Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Hot Live Summer

On a limited budget and still feeling cautious (if less so than 2021), I decided to make summer 2022 as hot has possible by taking advantage of as many free outdoor concerts I could. With my daughter, Hannah, as my intrepid companion (except for one show) I soaked up a ton of sounds, sights, and sun in a variety of venues, also partaking of the fun food and drink on offer.

All told, we attended 10 shows at seven venues in two states (and two boroughs), experiencing over 30 performers - and not one drop of rain. Read on to find out how it all went down - and press play on this playlist or below for the perfect soundtrack. 

Blissing out to CSH
June 17: Brooklyn Magazine Festival at LeFrak Lakeside, Prospect Park, feat. Car Seat Headrest, Sudan Archives, and Mr Twin Sister I was going to regretfully give this inaugural event a pass due to its $60 ticket, but then I entered one of those DO NYC contests and actually won two tickets. Hannah was especially thrilled as she had never seen CSH before and was tantalized by my tales about that time they blew the roof off Webster Hall a few years ago. I was also curious to see how the more synth-based sound displayed on their last album, Making A Door Less Open, would translate to the stage. 

We took the train to Parkside Avenue, one of my old stomping grounds, but instead of heading to 379, a limestone building where I lived after college, we turned right and headed into Prospect Park. Through a combination of signage, Google maps, and following the crowd, we made our way to the venue, a new addition to the area, having opened in 2013. After a minor hitch at security, when Hannah had to hide her metal water bottle near the gate as it was prohibited, our tickets were scanned and we were drawn towards the sounds of Mr Twin Sister, who were already on stage. Food and drink were on our minds, however, so we let their electro grooves be a background to an expensive but tasty burger and fries and a refreshing cocktail. For a first-time event, everything seemed quite well organized from the picnic tables to the reams of porta-potties.

The DJ mix between acts wasn’t quite catching the vibe, with an aggressive beat-driven blend, but at least it showed off the sound system, which was excellent. Just as we finished eating, Sudan Archives took the stage in a dazzling emerald outfit that had Grace Jones in its DNA and we joined the small throng in front of the stage. I had been wanting to see this project of Brittney Parks since her debut EP from Stones Throw dropped in my inbox in 2017 and she impressed from the first note. A violinist, singer, songwriter, and producer, Parks pulls strains of West African music into her blend of ultra-modern hip hop and R&B. Performing as a duo with a synth player/percussionist, she commanded the stage, whether ripping off runs on her violin or just singing. Her music has grown edgier over the years and I loved all the sharp angles and emotions. We got a nice preview of her next album, the just-released Natural Brown Prom Queen, including Selfish Soul, with its questing violin line. The album is fantastic, too, completely paying off the deposit she made at LeFrak.

Sudan Archives at LeFrak Lakeside
People were streaming in throughout the set but the plaza was still only about half-full by the time CSH took the stage, giving some context to the ticket giveaway. But everyone who came seemed devoted to CSH and the crowd tightened up as they launched into the first song. It was immediately clear that they had lost none of the fire I saw on stage in 2016, although the energy was a little different on songs where leader Will Toledo put down his guitar and let guitarist Ethan Ives and the keyboard player take the lead. This gave him the chance to launch into some choreographed movements, adding a more formal body language to his already arresting stage presence. At one point he showed solidarity with the few semi-furries in the audience, donning a bear’s head in which to perform - even that couldn’t dim his light. The band was tight, too, with drummer Andrew Katz simultaneously holding everything together and propelling it furiously forward. Still one of the best live bands on the planet.

We left on lightened feet, found Hannah’s water bottle, and gave a nod of gratitude to DO NYC for the tickets and Brooklyn Magazine for conceiving an excellent event that will hopefully return next year. 

