Threes Brewing Births New Star To Be In Brooklyn Country

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In my prior post talking about the visit I spent not too long ago listening to more underground music at Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing, I mentioned how much I owed the NYC area for the talent pipeline it’s provided me. Not just in the form of great musicians and potential networking possibilities, but also in some really amazing friends.

And I can think of no better friend to both my music journalism as well as personal life than the other person who was on the bill at the brewery that night, Amanda Neill. Amanda has provided myself as well as this little blog with openings and opportunities beyond which I could have ever potentially imagined on my own. She is one of this world’s great pure spirits, and if you are ever granted the opportunity to get to know her you will find your life made better for having done so.

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But her being one of the nicest people I’ve ever met aside, Amanda is also a musician with an absolutely ridiculous level of pure talent. I first watched her sing alongside Jamey Hamm in a Rockwood Music Hall performance with Barefoot & Bankside, then later did extensive work (including an interview that is a must-read on my blog) with Amanda, Mike Beck and Trisha Ivy regarding their sweet as apple wine country-folk trio Ivy, Beck & Neill. I’ve done pieces for both bands actually, all of which I highly suggest you take a peek at.

But I digress. That night at Threes was an especially momentous occasion, because it represented the first time Neill was going to be playing entirely new songs in a solo setting. Not TECHNICALLY solo as she was backed by Mike Beck and Dylan Sneed on guitars & piano, Rob Ritchie on bass and Jeff Rogers on drums, but solo in the sense that Neill was going to be front and center debuting her own songs under just her name for the very first time. The wheel of the ship was going to be entirely in her hands.

The anticipation buzzing around the room waiting for this moment was palpable, stretching all the way from the BK to Neill’s former home in Nashville. Quite literally thanks to the benefits of modern technology and Facetime.

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And once the set got rolling, that excitement immediately hit crackling electricity level as it took Neill no time at all to absolutely dominate the room like it was her second home. Seeing her onstage has always been a matter of pride watching her confidence and strength of musicality build up with each performance, but with a band at her back and solely her willpower as frontwoman to lead them…. seemed to take things to a whole new astral plane, imparting the group with a personality nearly as big as Neill’s own. Their sense of chemistry and flow was instantaneous, and that vibe made every member on the stage at Threes look like they were all playing the most locked in show of their musical lives.

With Sneed playing ferocious bottleneck blues leads, Beck laying down gorgeous piano lines and Neill dictating exact tempo to Rogers that vibe didn’t seem to be too far from the truth as the band danced like a finely tuned machine through tendrils of blues, folk, gospel and Tennessee roots country that was as much sultry as salt of the earth. Early versions of Neill’s “It Ain’t Easy” and “Good To See You” that I’d heard during our interview session last year emerged with a fresh new magic in their full band form, and meshed seamlessly into songs that were still just emerging fresh from the oven.

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Meanwhile Neill’s vocals were also eager to join the party, matching the band’s energetic intensity with a voice containing all the ragged edge and electricity of a Janis Joplin or Joe Cocker. And while those may seem like very broad strokes of comparison, the more you hear Neill sing the more you’ll hear that same world-weary, raspy husk that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s the type of vocal gift that’s always ready to rip up substandard, auto-tuned musical convention and smoke out the metaphorical innards at a moment’s notice.

But that’s just my opinion.

And while that may seem like a bit of grisly-minded comparison, to see Amanda take center stage for the first time was way more about much-deserved glory than guts. More beauty than blood, though when it comes to her songwriting you can sense the blood sweat and tears that get written into every single word.

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It takes pure passion to be that honest. Strength to be so vulnerable. And sheer ability to not just get up on stage, but to hit it like a storm that’s been waiting to strike with the strength of a cobra’s bite.

Neill’s set that night was Joni Mitchell after a lot of nights at the Tom Waits school of late night blues bars. It was the spiritual binding threads of the church of humanity, the equal purity of folk, the essence of country roots, and the joy of Neill’s own performing and songwriting heart (a joy that leapt easily into her band member’s many smiles). In a world of modulating machine beats, perfectly enhanced pitch and dumbed down Top 40 crayon formulas sketched clumsily from A to B, Neill’s solo set was dandelion seedlings amidst a perfect summer breeze. Equally as unafraid to love as to hurt as to bleed as to feel in all their untainted innocence.

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It felt like witnessing a spring bloom turn into the radiant flower it was always meant to be. And if anything, watching Amanda Neill the solo artist finally out on her lonesome put me in mind of two things.

1: That no matter the bands that come and go in New York City, Brooklyn country will always be safe as long as she’s around.

And 2: This was a night of an everlasting pandemonium of musical honesty that not only reverberated on that night, but has continued to for many nights ever since.

I still considered myself rocked.

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Pinkwing Brings Shimmering “Honey”, Darker “Salt” On Latest EP

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Mood music. Think about that phrase for a moment, and go to the band or artist in your mind that it first takes you to. Harder to pin down than you’d think right?

Or, I could ask you that phrase on the spot today and that first feeling could change by tonight, tomorrow, or the middle of the next week. Hell, it could change in the next minute for all I know.

Mood music is that thing within us all that is always changing it’s shape and bending to the nature of our will’s whim like silly putty, or that certain way trees have of dancing in the wind. Rarely is it a constant, and the deeper you go into music the less you would ever really want it to be.

At least that’s what I’ve found in my experiences anyway.

But if you were to ask me to think “mood music” right in this moment, in this very second as I write to you amidst one of the nicest, sunniest days of this early glimpse into summer, I would have to settle on the equally warm joyousness of soul found deep within the band Pinkwing’s latest EP Honey & Salt.

11713679_946728495391765_2321963311601934802_oFrom quite literally the first introductory breath, frontwoman Joanna Levine and company start the record on an uplift with the infectiously catchy, almost folk-like tale of “The Reverend Robert Pawlings”. Based on Levine’s real life husband and bandmate of the same name (which you can learn more about here), “Pawlings” is a sweetly horn-accented, tongue in cheek love letter of a song that climaxes within an audience of voices singing spaciously in unison.

As far as initial greetings go, “Pawlings” is the toe-tapping, ear-worming, sing-a-long, hook of an engraved invitation that’s ready to take you on a ride through the rest of the EP.

12027134_994293443968603_2250725989558392233_oNot to be outdone, the next track “Enough” takes down the tempo and has it reside within a swinging, bluesy roadhouse waltz that acts as the perfect vehicle for Levine’s versatilely murmuring vocals. And while “Pawlings” is engaging due to the strength of it’s energy, “Enough” has such an enrapturing cadence to it that it’s nearly impossible not to be drawn into the song’s gradually unfurling, introspective trance and swirling slide guitar solo.

