High Voltage Curated a Punk AF Show at Knitting Factory

The world is an exceptionally crazy place as of late, but at least there are still unlimited banger rock shows as catharsis. High Voltage curated a great one Friday night at Knitting Factory, with the stacked bill of Lost Boy ?, Dead Stars, Grim Streaker, and Monograms. Earlier that day I was DJing at Two Boots Pizza, so I was already feeling satisfactorily full of pizza, wine, and great tunes, and this show was quite the knock out kick off of the weekend.

Photo by Kelly K

Photo by Kelly K

Lost Boy? Is hot. In a genuine, real punk ethos kind of way. Their live show is also a great, full-on rock out translation of main man Davey Jones’ recorded material. On his albums, Jones is largely a one-man show, playing many of the instruments and parts himself and writing great lo fi pop bedroom songs. Live, he’s joined by a full band which frees him up to really wild out on the mic and work the stage, jump into the crowd, and just communicate his songs 100%. His denim vest with a big DIE TRUMP DIE patch that he wore for his performance is about as punk as you can get. Yeah baby, he’s got it.

@lost boy? Preach son

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Dead Stars

Dead Stars

Calm punks Dead Stars delivered their signature 90s garage sound in their preceding set like the pros they are. I remember when I first saw these guys years ago, and was so impressed with their tight niche of crunchy, melodic grunge nostalgia and stage presence. They played an album release show at Union Pool that I still remember as being one of the best live experiences I’ve ever had; the kind where you look around the room and connect with total strangers because you know you’re riding that same righteous sound wave and embracing that good, good feeling. This show was very much in that same wheelhouse, as they played through many new and songs and old favorites, to a crowd full of friends. Dead Stars also seem to be one of those bands that can really crank out new tunes in no time, as word is many of their newest songs were recorded in one day. So basically Dead Stars is that forever 90s teenager love child of Guided by Voices and Sebadoh.

Grim Streaker

Grim Streaker

Because this lineup was curated so well (shoutout and props again to High Voltage) Grim Streaker was also a fitting and captivating set in this well-rounded night of music.

I could have gotten drunk off of just watching frontwoman Amelia Bushell’s performance. In fact, I think I did. I can’t speak to her actual level of intoxication, but her on-stage antics were a total riot. We can never have enough women in music who perform like they do (clap) not (clap) give (clap) a (clap) fuck. More of this, please. While the rest of the band, including members of The Teen Age, rolled out the riffs, she crawled and rolled around on stage, slammed full beers to the ground, and delivered visceral growing vocal hollers. Don’t turn your back on these babies, they’ll rip you a new one when you’re not looking.

Another thing all these bands have in common is that they’re all playing Northside Festival in a few weeks check out the full schedule for dates and times.

Madam West and Quitzow at Shea Stadium - a Show of Strong Women in Fun Music

On what was a very rainy night, it was raining beats up in Shea Stadium. Insert drum cadence here!

Bad jokes aside, it’s always a pleasure to catch a bill comprised of bands with mesmerizing frontwomen, and/or only women. On this night, Madam West and Quitzow were the standouts, as these ladies fully immerse themselves in the sound, and are amazing performers. Bonus that Sophie Chernin of Madam West, who had a hand in putting the night together, found Quitzow through Noise Love. That’s what it’s all about!

Madam West

Musically, Madam West sounds like a group of music school kids that went hard on their craft and are going on to do legit cool and feel-good things. The quintet of Sophie, Todd, Mike, Will, and Jory all lock in together so seamlessly live, like all their songs are a relaxed planned jam that they are very serious about in a fun way. They’re so highly skilled their music seems effortless, and they look like they love it so much, but no doubt they have put much work into all of it.

Sophie’s voice stands strong on every single song, both in it’s natural timbre and under all the effects she controls with her hand pedal attached to the mic stand. She clearly feels the music fully whether she’s singing or just vibing to the music her bandmates are making, putting her full body into every movement. It’s also nice that they represent Brooklyn hard; they have have a song that is “an ode to the L (train),” which many of us had taken to get to the show, and probably ride on a regular basis.

Madam West is self-described as psych-soul-sunshine, and I’ll roll with that. They’ve definitely got a lot of soul, and I would even go as far to say they put some funk and jazz influence in their repertoire as well. They’re the kind of band that can be accessible to a broad audience, with a wide range of tastes. It’s pop with soul, sunshine with substance. If you like to vibe and feel good, while watching a strong frontwoman kill it on the mic, Madam West will not disappoint. After their whirlwind of a set, they wound down with closing tune “Couch” off their debut LP Madam West Loves You.

Speaking of strong frontwomen, Quitzow is a bold, innovative one woman show that only Erica Quitzow can pull off. She’s had her electro-pop jams pop up in Veronica Mars, and that show where Jerry Seinfeld drives around and gets coffee with other comedians, among other things. She’s a multi-instrumentalist and a visionary, with mad synth and sampling skills.

Quitzow performing at Shea Stadium, 2/23/16

Quitzow performing at Shea Stadium, 2/23/16

Her setup is always a synth on one side, and a table of samplers and effectors on the other side, so she can have both arms extended and moving around octopus style, controlling all the things. For this set, she opened with a violin part before backing into her electronic domain to work her pop magic on a lot of new tunes off her forthcoming album, along with a sprinkle of her seminal tunes with the best longevity. One of her best best attributes is that she’s constantly evolving, and this night’s performance was no different. Stepping out more and moving around the front perimeter of the stage, Quitzow was able to interpret her songs even further, and encourage the audience to get deeper into it as well.

Her entire set was a beautifully orchestrated arc, with songs of frustration and empowerment. “Cut” one of her most popular tunes to date, is a prime example of how Quitzow crafts a pop song with layered vocals, and was expertly placed in the middle of the set. An older song, “Sponsor” once again showcased her violin looping and vocal sass, and the magnificent closer “Golden Light,” really lit up. There was a number of new tracks too, off a forthcoming release to look out for.

Seeing ChameleonsVox with at least 400 Goths in an Abandoned Brewery

by Maria Joanna Bohemia

If you love post-punk, post-post-punk (or post-post-post-punk even), but have never heard The Chameleons’ 1983 debut Script of the Bridge, you’ve made a glaring omission in your gallery of taste. From the urgent clamor of “Don’t Fall” to the atmospheric introspection of “View From A Hill,” the 12-song album is a near-flawless hour of darkly tuneful rock that paved the way for Interpol, the Horrors, and myriad others. The FAQ on The Chameleons’ official site even makes a case for Slowdive being “the Chameleons at half speed, and not pissed off.”

