Sixteen years removed from his first (and only) gold record, Edwin McCain brought his band to Orlando’s Hard Rock Hotel as part of its Velvet Sessions concert series. Proving that the sixteen years has indeed been a blessing, he performed a sturdy, confident and fully engaged set of a dozen soul-drenched charmers. The evening opened with “Mercy Bound,” an organ-kissed acoustic-driven yarn that ponders mortality.
From there he dove into the playful singalong “Gramercy Park Hotel” before performing one of his older tracks “Solitude” by request from an overeager fan. Using the humor that has always been his calling card, he addressed the crowd by saying, “Sure I’ll do Solitude. There’s nothing like a song about teenage drug abuse to keep our spirits high.” All hilarity aside the song was executed deftly and like much of the set had few if any swells. McCain’s music rests on his whiskey-soaked croon, a guttural powerhouse that can often do the sonic and emotional heavy lifting all by itself. On the note-perfect “Love TKO” he used his ageless timbre to perfection as he navigated an old-school soul ballad with aplomb. Two songs later, he belted out an arresting, power-packed nine minute version of the heartbreak ballad “Sign On the Door.”
McCain’s career has been paved via two wedding songs, the Diane Warren-penned “Could Not Ask For More” and the 90s radio smash “I’ll Be.” Both were delivered crisply, evenly and without flaw but it was the night’s more unexpected moments that proved to be the evening’s apex moments. McCain dove deep into his back catalog to sing the tender “Take Me” before trying his hand at Bruno Mars’ ubiquitous hit “Locked Out Of Heaven.” If the latter song proved anything it’s the dexterity of McCain’s backing band. Lead guitarist Larry Chaney, organist/saxophonist Craig Shields, bassist Jason Pomar and drummer Tez Sherard, never batted an eyelash as they carved through Mars’ mega single.
That same sense of dexterity was elucidated during the encore as McCain and Co. aced Teddy Pendergrass’ “Can’t Hide Love.” Though the set was brief, the Southern singer made the most of the opportunity. For all 80 minutes, he was engaging, candid and deeply committed to his craft. In an era where so many former radio heroes have a propensity to mail it in, McCain’s set was a refreshing reminder that there are still a select few vagabonds who still want to sing their songs and sing them well. More than two decades into a career he never thought possible, McCain shows very little signs of rust and disinterest. And for that, we should all be grateful.
These days musicians are measured as much by their videos as their body of work. With the ascent of YouTube, artists are recreating themselves via music videos and choice covers. But can that rise to success parlay into a successful live set? That was the question posed by this writer before taking in the 90-minute set by Canada’s Walk Off This Earth. Four years ago, the band was mired in Canadian anonymity, unknown to a select few in the United States.
All that changed in early 2012 when the band released a dazzling and novel cover of Gotye’s “Somebody I Used To Know,” a video which at the time of this writing has racked up more than 156 million views. Now three years removed from that cover, the band has toured North American in support of their Gang of Rhythm tour and in doing so have proved their worth. Make no mistake
about it, Walk Off The Earth is no one-trick pony. Whether it was the hyper-caffeinated energy of set opener “Speeches,” the dizzying kinetics of the uber-catchy “Revolution’s in My Head,” or the bubblegum bounce of B.O.B’s “Magic,” the quintet’s first three songs were entrancing, memorable and deeply magnetic.
Proving that their ingenue extends beyond just the studio and YouTube covers, the gorgeous “Natalie” was a sterling example of just how well the band marries ingenuity with deft musicianship. Opening with the sounds of an electric toothbrush (yes, that’s not a type) and an ukelele, the forlorn ballad had a tender immediacy that proved the band was just as skilled at downtempo numbers as they were with the more urgent material. Easily one of the best songs of the night was the radio-ready “Red Hands,” an earnest, accessible and indelible offering that shockingly has yet to chart in America.
After allowing a fan to come on stage to propose to his wife, the band dove into the melodica-driven valentine “No Ulterior Motives,” a languorous and hazy yarn that felt decidedly Caribbean. Like a hybrid of Jack Johnson and/or Jimmy Buffett, there was a sweetness to every passing second. Unfortunately the set stumbled the rest of the way. With the exception of the surging “Shake” and the soaring “Gang of Rhythm,” the latter half of the set was littered with covers. While choice takes of somebody else’s songs has long been a live set staple, the idea of nearly one-third of their set being covers felt a little strange.
Like the title of the tour implies, Walk Off The Earth are indeed a rhythm driven outfit, a band who easily parlays hip-hop, indie-folk and reggae into an intoxicating stew that in concert leaps off the stage. Exuding confidence, charisma and a bevy of eclectic weirdness, Walk Off The Earth truly have a style and swerve all their own.
Opening the set were Virginia pop tarts Parachute whose breezy and harmless set felt like a hybrid of Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars. With the exception of a sterling cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” very little of the band’s set felt believable. Make no mistake about it, frontman Will Anderson is a veteran performer with likable charm and a velvety voice, but never once did the set feel like a band effort. From start to finish, the entire set felt like the Will Anderson solo show. Maybe that’s the band’s MO or maybe Anderson was just feeling his oats, but never once did the set feel like a collective, cohesive event.
On the contrary, New York’s Camera2 performed a first-rate set of celestial Brit-rock that was absolutely astounding. Whether it was the swirling and stormy “This is Not a Sad Song” or the enveloping and multi-layered “Just About Made It,” the band had a sense of clarity and precision that was both eye-opening and awe-inspiring. Whereas Parachute seemed more focused on being crowd-pleasers and chart-toppers, Camera2’s nuanced sound was truly something to behold.
