insular presence - and sleek moves - made them magnetic to watch. There was something addictive about the experience - I couldn’t get enough! But I forgave them for ending their set since there were two more bands to get through. I just need to see Water From Your Eyes again ASAP - and until then, I’m enjoying their back catalog in a whole new light.
If you look at a concert lineup like a mixtape, the third band on the bill wouldn’t make the cut. Amidst three indie-art-rock-post-punk bands (two from Chicago, one from Brooklyn, none older than six years), there was Iceage, a Danish band extant since 2008 who left their scrappy “punk rock” beginnings behind a while ago and now traffic in what I can only think to call “modern rock,” somewhat like The Bends era Radiohead. But they came out strong in Central Park - tight, dramatic, and firmly led by the charismatic Elias Bender Rønnenfelt - and were greeted by roars from devoted fans. It was fun to experience it through their eyes and ears until they started forming mosh pits and knocking into me and my daughter. Read the room, people. So many in the audience had revealed themselves as Iceage die-hards that at first I worried the crowd would empty out after Iceage’s set, leaving Horsegirl to play to a half-empty field. Eventually, I hoped they would leave and let us enjoy a far superior band in peace.
Some people did leave, but it was still a robust crowd who greeted Horsegirl, who made such a splash with their debut album last year and were terrific in concert at Indieplaza. The trio of Penelope Lowenstein (guitar, vocals), Nora Cheng (guitar, vocals), and Gigi Reece (drums) were just as locked together as that earlier show, weaving their guitars (one of which is a Fender VI, which has some qualities of a bass) around the rhythms and floating captivating yet somewhat deadpan melodies over the top of it all. They played a couple of exceedingly tuneful new songs that could lead to an even larger audience when they’re released, which will hopefully be soon. But the old songs, like Anti-glory, sounded more than ever like modern classics, and their set sent us back into the NYC night satisfied by a great night of music.
7/25: A Musical Memoir If you listened to the latest episode of Discover Music With AnEarful, you heard me rhapsodizing about Inheritance, the extraordinary debut from Omar Ahmad, a Palestinian-American composer, performer, and producer of sublime electronic music. After having it on repeat for a few weeks, there was no way I was going to miss the album release show at The Sultan Room in Bushwick. I got there on the early side and had a few minutes to chat with Ahmad, who gave me some insights into the album’s basis in his life, complete with audio from home videos his father took when Omar was a baby being introduced to his sisters. The video was for his grandmother, who was still living in Palestine. Her voice is also heard on the album, bringing things full circle. He also told me that the album was completed a while ago, but was deemed too ambient for the dance labels and too beat-driven for the ambient labels. So much for the death of genre - and thank goodness for the AKP label, which made a gift of inheritance to the world.
Opening the night at The Sultan Room was DJ Serrian, whose colorful and creative beats were well-matched by the gorgeous visuals by ACE. The crowd grew throughout her set as people trickled in, and everyone was warmed up and dancing by the time it ended. Ahmad proved a charming host, giving everyone the same background he had given me earlier while shouting out his father, brother, and fiancee, who were all in the audience. The album sounded great on the sound system and ACE’s evocative visuals added another layer to the experience, which got even richer when Ahmad added live percussion or guitar to the tracks. It was a school night so it was a godsend that Ahmad put himself in the middle of the lineup, which meant I could start the long journey home before 10. I was sorry to miss Sam O.B.’s closing set, but as I walked to the L train I was even more convinced that Inheritance is one of the best albums of the year.
8/5 Maspeth Madness A few months ago, Palm announced that, after two stellar albums and a few EPs, they were breaking up and would be making the rounds with their final shows. This was sad news indeed and as I checked my schedule and theirs, I was stunned by the lineup for the second Outline Festival of 2023. Not only Palm, but Grace Ives and Model/Actriz, too - both artists I’ve been wanting to see - and with Crumb headlining a good time was guaranteed. There were also a few artists with whom I was unfamiliar so I brought an open mind and open ears when we headed out to Maspeth, Queens for the show. The venue was Knockdown Center, a former door factory that takes its place alongside MASS MoCA and Pioneer Works as an example of the mind-blowing possibilities of post-industrial architecture.
Following the music, we walked through the massive main room and back outside to The Ruins, the outdoor stage area, which featured a bar, a food truck, and an Astroturfed area with beanbag chairs where you could relax and catch the vibes without actually seeing who was playing. Club Intl, the latest project from John Eatherly (Public Access T.V., be your own PET), was already on, getting the early arrivals involved in his moody tracks, which featured chugging, tense guitar reminiscent of Divine Fits, to accompany his passionate singing. His debut album in this guise comes later this year, so keep an eye out.
Next up was Pelada, the Canadian duo of Chris Vargas (vocals) and Tobias Rochman (beats), who heated up the crowd further with her harsh “punk rap” vocals and his tracks, which at their most interesting grew cluttered with elements of musique concrete. Basement Jaxx are an obvious inspiration and what Vargas’ flow lacked in variety was mostly made up by her energy. She asked us to “dance harder,” but I always think if you have to ask the crowd to react, maybe it’s more on you than them - and this was firmly proven by the next performer, Grace Ives.