Script of the Bridge has accurately been described by Nedd Raggett of AllMusic as “practically a greatest hits record on its own,” so it is easy to see why bassist / singer Mark Burgess (the sole remaining member of the original line up) would opt to dust those songs off for the Chameleons’ (or ChameleonsVox’s, as they are now known) final tour. Goths of every stripe congregated at The Wick, which carried just as much of an empty barn vibe as renovated brewery (which is what it actually is). The brick-walled sparseness of the venue worked in emphasizing the atmospheric guitar washes of songs like “Less Than Human” and the menace found in songs like  “A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days.”

Being lost amid of thicket of tall dudes mattered little, as the songs on Script of the Bridge carry enough evocation and drama to conjure visions just as thrilling as the scene on stage -- which is to say that Burgess and his mates played with an energy and ire that made classics burn anew. To the jugular songs like “Up the Down Escalator” and “Don’t Fall” came at us with as much relevance and dissatisfaction as any present-day tune that addresses society’s ills. Others are masterworks in drama-building. A song like “Monkeyland” starts out sparse and paranoid, the drumbeat like a dreadful clock ticking,  before blowing all manner of gaskets at the two minute mark. Live, this was like a bomb going off, with Burgess’ astonishingly bold delivery stupifying the meeker members of the audience and inciting the more aggressive souls in attendance (multiple fights broke out at this show).

A personal highlight came early in the set:  “Second Skin” is the fourth track on Script, an innocuous placement for such a transcendent song. It’s another slow build which goes through two blissful changes, imparting wisdom with each progression and culminating in the beautiful coda of “When you fail to make the connection, you know vital it is

/ Oh when something slips through your fingers you know precious it is / And you reach the point when you know / It's only your second skin.” For six minutes I was transported out of my sweaty surroundings, my mind empty and receptive to the beauty that can be found even among strangers in cramped surroundings. Besides being a really great song, “Second Skin” carries special connotations for me, as I had included it on a mix I gave James Veda Rays when we were courting one another. Over three years later, I was so happy to share this moment with JVR.

After finishing Script, the band returned for a four-song encore, treating us to some of the greatest anthems you’ve never heard, like “Swamp Thing” from third album Strange Times and “Nostalgia” from sophomore release What Does Anything Mean? Basically, two albums as tremendous as Script of the Bridge.  At the beginning of ChameleonsVox’s set, Burgess expressed genuine gratitude for the amount of fans present, and followed this with the confession that the show almost never happened, due to rhythm guitarist Chris Oliver having to drop off the tour due to a family emergency. The “never was” can be easy to contemplate in just about any situation, but on a night this powerful all that is left is the memory of endlessly formidable music and a justifiably incited audience. The touring life of ChameleonsVox may have reached its end, but at least it went out on a vibrant note.

Pill Gives Fucks About the Right Things

Manhattan weirds me out more and more every night, but an underground band like Pill still makes navigating through parts of new square town worth it. At the back of the literally underground Alphabet City basement venue Elvis Guesthouse is where I recently caught the Brooklyn punk band on a sweaty night, and it only got sweatier inside. Taking a glance at the walls and ceiling, saxophonist Ben Jaffe remarked that he liked the place, “It’s like a shoebox full of razors.” Then they launched into their set.


Vocalist Veronica Torres picked up a bass for the first tune, and a handful of other tunes before handing off her beer and pushing into the crowd. Her bass lines sounded especially good on “Personality Flaw,” along with her speak-singing “personality flaw / my personal draw / I always want more / always want everything / the most fun.” Then when they hit the breakdown about halfway through, cued by Veronica’s banshee scream and the drums breaking through everything else, the whole band went wild, as did the crowd.


Pill possesses a strong punk ethos, and jazz influences in the way they parody pop music. They pair vocals like spoken word poetry with sax skronk, like if Patti Smith and X-ray Spex had a musical baby. Veronica’s vocal style is packed with such power, especially when she’s asking with repetition, “Are you keeping my feelings and my body safe? I think this is an opportunity for you to be more flexible.” And Ben Jaffe’s sax wails and squalls were majorly channeling some Albert Ayler all over the place. The synth/guitar combo was a little like circuit bent psych, and the percussion held it all up and filled in all the right places. Together it all sounded like ridiculous indulgence in the way that is absolutely necessary. The music isn’t just to wild out to, it’s also an empowering platform to vent about real shit, social and political.


By the time Veronica abandoned the stage without abandon to jump into the crowd and get down and dirty on the beer-splattered tile floor, the energy was peaking in the Elvis shoebox to an extremely satisfying level. The animalistic dissonance with the repetition of choice lyric phrases the band blends had the power to really pierce your psyche and pump your heart with that wild blood. It’s shows like this that are a rare but important experience. I’m not old enough to have the privilege of remembering real punk days, but I can surmise that the kind of shows Pill delivers is one of the closest comparable things in current day DIY music. Social commentary that encourages giving fucks about the important things to give a fuck about. To remind you that “Privilege is a warm body that loves you.” A visceral pill to swallow and choke on, because everyone knows the more you cough the higher you get.

Find Pill’s EP on Dull Tools, and look out for a full length coming soon.

A Self-Absorbed Account of Noise Love’s Mammoth Northside Minifest

by Maria Schurr

Noise Love threw its biggest show yet on June 13 at The Rookery, a nine act sonic tour through the Brooklyn-based sounds we love so dearly. The night toggled between electro and traditional rock acts, a nice departure from the standard showcases featuring nothing but bands with three to four guys playing with guitars all night long. In discussing the goal he and Noise Love captain Kelly set to achieve with the festival, electronic connoisseur Travis Braxton, aka The Wendigo, spoke of wanting to “ draw a balance between the more experimental and conventional talent that makes this bushy scene what it is. Kelly and I have really different insights but similar goals and love for the scene so we figured if we combined forces we could present an amazing united front of Bushwick music.”  