Opening up for the legendary, iconic and ubiquitous country-rock group The Eagles is a daunting albeit enviable task, but sure enough, somebody has to do it. Last night at Orlando’s Amway Center that very task fell to veritable unknowns: New York City’s JD and the Straight Shot. Fronted by multi-millionaire James Dolan, the sharp-tongued owner of the New York Knicks and the telecom giant Cablevision, Dolan’s band included drummer/washboard Rich Mercurio, bassist Jeff Allen, his son Aidan on guitar, Brian Mitchell on piano, accordion, organ and harmonica; Lorenza Ponce on violin and Marc Copely on banjo. Their set opened with “Fall From Grace, an organ-infused jaunt with ample amounts of meandering piano, dulcet piano, hazy vocals and a rustic blues veneer. Ostensibly a song about political leaders’ penchant for failure, it had a decidedly well-placed organ flourish at its conclusion that stamped it as indelible.
Dolan has a deep affinity for swampy Louisiana blues and nowhere was that more apparent than on the thick and steamy “Voodoo Stew.” Anchored by accordion, upright bass and searing guitar, the song was sassy and loaded with attitude. The set segued into “Holy Water,” a Nick Cave-esque effort from the film Lawless, that combined dusty Appalachian folk with the haunting hypnotism of a New Orleans swamp. In the song’s latter stages, it meanders to a playful conclusion. If JD and the Straight Shot had a musical doppelgänger it would most likely be Little Feat. As if cognizant of that, the band rattled off a near-perfect rendition of Little Feat’s “Let it Roll,” featuring rollicking piano, buoyant banjo and Ponce’s exceptional violin.
On stage Dolan was a natural storyteller and a charismatic frontman. Before announcing the cut “Can’t Make Tears,” a song which appeared in the soundtrack of the TV show Hell on Wheels, he went about explaining the show’s premise: the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. This turn allowed the musician to serve as a sort-of history teacher and amiable host. As for the song, it was slow-moving, swampy and full of Delta blues. It was also the first moment at which one can see just how deeply the band has its hands dipped in history. The song’s finest moments included another interlude from Ponce and a stoic guitar solo from Aidan Dolan.
Dolan is not one to shy from spouting off and sure enough before introducing the song “White Bird,” recorded by the band It’s a Beautiful Day in 1969, he made sure to let the audience know, “this song isn’t played often because it’s so hard to play.” But if you can back up the talk, then play on, and sure enough ‘White Bird” was vernal, supple and at times orchestral. Decidedly British, and almost elegiac and funereal, the song is backed by a shimmering piano and the collective skill of his first-rate band. Dolan paused to introduce each of the members before performing “Violet’s Song,” which is featured in the upcoming film August: Osage County. Heartily Midwestern, it featured banjo, lap-steel and Ponce’s inimitable violin.
Though it was a bit of an awkward choice for a penultimate cut, the band’s last song “Midnight Run,” more than made up for it. Another cut that appeared in the film Lawless (albeit with Willie Nelson on vocals).”Midnight Run” was lively, limber and expertly crafted. When the Amway Center lights came back up and Dolan and Co. stepped off stage, they had achieved something truly awesome. No, they were not the Eagles and no they are not Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-worthy, but they were something well worth remembering. Dolan, who has been actively pursuing music for more than two decades, finally seems on the cusp of something truly special. Their 45-minute set Saturday night proved exactly that.
While a headlining gig across the United States is probably a bit premature, nonetheless the Australian duo Atlas Genius entered into Orlando's House of Blues armed with two singles and a hot-selling album. But having only that album and a concise EP in their canon, the set was as expected, markedly brief, chronicling only 11 songs with a running time of 68 minutes.
Walking on stage to a Beach Boys tune, the Australian duo almost immediately foreshadowed what the night be: a breezy and bubbly set of cheery indie-pop. Opening the set was "On a Day," a fuzzy and bright slice of dance rock that set the tone nicely for what was about to take place. Rather unpredictably the band launched into current single "If So," a ditty that is the very epitome of the word hip-shaking. "When It Was Now," the title track to the band's current LP was equal parts throbbing and pulsating as it was fizzy and free-spirited.
An airy organ opened the introspective number "Back Seat," a song whose tranquil melodies and dreamy kinescopes made for arguably the most compelling listen of the set's first few selections. Towards the song's latter stages, vocalist Keith Jeffery, yielded to his guitar and set on a lively and invigorating guitar solo. While the result was rewarding, arguably the best part of the solo was that it veered from the script, allowing a bit of improvisation from a set that thus far had been as expected.
Nintendo-like keys opened "All These Girls," a song which benefitted from a lengthy introduction and Jeffery's inherent charisma. Ostensibly a hazy valentine that is both languorous and dream-like, the song is both swirly and intoxicating and reveals the kind of magnetism that has carried the Aussie duo this far in their career. Similarly, the circular and kaleidoscopic "Symptoms" was intoxicating and enveloping but benefitted most from Jeffery's inspired guitar solo in the latter stages.
Arguably the set's most heartfelt exercise was the crestfallen "Don't Make a Scene," the first time in the set in which Jeffery appeared to be at his most vulnerable. After heart-sleeving his way through "Don't Make a Scene," Jeffery and Co. offered up the evening's most straightforward, linear and accessible offering, the yearning and big-hearted "Through the Glass," an effort that seems to point towards a certain radio future. Aided by a spartan piano outro, "Through the Glass," made arguably the biggest splash of any song the entire evening. Predictably the set closed with a pounding and rhythmically dense version of "Trojans," before rattling off a two-song encore of "Centred On You" and "Electric."
The former was entrancing thanks to Jeffery's winning falsetto, his deft guitar playing and a meandering albeit melodic strut that kept the crowd captivated long after "Trojans" had played its last note. On "Electric," the band soared into a new direction, shedding their dance-rock arena for something far more energetic, dizzying and transcendent.. Channeling elements of psych-rock, 70s era album rock and Brit-rock swagger, "Electric" had a methodic and calculated complexity that proved the Australian duo is far more than just a charting pop song.
While the set was surprisingly brief and was sorely lacking a choice cover, Atlas Genius more than proved their worth in just 70 brief minutes. Having expanded the live ensemble to a quartet instead of a duo has certainly paid dividends for the young upstarts and one can certainly see a decidedly bright future in the months and years to come.