Glowing with Patrick Watson
July 2: Central Park Summerstage feat. Patrick Watson with the Attacca String Quartet, Elisapie, and La Force This was our first time at this iconic series since 2014, when we saw Beck give an incredible show with the added bonus of an opening set by The GOASTT. So it felt a little like a homecoming with the layout of the stage and amenities feeling deeply familiar. It was a nice vibe, too, with everyone from families of tourists with giant FAO Schwarz bags to dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers chilling and ready for an interesting experience. 

As Watson is from Canada, they had organized a lineup of northern imports including La Force and Elisapie. First up was food, though, with a decent of slightly dry chicken Caesar wrap (and a vegetarian version for Hannah) and some canned hard seltzer or cider, which we enjoyed sitting on the bleachers. While we ate, we were treated to a diverting French-language short film as we tried to dodge the sun’s laser rays.

Ariel Engle, who performs as La Force both solo and with Broken Social Scene, was up next and, while she has a beautiful voice, was rarely more than pleasant. Covering Technotronic's Pump Up The Jam showed spunk and livened up the gathering crowd, however, and when she sings with Watson on his new EP, Better In The Shade, it's pure magic. Elisapie, an Inuk artist who sings in English, French, and Inuktitut, was more distinctive, creating dense webs of sound to hold her dark soprano. Her best songs - many of which are on her 2018 album, The Ballad Of The Runaway Girl - mesmerize with a ritualistic power.

When Watson took the stage, the entire atmosphere changed. His stage setup helped, with his signature upright piano surrounded by the Attacca players and an array of candle-like floor lamps encircling them all. His voice was as lithe and limber as it was the last time I saw him a decade ago and he had the same relaxed charm, as if his way of immersing us in his all-encompassing ballads was no big deal.


He was joined by La Force on some songs, and even a ballerina, but nothing could take the focus off of his songs and singing, all beautifully supported by the Attacca and a sensitive rhythm section. Whether in the park or a club, Watson creates his own effulgent atmosphere that everyone should experience. We floated toward Fifth Avenue with the crowd, trying to extend the dream state to our journey home.

With Nicole Atkins and other
July 7: River & Blues Festival, Wagner Park, feat. Nicole Atkins and Levi As we trekked down to the southern tip of Manhattan, memories of the late, lamented River To River festival came to mind, specifically when we saw Burning Spear in Rockefeller Park in 2010. But this was also a long time coming, as I've been trying to get in front of a stage with Nicole Atkins on it since 2014, when I fell for Slow Phaser, one of the best albums of the 2010s

Nicole Atkins & band at Wagner Park

When we got to the venue, however, we quickly learned there was no food or drink to be had on the site, so after collecting a free t-shirt, we hustled back to Broadway and found some takeout sushi. The park was filling up with a mellow crowd, but we found a spot to eat while DJ Susan Z. Anthony helped build excitement for the show. Atkins soon came out to welcome us and introduce Levi, an English singer and songwriter, who was soon mesmerizing us with her shimmering electric guitar and limpid voice. An unexpected delight - and I hope to hear more from her soon.
After Levi's short set, Atkins took the stage with her three-piece band (Mickey Burgess, guitar; Matthew Wilson, bass; Danny Banks, drums) and gave us a pure blast of her blues/soul/pop/rock at full throttle. She presented fine overview of her career, from slow ballads to uptempo numbers, engaging the crowd and letting her band shine. Levi joined her to sing backup from time to time and they made a heavenly blend of voices as the sun set behind the stage.

It's a rare thing indeed when years of anticipation lead to your expectations being not only met but exceeded - but that's what happened in Wagner Park. We treated ourselves to drastically overpriced soft ice cream on the way back to the subway, giving our perfect evening a sweet finish.