Ives’s last album, Janky Star was a breakthrough for her and one of the best indie-pop albums of 2022. But even that terrific collection didn’t prepare me for how magnetic she was on stage, so clearly having a fantastic time and feeding off the crowd that it was impossible not to feel involved. She performed to her own fun, funky, melodically rich tracks and invested the songs with even more life than on the album. She also did a wildly entertaining version of Blitzkrieg Bop - and you know what? We danced harder.
It was now time to move indoors to see Palm. Others with stronger constitutions than us were able to abandon Ives early - or miss her altogether - so there was quite a crowd already gathered in front of the main stage. I had broken a cardinal rule of concert going and was wearing my Palm t-shirt from the last time I saw them in 2018. But it’s not often you know that it’s the last time you’ll see a band and knew it was the right decision by the many approving glances and compliments I received for the well-worn garment.
Eventually, Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt, who both sing and play guitar and keyboards, bassist Gerasimos Livitsanos, and drummer Hugo Stanley took the stage amidst huge clouds of fog, as if emerging from the memories they were creating on this farewell tour. Their joyful, knotty songs sounded as fantastic as ever and had everyone rapt. The band members were all deep in the zone, but it was only Alpert who was visibly moved by the experience, expressing more than once their gratitude for our response. I’m still not sure why they’re breaking up and will keep a hopeful ear out for any solo work or new configurations from these phenomenally talented musicians. Alpert and Kurt have already been making music as Kassie Krut for a while, so maybe we’ll get more of that. And this being rock & roll we’re talking about, I will not be surprised if there’s a Coachella reunion in 2033.
While it was still somewhat stultifying outside, the fresh air felt good after all the fog and we made a beeline for the bar to splurge on frozen Palomas that were delicious and worth every penny. It was also helpful that they didn’t spill easily because before we knew it we were swept up in the last outdoor set of the night, by post-punk art-terrorists Model/Actriz - and they were not playing. While their 2023 album, Dogsbody, is quite good, the live show is another thing entirely, with guitarist Jack Wetmore emitting barbed wire patterns and bassist Aaron Shapiro and drummer Ruben Radlauer generating a relentless throb to aid singer Cole Haden in turning The Ruins into a place of ecstatically dark ritual.
Haden was riveting onstage, but only became more so when he ventured into the seething crowd (who helpfully kept the microphone cable out of harm’s way), dropping to the ground before emerging with a series of bloodcurdling shrieks, causing the audience to explode. I’m not sure any recorded medium can truly capture what we experienced, but it was unforgettable and had me reaching into my mind for comparisons. Virgin Prunes, maybe, or The Doors if they lived out Jim Morrison’s fantasy of combining The Living Theater with rock music, but that’s as far as I got. Find out for yourself when Model/Actriz tours the country and the world in the fall and winter - and try to see them in an unseated venue so Haden can do his thing. This is Model/Actriz’s time so don’t annoy your grandchildren by missing them.
In an unusual fail, I had not revisited the penultimate act, U.S. Girls, whom I dimly recalled listening to several years ago, to see if I liked them or not. Had I done so, we could have given our aching legs a break and sat out their rather bland set. As they played, I remembered the trajectory of Meghan Remy, from collage-like solo recordings in 2007 to Pitchfork-impressing arty-dance-pop on 2018’s To A Poem Unlimited - none of which I liked. The crowd was into it, however, grooving along with Remy’s supper-club moves and applauding happily. When Remy closed the set with a repetitive return to her “experimental” roots and ended with an actual mic drop, it seemed deeply unearned to my eyes and ears. But I seemed to be in the minority and what music festival doesn’t have at least one duff act?
We were seriously starting to flag by the time Crumb took the stage, but they soon restored our energy with their sinuous rhythms, dynamic song structures, and heavenly melodies sung by Lila Ramani, who owns the stage even more than when we saw them last year. They didn’t put a foot wrong during their set, whether it was Jesse Brotter’s fuzzed-out bass solos, Bri Aronow’s dazzling keyboards or questing saxophone, or Jonathan Gilad’s ultra-steady drums, which called to mind none other than Chris Frantz. Ramani also played some great guitar solos, losing herself in the music and connecting as strongly with her band members as the audience.
When we saw Crumb in 2022, I noted that they have been holding back on their records, at least based on their ascension to a “mind-blowing level of road-hardened grandeur and power” in concert, but their recent single, Crushxd, seems to show that changing. They only have a few dates on their calendar, which could mean they’re finishing the album that finally puts it all together. Either way, their performance sent us streaming for the exits in a state of elevated bliss, ending an incredible night of music. The curatorial mastery on display was not a one-off, either, with a spring Outline featuring such luminaries as Makaya McCraven and Laraaji. I will be waiting eagerly to see if they can top it in 2024 and look forward to getting back to Knockdown Center sooner rather than later.
How’s your summer concert season going? Put your favorite show(s) in the comments!
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