Travis also spoke of presenting a “cross section of the underground and up and coming up scenes we are all in together,” and this sense of togetherness carried on through the night. Or maybe I was just feeling familial: to start on an incredibly self-involved note (and watch as this review devolves into total self-involvement), The Rookery instantly won me over because it had on its shelves some old school, nature-oriented Jim Beam bottles that I’d never seen anywhere apart from my parents’ house.

(said bottles on my parents' shelf)

(said bottles on my parents' shelf)

So, I felt like I was in a good, comfortable place from the start,  a sensation that could not even be broken by the heavy metal toddler who rode his trike motorcycle through the Rookery as Listening Center broke down. The electro / experimental artist got things off to a casual start, easing Rookery stragglers into the evening (and, thanks to the setup being situated close to the Rookery’s open air area, maybe some passersby as well). Listening Center, aka David Mason, cites the BBC Radiophonic Workshop among his influences, but live his sounds were more intriguing than the mild television buzz such an influence might suggest. It perfectly set the scene of wandering on to a sonic plane that was culling sounds from the past and the future to create the present.   

KidAudra kept the electronic end of things going, rolling out a synth, mixer, and loop station to dazzle the crowd. Even without any looping involved, KidAudra’s R&B-styled vocals were truly stunning. Audra Kizina’s music is hypnotic in the usual electro R&B way, but also throws out a number of surprises, with stops, starts and switches in the places you would least expect. It was a honey smooth yet stimulating way in which to ease into the evening.

Kid Audra turning heads. Photo ℅ Kelly Knapp

Kid Audra turning heads. Photo ℅ Kelly Knapp

I didn’t get to actually see Sun Abduction’s set, but I did hear the entire thing from a bench outside the Rookery, as the sinus headache-afflicted James Veda Rays rested in my lap. If I couldn’t actually look at the band then this was a grand alternative, and their psych - garage power thankfully drowned out the nattering of a nearby lady talking a bunch of nonsense into her cell phone. Sun Abduction’s album may have been recorded on a vintage 388 reel-to-reel tape machine, but live they sound immediate and contemporary, with some fine bass lines thrown in for good measure. The band was the first traditional rock act of the night, and they got things off to a blazing start.

Hellbirds upheld Sun Abduction’s psychier leanings while also adding some Beach Boys to the Noise Love limited edition Minifest GORP mix. The Beach Boys influence lays claim to some ambitious means, as Hellbirds are slated to release the Beatles / Beach Boys mash-up album Pet Peppers on July 21.  Bandleader Jasno is also a member of the ‘60s-pop-by-way-of-Jesus-and-Mary-Chain act The Vandelles, and Hellbirds’ image adhered to that band while also maintaining their own vibe. Hellbirds’ set was a pageant of noisy, sweet psychedelia amped up to 11 with swirling visuals to match. Speaking of those visuals, Jasno and Nick of Hellbirds took care of lighting and sound for the evening and did an excellent job at both, with the lighting adding an extra level of otherworldliness to the evening.

Hellbirds bringing the ambiance. Photo ℅ Kelly Knapp

Hellbirds bringing the ambiance. Photo ℅ Kelly Knapp

Hellbirds’ set marked the beginning of the night’s sweetest run of already super sweet sets. The key to this golden mile was to slightly bewilder random Rookery folk, and this is a task Bodega Bay ably handled. I have seen this band maybe 120 times in less than a year, and as much as I’ve enjoyed those times I sometimes still wish I was that clueless person taking in everything -- from Ben’s spoken word commentaries to Nikki’s shimmying --  for the first time. I could write a thousand words on the magic of Bodega Bay, the summarized version being they’re pretty much consistently unpredictable, subversive, and just plain fun, and the songs “ATM” and “N.A.S.S.” are going to thrill especially. If I don’t seem biased enough already: I participated in the Rookery set for one song and I only mention this because -- in the moment -- it felt like a spontaneous dance scene in a movie and I am one who doesn’t dance or engage in spontaneity easily. So I hope this speaks to Bodega Bay’s  mesmerism, and if it doesn’t, well at least it was a great photo op moment.

Boveda Bays alliance. photo ℅ Julia Stibal

Boveda Bays alliance. photo ℅ Julia Stibal

The night then toggled back to electro, with Quitzow, who acted as the night’s greatest discovery for me. I took the set in with a group of friends who, while not regular travelers into the realm of dancier beats and synthesized sounds, were collectively impressed by Erica Quitzow’s intoxicating vocals and expertly crafted pop soundscapes. Quitzow has been compared to Lady Gaga and Kesha, and maybe she’s a bit like those acts, if they knew how to write, produce, and engineer some awesomely layered music, loop a cello arrangement, and write a club banger with some substance behind its creation. Quitzow worked her gear as if she had eight arms and her set was a multi-tasking adventure in pop music from some alternate reality where artistry is actually recognized in the top 40 charts.

The Wendigo started off his set in the best way, by proclaiming, “I know a lot of you are at the fuckin’ bar or outside or whatever, but we’re about to have a spiritual experience here.” Such a statement risks coming off as a big promise with a diminishing return, but the Wendigo is a singular act.The set follows a similar trajectory each time, but the overall effect of it being a slightly spooky, strange experience never decreases. As should be the way when a spirit orders you to do something, plenty of bar gatherers abandoned their posts and drew in close for the Wendigo experience, and I’m sure each of them had a night that was a little bit more awesome because of it.

The Wendigo casting some spells, ℅ Julia Stibal

The Wendigo casting some spells, ℅ Julia Stibal

Here’s where this review gets super self-involved and tricky. Veda Rays, the band the author belongs to, played next. I can really only say how I perceived our set, but I think my Veda brothers played well and sounded great. Bassist Richard seemed energized and is hitting his stride after four shows with us; Jason displayed his usual rhythmic mastery and acted as a barometer for how well our sound was balanced; James played in virtuosic fashion and looked very handsome in and out of the purple glow. I was relieved I didn’t have to work our strobe and flood lights, because it meant I could focus on playing and presentation; hopefully it worked as a small favor to Bodega Ben, who is staunchly anti-strobe. Because we are reworking songs and recording an album, our sets have been featuring non-album songs, plus perennial favorite “Wait for Teeth to Show.” But these tunes are far from throwaways and they should see the light of day at some point. In the meantime, “Close Range” remains my favorite of our current sets.