Crumb aftermath
July 9: BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, feat. Crumb and Slauson Malone It was four years ago, almost to the day, when we last made our way to the Lena Horne bandshell in Prospect Park to see Natalie Prass (come back, we miss you!). Just as that night checked a box for Hannah that I already marked years earlier, this would finally be her chance to see Crumb, a band we've both enjoyed since their debut EP in 2016. Having had a time getting tickets to see them in clubs, I wasn't surprised to see a long line gathering by the time we got into the park. We were surrounded by a riotous atmosphere as the locals were hosting several birthday BBQs, with music blaring and elaborate tents, which got us warmed up as we waited. 
Crumb in full flight in Prospect Park
Once in the compound, things were as we remembered, with rows of chairs, multiple concessions, and a great selection of food and drink. We found seats and loaded up on chow, which was delicious, especially those ridiculous ice cream sandwiches. I had done some listening and research on the opening act, learning that Slauson Malone was an alias for Jasper Marsalis, son of Wynton, and someone with an experimental bent pursuing R&B, electronic music, hip hop, jazz, etc. He was formerly in hip hop-adjacent production team Standing On The Corner, but what I heard of the new work was scattered enough that I still wasn't sure what to expect. He turned out to be a riveting presence, provocatively angry at times, mournfully vulnerable at others, and while definitely a post-Frank Ocean artist, also stunningly original. His band for the show included a bass clarinet, a tuba, and finally a cello played with spectacular flair by Nicholas John Wetherell. 

Slauson Malone (Jasper Marsalis, left, and looming large) in Prospect Park
Marsalis led the group with some of the most striking acoustic guitar playing I've heard in years, past the point of virtuosity to what sounded like total freedom. The audience seemed caught off guard at first - and some of the more explosive moments kept them there - but I think Slauson Malone made a lot of new fans that night, including me.

As good as Crumb's albums are, their woozy, jazz-inflected psych has always sounded best in concert and they have now ascended to an even more mind-blowing level of road-hardened grandeur and power. By the time they got on stage, the venue seemed at full capacity, making it the largest audience I've seen them with (9,000 vs 200), but they played to every member of the crowd. Front-woman Lila Ramani has reached new heights of confidence, too, turning on her charisma and leading the band with her guitar.

Throughout the show, they displayed incredible levels of dynamic control, traversing the gap between delicate filigrees and pile-driving riffage with shocking ease. The lighting design, including giant flowers that opened up and changed colors, added to the spectacle immensely. It was one of those nights that levitates you and turns the crowd into a single unit of devotion. At the end of the show I realized that they have been holding back throughout their career. Either they have to somehow get this energy onto one of their records or just release a live album from this tour. How about both?

Post-Kronos step & repeat
July 14: BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn feat. Kronos Quartet and Roomful Of Teeth The scene on the way into the park was less vibrant on a Thursday night and we didn't have to wait on line at all on our second visit to Prospect Park. Not because there wasn't a crowd but because I had scored us a pair of Friends tickets, which gave us VIP entry and access to the coveted Friend's Tent, which had a nice vibe and picnic tables for a more civilized meal. This all seemed appropriate for this high-minded concert, which promised a "live documentary" looking back at 50 years of the Kronos Quartet. This was a group that played an important role in my involvement in contemporary composition, gaining my attention when they performed an arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze in 1986 on an album also included Peter Sculthorpe and Conlon Nancarrow, among others.
Kronos Quartet with Jimi Hendrix in Prospect Park
First up was Roomful, the vocal ensemble led by composer/singer Caroline Shaw, who performed with the added bonus of genius drummer Matt Evans, who lent extra dimension to their performances of works by Wally Gunn. The final work, sans Evans, was Shaw's The Isle, aka "our version of Shakespeare in the Park," a substantial three-part piece based on the Bard's final play, The Tempest. There were echoes of plainchant blending with guttural noises in one section and the "full fathom five" section had a folk-like shapeliness reminiscent of Benjamin Britten. The Isle premiered in 2016 - no idea why they haven't recorded it yet!