These first two songs make an excellent example of the template for the rest of Honey & Salt for the most part, as it’s an EP that’s sown together with sections that are folky, alt-pop/rock hinting, blues-heavy, contemplatively evocative, and with plenty of grittiness just starting to surface.

That undertow of something sharper and more lo-fi leaning comes out the strongest in “Prettiest Pictures”, which has plenty of sharp electric guitar lines and an angst-filled yearning that hits with the strength of a lonely walk on an uneven sidewalk at 2 AM. Or in the way that initial stream of water hits you from the shower head after a hard day just trying to scratch a little closer to the world you dream of for yourself.

11999619_974146279316653_4846111436610340020_oIn my interview with Levine she had spoken of wanting to take Pinkwing in a direction that was less cleanly folk-oriented and more battered-up blues, and I for one would be eager to listen to the band diving into those rockier edges. Because even with as pretty as songs like closer “All Night” or “Enough” are in their polished state, I sense even more possible depth for this band the more they might choose to explore that worn-thin vulnerability.

Though when it comes to the magnetic quality of Levine’s vocalisms, I could just as easily see her thriving in a stripped down to the acoustic bare bones setting (a la Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska) in the case of some of these tracks.

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But regardless, Honey & Salt is the perfect epitome of today’s mood music. So sit back, get yourself a glass of something ice cold, enjoy the sun, and pair some Pinkwing right along with it.

There are few better ways I can think of to bring in the season properly.

 

Shaking The Dust Off My Interview Feathers With Pinkwing’s Joanna Levine

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Spring transitioning into summer is usually one of those times where people dread spiraling weather patterns, dodge rain like someone unknowingly moved them into the heart of downtown Seattle, and start to gradually plan out fireworks, yearly beach trips and a surprising amount of egg salad they plan to prepare.

However in the case of yours truly, while I do enjoy a few of those aforementioned items I tend to focus on the coming year of music. And while we’ve already had a few records more than worth mentioning, this point of time starts to be the transition where tours really start to heat up, releases drop like flies every few weeks, and musicians start making their respective moves (earlier than noon one would hope, though I can’t vouch for that since I’m usually asleep).

Regardless, it’s a fun time and it’s especially fun when you’re a music journalist that’s really started to make connections with the underground talent still paying it’s dues. As someone still gladly working hard to pay my own dues each and every single day, I identify with these wonderful folks much more closely than those artists who have major record deals or a top single on the iTunes charts.

No offense to them, but I understand the fight to succeed in your niche with much greater sharpness of clarity at this point in my life. And anytime I get to connect or talk to someone else fighting that same battle, I feel like it not only brings those of you reading this greater content, but also brings that community of us just a little bit closer together.

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So on that note, after a bit of an OTBEOTB hiatus I’m glad to return with an interview I conducted recently with the wonderful Joanna Levine, AKA the frontwoman of the Brooklyn bands Pinkwing and Joannas ‘n Bananas. Among other things we get to talk about those bands, her last Pinkwing EP Honey & Salt, a bit of musical background, and much much more. Enjoy!

1. So leading off, I like to start with the nuts and bolts and get straight into the basics. How did you end up getting into music as a career path, and what influenced you into making the jump from playing/learning in private to wanting to take that to stages to share with people? I know you describe the band’s influences as “times, places, people, stories, love, lust, confusion, heartbreak, and pancakes”, and since that piques my interest quite a bit more than the usual list of bands or artists musicians usually cite, I’m highly intrigued by that creative… vortex of thought there.

(JL): I got started, I think, by writing poetry in high school. I also quit piano lessons and was originally forced to pick up guitar by my mom, who wanted me to continue with any instrument. I was 12- I ended up quitting then too- but picked it up again around age 14 when I realized I wanted to accompany myself singing. Started out just learning open chords. I think I wrote my first song when I was 17. and my second when I was 20 or so. My guitar playing and songwriting career has been a series of starts and stops. But I did start playing open mics when I was at school for theatre studies at York University in Toronto. I remember being so nervous and my hands shaking so bad I could barely get through all the way through a song. I think I always wanted to perform, despite growing up as a somewhat introverted/shy kid.

My first actual band was with my friend Alana Livesey when we were living in Beijing, China. We played a few gigs and recorded a few covers and the first original songs I ever wrote.

Then I moved to NY in the late summer of 2006 for design school and started dating a trumpet player (Justin Davis) who introduced me to more musicians and encouraged me to start pursuing music more seriously. New York is pretty amazing like that. It gave me permission to pursue ambitions that I never allowed myself to indulge before- because of upbringing or preconceived notions of what’s realistic. I met a lot of people who were playing out and quickly realized how badly I wanted to as well. I kept asking people to join my band and they usually said yes. By the time I finished school I had no intention of following the path I had moved to NY pursue and started trying to figure out how to play and write as much music as possible.

The influences I sited are part joke part truth. The past 10ish years in NYC have felt like several lifetimes- multiple relationships, apartments, career-paths, friend circles. It’s so transient. It makes me feel like a survivor just to have stayed for so long. Most of the friends I made in my first 5 years have left. I don’t eat as many pancakes as I used to, I’m both happy and sad to report *laughs*. 

2. And as a bit of an add on to that question, was it playing an instrument that led you into writing songs? Or were you writing first and playing an instrument just came after that?

(JL): I played guitar and wrote poetry separately (to deal with teen angst!). It felt funny- kind of just an experiment when I wrote my first few songs. I didn’t realize it would become a lifetime fascination. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just fucking around. honestly I’m still just fucking around. I have pretty limited music theory knowledge, I’m told it’s not necessarily an impediment- I’ve been told that too much theory in your head can really create a block too. At first I was frustrated by my limitations, but then I started embracing the simplicity- I love country and blues and roots music. That stuff isn’t complicated. So now I just try to shut up my inner critic and try to get back in touch with the ‘just messing around’ mentality.

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3. What led to the formation of Pinkwing itself? I know in your bio you state that you’re mostly a duo in more intimate venues and a quartet for the “rowdier stages”. How did that all come together, and is there a story behind the name Pinkwing itself? I’m always curious about unusual or interesting band names and how they came to be chosen.

(JL): I released my first Pinkwing EP before I met Rob (Pawlings). With some friends in Toronto backing me up. My former band, the Collectors felt like it was falling apart and I, for some reason, I felt the need to move home to Toronto for a bit- it didn’t stick- I moved back after 5 months. But I recorded the Restless EP there. I tried to bring on other band mates when I moved back but i was just floating, nothing stuck. Until I met Rob. We starting playing together shortly after we starting dating, joined by a few of his friends- Paul Madison and Kenny Shaw, great guitarist and drummer, respectively. Rob has a really wonderful and talented circle of musician friends I feel very lucky to have met. We got married 2 years ago so now he is my bass player and co-creator for life *laughs*.