Made my way to The Beacham this past Saturday to catch Frightened Rabbit. They are everything as advertised and then some. Hutchison was extremely taciturn but unfailingly polite and very workmanlike about the entire thing. Highlights from the set were many but few performances will ever top their rendition of "Acts of Man." It was in many ways otherworldly and jaw-dropping. I am still left speechless and awestruck when thinking back on how truly magnetic the performance was. Ditto to encore closer "The Loneliness and the Scream."
Equally as impressive as Frightened Rabbit, was Brooklyn's Augustines. Frontman Billy McCarthy is an absolute born performer and his natural charisma, charm and inherent confidence was apparent from the get-go. Highlights from the set included the whiskey-soaked piano-ballad "City of Brotherly Love," and the raucous "Book of James." The fiery three piece plays a blend of sweaty, ragged rock not unlike The Hold Steady, The Gaslight Anthem and Bruce Springsteen. While they've endured four name changes and their career has yet to skyrocket, their 45-minute set was an absolute head-turner and a surefire eye opener. If AP.net kids want a band to watch out for come 2014, it most certainly is Augustines.
Last summer, revered music zine Paste wrote an article featuring the 10 Best Bands in the state of Florida. While that article is a fair representation of some of the best talent in the Sunshine State, there was one giant and glaring omission: Jacksonville Beach's Flagship Romance. A boy-girl duo in the vein of The Civil Wars, Delta Rae and Lady Antebellum, their dual harmonies and tender slices of indie folk remain make them arguably one of the most exciting under-the-radar musical acts in not just Florida but the entire nation.
Having already supported chart-toppers such as the Goo Goo Dolls and Mumford and Sons, to name a few, the supremely polished duo is more than on their way. Seen this past Saturday at Orlando's The Social while opening for Caitlin Crosby and Jesse Ruben, they performed what was easily the best set of the night. Whether it was the deeply impacting love song "My Jolene" or the timeless melancholy of "Games of Sorrow," there was a palpable sense that Flagship Romance are more than worthy of wider stages and greater acclaim.
On the impassioned foot-stomper "Strange Thing" and the leave-it-all-on-the-table slow-burner "Harvest," dual vocalists Jordyn Jackson and Shawn Fisher made the most of their all-too-brief set. Every concert has a statement moment and their ephemeral 30-minute set was a venerable call to arms for all those in the crowd. Flagship Romance will be something, that much is certain, how and when they get there still remains to be seen.
Though Flagship Romance was the inarguable showstopper, the remainder of the bill wasn't exactly a dud. Orlando native Matthew Fowler began the evening playing a confident and deft set of Damien Rice-inspired acoustic folk. Though he was visibly nervous and seemed a bit overwhelmed by the venue, his songs certainly made up for it. Be it the stripped--down version of The Cranberries ubiquitous 90s hit "Linger" or the placid fragility of "Beginners," Fowler was equal parts ruminative, introspective and intimate. His set's finest moment was the rising "Wear," a song which plays off both his harmonica playing and his soaring voice.
Co-headliner Caitlin Crosby, a LA native, was arguably the Robin to Flagship Romance's Batman. Her warm, confident and wholly accessible set vacillated gorgeously between melancholia and effervescence. Tackling dark themes such as human trafficking, drug use and narcissism, her set carried the most emotional weight. In between songs the bubbly blonde was chatty, upbeat and supremely comfortable. Highlights included the snarling blues cut "Gasoline," the gospel-tinged Crack Me Open," the lovelorn ballad "Consolation Prize" and the country strut of "You Make it Better."
The last artist to take the stage was Brooklyn's Jesse Ruben, an erudite and garrulous singer-songwriter in the vein of Matt Duke and Matt White. Though he played to a crowd of no more than 75, he did his best to keep the set entertaining. Unfortunately before the set could even gain momentum he was quickly distracted by a chatty albeit drunk couple and never once gave them a moment of peace. While it is one thing to scold listeners for cell phone use or fighting, his repeated barbs eventually derailed the set into a snarky and almost condescending character play. That is not to say that Ruben's set was without winning moments. The soulful ballad "Different," written for a homosexual friend, was star-making in every sense of the word. Similarly the strident "Point Me In the Right Direction" and the uplifting "We Can," pointed towards something worth revisiting in future listens. Though much of his material mined the woes of heartbreak and failed romance, it was his non-romance songs that truly made the biggest splash.
If the evening had a true silver lining it was that the music served a greater purpose. With the exception of Fowler all three musicians performed sets in partnership with a non-profit passion project. Flagship Romance's set was performed in support of Charity Water; Crosby's supportedThe Giving Keys, while Ruben's garnered interest for the Christopher Reeve Foundation. In an era when music appears to becoming more and more self-centered, this night of benevolence and acoustic-based songwriting was a perfect tonic from all the din and clutter that so often permeates the daily grind.
Synth-pop was on the menu Thursday night at UCF's CFE Arena for the university’s Pegasus Palooza 2013. Headliners Capital Cities were supported by Michigan quintet Stepdad and Kentucky quartet The Pass, with each one proving their worth in their own unique ways. First up was Louisville's The Pass who had arguably the most talented vocalist and guitarist of the night. Kyle Peters proved adept at both noodling and crooning and effortlessly tore through a set of seven psych-driven synth-stompers. An amalgamation of U2-era Zooropa, present day Muse and the Pet Shop Boys, the quartet definitely appears to be on the precipice of something truly exciting.
Grand Rapids' Stepdad entered the stage with a headlining sense of presence. Utilizing three part vocal harmonies, the band blasted out of the gate with the titanic and anthemic "Treasure Hugs" and the hyper-caffeinated "Wolf Slaying as a Hobby." Though charismatic frontman Ultramark was both quiet and wooden in between songs, he more than made up for it behind the mic. Though the set began sluggishly the band turned a corner after cheery singalong "Pick and Choose." Punchy effort "Must Land Running" was effortless, smooth and glided with precision, while "Magic Stones" had shades of Prince.