A Thousand Thoughts, the Kronos retrospective, had filmmaker Sam Green narrating a history of the group while they played excerpts of signature works, sometimes in collaboration with those on the screen. This was especially effective when they jammed along with Tanya Taqag, who drove them hard into the outer limits. There were many moments of insight, both musical ("Do we play what you've written, or do we play the voice that we're listening to?" - founder David Herrington to Steve Reich, who had questions about their approach) and personal (After his child died, Herrington noted, "There was no sound inside. Musicians rely on a sound inside.") and plenty of great music from around the world.

Truly like a PBS American Masters come to life, this was an absorbing and moving evening and perfectly presented, ending with a well-deserved standing ovation. "Great concert, right?" asked an eight-year-old boy who had been listening outside the fence. "Absolutely!" I told him before we headed through the night-drenched park to the subway.

Suited up in Gowanus
July 23: Unheard-of//Ensemble, Gowanus Canal This was our second opportunity to hear and see composer Christopher Stark and multimedia artist Zlatko Ćosić's Fire Ecologies from a canoe in the Gowanus, having witnessed an earlier version in September 2021. It was in a slightly different location this year, but we still drove as it's a good distance from any subway. Fortunately, parking was easy on the dead-end street where the Gowanus Dredgers were hosting the performance. 

Combining footage of nature across the country - including the 2020 wildfires - with music that ranges from pensive to mournful to mysterious, Fire Ecologies has gotten richer and more dynamic. A movement called Infernal Dance, with its emphasis on electronics and rhythm, was especially dazzling.

Playing on a floating dock surrounded by canoes, the quintet - Ford Fourqurean (clarinet), Matheus Souza (violin), Erica Dicker (violin), Iva Casian-Lakoš (cello), and Daniel Anastasio (keyboard) - performed with aplomb. Just like last year, the lapping of the water and the meditative task of keeping our canoe from drifting only enhanced the work and prompted reflections on our relationship to our environment, whether in a National Park or an industrial zone. It's a wonderful piece and you can hear it from your own canoe (or on land) when they play it October 8th on Newtown Creek.

Post-Michelle Vibes
July 27: Summer Concerts @ The Wells Fargo Stage, Hudson Yards, feat. Michelle
While I've toured The Shed and traversed Hudson Yards on the way to Danny Myer's Porchlight, this was my first time at this particular stage, which is at the foot of the divisive attraction known as The Well. The DJ was already creating a warm vibe when we arrived and there were plenty of places to sit as we wolfed down our food truck fare. Just as in Prospect Park, the ice cream vendor was the true star, serving up a rich treat studded with breakfast cereal.

Michelle's music blends R&B, soul, pop, and dance music, a mixture they’ve presented with even more sophistication on their second album, After Dinner We Talk Dreams, which came out earlier this year. While I've been enjoying that album, and it's predecessor, 2018's Heatwave, I was not quite prepared for for their absolute vivacity on stage. The four singers - Sofia D'Angelo, Layla Ku, Emma Lee and Jamee Lockard - harmonized with perfection as they executed dance moves that were choreographed but seemingly casual. 

Percussionist Julian Kaufman and bassist Charlie Kilgore were delightful as well as they played everything that wasn't on a backing track. The musical blend was seamless, however, and had the audience grooving from the opening notes. For a captivating hour, the sextet brought us into their circle of friends, a glow we carried with us all the way home. Michelle is on tour in the U.S. and Europe for the next few months - catch'em if you can.

July 31: Central Park Summerstage, feat. Sons Of Kemet, Makaya McCraven, L'Rain, and Danielle Ponder Hannah took a pass on this second visit to Central Park, but my wife, Karen, came, a wonderful turn of events as we hadn't been to a concert together since January 2020. On our way to the venue, we heard a busker singing a decent rendition of Radiohead's Creep, which turned out to be a strange bit of foreshadowing. There were already a lot of people on the Astroturf, but we found a spot for our blanket - or blankets, as we were expecting friends a little later - and dug into the delicious feast Karen had prepared.
We were expecting a triple bill, but they announced Ponder as a late addition. Any concerns about too much music for one night dissipated as soon as she started singing in her big, soulful voice. Her set had a classic soul feel, except for a nearly operatic take on...Radiohead's Creep. She connected deeply with the song - and with the audience. A former public defender, Ponder's first album came out last month and I think she has what it takes to go the distance.