Our friends Vinnie Presite and Andrew Rosario started joining us regularly last year and it’s a warm fuzzy harmonious line-up. I love those guys- Vinnie is an old friend of Rob’s from Utica and Andrew is an old friend of Vinnie’s from playing on cruise ships and is also from Toronto. I’m pretty stoked have those guys as they’re just great dudes and great musicians.

The name Pinkwing comes from a symbol I’ve loved for a long time- a flying pig that John Steinbeck used to stamp on his essays and letters with the latin phrase ‘ad astra per alia porci’ which means ‘to the stars on the wings of a pig’. He described himself as ‘a lumbering soul trying to fly’, I guess I identify with it. I liked it so much I got it tattooed on my back (just the pig).

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4. Now being that you’re in a band, what is that collaborative environment like amongst your bandmates? Are you more of the solo artist and the band just sorta follows along with the vision you’ve got for your music, or is that an equal opportunity environment? And how would you say that influences the multiple genres you touch on within EP’s like your newest “Honey & Salt”?

(JL): Well… I’m definitely the songwriter- all the songs I play with the guys are songs I wrote before I met them. Most of them were recorded before we started playing with Vinnie and Andrew- so I guess they play go for the vibe that is on the recordings to a degree but they are all experts at their instruments- so they definitely add their own tone to the songs- then songs that haven’t been recorded they definitely arrange their own parts. We just started working on a new song that I hadn’t played with a band before- so it’s the first time that we’re working out the arrangement as a totally collaborative process. It’s been really fun- I’m excited to write a bunch more new songs in the next year to work out together.

5. Now speaking of your latest EP (which is on pretty constant rotation here at OTBEOTB), what’s the story behind your lead song “The Reverend Robert Pawlings”? Because judging by the song he sounds like a pretty resourceful guy, and I notice he also happens to play bass in Pinkwing. Now is Robert a real Reverend (in addition to his many other alleged skills), or is there some deeper story to that?

(JL): The Reverend Robert Pawlings, as you may have guessed by now, is tribute to my husband of the same name. Yes he is an ordained internet Reverend *laughs*. He’s married several of his friends. The song was my wedding gift to him, which I recorded on the sly with our friend Jon Jetter at his Right Angle Studios in NYC, and enlisted the help of all Rob’s friends to sing/play for him at our wedding. Rob is a really special person. He has more energy and a bigger heart than anyone I have ever met. He keeps me grounded.

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6. I know we’re a little behind the ball in talking about your latest music (“Honey & Salt” dropped back in August of 2015). But if anything, I think it provides an interesting window into how the music matures over time. I find that to be one of the hardest parts of reviewing new music on a release day unless I’ve had a few weeks to study it, because it’s just too fresh to settle into where it should ultimately be right at that moment. How do you feel looking back at this latest EP compared to when you started making music? How do you feel it’s evolved, how do you feel you’ve evolved, and how do you feel like this music is “settling” so to speak looking back at it now?

(JL): The Honey & Salt EP is kind of a patchwork. it was recorded/mixed in 3 different studios. I think I learn something every time I release something. I love each of the songs on this album and I loved collaborating with the people who helped us put it together. I think my sensibilities have started to settle in… the musical direction I want to continue to pursue is there… I love blues rock. I want the next album we release to be a full length album- and I want it to be fucking gritty. I wrote SO many sad, folky songs for so long. I’m pretty sick of them. I want to write and record a roots and blues rock album next. It’ll still have a little bit of folk and country feel, But I’m really trying to move away from that and into more up-tempo blues rock.

7. You’re the first musician I’ve ever had the privilege to metaphorically sit down and interview who happens to have an additional children’s music side project band called Joannas ’n Bananas. After listening to and loving your cover of Raffi’s “Baby Beluga” (complete with bubbles and kazoo solo), how do you end up having a children’s music side project band in the first place? Especially balanced against a pretty serious minded Americana-blues band in Pinkwing? I think it’s a really interesting contrast and I’d love to hear the backstory.

(JL): After abandoning the fashion industry and getting fired from several serving jobs, I started working as a nanny. Shortly thereafter I began teaching an early childhood music program called ‘music together’ . Eventually I began offering my own kids’ sing-alongs, occasionally joined by Rob and hence Joannas ‘n Bananas was born (Bananas is one of Rob’s many nicknames- Bobby Bananas). Teaching kids classes is still my bread and butter. I do it more and more- actually in the process of developing a new program I’ll be offering in Westchester starting this spring called Monkey Music ‘n Play. It takes up a lot of my time! It’s kind of a struggle to balance the two… I have a hard time deciding what I should be working on- the kids stuff is a lot more profitable- It’s hard to make a living playing the Pinkwing tunes- and I like teaching. It’s just a constant balancing act. I love Joannas ‘n Bananas but I wish I had more time to give to Pinkwing development too.

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8. Also I have to ask, who’s a better audience, the adults or playing for the kids?

(JL): Kids, if you can get and hold their attention, are a magical audience. They will straight up stand half a foot from your face and stare at you for an entire song. There is no filter and no sense of social convention. I love little kids.

9. Getting back into Pinkwing again, how does the creative process for new songs work for you exactly? Going back to question two for a moment, is it a matter of music coming before words, or do words develop that need to be set into music in your mind? I’m always very curious about that because I find that the question is very different for everyone I’ve asked, especially for people in a band.

(JL): I think I usually play around with chord progressions and then add lyrics. These days- I usually set out to write something specific. I like sitting down with a thematic goal in mind. To be totally honest I have written more kids songs than adult songs in the last year. Which is really fun and kind of freeing- I’m not really worried about a kids’ song being too simple. The simpler the better. But I really really want to get back to writing more Pinkwing tunes. The older I get the more conscious I need to get about how I spend my time. I think the only way I will sit down and carve out that time to write is if I spend money on a rehearsal space or make a song-writing date with a friend. It’s really something that’s at the forefront of my mind lately. Because I refuse to accept the notion that my most prolific period might be behind me. Fuck that. I just need to figure out a better system to get around to writing.

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10. And lastly, I know it’s only been about six months since your last EP, but are you already looking at future plans and songs for the next record? And what gigs and live stuff can people look forward to seeing you play at next if they like the record and want to see the music up close and in person?

(JL): We just moved into a house in Westchester with a great basement with a built-in vintage bar that We are slowly turning into a studio- I would love to release at least a single by the fall. and hopefully another album within the next year. Like i said, I need to write a bunch more new tunes. It’s happening. I’m excited to get set-up in the basement and record a whole album in one location.