Guitar tone god James and bass pro Richard. Photo ℅ Julia Stibal

Guitar tone god James and bass pro Richard. Photo ℅ Julia Stibal

Lodro closed out the fest well after midnight, at an early morning hour fitting their sinister vibes. I am a huge fan of the Birthday Party, and I will support and nurture most any band with a guitar sound descending from the swampy and angular strains of Rowland S Howard. This is to say that I thought Lodro were awesome. Maintaining an old, bad New York no wave style in the ludicrous neighborhood of Bushwick is a challenging path as far as legitimacy is concerned (although it may become slightly easier due to bands like Pill). But Lodro’s spidery aesthetic and narcotized vocals exuded authenticity. For a few moments at the Rookery, it felt like the children of the night would seize the day.

In conclusion, the Noise Love Minifest was a varied yet consistently strong evening filled with good sounds and good times. It was also that odd festival in which the number of acts featuring female musicians outweighed the all-male lineups. In a sea of showcases surrounding Northside Festival, Noise Love’s hopefully acted as raft keeping one dry and safe from the usual soggy festival offerings.

Kaki King’s The Neck is a Bridge to the Body - Live at Rough Trade NYC

“An hour-long visual and live music performance where the guitar is used as a projection screen to tell a creation story.”

kaki king.jpeg

For the past few months, Kaki King had been touring what has been called her landmark new work, The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body, which was released on March 3. This album, along with a light show and projections developed by Glowing Pictures, explores a new way of perceiving the guitar in a brilliant performance art piece, unlike anything I’ve ever seen live before. If you’ve ever closed your eyes while listening to a song and imagined floating through space, or any combination of shapes and colors, that’s kind of what this show does, from the point of view of this super futuristic looking white guitar, propped up between two stands, so that Kaki only needs to sit down behind it, wrap her arms around the neck and the body, and explore this beautiful and innovative way to play.

The whole show from beginning to end was continually awe-inducing, in a way that I kept switching back and forth from wondering how all these cool tech things are really happening right now, to just letting myself be immersed in the experience and swallowing up the whole feeling. From what I understand, the sounds Kaki creates with the guitar becomes visualized and reflected back as images. The software Glowing Pictures designed syncs perfectly with Kaki’s songs, so that as she’s playing, the images are telling this entire story of creation, travel, and how the guitar perceives itself. All created live before our eyes.

It begins in darkness, with astral plane-like glittering lights dancing in the dark beginnings. The creation. The light starts shooting through and across the guitar, until the whole instrument lights up brightly. That’s when Kaki comes out to situate herself behind the instrument, dressed in white to match the guitar, and sporting white sunglasses (because those laser-like lights must be bright), she awakens the guitar. And when a guitar is so magic that it needs to be awakened, trust that amazing things will happen.

After “In The Beginning,” Kaki starts to scratch, brush, and tap the shiny white body rhythmically until the ping-pong delay effect creeps in and builds the whole piece to its climax. This is when the first bumps and flashes are made on this journey, and the sound response is based on decibel level. This is where “Thoughts Are Born.”

“Anthropomorphe” features live drawings and writing by Shantell Martin, projected from a drawing tablet .  Here, besides the drawings to go with the sounds, Martin scrawls questions for the audience, making us question the condition of ourselves and think about why we’re here. She proposes simple lines that are both immediate to the current experience, and also complex enough to serve a broader sense. This goes into “The Surface Changes,” with all this animation and found footage reminding me that I should travel more. These images are first projected on the large screen, and then only the guitar as it becomes the shapeshifter, like a crystal ball to look into and see everything that exists in the world.

“Trying to Speak I” and “II” both represent higher learning, with colorful geometric shapes, and more traveling scenes. “The Roaming Guitar” is a piece not on the album, and is more of a funky little wah wah ditty with the singular white guitar in it’s awkward teenage guitar years. Kaki makes sure to inform us at the end of the set that this isn’t necessarily autobiographical of her experiences growing up, but the story has all the universal elements of growing up that most people experience in their life: feelings of being different and isolated, not being able to relate to peers, being bullied and then being mentored; and the forever family struggle of parents just don’t understand.

After that fun interlude, and some further deconstruction of vectors and x-ray animations, the real growing is done - “Battle is a Learning.” Musically more aggressive, this part is full of synth effects colliding into noise, all under Rat distortion. Probably the most cathartic piece in the show, this song is the outlet for all the intense feels that come along with really hashing something out until you figure it out and create something you never had before. It can be a bit of a wicked process, but it turns out really cool.

By the end of “We Did Not Create The Instrument, The Instrument Created Us,” a sense of serene enlightenment emanates through the atmosphere. There’s this vague but warm feeling that somehow the sounds and flickering backdrop that created these different moods, changing seasons, and a real sense of traveling and time passing like a collage of experiences had in one’s lifetime, has also become yours, and you are now wiser from this experience. There has clearly been a lot of planning, practice, and science that went into this whole concept, and the outcome is one everyone involved should be proud of, because the technical fell way to the intangible, and it didn’t seem like science. It felt like magic.

A Night of Anti-Authoritarian Sass with Chain and the Gang

ChainandtheGang May 15 2015

by Maria Schurr

Ian Svenonius is basically one of the greatest people ever. If you need me to back that statement up, here are just some of the things he’s done: fronted one of D.C.’s finest hardcore bands, The Nation of Ulysses; fronted one of the most underrated acts of the ‘90s, The Make-Up; hosted a talk show that was amazing despite being aired on Vice.com; wrote two mind-bogglingly amazing, intelligent, and amusing books; and, most importantly served as Sassy magazine’s Sassiest Boy in America in 1990, a contest he entered to “indoctrinate youth gone astray.” That someone who is so clever in attacking the things we’re told to believe in and obey was chosen as Mr. Perfect for a teen girl magazine is endlessly inspiring. It may not have made Ian Svenonius a household name, but it sent the message that even the most leftist contrarian can have his moment to shine. 

It’s 25 years later and Svenonius is still proselytizing with plenty of sass in tact. The medium he’s channeling his messages through is now Chain and the Gang, a garage rock band that’s maybe a little bit of a parody of a garage rock band but still has an array of fantastic tunes. And they sound flawless live: I saw the band at Baby’s All Right with the other greatest person in the world, the not easily impressed James Veda Rays, who was wowed by the guitar and bass tones of Francy Graham and Anna Nasty, respectively. 

