November 24, 2010
As soon as Joanna Newsom scampered on stage with excitement about playing New York's pristine concert hall, it was clear it was going to be a special evening. Newsom's sprawling epics of grand stature sounded perhaps more at home in Carnegie Hall than any other venue she has played. Her heavenly whimsical lyrics and harp plucking were sometimes met with thunderous percussion and twisted guitar work that added brilliant complexity to her songs. Old favorites "Inflammatory Writ" and "Peach, Plum, Pear" were given new arrangements to fit the mood of her more recent record, the lavish Have One On Me. The evening was spent switching between the piano and harp which required extra tuning and allowed Joanna to be her chatty self and poke fun with her band mates. Even the dare I say simple songs (at least in comparison) off Milk Eyed Mender sounded rich and full and were played with such precision as little snaps and clicks from the drums were placed perfectly among blasting trombone and distinguished harmonies. Invigorating applause was given after the mesmerizing opener "Bridges and Balloon" and both tracks off of the (in my opinion) flawless Ys, however new tracks "Good Intentions Paving Company" and "Go Long" featured stunning and elegant vocal work against tight-knit song structures. For the encore the ensemble returned for a tremendous rendition of the rare "Colleen" adding the final touch to an exquisite evening.
Bridges and Balloons
Have One On Me
Good Intentions Paving Company
Peach, Plum, Pear
*photo from Brooklyn Vegan
November 19, 2010
Webster hall was in a bit of a frenzy tonight for the final stop on the Morning Benders massive tour in support of their excellent album Big Echo. Rising retro pop act Cults kicked off the evening with an all too short set (although they have yet to even release an E.P.) of throw-back wall of sound Phil Spector inspired pop jams that show nothing but promise. With a full length in the works for 2011, it is only a matter of time before the infectious surf riffs and soulful lead vocals really gain attention. Again the inadequate audio system at Webster plagued the group and an early start time of 7:00 did not allow for much of a show, but the group still managed to keep people bopping along.
Twin Sister brought the crowd towards the constellations for their stunning psychedelic dream-pop performance. Andrea Estella's hushed breathy vocals floated over the crowd while dripping guitar licks were blended with droned electronics putting the audience into a stellar daze. Stand out tracks "Ginger" "I Want a House "Lady Daydream" and set closer "All Around and Away We Go" were dazzling and rich of texture.
The Morning Benders played perhaps one of the most polished shows I have ever seen at Webster Hall. Their classic pop jems were drenched with reverb and echoed early sounds of the 1960s. Despite their intrinsic approach to blissful melodies, the quartet were able to generate a huge sound that rang through the hall. In the middle of their set they announced a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" which inspired an full on sing-a-long including guest vocals by Estella of Twin Sister. However it was the final song, a rousing rendition of "Excuses" that really clinched the night.
November 16, 2010
Upon first listen to Sufjan Stevens, it is apparent that nothing about him is simple. The progression of his work has done nothing but prove that notion and his live performance seals the deal. For the final stop on his first proper tour in several years, the grandiose nature of his recordings were brought to life by an eleven person backing band including ribbon twirlers, interpretive dancers, and a stereo arrangement of percussionists surrounding the ring leader himself at center stage. The show opened and closed with old classics; the slow banjo plucking of "Seven Swans" kicked off the evening before an onslaught of new material and the sensational "Chicago" was the lone encore. Despite the possible unfamiliarity of the new tunes, the show itself was a spectacle complete with stimulating visuals, complex backdrops, elaborate costume changes, and a full performance of The Age of Adz epic closer "Impossible Soul". There was witty banter between songs during which Mr. Stevens referred to his prophet grandfather who shot lightning bolts from his hands and feet and gave an extensive background of the artist whom inspired his latest work. Full rich dense textures of new favorites "Too Much" and "I Walked" took the crowd to the cosmos and folk ballad "Heirloom" was as light as a cloud. The crowd finally rose to applause as balloons fell from above at the end of the main set and an ever gracious and majestic Sufjan bowed before an embracing audience.