We are playing quite a bit over the spring and summer- next up: brooklyn may 27, pete’s candy store, brooklyn june 3, rockwood music hall, NYC june 10, the back door, old forge, ny july 16th, the grape room, phillidelphia, pa

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Humongous, BIGGEST of BIG thanks to Joanna Levine of Pinkwing and Joannas ‘n Bananas for sitting down to interview with me! I love the content of doing this stuff as well as getting to know the artist, and I hope that you do too!

For more on Joanna, you can look up (and like!) either of her bands on Facebook, and by all means go and purchase the lovely Honey & Salt Pinkwing EP over on their Bandcamp page! If you do, not only are you doing the awesome thing of supporting independent artistry, but you might also get something as cool as this for buying the physical CD!

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The Lord Binds The Broken: Sessions With Ivy, Beck & Neill

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It’s All Happening….

I first (partially) meet up with the band Ivy, Beck & Neill and it’s principal members Trisha Ivy, Mike Beck and Amanda Neill out on the laid back city streets of Park Slope in Brooklyn. Ivy and Neill are both leaving work on this particular late season evening, and the plan is to drive over to Beck’s studio “The Refuge” in Gowanus to tour the setup, talk a bit about the band’s debut release Live at Rockwood Music Hall, as well as delve back into the history of what brought this tightly tuned trio together.

Think of it as two parts tell-all, and one part gentle mediation.

Anyway, after some debate about our plan for the evening (and a stop to a McDonalds and gas station later), we arrive at Refuge Recording in the ex-industrialized Gowanus area of Brooklyn with plenty of necessary equipment in tow. Quality beer being right at the head of that list (it’s an excellent interview aid after all).

Shortly after Beck lets us in and shows us up the stairs, through a bustling apartment of lights, activity and a nearly movie theater quality projector screen, and into a small yet charmingly assembled studio space. It’s nearly the complete opposite mood of what we walked through just moments before, and at once feels as peacefully contemplative as it is creative. Looking around I notice how instruments of all shapes and sizes fit in neatly like stacked puzzle pieces against hardwood floors, monitors, a comfortable couch and enough tech to keep any musical gearhead salivating.

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From that point on it was easy to break the ice and ease into our back and forth for the evening after initially comparing notes on small town living, the cost of upright bass players, potential podcasts, and debating the gig the group had played the evening before. Oh, and figuring out who the person was that had even brought us all together in the first place. But that’s another story.

Introductions & New Beginnings

Once the floor had gotten past it’s opening banter for the night, it was time to discuss what makes this band tick. Namely, what were the origins that took three individual musicians and made them into the fluid country/folk Voltron Transformer that they are today?

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Well according to Ivy, IB&N was initially started as a backing band blueprint to further her solo career after cutting a record down in her hometown of Nashville at the time. She had already known Beck following some previous musical excursions together, and Neill was a friend of a friend coming courtesy of another local Brooklyn musician named Jamey Hamm.

With a show for her solo material fast approaching and the need for a band imminent, Ivy got together with Beck and Neill at Refuge with the idea being that Beck would play (along with a drummer and bassist), and Neill would sing backup as she tended to do with a lot of area bands. However when the initial trio came together the first time to simply rehearse vocals, they found not only an immediate sense for harmonies, but also an existing electricity in their unison that extended well past a simple backing band and it’s solo artist.

Or as Ivy succinctly put it, “We just nailed it.” 

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And that “it” quickly turned into deciding to create a song together that very first night. So as they sat together writing on the floor of Refuge (allegedly aided by a fair amount of whiskey), both Ivy and Beck were taken aback when Neill was gradually coaxed into revealing an excerpt of a gorgeous song idea she’d been holding onto previously called “Blame It On The Whiskey”. And while it was initially thought that Ivy would sing it as a part of her originally planned show after it was complete, as time went on the only vocal that worked on the cut was Neill’s.

Listen to “Blame It On The Whiskey”

As Ivy explained it, “The way that she sings that song, you believe her. And while it meant something to us all in a different way as we wrote it together, it was her initial story that it came from and was meant to come from her voice. And it just made it so, the way she sang it was the way it was meant so be sung. And that was the first time I’d really felt that in a collaboration before.”

Beck adds, “It was the first moment it felt like we were a group”. 

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Having written lyrics in large part since high school, Neill was well-versed in the subject but was discouraged in the years after by the amount of writers around her. Thus, she only considered herself a singer and would simply make audio recordings of her lyrical ideas that would get gradually discarded. Fortunately “Whiskey” was one of her then-latest that not only led to it being the first song of IB&N’s infancy, but also proved to be an outlet where Neill’s unexpected writing skills could freely flex their creative muscle. 

Music & The Ties That Bind

It became a full fledged writing addiction after that for the newly forged group, as a later full-band noodling around session led to delving into Beck’s personal story and the creation of “If You Ever Leave Me”. The song features each of the trio on lead vocals separately dealing with some post-breakup blues (“I like that those lyrics truthfully came from our separate stories”, Neill says), and if nothing else one of the greatest things about listening to the band talk about their process is the amount of real, honest-to-god backstory.

Take a listen to “If You Ever Leave Me”

There’s so much honesty infused into everything they do, both lyrically and emotionally.

As Beck describes it, “Our songs are like therapy sessions for us”. And that immediately becomes evident as the three describe early writing sessions that “might take other bands an hour” stretching into five or six as they would not only write, but bond over the experiences that led to each new song’s respective creation.

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“It was the year of a thousand tears”, Ivy jokes, but behind the humor is a sincerity and a deep familial connection formed between the three as a result. That same connection and therapeutic sense of catharsis hangs heavily on their Live at Rockwood release as well, though that didn’t come without it’s fair share of learning in the process and growing pains felt both together and individually.

“We had our dark moments, but it’s nice cause it’s not fake,” Neill says quietly, “It was all part of it, cause we’ve all seen the bad sides of each other. That’s part of the beauty of when the good times are great, because it makes the good times that much better.”

For Ivy, it all came down to learning to let go. “It was really difficult for me because I’d been doing solo work for such a long time, and I’ve had bad collaboration experiences in the past. I love collaborating. It’s just easier when you can control everything yourself and you don’t have to worry about playing well with others or having to mutually decide what direction a song is going in. It was difficult to relinquish control and trust we were all going to go in the same direction at some point and trust that we all had the same goal for the song. Which was honesty and vulnerability and that sort of magic which makes it something different that people need to hear”. 

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Afterwards we talk about the defining musical influences for the band, and that sense of relinquishment and need for mutual connection comes up again in Ivy’s love of Patty Griffin. “The first time I heard Patty Griffin I thought to myself, ‘I want to write songs that make people feel what that made me feel like'” she says, “and that’s kinda carried me through and played a part in every song I’ve ever written. You just don’t know if they’re gonna get that along with you, but I’ve been lucky enough to find people who have the exact same goal in mind. And that control got easier to let go of, the more I got to know them.”