Although Baby’s was uncomfortably packed (and gave off a real “party supermarket” vibe, according to James Veda), the night’s undesirable aspects were soon overruled by the mod-garage spunk of Svenonius and co., decked out in matching suits with very big stripes. It was a show where banter and performance were just as important as the songs and Svenonius had a lot to tell us about what and who we shouldn’t trust. A brilliant observation, so brilliant you don’t need any precursor for it, was Svenonius’ exclamation, “I’m not talking about the Eastern Bloc, I’m talking about Yelp!” 

He also had a lot of dancing to do, mostly in a way that looked a little bit like The Monkey, but less controlled.There were also more than a few high kicks, many screams -- a constant in Svenonius’ vocal repertoire -- and a few occasions of singing in the audience; with thanks to his impressive coiffure, Svenonius’ whereabouts were always easily discernable.

The standout of the show was “Mum’s the Word,” which Svenonius paused halfway through to tell us not to give our personal information to any and all manner of higher authority: “If the bouncer asks you what color your eyes are, tell them, ‘I’m standing right here, why don’t you look at them?’ If someone asks for your personal identification say, ‘that’s mutable.’ If someone picks you up at the bar...that’s cool.” As Svenonius told us not to give out personal information to our boss, our landlord, the government, etc., Francy and Anna posed back to back, looking effortlessly cool while sharing a few words with drummer Fiona Campbell. 

With or without banter, certain Chain and the Gang songs slay in a live setting. Chief among them is “Devitalize,” which felt especially relevant in Baby’s almost grotesquely gentrified location. It’s basically a song about restaking the city as a dangerous, dirty place, not a haven where the middle class live in easy access to all the artisanal hoo haw they could ever need. For a less rockin’ yet brilliantly honed take on a similar subject, see Svenonius’ essay “Seinfeld Syndrome,” which appears in his book The Psychic Soviet and basically argues that Seinfeld was designed to make NYC appear safe to the middle class. 

Shortly before launching into final song “Detroit Music,” Svenonius referred to Chain and the Gang as “that band that doesn’t change. All you journalists looking for an arc, give up ‘cos we’ve got none.” But when you’re already operating on such a high level of intellect and entertainment, why change? In this day and age where intelligence and creativity feels like it’s eroding, we need what Ian Svenonius is bringing more than ever. So thank god it’s served in such an endlessly satisfying way. 

Chain and the Gang2 May 5 2015

Experiencing Manic Street Preachers Perform The Holy Bible

Photo by Alex Lake

Photo by Alex Lake

By Maria Schurr

I knew that someday I was gonna see Manic Street Preachers perform The Holy Bible, and I knew before I saw it, two things would happen to me. That, number one:  I would regret the entire thing. And number two: I would want to see it all over again.

Manic Street Preachers performing The Holy Bible was not just any “long established band performs a classic album” sort of show. Firstly, listening to the songs in your room on your own can be a scarring experience enough; hearing such raw nihilism and JG Ballard stating he’d like to rub the human face in its own vomit in the setting of Webster Hall was an exercise in masochism, in some respects. Also, how can you engage in the concert-going standards of dancing, tapping your toes to the beat, and kicking back with a drink during graphic chronicles of anorexia and songs about the Holocaust? Seeing The Holy Bible live was something of an endurance test, but then again I’m a very sensitive person...

A sensitive person who, upon first hearing The Holy Bible, listened to nothing else for basically a whole year. I don’t know how I lived through that year without emerging as an even more warped and misanthropic person than I already am, but somehow I found some light in this dire edict on humanity’s accountability in every bad thing that’s ever happened. It’s a well worn cliche to say an album changed your life, but The Holy Bible fully did. The album taught me to think outside of the customary life trajectory (get a job, get a family, and settle down in suburbia) and use knowledge as a raft to a more fulfilling life. It’s a bit overdramatic, but if I had never heard The Holy Bible, I would probably never have escaped small town Pennsylvania and my adolescence as a very sad, very lonely person would’ve carried over into adulthood in worse ways (and yeah, it’s very self-centered to interpret the album in this way, but find those traces of light where you can).

I stopped listening to The Holy Bible when I heard The Drift by Scott Walker, an album that -- although not as nihilistic -- is far more terrifying and strange. My life was also in flux -- sometimes very dark, other times something close to what I wanted it to be -- and I didn’t need to be reminded of my Manics devotion in either mood. When the US portion of the Holy Bible tour was announced, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go. I had reached a point where I was pretty pleased with my life and  sort of embarrassed by my Manics phase. Thanks to one of my editors being a Manics diehard, I entered into the spirit of and even got to interview frontman James Dean Bradfield. I’ve been listening to the album again and, although not nearly as life-alteringly amazing as that first time, I think album opener “Yes” is still an astonishing song that continues to punch me in the heart every time I hear it. In the days leading up to the show, I even relived the giddiness of going to a gig as a teen and seeing your idols in the flesh for the first time (not that the Manics are my idols and most idol-worthy Manic Richey Edwards is presumed dead, but still). This was really happening and it was going to be something else.

Then the evening came and a signal problem on the L train made me miss “Yes” -- the absolute, #1 song I had to hear -- and “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart”, which, while not an all out favorite, would have been one of the more “fun”(?) songs to take in. I raced into Webster Hall right before “Of Walking Abortion” and immediately everything was too much for me to take. From the boy in full on sailor regalia I could see from the corner of my eye to a whole room of people shouting “we all are of walking abortions,” it was too surreal, too much like some weird fantasy I never knew I harbored. I stood completely still and cried. A thousand or so people were copping to their worthlessness (knowingly or otherwise) while also quoting a radically feminist diatribe (again knowingly or otherwise). Over a thousand people championing emotions and thoughts that weren’t watered down for easier consumption, knowingly or otherwise. Where did these people come from? It was a beautiful thing to be amid, and for once it felt as though the world had not totally succumbed to idiocracy and heightened self-importance.

After that initial onslaught of feelings, the night coalesced a little, with the only weird sight being people trying to dance to “Archives of Pain,” a song about capital punishment. Then we arrived at “4st 7lbs” and things got really awkward. First of all, this song still seems difficult for the Manics themselves to perform, as witnessing a lifelong friend -- Edwards -- suffering from anorexia probably dredges up zero happy memories. Nicky Wire, who sang along to most of the album as he played the bass and jumped around, definitely was not singing along to that one. It’s a pretty white-knuckled experience to listen to the song in private, so being among people who are trying to move, trying to do something to get through it and out to the other side for, oh, a song about the Holocaust, felt voyeuristic to an uncomfortable degree (and just a cursory listen to this song will probably make you feel that way, anyway). It was exactly harrowing experience I anticipated and it was great.