L'Rain in Central Park
I had seen Taja Cheek, who performs as L'Rain, a few years ago, opening for Crumb, and was intrigued, even if her set was unfocused. But her 2021 album, Fatigue, was mightily impressive, a kaleidoscopic, sometimes overwhelming soundscape, which made me very interested in seeing her again. 
There was a very different feel as soon as she started playing, her four-piece band creating a swirl of sound with her arty guitar to the fore, moving by seeming instinct through various sections and suites of sound. Electric Miles came to mind, with that same sense of an artist's vision being realized through the creativity of others. Not only has she made leaps since that night in 2018, she's also moved into a space beyond her last album. If she can capture what went on in Central Park, her next release will be a thing to behold.

McCraven is a jazz drummer, composer, and producer and a nexus of activity in Chicago. For all his incredible skill, my favorite project of his was a reimagining of I'm New Here, Gil Scott-Heron's last album, which came out in 2020 as We're New Again. Albums of his own material have left me a little cold, but I had a feeling he could bring it live. And I was not wrong, as he came out of the gate with power and passion, supported by an all-star band including Brandee Younger and Joel Ross on vibes, both of whom took several jaw-dropping solos. McCraven himself was incredible, either driving the band with an unstoppable pulse and precise accents, or taking explosive solos of his own. His new album, In These Times, is seriously good, but hearing the music breathe on stage is yet another thing. He's on an extensive U.S. and European tour in October and November - check the dates and make a plan.
Makaya McCraven leads from the kit in Central Park

I am that kind of nerd who got more interested in Sons Of Kemet after Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood started working with their drummer, Tom Skinner, in their new side-project(?), The Smile. His work is mind-expanding on their album and I was eager to hear what he could do in a freer context. Besides Skinner, Sons Of Kemet also includes Shabaka Hutchings on sax, Theon Cross on tuba and flute, and Edward Wakili-Hick, also on drums. Like McCraven, I've listened to their albums and not been entirely drawn in, but as night fell and the families with young children melted away, they made an instantaneous connection with my body, heart, and mind.

After a brief intro by Cross on flute, Hutchings started to blow and the drummers began creating patterns, sounding like a section of percussionists rather than two kit players. Then, Cross started wailing on his tuba(!), setting a foundation only to destroy it with seismic charges. It was collective improvisation with a singular purpose and seemed as if it would go on forever. 
Sons Of Kemet in the Midst in Central Park
They broke up the set with solo spots for all the players, but what stuck was that collective Dionysian throw-down that had the crowd moving muscles and bones that might have atrophied in the last two years - or that they never knew they had. It was cathartic and exhausting in all the best ways. One benefit of having our friends there is that they had their car with them and gave my limp body a ride home as my mind continued to percolate and process.

Sons Of Kemet's latest tour closed "this chapter of the band’s life for the foreseeable future" so I'm sorry for anyone who never got to see them. You can catch Skinner in The Smile and Hutchings, Cross, and Wakili-Hick have plenty going on so you can trace the threads of this inspired band.
All smiles in Ozawa Hall
August 7: Festival Of Contemporary Music, Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Lenox, MA, feat. Tanglewood Music Center Fellows, New Fromm Players, and Guests
This is the site of many of my first musical experiences, whether the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Pete Seeger, or that time my brother had to take me to see Seals & Crofts in 1973. Hannah is also an old hand as we used to go to these Sunday morning chamber concerts with some regularity over a decade ago. So when the stars aligned between us being in the Berkshires and Tanglewood being open, we did not hesitate.