For Neill it was the opposite issue, as she’d never really had that type of platform before or the freedom to really state what she wanted her goals to be musically. “Trisha always says I was never jaded about the process. I’m just always grateful, ya know? I guess for me the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do is songwriting. And despite the two of us being women songwriters in music, we’ve never clashed over that because we’re two totally different sounds and styles. I think that’s why we work together, because we aren’t trying to do the same thing and we’re still not the same.”

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Where’s a Music Nerd When You Need One….

While when it comes to Mike Beck, his more cloudy swirl of influential sounds seems to coincide well with his role as the musical glue holding the trio in place. At first he mentions having parents who were into listening to musical theatre, and as a result growing up around a lot of the Great American Songbook.

“He loves piano bars,” Neill jokes.

But then he mentions really being a quote unquote “music nerd”, who traveled through a big phase of blues (and playing in blues bands), covering James Taylor’s Greatest Hits on his 4-track in high school (“the first time I was really moved into playing folksy sounding guitar”, he explains), and having a deep love of classic rock.

deep love.

“Almost every single time we bring up a song and start writing it, Mike will play the chords and then go into a classic rock song,” Ivy says, miming Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”, “Oh, this song but it’s also this song!”

“Well you guys do seem to write “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” a LOT”, Beck retorts jokingly.

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All joking aside though, Beck is musically trained with a degree from Berkley and has a strong instinct for bonding composition and arrangements to the lyrics of both Ivy and Neill.

As Neill explains, “One thing I feel so fortunate to have is that if I ever have an idea for a song, I’ll ask Mike what he thinks and he’s so talented instrumentally that he quickly takes that idea and makes it into the beginnings of a song.”

“He just has a vision for where a song should move. It’s really nice to have.”

It’s quite an interesting relationship in that way for the three, as Beck laments being “too technical” at times and having perhaps a bit too much musical education when it comes to working on new ideas for the band. While on the other hand, Ivy admits that it’s nice because it helps keep she and Neill working within a logical hemisphere of music when they need to be “wrangled in”. Eventually they often just meet in the middle anyway.

“I’ve sort of learned how to understand what their weird ideas are through the lens of what people are used to hearing”, Beck says.

Ivy adds, “He kinda basically makes our ideas that we can’t musically make happen on our own… happen. He’s the Bridgeman. He just loves making music, he’s the quintessential producer that way. That’s how his mind is geared, and that’s a lot of what you hear in his work producing Live at Rockwood.”

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The Science of Production

And when referring to Beck’s inner “music nerd”, there was no bigger moment to see it emerge then when he lit up talking about Rockwood and those very production aspects.

“So… well Rockwood is such a fancy venue, Ken Rockwood spares no expense in making the place sound beautiful and having the best gear,” Beck says, “So not only can they get great sound but they have a fancy rig up in the back to record shows with. So if you pay like $100 or something they’ll just press record and put it on a thumb drive and give it to you.”

“So I got that, and it sounded pretty good but it’s live so it’s not perfect. But after doing some tricky stuff with my gear here (as he gestures to the consoles) I could just sorta goose it up and make it sound polished and pro. The hard part is that all the drum and bass parts are in all the vocal mics too, so if you do anything to the those or vice versa… it all becomes sort of a juggling act. Fortunately there are ways around that.”

He continues, “Initially the thought was we were going to use the bare bones of the recording and build stuff or fix stuff to make it sound more like a record. But in the end we just ended up using what happened that night, cause it was more than good enough. All it really came down to was technical and audio fixes to make it sound full and like a record, but like it was still right in the room where you could sense the audience and that big space.”

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When The Willow Stops Weeping

After a bit more bantering with the band (and another beer or two being passed around) we once again go further into the emotional depth of the record, and arrive at probably one of the most poignantly meaningful exchanges of the night. At first, it begins with favorite songs for each of the band on the Rockwood release

For Neill, “To be honest, my favorite of all the songs are the slower sad ones. Like the ones that get real honest. While the other ones are fun I would cut them out entirely if I could. The most upbeat one I enjoy is “Texas”, but it still starts the way that I like best. It just always feels right.”

Adds Ivy, “I think that “Texas” is probably my favorite song on the record too.”

And Beck chimes in, “I love “Blame It On The Whiskey” because it was our first song together, and it makes me love you guys. And I love “Play Me A Record”. I think it’s just very well constructed from a songwriter-y perspective. But I also love “One Day at a Time”, because the slow stuff is really where we’re at our best.”

Listen to “Texas” & “One Day at a Time”

But truthfully the best may still be yet to come for this trio song-wise, especially when I pose a question to Ivy about an older song of hers called “Weeping Willow” and it’s recent sequel “When The Willow Stops Weeping”. “When The Willow Stops Weeping” is a bonus track that originated after Rockwood was finished and has not yet been formally recorded. But the story behind it makes needing it in the world that much stronger and more deeply essential.

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As Ivy explains it, “Weeping Willow was the first song I ever wrote with Brian Elmquist. I wanted to learn how to play guitar, he wanted to write songs, so I suggested writing songs together and he could teach me to play guitar. That never happened, we just ended up getting carried away in writing songs together instead. And I had just been through a heinous breakup, and as a songwriter I’d kinda written some…. stuff. But I had not yet figured out how to write what I was going through in the moment. I could write how I wanted to with things that had happened in the past, but if it was happening to me now I couldn’t do that.”

She adds, “I would give Brian most of the credit for pushing and teaching and pulling that out of me, because I had gone and sat under a willow tree in Park Slope and just written pages and pages of lyrics and all this stuff to do with this breakup. And, I got into this writing session with Brian and flipped past it. But he got it out of me and pushed me into being able to open and unlock that door in my songwriting. And so we wrote Weeping Willow.”

“Fast forward to now and a few months after cramming for the Rockwood record. We were exhausted and had taken a month off. We were burnt out essentially. And we were doing a bunch of shows later to play out the record, and some friends of ours had things happen. Two stories basically, the first being my little cousin dying in an accident, which wrecked my whole family. And my grandmother had died in the last few years, my brother had passed…. it was just a lot of heavy losses in my family. And it was just too much.”

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“And not being with my family (back in Tennessee) I couldn’t go to the funeral, and just knowing my family was falling apart and not being able to be there…. and then, a couple of friends of ours Kanene and Katherine had their friend from college kill himself. And them just kinda sharing their story with us and how hard and swift that had hit them… out of the blue. They had no idea. And all of that kind of happening at the same time… my family had gotten together at the time. And my cousin’s Mom asked me to write a song following her passing.”