Ultramark's falsetto remains his calling card and it shined beautifully on the sleek sing-along "Will I Ever Dance Again?" Not content to wade in only electro-pop, the percussive "Jungles" got both concussive and vibey and ventured off into experimental psych-pop towards the end. By the time the band barreled into hit single "My Leather, My Fur, My Nails," they had won over the crowd and seemed eager for more. If there was one gripe to be had from the Stepdad set it was the entire tone of the performance. For a band that has made a habit of writing jocular and light-hearted summer songs, the entire performance felt rigid, lifeless and over-serious.
Headliners Capital Cities entered the stage in matching white varsity jackets with the band's name emblazoned on the back. Drawing strength from trumpet player Spencer Ludwig, the band careened forward marrying club-ready dance moves with thumping beats. Opening the set with a scintillating albeit unconventional rendition of Pink Floyd's "Breathe," the band made a statement from the very beginning: they were here to dazzle and wow, and never once did they fall short of that goal. Trumpet-laden "Chartreuse" was pliant, effervescent and undeniably dynamic. While an inspired cover of "Staying Alive" fell a bit short, a note-perfect rendition of Prince-cum-Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U," continued to prove the band's versatility.
Other head-turners included the churning "Patience Gets Us Nowhere Fast," and the anthemic "I Sold My Bed But Not My Stereo." The arena turned downright kinetic when the band segued into radio smash "Safe and Sound" and the entire set seemed to hit its zenith. Whereas Stepdad struggled with an identity crisis, Capital Cities seemed more than content in their own skin and their place in pop music. While at times the entire performance felt more akin to a Las Vegas entertainment revue or a So You Think You Can Dance routine than a pop concert, the energy was far from vacant and the band's enthusiasm was both infectious and downright refreshing.
A rare thing happened this past Wednesday night at Free Bird Live in Jacksonville Beach, FL. The opener, Nashville, TN's The Wild Feathers, performed a stronger set than the headliner, Grammy-and-Oscar-winner Ryan Bingham.
Whereas Bingham's set was brawny, blustery and drenched in sweat, The Wild Feathers performed a crisp, lucid and nearly flawless set of ten rootsy efforts. Utilizing three immensely gifted vocalists, the band allowed each one a shot at lead, as well as employing guitarist and pedal steel player Preston Wimberly for a barrel of four-part harmonies. With shades of The Band, The Eagles and The Rolling Stones circa 1975, there was little about the set that wasn't intriguing.
Firecrackers like "Backwoods Company" and the slowly rising closer "The Ceiling" had as much attitude as anything Bingham churned out. Moreover on the mid-tempo and melancholic moments, namely "Got it All Wrong," and "Love Me," there was something transcendent and timeless about every passing my second.
Being that all three vocalists (rhythm guitarist Taylor Burns, acoustic guitarist Ricky Young and bassist Joel King) have previous experience as frontmen, it was no surprise the set was as sterling as it was. Equal parts magnetic, awe-inspiring and wholly triumphant The Wild Feathers clearly proved they are on the precipice of something truly extraordinary. Since their signing with Warner Brothers, there have been whispers around the blogosphere that The Wild Feathers just might be the next great American band. While that notion still seems a bit too hard to swallow, there were enough moments in Wednesday's 40-minute set that gave ample amounts of credence to that very statement.
Imagine Dragons visited Orlando's House of Blues last Friday night in support of their chart-topping album Night Visions and in doing so cemented themselves as one of 2013's most promising new artists. With a stage setup surrounded by towering palm trees and a ten-foot tall drum, the group marched on stage and performed a percussion-heavy intro to a dizzying array of lights and airy guitars.
Opening with "Round and Round," a song not found on Night Visions (save for deluxe packages) the quintet made an impression from the get-go. The rhythm section was tight, the guitars were lively and impacting and Dan Reynolds had the swagger and charm of an industry veteran. And that small nugget should not be overlooked. Having only been at it for four years, Imagine Dragons appeared wise beyond their years in nearly every song played.
Whether it was the bombastic and chill-inducing "Radioactive," or the pleading "Bleeding Out," there was something crisp and well-executed about the entire 70 minute set. Arguably the finest moment in the set was when Reynold and Co. veered from the script. Standing on stage with just guitarist Wayne Sermon flanked on his left, Renyolds belted out the plaintive "Thirty Lives," an unreleased cut that is also going by the titles "Lay Me Down," and "Starlight." Ostensibly a plea for help, it is easily one of the band's finest songs to date and one can only hope it makes the cut on the next release.
On the contrary, the Aussie upstarts Atlas Genius performed a set that was well-executed and expertly performed, the only problem was the entire set lacked charisma. Whether the set falling short was the result of inexperience or just a band in a room far too big, the 45-minute set was unfortunately one giant letdown. Even the catchy single "Trojans," and the pensive "Back Seat," could not rescue this band from an underwhelming set of monotony sans charm.
Taking the stage before Atlas Genius was California's Nico Vega, whose frontwoman Aja Volkman is also the wife of Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds. Volkman is indeed a rare bird and has a strange sense of making her live set a piece of performance art. Though the set itself lacked the crispness and lucidity of seasoned veterans, there was a strangeness and a left-of-center verve that actually made the set worth watching. In many ways it felt like What Will Aja do next? But a live set should never be about a frontowman's antics.
In short, the night belonged to the Las Vegas pop-rockers and to them alone. It was a position they were more than willing to relish in. And if Friday night's set is any indication, they have all the talent and skill to remain a force on radio for years to come.
When it comes to live music, there is no greater joy than watching performers revel in what they do. No one wants to watch a band mail it in or look haggard and disinterested. And it is for this reason that Friday night's tour send-off show at Orlando's Backbooth, was such a treat for those attended. Ostensibly a happy trails shindig for local singer-songwriter Emily Kopp, the bill also included some of Kopp's closest friends: classmate Megan Alfredson, Los Angeles-by-way-of-Tampa singer-songwriter Connor Zwetsch and another Orlando native, Bracher Brown, the lone male on the bill.
