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Phantogram turns up the beat at NYC’s Pier 97

Phantogram at JBL Live Pier 97, NYC 9/13/14

It was a wet and wild night of dancing and debauchery as the NYC electro-pop duo known as Phantogram rocked the new JBL Live stage on the dock Pier 97 over the Hudson River on Manhattan’s Upper West side in the midst of a drenching rain storm on Saturday. It has been a crazy rocketing ride to the heights of commercial and artistic success for this still relatively new outfit of frontwoman and keyboardist Sarah Barthel and guitarist and frontman Josh Carter, who’s last and first full album Eyelid Movies was only released back in 2009, becoming such a huge success for it’s shadowy themes and inventively danceable tracks that some of their songs are still surprisingly played on some pop stations today, undoubtedly a teetering balancing act for a band that totes a much darker alternative cred in the modern music landscape. With an even astoundingly stronger LP Voices just released, they are back out on the road and played a big hometown show for their hardcore fans to dance the soggy night away to.

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Arcade Fire shines a light on Brooklyn at Barclays

Arcade Fire at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY 8/23/14

What are we but reflections of ourselves, what others see us as, and what we try to portray ourselves as, often in the form of a mask or a metaphysical disguise? Arcade Fire has decided to tackle this question on their latest album and have pulled it off in a expansive way that only they could do. They started off back in 2001 as a rather odd Canadian import from the sprawling metropolis of Montreal, centering on the husband and wife team of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, they had a decidedly northern exposure artsy baroque-esque folk sensibility with other numerous alternative stylings, often augmented with extensive arrangements and a grand array of instruments and players. However, by the time they made a surprising smash with their debut full-length album Funeral in 2004, they had lost a driving founding collaborator Josh Deu. Nonetheless, the band continued to both expand their line-up and their sound as well as climb up the ladder of success with each successive album, and, despite having that distinctively alien Canadian experimental sound, they have experienced little of the success-roadblocks that many of their fellow countrymen have experienced in the past. Their last couple albums have acquired a special amount of intense attention and shown a serious evolution. With their newest offering Refelctor, they have come of age with an extremely catchy, almost disco-ish, dance beat that carries throughout much of it, which is not to surprising considering LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy produced it. Since it’s release late last year, the band has been busy doing the soundtrack to Spike Jonze’s Her and appearing on a number of compilations including an impressive Peter Gabriel tribute. Still, this is the big support tour everyone was hoping on, and they hit NYC hard with a three-night stand at the massive new indoor arena in downtown Brooklyn called Barclays Center for what was sure to be a definitive moment in their career, so much so that they even requested that people get dressed up for the occasion, which to many meant elaborately wild costumes. I was lucky enough to get press for the second, or the middle, Saturday night show, which is the first time since I saw them play since they killed it at the ridiculously tiny Mercury Lounge in 2003 for the CMJ music fest, and I was ready to be blown away.

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Nine Inch Nails & Soundgarden & the fountain of youth

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Two iconic 90’s rock bands that changed the modern music landscape in their own ways and spearheaded their own rock genres have teamed up for a one-two punch of a tour this Summer. Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden are sharing the same stage and blowing the minds of fans across the country and I was fortunate enough to catch both of their closest NYC-area performances, first at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in Long Island and then the next night at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. This is my tale of being a hard rock gypsy for a weekend of fun and the ups and downs of seeing these big outdoor stadium shows that at times can be quite the chore to get to and navigate, but outrageously fun once you get into the groove.

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Being baptizing by Nick Cave’s sweat in NYC

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds at Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC 7/27/14

The rapture of being baptized in Nick Cave sweat is something you can’t fully explain verbally, but if you see this Aussie genius play in whatever project he may be involved with, you’ll have a truly intimate knowledge of the religious zeal in which he inspires in his disciples. I first experienced Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds when I had a brief fiery fling with this girl and she always seemed to want to play The Firstborn Is Dead when we were alone and intimate, for which I should had foreseen as a omen of our stormy and fleeting liaison. Still, to her it was an almost religious ritual that every time she put it on as she would inevitably go into a somewhat off-putting spiritual trance the moment that needle hit the vinyl. I ended up seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play for the first time a couple years later at a music festival and although they only played for about 45 minutes, I finally got it. There is a passion involved with Nick Cave’s performing that you just can’t convey until it first overtakes you, and that inevitably happens when you get up good and close to see him pour out every ounce of energy he has every time he performs. That was the only time I got to see the Bad Seeds in their heyday, which had started way back in the early 80’s but continued right through the late 90’s. I did miss their brief reunion of sorts in the mid-2000’s, but I had gotten to see his following raw, harder-rocking Grinderman project a couple times, which was also quite awe-inspiring, especially since Cave proved he could actually wail on guitar as much as woo with that uniquely primeval baritone voice and bold piano prayer. 