“I was anxious about it because we weren’t very close and I didn’t really have a major connection with her, but after a while this other stuff with our friends came up and I just started thinking about it all over again. Family, friends…. people who had lost. That can’t be replaced, and how sad life can be. And when we first started writing the song, it was really depressing. I mean as it starts out, but I feel like we had come to a certain place and a maturity in our songwriting where there was still hope.”

Neill interjects, “You have a chance to speak life into people. You’ve been given the platform of the stage and you can use it for whatever you want. But you have a chance to speak life…. to do something for somebody that’s true and good. And leave them with some kind of hope. And that’s like the best feeling in the world.”

Ivy continues, “It was that way with “Texas”, and “With The Willow Stops Weeping”…. it started out just sadness. And then we decided where we wanted it to go.”

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“The Lord binds the broken, he won’t leave you the same”, murmurs Neill, quietly singing a line from “Willow”.

Ivy concludes, “And writing a different story, and a different ending. That song is one of the most honest things I’ve ever written. It’s definitely very true to how my life is completely different from what it used to be. Different from the darkest of times, and that song in three or four minutes was just the way of telling someone else the story of my life. And how everything was taken, and somehow…. I was able to see that it doesn’t always have to be that way. Not everything good has to always end.”

Sit and behold a live Rockwood version of “Willow”

Fun With Stupid Questions…. And The Road Ahead

And that was like listening to a statement that puts all other statements to shame with it’s power and sheer… soul-wrenching honesty. Eventually though (much like what I’d been talking with IB&N about all night) we did emerge from that emotional darkness and ended the night on something a little lighter.

Namely, the Stupid Question Lightning Round. And while that may seem, well, stupid, I ended up learning a lot from the fine folks in Ivy, Beck & Neill. Such as there being a majority preference in the group for the Rolling Stones over the Beatles, that dragons held the vote over zombies in which was more awesome, that Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, and Elliott Smith were top choices in favorite 90’s bands, that no one particularly cared for either the Mets or Yankees, which Jonas is Beck’s favorite (Joe… it’s a long story), and memories of Michael Jackson’s death that either evoked great stories or no recollection at all.

Or an MJ joke that I can’t repeat here in print.

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Hint: Garfield wasn’t responsible.

But all in all, it was an evening of great storytelling, music, and something that by the end felt less like an interview and more like friends sharing equal dosages of their light and dark in how they got to this point.

As Neill put it as our interview was winding to a close, “ I wanna do music for the rest of my life. It’s more than therapeutic, it’s like-“

“-becoming who you were supposed to be. That this… was always going to be.” Ivy finishes the thought, and ends it on a note of stark truth that rings equally strong for the both of them.

And as for LP number two?

“We’ve got about five or six songs up our sleeve” Neill says, adding with a laugh, “It’s just too much fun!”

And if it’s one thing I learned this night at Refuge Recording as I later leave and head back out into the quiet of a New York City night, fun is a big part of when you’re around these three.

Too much fun, indeed. 11816281_480369432127080_379973624232207851_o

Photos are courtesy of a variety of sources including myself, Mara Schwartz (for whom I dedicate this piece to), and bits and pieces from the band. For more on Ivy, Beck & Neill search them on Facebook, tweet their Twitter, and buy their record on Bandcamp, iTunes, and any sensible retailers that digitally carry “Live at Rockwood Music Hall”. Available now. 

Ivy Beck & Neill Prepared To Wow; Break Hearts at Weekend Release Show

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As some of you who’ve read this blog in the past may know, I have a great deal of affection for the sights, sounds, and beautiful experiences that have been my adventures into the land of Brooklyn underground music.

There’ve been the eye-opening discoveries, the intimate venues, the music that’s stirred my soul, and the wonderful friends that have come out of having all three. This weekend’s event is certainly no exception to those rules, and happens to feature my latest loves Ivy Beck & Neill.

Earlier this month I first had the pleasure of seeing the country/folk power trio play a brief set in support of their upcoming release Live at Rockwood Music Hall. Now you’ve likely already read my lavish praise on the musical talents of one of IB&N’s lead vocalists Amanda Simpson Neill. Neill also plays in an edgier folk/rock band called Barefoot & Bankside, and her gravelly, Janis J meets Melissa Ethridge croon played a prominent part in my review piece a couple of months ago raving about their respective set at Rockwood.

However when I saw IB&N in August, those edges were softened a bit as Neill instead paired up on three part folk harmonies with Trisha Ivy and Mike Beck. And while Neill still brings that bluesy growl, Ivy complements it with something that I can only begin to describe as…. blissfully angelic. A voice that can soothe you to daydream then tear apart your emotions with it’s power by the next line in the verse.

The two together (with Beck being the glue that holds it all in place) are like fire and ice. Thunder and lightning. Elements that begin and end each other like that’s what they were meant to do since time began. Voices so strong and so filled with purpose that even the noisiest room would sound like a pin was dropping just to clear the way for it.

And when all three get to harmonizing (as with the unbearably gorgeous “When The Willow Stops Weeping”), the windows and walls of your emotional center will be blown open with a rocket launcher. Apart the three are talented, but together…. they make me glad that music is a thing that’s still as alive and well in this world as it’s ever been.

Go and check out Ivy Beck & Neill at their Live at Rockwood Music Hall joint record release show with the Alex Mallett Band in Brooklyn this weekend. They’ll be playing at 7:30 PM Saturday at the Jalopy Theatre. You’ll be sad if you miss out!

 

 

 

Rochester’s Roses Stir The Hearts of Rockwood Faithful

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So it’s another day and time for another music report filed from the depths of the gritty urban jungle that is New York City.

Last time around of course featured the brilliant country folk-rock of Brooklyn’s Barefoot & Bankside, as they tore up Manhattan’s Rockwood Music Hall and left a smoldering ruin of blistering musicality in their wake.

Sticking with that underground scene (and Rockwood once again), I dropped by Stage 1 recently to see the delicately gorgeous folk-pop of Roses & Revolutions. The duo of Alyssa Coco and Matt Merritt hold a place close to my heart as they happen to reside north of where I’m from in Rochester NY, and I feel like I’ve gotten to really become familiar with them simply by the many times our paths have happened to cross.

Whether it was opening for bands right in Rochester, Ithaca or Geneva, the twosome has only evolved musically and gotten better each and every single time I’ve seen them. So when I realized I’d be bumping into them AGAIN (this time a bit further away from home), I eagerly jumped at the chance to see what they could do in a “solo” style set.

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And while it was over in about a blink of an eye (spanning 45 minutes in total), the pair made the most out of every note they were given. In a room that was little more than a bar and a few places to sit in front of the stage, R&R filled that space to it’s rafters in sound. Their love of music and passion for what they create made every square inch of capacity feel jam-packed. For that brief span of time, they made Rockwood as personal as their home.