Alfredson opened things off quietly and humbly. Though her set was mostly covers, she slammed home a wide swath of frothy cuts, including Paramore's "Misery Business," Willie Nelson's "Crazy," and a choicecover by Lil Wayne. What Alfredson lacked in stage presence she made up for with a belting voice. Though her hushed nature kept her mousey and unassuming, she certainly revealed a flair for vocal gymnastics and with more seasoning could certainly provide a spark to the meager singer-songwriter scene in Orlando.
Connor Zwetsch took to the stage with drummer Sandi Greco and a fireball of energy that was nothing if not illuminating, awe-inspiring and all-consuming. Anchored by powerful and deeply penetrating vocals, her (yes, Connor is a girl) set was easily one of the night's true highlights. Whether it was the racy opener "The Little Things." or her near-perfect cover of MGMT's "Electric Feel," Zwetsch performed a set wise beyond her years and revealed a talent that was both alarming and provocative. The one-time Tampa resident recently relocated to Los Angeles and the move seems to have done her well. There was a confidence and effortlessness from the opening seconds, that made her set so hypnotizing. Hard at work on her debut EP, Zwetsch is just a mere months away from shaking up the overcrowded California music scene.
Bracher Brown took to the stage with a three-piece band (all of whom are members of New Wave up-and-comers Stockholm) and armfuls of family and friends in the crowd. One would hope that the legions of kin would accentuate the rugged rocker's set. But alas, nothing did. Despite a buoyant cover of Tom Petty's "American Girl," little about Brown's set was memorable. While humble and hunky, his set lacked originality and seemed more concerned with brawn and braggadocio than brilliance and substance.
Headliner Kopp took to the stage shortly after 10 p.m. and barreled through an hour-long set that never wavered or sagged. Buttressed by an air-tight rhythm section and the zesty stylings of producer/lead guitarist Justin Beckler, Kopp never stopped smiling. Her songs, despite their maudlin subject matter, were nothing if not, affecting, poignant and undeniably potent. Whether it was the somber "When We Fight," the dark and stormy "Thicker Than Blood," or the grateful "Thank You," there's an assuredness and crispness in her songcraft that is both refreshing and revelatory.
While her debut EP veered more toward Colbie Caillat honey-pop, her new stuff seems more geared in indie folk and that change is something that should serve Kopp well going forward. Though much of her set was serious in nature, the 22-year-old was more than willing to add moments of levity. Whether it was a Britney Spears mashup with Alfredson, or a slightly comical version of Katy Perry's "Wide Awake," the sun-drenched set was a welcome tonic for a day marred in tragedy. And in an era, when so many artists mail it in and show little joy in performing, Friday night's set at the Backbooth elucidated exactly why live music is such a worthy endeavor.
What's the point of music if it doesn't challenge you? What's the point of art if it doesn't try to do something different?
The Cincinnati duo Bad Veins clearly understand both of these questions. While their music is hyper-caffeinated, hyper-aware indie pop, live on stage it is an entirely different matter. Utilizing an antiquated rotary phone, a reel-to-reel tape machine and a vintage organ, vocalist/guitarist Benjamin Davis and drummer Sebastian Schulz performed a master class in how to perform music live, last night at Orlando's The Social. Though the crowd was small ––– 50 max ––– the tandem played without pretense and never stopped bringing their A game.
Davis walked on stage first and introduced himself and an absent Schulz before diving into "Doubt," an ode to revisionist history. When the song finished, Schulz walked on stage and the band kicked it into high gear with the uber-infectious "Don't Run," a valentine about a failed relationship. Bad Veins songs are anchored in Schulz's measured drumming and Davis' sturdy croon.
One of the things that is most compelling about a vocalist is when his intonations and utterances feel sincere and genuine, as if the pain he sings about is something deeply felt. Davis seems to understand this and performs each song with a gravity that cannot be underestimated. Whether it was the halcyon heights of "Gold and Warm," the jittery fragility of "Falling Tide," or the chilly grandeur of "Child," there was something riveting about every second. The duo write pop songs brimming with hooks and nowhere was that more apparent than on the sugary "Dancing on TV," and the driving "The Lie." Davis is at his best when he's laying it all on the line and the prime examples of that were the starkly honest "Dry Out," the symphonic "If Then," and the carnal rocker "Afraid." By the time it was finished, the crowd of 50 were eager for an encore. Mission accomplished.
Opening the set was the St. Petersburg quartet Alexander and the Grapes, who performed a set of dense Americana not unlike Pedro the Lion. Whether it was the two-dimensional "Where I Go," which started off hazy and autumnal and segued into something dense and concussive; or the autobiographical "East Coast," about the rigors of life on the road, the entire set was crisp, confident and air tight. Vocalist Alex Charos has a dry vocal delivery that gives the songs more depth. His vocals mixed with Chase Swan's pedal steel were a perfect compliment and the songs themselves were deeply resonant. While the sonic landscape is definitely Americana, the quartet were not afraid to dive into deep, dark rhythms and mine for something more visceral.
Also on the bill was Stagnant Pools, a guitar drum-duo, who recently release their debut LP on Polyvinyl. Their seven-song set was ripe with moody guitar lines, pulsating drums and frontman Bryan Enas' drowsy vocals. While many of the songs blended together, standouts included the cylindrical "Illusions," and the crunchy "Solitude." The biggest problem with the set is that Enas is shy and taciturn and so he never came across as engaging or warm. Being that the bed are young and fresh out of college, there's plenty of reason to think they'll only develop further as a live band, as the years pass.
In the end, the night belonged to the Cincinnati duo Bad Veins. Polished, pristine and incredibly passionate, it was everything that ones hopes for in watching a live set. If this band is not on your radar yet, make a point to change that immediately.