Ozawa Hall was as gorgeous as always and, with most people wearing masks and the back wall open, we felt comfortable being inside. The program was typical for one of these events, with a great deal of variety and stunning playing from either fellows or guests. From Carlos Simon's string quartet, Warmth From Other Suns (2020), which opened the concert with pithy movements as concise as pop songs, to George Lewis' Born Obbligato (2013), a 25-minute piece for seven players with plenty of bright, busy swagger, it was a journey and a half by the time we left after noon. We also heard a set of Shakespeare Sonnets (2017) by Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, a fragment of John Harbison's Piano Sonata No. 2 (2001), and a spectacular world premiere of Andreia Pinto Correia's Cântico (2022) for solo violin, played by Yevgeny Kutik as if he were drawing it out of the air - and his own soul.
George Lewis (right) takes the ovation with the players in Ozawa Hall
Andile Khumalo's Cry Out (2009) also impressed with its wit and originality, from the styrofoam percussion at the opening to a memorable plucked piano note near the end, and Jesse Jone's Dark Is Yonder Town (2020) was a spellbinding bit of folk-lieder for tenor and guitar, performed to perfection by Matthew Corcoran and Dieter Hennings. It was a rich feast of music that sent us back home energized by the musical invention on display.

Tourists at home in Rock Center
September 17: IndiePlaza Festival, Rockefeller Center, feat. Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Automatic, Claud, Horsegirl, Yaya Bey, Mary Lattimore, They Hate Change, The Muckers, Sofie Royer, King Hannah, Anxious, The Bobby Lees, and Dazy
We bookended our summer with another first-time event, except we didn't have to win tickets to this one as it was "inclusive and free to all New Yorkers," according to Rough Trade and Rockefeller Center, who co-created it. While some were skeptical when Rough Trade moved from Williamsburg to midtown, I felt it was a fresh idea - but even I didn't envision them hosting concerts at the Rainbow Room or throwing a party on the plaza where the giant Christmas tree will soon be erected.

IndiePlaza was a two-day festival and the lineup for Saturday was incredibly well-curated, with several artists I've been wanting to see and others I was happy to discover through my pre-show research. It was thanks to that preparation that we showed up bright and early to see Dazy, a blurred and tuneful indie-guitar band from Richmond, VA, making their NYC debut at noon. When we entered at the South Plaza, we were greeted by cheery tents staffed by even cheerier people, whether reps from Rough Trade and Band Shirt Day, silkscreen printers making tote bags and t-shirts on the spot, and other vendors.

The stage was centrally located, near the skating rink, with a layout for the audience made somewhat awkward by the rostrum for the Christmas Tree, which was fenced off. This made for a fairly small area just in front of the stage with a long, empty gap behind us as we took our spot among the few other early birds. Dazy were worth the effort, too, well-drilled, but not too tight, and with a friendly stage presence. Memorable songs abounded, especially Rollercoaster Ride, one of their latest. Looking forward to their official debut, which comes out October 28th. Based on the enthusiastic response to their set, I'm sure I won't be alone.
The Bobby Lees are a bit conventional and Anxious has one vocalist who's a bit too growly for my taste so we took some time away from the stage to explore the crafts at the Band Shirt tent. Yes, I said crafts! We were given a rainbow's worth of permanent markers and blank 7-inch sleeves for us to decorate. I took the opportunity to finally make some protection for my rare copy of Pay To Cum, the Bad Brains debut single, and commissioned Hannah to do the same for my copy of Happenings Ten Years Time Ago by The Yardbirds. In a flight of fancy, I also made a cover for Underneath The Mango Tree, Monty Norman's Jamaican-style folk song from the Dr. No soundtrack, which I used to sing to my kids. No 45 of it exists, but if it did, I totally think it should have my Three Friends characters (Hippo, Rhino, and Elephant) on the cover.