Up to this point, I had been waiting for someone in the crowd to do something unforgivably inappropriate, and that happened during “Mausoleum.” Just like that Seinfeld episode where Jerry and his girlfriend make out while watching Schindler’s List, I turned my head to the balcony, saw a young couple who were dispassionately observing the Manics slowly turn their attention to one another and do some romantic end-of-a-date-night kissing. This gesture made the rest of the show a lot less intense for me, and I eventually came around to singing along to “Die in the Summertime,” which is one of the best songs on the album for me, due in part to its sheer subversion of the anthemic chorus.

“The Intense Humming of Evil,” which is maybe the least guaranteed for easy listening on the album, felt like the victory of the night. This industrial-tinged meditation on The Holocaust (and, possibly, Holocaust denialism) probably creates the deadliest mood, musically, and having that mood reassembled in a live setting made all the air in the venue turn cold. The moment felt both  otherworldly and like the tragedy of reality was meeting us head on. It was an encapsulation of the night up to that point, uncomfortably magnified.

It would have been pretty devastating if the night had ended right there, but of course The Holy Bible ends with the slightly lighter “PCP” and, since the Manics never play here, an addendum of “the hits.” Because so many Manics songs are hit or miss for me nowadays, I felt ambivalent about this portion of the show, even when the band broke out the still golden “Motorcycle Emptiness.”

But then the show ended on “A Design for Life” and for one reason or another I started crying again. It was probably for a silly reason like being mad I had missed the beginning of the show and the disbelief that it was over, but it was pretty emotionally overwhelming to connect the dots from this album inspiring me to acting on that inspiration to experiencing The Holy Bible communally. I’ve known for a long time that I’ll never experience another album in the same way as I’ve experienced The Holy Bible, and now I know I’ll probably never experience a gig in the same way ever again. Somehow, I’m all right with that.

Geoff Farina’s New Band Exit Verse, Live at Knitting Factory

For any Karate fan, it’s always exciting to hear when Geoff Farina is doing something new, the latest of which is his Chicago-based project Exit Verse. Formed early last year with drummer John Dugan (Chisel, Edsel) and bassist Pete Croke (Brokeback, Tight Phantoms), the tree piece has just recently released their self-titled debut LP, and are now playing shows with new drummer Chris Dye (Speck Mountain, Chin Up Chin Up) stepping in for Dugan. In the middle of their tour, the band braved a monsoon to play a set at Knitting Factory Brooklyn last week, and it was a privilege to be able catch a first live offering of Exit Verse’s beginning material.

It’s hard not to use Karate as a reference and context to draw comparisons and contrasts with Exit Verse, but it’s hard not to look at how one has grown from the other. If Karate was a young but informed punk, Exit Verse is the grown ass man who still has much of the same sentiments and social observations, but communicates in a more relaxed, straightforward manner. And it’s true Exit Verse did not come directly after Karate; after the magical grooves of the unique blend of punk, jazz, and indie rock disbanded, Farina formed acoustic trio Glorytellers, performed with a Roman folk band, played hundreds of solo shows, and what was maybe the most foretelling of forming Exit Verse: the short-lived Chicago punk-improv trio Bando. Oh, and in between all the projects and touring across US and Europe, Farina found time to teach music history at DePaul University in Maine. That’s quite a journey.

So here we were, back in a dark venue on a cold night, a medium-sized crowd listening to what Exit Verse had to play. The band seemed to be concentrating, with almost no talking between songs. The trio would rock out all the way through a tune, then withdraw for a moment to re-tune and re-center. It felt relaxed and exploratory, and the band had everyone’s attention the whole way through the set. It was cool because you could look around and see people jamming out that were clearly longtime fans of any number of Farina’s projects, and some already knew many of the words to the new songs, like first single “Seeds.”

While being more straightforward and classic rock referencing than past work, Farina still gets fancy in the song segues with a decent amount of noodling and solos, and you can still hear many similarities to Karate’s In Place of Real Insight LP in particular. The referencing went even beyond that as well, when Farina dedicated a song to one of his oldest friends who happened to be in the audience as well, Jodi. Jodi Buonanno that is, with whom he had “learned punk rock together in the 80s, in a band called Secret Stars.”

From one of the earliest seeds planted to now, still growing, still living and taking it in, and still expressing. The trees still wave along with the breeze. Exit Verse is much more than from just 2013 to now, and with any luck will grow even more from this point, because Farina is still coming with the message and the licks, along with Dye’s steady beat and Croke’s low end that loves to groove up and noodle around as high as the low can go. Everything changes and grows, but some things don’t change that much, because they don’t need to.

Exit Verse’s self-titled debut LP is currently out on Ernest Jenning.

Two shows, 5/5 at Palisades with Shilpa Ray, Jangula, and +

Words by Maria Shurr

At that weird intersection of Bushwick and Bed-Stuy lies Palisades, signless in the DIY fashion with the reasonably priced drinks that sort of thing should entail. I’ve spent the last two Saturday nights at the venue, and I still cannot form a solid opinion on it. It’s intimate and no frills, but the pillar that stands basically in front of the stage is an impairment when enjoying a band visually. Still, Palisades seems to be having no trouble hosting stellar bills, with the lineups on October 4 and October 11 being particularly awesome.

Shilpa Ray performing at Palisades

Shilpa Ray performing at Palisades

October 4: Palberta, Shilpa Ray, Jeffrey Lewis and the Jrams:

I was previously unfamiliar with Palberta, but if I had known the trio was working to uphold the post-punk stylings of bands like Kleenex mixed with funkier no wave fare like Liquid Liquid, I would have made a point of showing up early and staying put in the front row for the entire set. Sadly, the sound was not too kind to Palberta, and a lot of the intricacies that came to light when I listened to the band online were much harder to discern. What I could pick up -- idiosyncratic vocals and the aforementioned arctic chill of funk no wave -- cried for better acoustics. The band is upstate-based, with Brooklyn gigs here and there, so keep their Oct. 24 show at Trans Pecos in mind when you’re figuring out your CMJ schedule.