Say what you want about Ryan Ross, but the man is doing what he wants, his way and on his terms. From the wreckage of his climactic fallout with Panic at the Disco, he has crafted The Young Veins, a bristling, sun-drenched ode to 1970s California pop. Appearing at Irving Plaza, in support of fellow Californians Rooney, Ross and his band mates seemed entirely comfortable and at ease on the big stage, barreling through a 40-minute set with nary a flaw. Though it was certainly sleepy and even a bit too stoic at times, inspired numbers like "Cape Town," and "Defiance" revealed a confidence and professionalism that was both uplifting and unexpected.
That's not to say there weren't limp moments. "Take a Vacation," and "Dangerous Blues," certainly left a lot to be desired, but thankfully Nick White's lilting keyboards added a density to nearly all of the 10 songs played. While the Take a Vacation songs were indeed engaging, the band sounded the most at ease on a sterling cover of Jackie DeShannon's "Walk in the Room." Perhaps even more impressive was Ross himself, who was humble, polite and completely without pretense. In many ways, watching him perform with his new band mates was refreshing. He seemed entirely in his element and never as if he was out to impress. He was just a singer belting out his stories.
While it may be an unpopular opinion, attitude and approach sometimes make all the difference and with The Young Veins everything about their presence feels mature, refined and deeply felt. Sure it might not be for everyone, but at least it's an honest reflection of the inherent musicians that they are.. In the end, can an audience really ask for much more?
I'm just going to freewrite this thing, so here goes:
With much delight and trepidation I visited the Music Hall of WIlliamsburg last night to see the Copeland farewell tour. Being that it was a Monday and the band has just performed to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom crowd the night before, I didn't expect a big crowd, but walking into the venue minutes before Deas Vail took the stage, I was in a word, shocked. At best, there were no more than 200 people in the room. This was their farewell tour. One of the most beloved bands of the early part of the decade. What the fucK?
Because the balcony at the Music Hall is a prime spot, I headed up there and watched Deas Vail perform a decent set. Having seen them perform at Irving Plaza with Mae and Jenny Owen Youngs in the fall, I was curious to see if they had adapted their stage presence at all.
The answer is a resounding N-O. While their live set is cohesive and air-tight, they are in a few words boring. Wes is a shy and introverted personality and he did very little to engage the crowd. The bassist (his name escapes me) is a live wire and he usually offers something fun or exciting, but he didn't really say much. They were polite, they were good, but the set trailed off at the end, and I found it quite boring.
That being said, I would have preferred five more Deas Vail songs than any one song from Person L, who took the stage next. Though its probably an unpopular opinion, there was little to nothing that was engaging about Person L. Sure Kenny was polite, sincere and seemed to very much enjoy what he was doing, but his incessant spastic freakouts on guitar and the band's riff-driven, classic-rock inspired jams were concussive, dizzying and borderline annoying. He played an old song, I presume off of the Person L debut and that was pretty downbeat and a welcome respite, but nothing else was really worth mentioning. He added an auxiliary percussion player, which added a cool vibe to the songs, but even that wasn't much to salvage what turned into a piercing ear-assault.
I Can Make a Mess was next and was off the charts incredible. I confess I've never seen Ace or TEN before, so this was something new for me. It was in a word spellbinding. For starters, the stage set-up was spartan. His sister Nora on keys, his good friend Jose on drums and himself on guitar (and lots of pedals). No bass, no real bells and whistles. Just them three and his songs. He played two new songs off of his upcoming disc, both of which were splendid. I believe one was about his grandfather and expanded on a song about his grandfather on the band's debut. He also played a song written for his newborn child, and then performed a good bit from the previous record, including crowd favorite, "Timshel." As solid as his live set was (and it was, the drums were spot-on, and the keys/backing vocals were the set's apex), Ace himself came across as a true champion. Self-deprecating, genial and very much an everyman, he had a profound simplicity in both his manner and his words that was hard to ignore. It was quite simply, captivating.
Copeland took the stage at 10:05, which was technically 10 minutes early. The band opened up with "Take Care," and had a bristling, guitar-driven swagger that I had not seen from the band in any of the four previous times I have seen them. Even a slower, midtempo song like "Careful Now," had a dense, layered arrangement that made the entire thing much more sonically heavy and moving than I expected. Marsh admitted that he was having throat problems and perhaps that very reason was why the show seemed that much more thick. After three songs on the guitar, he walked over to his trademark and performed "Chin Up, " which was darn near flawless. Piggybacking on that was a near-perfect "The Grey Man." They threw in the surprising choice "Coffee," and backed it up with "Brightest," both of which received an outburst of applause. After an enthralling version of "Eat, Sleep, Repeat," Marsh disrupted the set to address a heckler. The exchange went as follows:
Marsh to crowd: "Who keeps saying that?"
SIlence. Marsh to crowd, "Does anyone know who keeps saying that?"
Silence Marsh: "Seriously, who keeps saying that?"
A faint voice screams, "Jesus!!!!" Marsh: "Why are you saying that? Why? Why would you say that here? At a rock concert?"
A faint voice: "But Jesus loves you." Marsh: "I appreciate the love, but I don't think that's the kind of place for that. It sounds to me like you're trying to harass us." Long pause. "Well, whatever. This is for you, buddy."
The band then segued into "The Suitcase Song," before Marsh stepped away from the piano and took to the guitar for the set's final four songs. After performing "Control Freak," he stopped and addressed the crowd once again.
Marsh: "Thank you for all of these requests, but does anyone have any legitimate concerns or questions?"
Random things are shouted. Marsh: "What's my favorite song? <short pause> "Probably, God Only Knows."
Crowd goes silent. Marsh: "Ya know, the Beach Boys song."
Crowd stays quiet. Marsh: "Okay, so anything else?"
Crowd asks what he had for dinner. Marsh: "I went to that restaurant called Sea, right up the street. Apparently it was featured in Garden State." Intermittent chatter from the crowd. "Ehhh, it was okay. Not that great."