Custom covers!
We also flipped through the crates at the Rough Trade tent and I picked up an exclusive pressing of Horsegirl's fantastic debut, since they were doing a signing later in the day. Then it was time for lunch, but we found food options to be exceedingly limited. The pizza truck was not yet up and running and the Other Half Brewery and City Winery locales only offered beer and wine along with seating. So we fired up Google and ordered sandwiches and tater tots to pick up from a nearby Melt, which gave us an excuse to head into the Rough Trade store and use their photo booth. That activity was one of several on an IndiePlaza bingo card that we filled in with enthusiasm. Lunch in hand, we went back to Other Half's beer garden, where Hannah had a draft and we both took advantage of the free water.

Just as we finished, it was time to get back to the stage to catch Liverpool's King Hannah, whose 2022 debut, I'm Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me, I've listened to a number of times, enjoying its sepulchral and hypnotic electric folk-blues. Their dark, mesmeric tunes, which also have a touch of Portishead in their makeup, took on a surreal edge in the sun struck plaza, with reflections bouncing off the surrounding buildings like shards from Craig Whittle's guitar and Hannah Merrick's intoned vocals casting a spell. A 30-minute set was just long enough for them to create their mood, but I look forward to seeing them again and really immersing myself in their sound.

While the stage was being reset, we explored the North Plaza, which had a booths run by the Williamsburg School of Music, where you could form a band and learn a song in 15 minutes, Vivobarefoot, where you could have your feet scanned (the one bingo item we didn't check off), and Death By Audio and Landscape, both displaying musical gear. When we returned, Sofie Royer was nearly ready to begin her show. She's an interesting case, having established herself as a tastemaker par excellence as a Boiler Room DJ, producer, and compiler of Sofie's SOS Tape in 2016, an up-to-the-minute collection of electronic hip hop and R&B, and now making her way as an artist herself. When I interviewed her for Mass Appeal in 2016 about the "art of the mix," she was studying at the University Of Vienna and I didn't get an inkling of this latest phase of her career.
That said, as devoted as I was to the SOS mix, especially for introducing me to Charlotte Dos Santos, I wasn't totally feeling Sofie's debut, Cult Survivor, which came out in 2020. However, newer songs were more promising and I was curious to see how she would bring them to the stage. The answer turned out to be a little uneven, as she seemed unsure whether to present herself as a pop-pixie or a Eurocentric chanteuse. The latter persona suits her better, so she charmed at the keyboard or when playing the violin yet felt a little out of place when just dancing. But the songs were an appealing mix of glam, Berlin theater songs, and electro pop and now that her new album, Harlequin, is out they sound even better. Perhaps, for the moment anyway, where Sofie truly shines is in the studio - nothing wrong with that. Definitely hit play on Harlequin and if you catch her opening for Toro Y Moi let me know what you think. And pay no attention to the guy in the clown nose - at least we tried not to!

We dashed back to the South Plaza for the Horsegirl record-signing and heard they were stuck in traffic - welcome to New York! But we were at the front of the line, which grew rapidly, so we kept our spot and got their signatures, which were as quirky and artistic as their music. One of them asked if Rough Trade gave me the record. "No," I answered, "I bought it..." "What a scam!" she exclaimed. "Hey, I was going to buy it anyway," I told them, "It's one of the best of the year! Plus, you benefit from the sale, right?" They couldn't argue with that, and eagerly turned to greet the next autograph-seeker.

The Muckers rock in Rock Center
Ever since falling for their debut, Endeavour, in 2021, I've had The Muckers on my must-see list and they were as great as I expected, throwing themselves into their riff-tastic rock with gusto. They have a wide-eyed quality, as if to say "can you believe we're doing this," which is immensely appealing.
We took a quick walk after their set to find some facilities, as the organizers themselves provided nothing in that regard. Fortunately, the Rockefeller Center mall has restrooms that were more than adequate. We also took a load off back at the craft table and made some bracelets using their fabulous array of beads.