In fact, it wouldn’t have mattered if Stage 1 were a hall closet or an arena swarming with adoring fans. Either way I felt immersed in the intimacy of the performances; held captive by Merritt’s swirling guitar leads in one moment and chilled to my very bones by Coco’s expansive, longing croon in the next. I can honestly say I don’t know when the last time was I’ve felt such vulnerably genuine energy from two people hit with such gut-punching connection.

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The duo have such obvious chemistry and ability together on stage that it radiates like the sun. Whether tackling originals from their growing collection of EP’s (“When a Heart Gives Out”, “Dear My Love”) or covers from the likes of Coldplay and Sia (“The Scientist”, “Chandelier”), R&R handled each turn with grace, sweetness, levity and brilliance.

No matter what the song was, by the end of their Rockwood set they all felt like originals. And that’s just the beginning of the magic that Roses & Revolutions creates.

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So whether you’re near Rochester, Rockwood, at home or out and about, if you see this band…. just don’t be left out.

You’d only be missing out.

Brooklyn Band Has “Nothing Left To Lose” On Brilliant “Rockwood Live” Debut

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It seems like almost every time I travel to Brooklyn, I discover something new to add to the realm of my musical depth. And more often than not, it seems to be the borough’s knack for so-called “Brooklyn country music”.

First it was The Lone Bellow back in 2013 (as I wrote about on this blog), then back in March of this year it was the discovery of up and coming talent Lindsey Luff during a night at Rockwood Music Hall. And while I spoke quite fondly of Luff and her EP Real Gone for a video on Youtube, that wasn’t the only group I witnessed that night that happened to leave one hell of an impression behind.

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Enter Barefoot & Bankside. Led by the heavenly serpentine twine of vocalists Amanda Simpson Neill and Jamey Hamm as well as the laser sharp orchestration of guitarist Dylan Sneed, the BK-based sextet rattled Rockwood down to the stones and plaster with a beautifully wearied blend of alt-rock, country, gospel and folk-based jams. Every note seemed to electrify the confines of that little room, and the effect was only buoyed by the intensity of both Neill’s blissful croon and Hamm’s jagged growl.

Luckily B&B happened to be recording that night’s standout set for the purpose of releasing a live EP, and as a result here we now have their debut recording. AKA, Rockwood Live.  

Now I’ve already mentioned the band’s blending of influences, but it takes sitting down and carefully listening to these performances to truly understand just how deftly crafted they are. Where at one moment you might expect a folk/bluegrass band with banjo in hand comes the roughshod rock of opening track “Fall In Line”, a toe-tapping shot of lovingly bitter “Kerosene”, and the smoldering burn of the passionate “War For Your Soul”.10928204_431622000335157_7404922844955774366_nLyrically the band embraces their country notes with Gram Parsons-esque odes to lost love (“Nothin’ Left To Lose”), gospel overtones as buried in the blues as Robert Johnson running from the hellhound (“Pocket Change”), and the pure essence of love buried in human nature (“Hold On Love”). Add songs that are as captivating as they are earwormingly catchy to Neill’s musical chemistry with Hamm and Sneed, and you have a dance worthy of Gram and Emmylou themselves. Or at the very least somewhere at the crossroads of Melissa Ethridge and American Aquarium’s BJ Barham.

Either way, Rockwood Live ranks quite easily as one of the best pieces of music from an up and coming band that I’ve heard in quite some time. “Brooklyn country music” or otherwise. And while it is a debut only promising a hint of what Barefoot & Bankside has to offer, you need to go immediately and see them live if you happen to be in the same neck of the woods.

Just to say, “I saw them when”. This recording will be sure to convince you of that fact.

(Rockwood Live is available on bandcamp.com. Just search Barefoot & Bankside and download the fun that awaits!)

The Lone Bellow: Three Sides of Anything But Lonely….

Oh Brooklyn. You’ve killed me with blazing heat, taunted me with snow and have shown me so many frigid nights that I’ve blown more smoke out of my mouth than a Cheech & Chong film. But still, you keep me coming back. Why is this you ask? Well the music for one, and the continued lure that is local band The Lone Bellow. Prospect Park, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall… the hits have just kept coming since the folk-rockers first broke on to the scene with their 2013 self-titled debut. And sure some of those have wandered a bit closer to the city than Brooklyn, but for 2015 the trio of Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin, and Brian Elmquist broke out an exciting two-fold surprise! Firstly, they snapped the curse of the sophomore slump by releasing a superb new album called Then Came The Morning back in January with The National’s Aaron Dessner producing. Then, on the heels of what eventually became an entirely SOLD OUT tour, the much-beloved trio announced that the end of that tour’s first leg would coincide with Brooklyn dates in the Bowery Ballroom as well as the Music Hall of Williamsburg. So as naturally as Batman is called off to fight crime, yours truly responded to the Band-Aid Signal (watch Almost Famous ), found the nearest train and headed due south! Well, it’s more like… going east to go south and there are a LOT of stops, but… that’s not the point. The point is, March 25th and 26th found me front and center to not only see my favorite modern band, but one of the best bands PERIOD. 11082518_431419187022105_9132157320126091366_n

And while I wanna jump right into the action of those two nights, I have to put the brakes on for a moment and acknowledge both the Bowery and Williamsburg. It was my first time experiencing each, and while both are very similar I can’t think of two venues in recent memory that I’ve had more fun being in. 1908275_429246023906088_1456311416115327237_n 11038873_429723223858368_8254736110079099515_n

They’re both extremely intimate (thumbs up from me already), barely-balconied and standing room, without a bad angle of the stage from any side. Not that I was focused much on that in my initial rush to hit the front row, but later I observed just how brilliant the perspectives were from spots around each venue. If I had been of a more casual mindset, I could easily see either the Bowery or Williamsburg being a great place to just tune out to a night of laid back music. Their stage lighting… now that’s a bit of a different story. If I could describe it simply, I would take it in stages. Sometimes it actually looked like watching a great folk band with influences of gospel, blues, country and alternative elements being naturally lit. Then suddenly a transformation would take place (same band mind you), only NOW… I felt like Chvrches or Zola Jesus was committing technicolor sabotage due to some kind of folk-hating grudge. Or in the case of Williamsburg, the crowd would suddenly be bathed in a floodlight so bright it felt like a musical version of Cops was about to take place.   My riffing aside though, lets forget about putting on those brakes and get to why you’re all reading this piece: THE MUSIC. The Lone Bellow. At home in Brooklyn. The trio that made your hearts soar and break, live and in person with a backing band expanded to include horn players (for two nights only!) that helped make the sound of this new record so beautifully glorious. Like a match that went up to heaven, and made it just for your ears. And within these churches of music, within those expectations and hopes and ever-mounting anticipation, The Lone Bellow laid down two sermons of such fiery passion to the congregation that I think Satan himself was keeping watch for the hellhound on his trail.