And then, as if cognizant of just how irritating they were being, the crowd went silent and the band resumed playing. Of the final three songs played, "No One Really Wins," was by far the most memorable, as the crowd (by now, close to 350-400) went absolutely bonkers.
And it was in that moment, that the very essence of Copeland came brimming to the surface. That sheer sense of glee from everyone in attendance, those ever-present smiles. Those are the things that Copeland has given to all those that appreciate them. More so than the ruminative lyrics, the endless amounts of pondering, it was the smiles. Few people can talk about Copeland without beaming. That will be the band's legacy.
After closing with "California," the band exited the stage, before returning for a one-song encore of "You Have My Attention." Having heard this song at every Copeland performance to date, I can honestly say it has never sounded better. Being that Marsh had limited vocal capabilities, I am still at this very moment awed by how much held those final two notes towards the song's conclusion. And it was then in that moment that I knew leaving the venue was going to be difficult.
In just eight short years this band managed to say and do so much and it feels disappointing to know that it is coming to an end and that we as listeners have to in some ways let go of that. Sure the records will always be there and the songs will always fill our craniums, but that live experience, that inherent joy that swept across the nightclub when "No One Really Wins," started. There won't ever be that quiet hush and rapt attention and the hordes of smartphone-wielding fans that attempted to document the brief two minutes of "Fireflies."
All that is gone. And so we must wait. What will happen next? Will Marsh produce? Record a solo project? What will Laurenson do? What will become of these talents? This veritable backbone that had shaped the Copeland sound for the better part of the last nine years.
Managed to catch the much talked about Brand New show at Nassau Coliseum this past weekend. It was a neat show. Started off at the side stage seeing Robbers acoustic. I had seen them play at Music Hall of Williamsburg while opening for Brand New (see review of that show in an August entry on this blog) and have to say they've gotten better. I think I like them better acoustic. The richness of the lead vocalist's voice is really front and center and that helps. He has a nice timbre to it and it's a big addition to their sound.
Headed over to the main stage to see Kevin Devine. He was phenomenal. Totally consumed the main stage and acted like he totally deserved to be there. An absolutely stellar performance and easily the best show he's put on in the eight or nine times I've seen him. His set list was:
1. Just Stay
3. Another Bag of Bones
4. Cotton Crush
5. Brother's Blood
Another song might have been played, but I can't think right now.
Shortly thereafter K. Dev, Manchester Orchestra took the stage and really put on an absolutely impressive show. I've always contended that the band doesn't need to sound as loud as they do, but on a big stage like this, the tactic worked well. While I am not a fan of much of their repertoire, I do enjoy "Shake it Out," "I Can Feel a Hot One," and "I've Got Friends." That being said, I've never gotten into I'm Like a Virgin, Losing a Child and if that makes me a minority on this site, so be it. My opinions aside it was probably the best set of the night. They were cohesive, crisp, dense, polished, rich, just very strong. Songs played included: "Shake It Out," "I've Got Friends," and "I'm Like a Virgin, Losing a Child." The best song of the night was probably, "Where Have You Been," which ended the set and featured Kevin Devine on backing vocals. It also went into seven or eight minute territory and just roared until its finish. The band's biggest asset is its drummer who absolutely destroys his kit and is one of the more ferocious and awe-inspiring drummers to watch. I'm still not sure what Chris ____ adds to the band and his weirdness and strange gestures on stage is just kind of disturbing. And for as much as may dislike them, its hard to argue with Andy Hull's lyrics, which are as strong as anybody out there today. I also will never understand why he chooses to be so unkempt and grizzly. It's really just disturbing.
Thrice was next and I just could not get into it. They played the opening and closing song off of Beggars and those were by far the best of the night. They also played two songs from The Artist in the Ambulance, one song off of Vheissu and one off of The Alchemy Index. It was a decent set, but all of it felt so dated. Listening to them just sounds like listening to any average scene band. There was not much that separated them from the pack and they seemed quite ho-hum and average to me.
Glassjaw was next and while its not my thing by any stretch, Daryl Palumbo commands attention, is an incredibly charismatic and engaging performer and really knows how to work his way through a non-screaming song (i.e. "Ape Dos Mil," which was executed perfectly). They played about 30 minutes, much like the rest of the bands and left to an absolutely thunderous ovation.
As for Brand New. Kinda interesting set. No encore, no longer than an hour, just a quick set with little talking. They had a screen with black-and-white images during most of their songs and it was a neat tactic that I kinda enjoyed. It wasn't the best I've heard them. Of all the songs played, "Limousine," and "You Stole," were two of the best. I also thought "Luca," was strong. Hadn't heard that song in quite awhile. I really loved "Welcome to Bangkok," opening up and thought it was the best version I've heard of it. Both "At The Bottom," and "Bought a Bride," were really tight. I mean hands down stellar. Jesse pushed his vocals and basically growled and yowled through many verses and refrains that didn't really need such forced intonations. He's at his best when he's even-keel and smooth. He was far from that during the duration of the set. Why he chooses to do this, I'll never know. The set list is as follows. There may be one or two wrong, so forgive me for that. By memory, this is how I remember it going down
1. Welcome to Bangkok
3. You Wont Know
4. Okay I Believe You...But My Tommy Gun Dont
5. Sic Tranit Gloria...Glory Fades
9. Sowing Season
10. You Stole
12. The Archers Bows Have Broken
13. Jesus Christ
14. Bought a Bride
15. At the Bottom
16. Play Crack the Sky
17. Seventy Times Seven
The Use Your Sole Tour, sponsored by TOMS Shoes, visited New York City's Nokia Theatre last night. Headliners Hanson were supported by New Jersey's Steel Train and Californians HelloGoodbye and Sherwood.