Then I suddenly realized I hadn't had coffee, so we scootched over to the a coffee truck on the North Plaza. As we walked back, I overheard one of the members of avant-hip hop group They Hate Change put out a call for an RCA cable. Not a good sign...and by the time they solved the problem, they had only minutes left to play - what we saw was invigorating, but I was glad Rough Trade was running a tight ship and shut their set down at the appropriate time. Hopefully next time I see them they'll have all their cables.
Meditative harpist Mary Lattimore, who uses loops to build up ambient webs of sound, was on next, and played a sublime set. Our minds at peace, we found our stomachs making themselves known again so we went in search of dinner. The pizza truck was now closed (Oy!) so we hiked over to ever-reliable Uncle Paul's near Grand Central and got some slices there, which we enjoyed with wine and hard cider at the City Winery setup. Perhaps next time, the organizers will have more food available - and keep it open for the duration.

Due to the quest for food, we missed most of Yaya Bey's performance, but what we heard was great - if she's not on your neo-soul hotlist, correct that, stat. 
Horsegirl Weaving at Rock Center
But there was no way we were going to miss a second of Horsegirl and we found plenty of people who felt the same way when we got back to the stage. The trio inspired rapturous applause as they blasted through most of their repertoire with remarkable assurance for a young band. It was fun to watch how they created their weaves of sound, with front-women Penelope Lowenstein and Nora Cheng employing the distinctive tones of the Fender Bass VI when they weren't playing guitars. I was thrilled by their set and excited to learn they're leaving their beloved Chicago to become a New York band. Keep an eye out for more tour dates and hopefully you can see them when they're not opening for lesser bands.

Hannah was excited to see Claud, who I only knew about because of her expansive and compulsively listenable LGBTQ Pride playlist. Claud's breezy pop was a natural fit on the outdoor stage and their stage presence could only be described as adorable, whether hanging a pride flag from an unused microphone stand or rolling on the stage with glee. They seemed so completely delighted to be there that it was contagious. They were supported by a guitarist and drummer and the best songs had them on guitar as well, as the backing tracks were not as well integrated as when we saw Michelle. A bigger crowd also meant more of the concert-goer's anathema: people talking while the band is playing. If I can hear you and you're not talking to me, you're talking too loud! But I wouldn't hesitate to see Claud again and, had I known about it, would have included their album Super Monster on the Best Of Rock, Folk, Etc. in 2021.
It was after 9:00 PM and we were starting to droop, but the promise of Automatic's music was too enticing to bail so we rallied for one more set. And I'm glad we did, as the L.A. electro-pop trio presented their catchy songs, many from their new album, Excess, in a stylishly sleek and playful style that had the crowd bopping along, including me, suddenly reenergized by the motorik beat. They're on tour throughout October and I highly recommend you find a date near you. If you're a New Yorker, put Market Hotel on 10/14 with Omni in your diary.

While we felt a little bad abandoning the headlining DJ set by Ali Shaheed Muhammad, we'd been on our feet for most of 10 hours and had no gas left in our tanks, so we made our way to Fifth Avenue to get a cab. On the way, we discovered that the lifesaving underground bathroom was now closed, whoops! We followed someone else and found salvation in the place where they rent the roller skates. Noted for next year. Fortunately, when we rode by in our Lyft a little while later we heard enthusiastic cheers for Muhammad's mix of a Kanye West Pablo-era beat and we knew he and the audience were in good hands.

A blowout like IndiePlaza was the perfect way to put a bow on our hot live summer. Hopefully 2023 will be as generous to us. Until then, let me know the who-what-where-and-whens of your summer concert season. Maybe we just missed each other at one of the great shows described above!
Sun struck on Saturday at the IndiePlaza Festival

P.S. Catch up with all the videos above in this handy playlist.

No comments:

Post a Comment