The first time I saw Shilpa Ray was at CBGBs in the since-disbanded Beat the Devil, so needless to say I have seen her many a time. After all those years, I will still go out of my way, whenever possible, to see a Shilpa Ray set. Line ups have changed and styles have been altered, but Ray’s assured songwriting and almighty singing are a constant. As many of the songs in Ray’s repertoire have yet to be released, leaving your apartment for another listen to “Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp” is always a worthy cause. At Palisades, we were also treated to what I believe is a new song, one that started out coasting on some easy girl group vibes before plunging into post punk catastrophe. And, although Ray is the star of the show, witnessing Jon Catfish Delorme’s pedal steel skills is always a pleasure.

Jeffrey Lewis is another regular in my show-going life, and someone who I have certainly harassed for merch on multiple occasions (in my defense, one of these instances involved getting an autograph for a mega-fan and friend who had just given birth). Although I don’t listen to Lewis’ albums on the reg, I routinely have found feelings for his songwriting, something I am all the more amazed by when seeing Lewis live. As Noise Love founder Kelly said to me, “it must be so hard to memorize the words to all these songs. Every one is like a short story.” When Lewis employs one of his “documentaries” (his songs that come with illustrations), things become even more marvelous. That night, Lewis treated us to both another chapter in his “History of Communism” series and the ever relevant “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror,” which hopefully stifled the person behind me who declared that Lewis was a “poor man’s Will Oldham.” I think Lewis’ lack of facial hair renounces that ALONE.

Veda Rays

Veda Rays

October 11: The Yin Yangs, Veda Rays, Gunfight!, Jangula:

This was the first 1.21 Gigawatts show for the Yin Yangs and Veda Rays, and both bands delivered. I have expressed my love of the Yin Yangs previously, so I will say for now that when Jason of Veda Rays mentioned something about Yin Yangs in passing, I very loudly interrupted him with a “they’re great!” and I am both a very shy person and someone who keeps a lot of her interests to herself. Also, who doesn’t love a singing drummer?

Veda Rays have some of the most honest, visionary songs of any bands in the scene, so it was a delight to hear them debut yet another on Saturday night. I am not sure if the song even has an official title yet, but it portrayed itself as a fully-formed chestnut of wisdom and mystery, all the same. Occasionally, I will measure songs based on how good they are to pogo to. So, even if something of Veda Rays was lost in Palisades’ acoustics, a few members of Bodega Bay were still seen thrashing for all of VRs’ songs. As ringing of an endorsement as anything I could say.

It speaks to the endless scope of New York’s music scene that Gunfight! are a band who play everywhere yet who I only saw for the first time on Saturday. Their sound is burly, boozy, brawly without giving way to an actual fight, and ideal for a Saturday night. The quality bands in New York who marry rootsy nuances with punkier flare are far and few between, so Gunfight! were a welcome presence in an already consistent night.

Jangula play out so infrequently that any live event would be a must, regardless of whether or not they have the tunes to back it up. Mercifully, they do, and are one of the few bands who elevate the Qchord above being a novelty instrument. Jangula also look authentically “New York”, all the while having a sound that intimates “New York” without being a shoddy tribute to it. Romantic without being precious, rock ‘n ‘ roll without being silly, they are a band who should be getting their due any day, if the world has any justice left.

Both of these Saturday nights ended in me being moderately inebriated, the former ending in me discussing Sharon Van Etten’s omnichord with Kelly, the latter telling someone -- maybe a Jangula guy? Maybe my shadow? -- that “Stephanie Says” is my favorite Velvet Underground song. I believe this marks both evenings as 5s on a 5/5 scale.

Reignwolf and STRNGRS Satisfy at Bowery Ballroom

If you’re not familiar with the snarling smokehouse that is Reignwolf, let me fix that for you right quick with just a little taste of what went down at Bowery Ballroom the night of August 1:

This, my friends, is Jordan Cook a.k.a. Reignwolf, a wild man rocker originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, now calling Seattle home - at least when he’s not on the road. He’s been playing the guitar since the age of two, so basically music is his first language. His guitar is now an extension of himself. He’s now been playing so long he could probably win a round of ping pong while soloing a sick blues jam like it ain’t no thing, and also growl out some super swoon-inducing lyrics like the ones to “Are You Satisfied?

Needless to say, Reignwolf puts on one hell of a show.

My blurry little iphone video clip above only captures enough to give you the slightest inclination of what a major multi-tasker and guitar-shredding powerhouse this guy is - aside from strumming his guitar with the same hand he held a mic in, he’s also adept at playing drums while simultaneously strumming and singing. He’s got a dedicated drummer and bassist now, but he came up doing everything himself, and doing one hell of a job. During “Electric Love,” he had the drum kit all to himself again. Not surprisingly, he broke a string early on, so he put the string in his mouth while snarling out the lyrics and playing everything. He ate that string up like he ate up the whole experience - this show was a beautiful display of an artist completely in his element, getting off on the fiery outpouring of his craft, and without a doubt getting off all the screaming fans on the floor. When he yelled, “Somebody say ‘hell yeah!’” It was everybody who responded. Then, he jumped on top on top of his “Reignwolf” emblazoned bass drum and let us have it.

It wasn’t just him either. When he jumped in the crowd, and transferred the bass drum and strung the guitar cable out, his bassist followed into the crowd (who was immediately accosted by the most excited instant selfie-taking girl), and his drummer moved his whole kit to the front of the stage as well. They all made sure to be in our faces and give everyone there an experience they won’t forget. During the last song, Reignwolf crowd surfed like the king of Bowery Ballroom. Later, back on stage after a couple encore songs, he just chucked his guitar across the stage to a cacaphony of wolf howls and cheers for more.

Reignwolf is the reall shit, y’all. It’s easy to get caught up in all the badass-ery, but it’s also easy to get the impression that it all comes from a truly genuine place. This is all he does, and all that bring him joy in the world. Or the most joy, anyway. The fact that he can headline a sold out show at Bowery Ballroom, among others, and play to a huge crowd that eats up him eating it up just happens to be the best response anyone could ask for. He acts so humble and appreciative it just makes his fans love him more, because how can you not admire this miracle of all rock planets aligning to bring us all this experience that we all shared together. All is right in the cosmos for the duration of a Reignwolf concert.