San Luis Obispo's Sherwood took the stage first, tossing beachballs into the crowd. Frontman Nate Henry ditched his standard bass in favor of an acoustic guitar and the sextet dove into the mid-tempo cut "Not Gonna Love," a decidedly weak and ho-hum opener as far as set openers go. Though the execution was precise, the entire vibe was way too calm from the onset. While that's certainly not a horrible thing, it's not exactly what one expects from an opener. Henry returned to his bass on "You Are," which featured inspired keyboard contributions from Mikey Leibovich. Unfortunately, the guitars took a backseat to Henry's vocals, whose confidence and near-flawless delivery anchored the song from start to finish. In many ways, had he not been front and center, this band would have come across as horribly ordinary and mildly boring.
After two decidedly restrained songs, the Californians jumped into "Song In My Head," allowing the band a chance to step away from their placidity. From the first note, their execution felt more visceral, more confident, more polished and the most complete of any song thus far. Members of Steel Train ambled onto the stage, joined by Sherwood's significant others for the cerebral and subdued, "Make It Through," a midtempo yarn with a warm, nighttime ambiance.
Returning to the music, Henry guided the band into "For the Longest Time," a run-of-the-mill power-pop song that sounded incredibly rehearsed, calculated and horribly average. Had Henry not held a note for 30-plus seconds towards the song's finish, nothing about the song would have stood out. The lackluster set ended with the emotive yearning of "Maybe This Time," which was one of the set's few highlights. Exiting the stage in under 30 minutes, the band was effusive in praising the crowd, but little about the set was worthy of effuse praise. From the moment they walked on stage, the band appeared tired, uninspired and rather rudimentary. For a band who has made a killing with their frenzied live shows, the entire set was far too disappointing, and did little to quell the rumors about the band's imminent demise.
New Jersey's Steel Train took to the stage next and performed a set of six fuzzy, drug-induced jams. Opening with new song "Last Generation of Hope," vocalist Jack Antonoff was a manic fireball of energy and his bouncy presence was both eye-opening and thought-provoking. Though the song's vocal work left a lot to be desired, the guitar-driven vessel was amiable and hopeful. On the funk-inspired "Firecracker," he came across as overly dramatic, pretentious and horribly overconfident. Aided by members of HelloGoodbye, "Firecracker," was musically quite lively, searing and dripping with energy. The anxiety-ridden "Kill Monsters in Rain," began with a smoky blues riff and more frenetic gyrations from Antonoff. Once again the song lacked a serious chorus, and he seemed to make up for that with his over-the-top movements, appearing more like a whirling dervish than that of a lead singer. An acapella version of "The Road Song," was the set's high water mark, as the song was off-the-cuff, unexpected and terrifically executed. The post 9/11 confusion of "I Feel Weird," marked the band's last song of the night, and even included an attempt at Abba's "Mamma Mia," that drifted towards the end, but began rather precisely. Borrowing a few guitar lines from British band James, Steel Train proved to be an excitable bunch, but a bit too melodramatic. After the uninspired Sherwood set, the energy was certainly a welcome addition, but one couldn't help but wonder, why does this band have to be this arrogant? More the point, does it have to be this dramatic?
After a 30-minute set break, Long Beach, CA's Hellogoodbye took the stage completely without pretense or snobbery. Their self-deprecating, slightly awkward on-stage persona made for one of the more entertaining and enjoyable sets this reviewer has seen all year. Beginning with the ukelele-fueled "When We First Met," vocalist Forrest Kline sounded overmatched and slightly askew, but was complimented by a supple rhythm section and a rolling trombone towards the song's latter half. The band pushed on into "All Time Lows," and fan-favorite "Shimmy Shimmy Quarter Turn," and the latter proved to be the point at which the California quintet dusted off the cob webs and hit their stride.
A twee mandolin began the rollicking "Baby, it's Fact," which had a carefree simplicity that was easy-going, sunny and sprite. Danny Flynn's trombone contributions once again aided a rather simple and conventional pop ditty. After a group of overexcited teenagers tried to start a pit, Kline urged the crowd to, "start a hug circle, or begin a tickle fight," and heeding his own advice, did just that with his fellow band members, firstly going after guitarist Andrew Richards, and then after keyboard player Joseph Marro, as the band stumbled into "Call and Return," which proved to be more of an exercise in silliness than sterling pop execution. Another new song, the caffeinated and punchy, "You Sleep Alone," followed and it proved to be one of the better songs of the set. When the song finished, Kline encouraged the crowd to boo effusively, noting that, "It's still a work in progress." The hilarious gesture only proved the point that nothing about the set was conventional, expected or grounded.
The pensive and placid "Dear Jamie, Sincerely Me," elicited a thunderous roar from the crowd and allowed the group to display their musical muscle. An attempt to bring an overzealous fan onstage turned to disaster when security demanded the denizen return to his place in the crowd. Admitting that the maneuver was probably a bit foolish, Kline gleefully admitted, "Well, we told you it would get weird." Bassist Travis Head plugged the band's DJ set at Angels and Kings later that night, to which Kline added, "Yep, I'll be there. Playing Scrabble and drinking Shirley Temples. Should be fun. I hope to see you there."
The sentimental "Oh It Is Love," pushed the crowd into a tizzy, before the quintet tried two new songs. The first, "Not The Same," was earnest and well-worn, revealing that of all the songs perhaps this is one the band has most expertly. Beginning with Kline on ukelele, the song is ostensibly a slow-moving ballad that takes off towards the two-minute mark. Keyboard player Marro took to the acoustic guitar for the jittery and jumpy "Follow You," easily the band's best song of the night. Confident, mature and vocally tender, "Follow You," was the sound of a band in full control and finding their stride.
A mandolin and melodica framed the romance ballad, "Bonnie Taylor Shakedown 2K1," a song Kline dedicated to his fiancee and to Colorado balloon boy Falcon Heene. While the band's intentions were strong, it was the only point in the set where perhaps their joking antics got the best of them. Not one of the band member's seemed to know in which direction the song was headed and seemed puzzled about what notes to play. For a band who was a co-headliner, the horribly amateurish display was both disappointing and unprofessional. As if to atone for going astray, the band closed out their set with "Here (In Your Arms)," which set the room ablaze with its soaring chorus and found the entire room in an absolute lather.