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From the first moment on the first night in Bowery Ballroom when Zach rushed to the edge of the stage, mic torn from it’s stand as he sang the very fibers out of the new album’s title track… I knew I was home.  Every bit of sweat from his brow I felt like my own, felt like the crowd’s own as we all bled his spirit back to him. Back to Brian, back to Kanene, back to them all. It’s why Lone Bellow fans are some of the easiest and most wonderful to talk to at shows. They’ve experienced that collective emotion and that healing catharsis that’s so startlingly intense… it’s nearly painful. When you talk to them (much like with the band), it’s like talking to family. And in terms of a familial experience, we got two nights of nothing less than the band leaving themselves out there completely. Zach stood out on the title track and left my hair standing on end with “Marietta”, “Take My Love” and personal favorite “Tree To Grow”, while Brian (with his rebellious curl of hair) owned the stark “Watch Over Us” and the choogling gravel of “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” (with Zach providing a homemade choir in the midst of the crowd). Never to be left out though, the ever-angelic Kanene both broke and mended my soul with her latest song “Call To War”, and destroyed a cover of “Slip Slidin Away” that left the crowd absolutely breathless. Okay I can’t speak for the crowd, but to see her hold out her hands and fiercely belt those words into a single mic… she destroys that song. Paul Simon should be bowing down to her. 10409703_429834450513912_3410445970402907472_n

And of course as anyone who’s been to enough Lone Bellow shows will tell you, the band did manage to flex their crazy knack for some unpredictable song medleys. One moment Zach and Brian were bromancing it out with some of Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You”, in another Brian was rapping over Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”, and in yet ANOTHER the trio took on some classic 80’s rock with Prince’s “Purple Rain”. That last one may not have gone over too well according to the band, but the audience was absolutely in love with every second! Maybe that whole wedding band thing could work out after all….

So… what shows. What fun. What body weight lost from perspiration. Pretty much the whole, delicious musical sundae right? Not quite. Much like how once Batman starts fighting crime he can’t seem to stop, the Band Aid Signal beckoned once more and brought with it… massive train failure! I don’t exactly think that’s part of the band-aid contract, but it did put a pretty nice cherry on that sundae…

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Enter the cherry: The Lone Bellow’s Soundcheck session and WNYC’s Greene Space. I had heard that this session would be taking place shortly after I left the city, but thanks to whatever divine intervention is responsible for train failure, I found myself in a room of 30-40 people along with these wonderful talents. 22706_431418333688857_4181543346400507929_n 11102741_431427843687906_6575469327326800849_n

Sounds pretty good right? Unfortunately (and it’s a minor unfortunately), the whole gathering was only about an hour or so. Still, it was wonderful to hear the band run through four new songs from the record, do a small interview, and take some questions from the crowd. I personally thought the interview segment wasn’t necessary, but as the video below shows I think it went pretty well anyway.

But now I’m back home again, and my review is at an end for this post. Honestly the Lone Bellow material is barely half of my fun Brooklyn music stories, but I think I’ll save the rest of the trip for another post. Until then, I leave you with a picture from Bowery Ballroom. If nothing else I’ve said has convinced you about The Lone Bellow, if my review and my words and my feelings have not done it, read these faces. They’ll tell all the rest of the story that needs to be explained. Oh and Brooklyn? Thanks again. 10997715_429745293856161_2007159500268163582_n

(both videos and all photos but the last courtesy of Mara S., or @watchingforthesigns on Instagram)

Spoon Scoops Out Sweet, Alt-Rock Savagery At Ithaca’s State Theatre

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Ah, the start of the fall season. It’s that magical period of time when the leaves erupt from their traditional greens into bursts of mottled reds and golds, the apples burst forth in full fruit from their orchards, and tourists suddenly receive the instinctive call to migrate north and sample the latest seasonal Starbucks pumpkin latte. Brings a tear to the eye really.

But for local Ithaca NY residents and music fans in the area surrounding, it means another jam-packed fall roster of Dan Smalls Presents-curated concerts taking center stage in 2014. And luckily enough for yours truly, I managed to score superb seats this past week for the inaugural show at Ithaca’s State Theatre with Austin TX’s own indie rockers Spoon. They’ve been hot off the early August release of album “They Want My Soul” (their first since 2010’s “Transference”), and my anticipation for one hell of a live set was fairly high. Little did I know what was to come….

Though first up was a special treat in the form of Spoon’s own Eric Harvey acting as the opener for the night. While Harvey has opened for the band before, it was apparently a rarity for him to actually appear with a full group of musicians at his back. Gathered from local contacts around the area (who aided in the recording Harvey did in Ithaca for his 2012 solo record “Lake Disappointment”), the added composition of cello, bass, electric guitar, drums, and backing vocals provided added pastels of flavor to the plaintive heart of Harvey’s guitar-plucked singer-songwriter persona. In fact it led to an on-stage versatility I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing many bands do in which the varied players kept cycling on and off in the background.

At one moment Harvey would be alone on stage, then the next two songs would offer entirely separate arrangements until one guy with a voice and a tune on his strings would become a band in full throat…. only to shift right back again. The night would take a much different tempo before it was complete, but Harvey’s easy swing of mostly originals (diverging only on a loving take of Jackson Browne’s “These Days”) provided a heavily folk-inflected coffeehouse swoon that was a welcoming warmth to settle in with. And given Eric Harvey’s extensive ties to Upstate NY, his set seemed like an appropriately brilliant homecoming.

But then it was time for Spoon to hit the stage, and amidst a backdrop of glowing grey screens and a futuristic disco ball of sorts the quintet shake rattled and rolled the State Theatre right down to the screws of it’s foundations. Opening with the title cut off of “They Want My Soul” before shifting into “Rent I Pay” and older tracks “Don’t You Evah”, “Small Stakes”, and “Who Makes Your Money”, the band kept up a rhythmic barrage that barely paused for either breath or banter. Lead man Britt Daniel was a gritty, growling force of Telecaster-contorting energy who could only be matched by the multi-instrumental tornado that was Alex Fishel, though as a whole Spoon was seamless no matter what direction they chose to weave through their catalogue.

I mean one of the greatest pluses of the band’s new album is how reinvigorated they sound as a group following a four year period of downtime, and that easily carries over into their performance and just how connected these five guys seem. Through a set of 20+ songs they made nearly two hours feel like ten minutes, they got a theatre seated crowd to stand, dance and move from beginning to end, and they converted me from a casual fan into one who’ll be regularly inserting Spoon songs into my playlists for a long time to come.

I don’t think I could have thought of a better way to kick off musical festivities in Ithaca, and you can put THAT into your latte fall fans.

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