Local three-piece STRNGRS was a good pick to open for Reignwolf, as they also had a wildly energetic soulful rock vibe with a whole lotta blues influence. Frontman Carson Kelly ran around stage with the gusto of a southern preacherman, busting out some world-weary but also feel-good vocals, along with some hard blues harp blowin’ like on the more sultry tune “Never Can Tell.” Drummer Chase McGowan made some serious hard-hitting faces as he beat the hell out of his kit, and Garrett Drinon was a wildman on guitar, soloing at least a couple times in every song and coming to the front of the stage, to either get in the front row of faces in the crowd or have some face to face jam time with Carson.

On their last song of the set, Carson announced that it was called “Outta My Mind,” and that we should all feel free to do so. STRNGRS themselves certainly felt free to do so, as they had already displayed since the start of their show.  Not a one of them looked like they were holding back, going full throttle through the whole set. Their latest EP is called Magic Boy, but these boys make real rock, kick out the jams style. After witnessing this show, they get a hell yeah and an amen.

The Wytches Turn Glasslands Into a Hazy Fuzz Cave

Boys can be Wytches too. Loud, and hard to pin down, the Brighton, England based gloom rockers pummeled through a somewhat early set at Glasslands on a Friday night.   

Their sound defies being pigeonholed into an easily defined genre. The three-piece of Kristian Bell on guitar and vocals, Dan Rumsey on bass, and Gianni Honey on drums combine hardcore, punk, surf rock, and a lot of fuzz in between. Their set was a full experience of how there are still so many possibilities in rock music, like the note bending jam “Wire Frame Mattress,” that has this structure to it that allows for chaos within.

Single “Crying Clown” has this taunting rhythm to it to reach out and grab you by the hand, and lead you down the smoky path they were creating through the building ambiance. The band lit off a smoke machine that helped turn Glasslands into a hazy fuzz cave, so at times it was almost impossible to see anything. This only made the guitar solos, bass melody, and thundering drums ring out more clearly and really infiltrate the mind. They also had a ballad with a waltz rhythm, that actually had the most gothic edge in it’s lulled and beautifully dark state. Bell’s voice cracks and creaks, then growls and shouts, speaking his mind with melody and fervency.  

These boy wytches had all the kids at the front of the stage mesmerized too - many of them with their heads bowed and banging through the whole set. The world of the wytches is a dark but positive one, with a true DIY ethos and real expression, only disillusionment and dissatisfaction with your current state of affairs can. The Wytches have been successful in moving beyond a small town state of mind, and with the current track they’re on, will only continue to fly even higher and farther.

Look out for their debut, out August 26 on Partisan.

Brutal and Supernatural, Noise Love Showcase Rocks

By Maria Shurr

July 19, 2014

One of the fun things about going to the Flat is watching the reactions of random passersby on the street, spying on the non-gig-goers who curiously peek through the inconspicuous South Williamsburg venue’s windows en route to weekend shenanigans. Depending on what time those pedestrians were taking a gander during Saturday night’s Noise Love showcase, they may or may not have gotten an eyeful, but they most certainly got an earful.

The line up’s more experimental acts, Hidden Trax and the Wendigo, opened and closed the night, with the two noise blasting trios, Skull Practitioners and The Yin Yangs, wrecking eardrums in between. I regrettably missed Hidden Trax, although the ambient-noise fusions on the sound project’s Band Camp were enough to make me want to keep an eye out for future gig announcements. I walked in shortly after Skull Practitioners began their set, and they brought the noise in a composed enough way that I held off on ordering one of the Flat’s reliably delicious ginger verandah cocktails until after their set had finished. Not even their self-effacing announcement of “we’re playing an eight minute song, take your drink break now” could sway me (and yes, this is a real paraphrase from one of the guys in the band). Whatever curveballs Skull Practitioners threw, be it long songs or brutal instrumental pieces, they navigated the set deftly, even employing a psych rock edge in a way that didn’t feel stale. More conventional psych rock revivalists:  please take note.

I had seen The Yin Yangs once before, and even at the back of a spacious venue, I still felt blindsided by their tumult of sound and vision (bassist Brendan Winick also does projections on occasion). Although a fairly new band on the scene, this trio can easily wipe the floor with many of their peers, churning out extraordinarily loud but still melodic rock indebted to A Place to Bury Strangers (in a live setting, at least; more angles arise on recordings) and similar acts who are both apocalyptically loud and offering something of substance. The Yin Yangs set was also the moment in the night when I was most worried about the windows and windshields being blown out on any cars parked outside of the Flat.

Watching others watch The Wendigo for the first time is always entertaining, but due to edging myself closer to the bar for more ginger verandahs, I failed to catch any perplexing expressions from the aforementioned curious pedestrians. A few confused mutterings between songs confirmed my beliefs, however. No matter what has been seen or will be seen throughout any given night, there are usually not many people who are ready for a dude with a coyote headdress bringing some urban flavor to a Native American legend. More detail would probably ruin a first -timer’s Wendigo stage show, so I recommend that you all take in the supernatural vibes first hand. As should be the case for a Noise Love showcase in general.

Cancers Sound Sweet at Union Pool

July 5, 2014

Ella Kaspar and Lenny Miller formed Cancers while on tour with other bands out of a need to make their own music exactly the way they wanted to. Now based in Athens, GA, the two are crafting visceral alt grunge with an old school dream pop sheen – kind of like if Hole and Velocity Girl combined into one smooth bite. They played Union Pool with Great Thunder and Now People as a full four-piece band, and really busted through a set of sweetly heavy tunes.

The riffs were heavy, and Ella’s voice was light and feminine, giving the songs a maturity and spunk that is a realistic balance of the emotional spectrum, and speaks to that struggle of wanting to stay true to yourself despite the perceptions and expectations of others and society. Current single “Be Cool” is about seeing a one night stand for what it is, and other tunes like “Dig,” “Razorblade,” and “Sick” all really speak to the ear in ways that are almost painfully relatable but also gratifyingly catchy.

Formed because they didn’t want to compromise, and it’s exactly this kind of feeling that helps us remember all the reasons we bang our heads at shows for. It’s the release through shows like the one Cancers play that keep rock relevant. They get in there deep, and they really rock it out.

Their debut Fatten the Leeches LP is to be released September 16, with CD and digital formats through the band’s own label,Kandy Kane Records, and cassette and vinyl from Dead Broke Rekerds