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Playing 70 minutes in heaven with Veruca Salt

Veruca Salt at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn 7/25/14

It was like lucking out at a party playing spin the bottle and getting to excitedly play seven minutes in heaven in the closet with your cutest crush back in grade school. That main squeeze was one of my favorite guilty pleasure bands of the mid-90’s by the name of Veruca Salt, who took us all off guard by reforming late last year, and shocked all (and even more so the band themselves) by selling out just about everywhere they played on their first tour out, showing they are still truly cherished in all corners of the US. It has been a long time coming, as this original line-up has not played together in over 15 years, and given that the drama of their initial breakup has been compared to the likes of rock n’ roll great heartbreaks like Fleetwood Mac and Hüsker Dü, many were left wondering if they’d ever play together again. Still, their second sold-out NYC-area performance at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg was really a night all about the true joy of the music they beguiled us with all those years ago and those amazingly intense and passionate feelings that their fans still have for them, ones I equate to that blissful sensation of having just made out again with your first love (or even the love of your life) after so many years of not having seen each other.  

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The scorching blaze of Day Four of the Northside Music Festival

CHVRCHES at McCarren Park, Northside Festival 2014 - Day 4 - Brooklyn, NY 6/15/14

Well, the fourth day of Northside Music Festival was one clear blue and sunshiny Sunday, which, by the time it had come, found me extremely beat-feeted and weary-eyed after the previous late nights of running around town and rocking late into the morning. Still, I was up and at them early as I knew I would have to finish up a cartoon that night, so I would have to catch all the music I could as early as I could.

Northside Festival 2014 - Day 4 - Brooklyn, NY 6/15/14

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Reaping the wack for Day 3 of Northside Festival

Thee Oh Sees at McCarren Park, Northside Festival 2014 - Day 3 - Brooklyn, NY 6/14/14

Day three of the Northside Music Fest started up on a gorgeous Saturday morning, just overcast enough not to be blazing hot, which was especially good since much of it would start outdoors. At Williamsburg’s green center, the southwest corner of the sprawling McCareen Park, there was a huge stage was set up for the first of two big shows, free for all badge holders and for all those lucky souls who managed to RSVP for free tickets online in the seconds it took to sell out these performances. 

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Infectious swing for Day 2 of Northside Festival

Tweens at Rough Trade NYC, Northside Festival 2014 - Day 2 - Brooklyn, NY 6/13/14 

The Friday night of the annual four day music fiesta known as the Northside Festival was one of my favorite adventures of all four days, even though it didn’t have a lot of the bigger-name bands the other days had, it described the pure adventure and love of the music that defines this jubilee for me. I would get to see some of my favorites on smaller stages if I worked it out right, but to make it through, I would have to do some hustling across town to a few different venues, and that would definitely take some serious endurance.

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The sway & bang of Day 1 of Northside Fest

Shilpa Ray at Music Hall of Williamsburg, Northside Festival 2014 - Day 1 - Brooklyn, NY 6/12/14

Hooray! It was once again time for the annual Northside Festival, an yearly eight-day summer showcase celebrating emerging “music, film, food, ideas and entrepreneurship” that takes pace in and around the hippest of all hipster-doms: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was just going for the middle four days of pure music, taking place at various venues all across this sprawling hood, and in similar fashion, featuring countless genres of diverse musicians and bands, but that epic journey was plenty enough to test all powers of possible endurance for even the most seasoned of rockers. 

Northside Festival 2014 - Day 1 - Brooklyn, NY 6/12/14

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Lykke Li Woos NYC With Her Sad Siren Song

Lykke Li at the Apollo Theater 5/15/14

The Sweedish songstress Lykke Li descended on NYC like a darkly seductive shroud for a pair of shows that defined why she is still such a sensation after having longingly disappeared for the last couple years. What can you say about this breathtaking singer that would even touch on her exotic appeal? True, she is breathtakingly beautiful, having spent some as a international beauty model evidences that unearthly charm, yet she has a very real look, not made up, and if anything, often appearing quite earthy and artsy. Yes, she is also mysteriously exotic, having moved all over the globe as a youngster, from Stockholm to a mountaintop in Portugal will give you that travelled look so you’d think. She has a mysterious witchy woman appeal for sure, but her music is what comes through first and foremost, as she pours her soul into each and every lyric as though her very soul depended on revealing every little shadowy corner of her being.

She started as a professional at 19 and made a name quickly for catchy rhythms and sweeping atmospheres as well as a few tracks that did catch on to an artsier pop crowd. Her first album, ‘08’s Youth Novels, and especially it’s 2011’s follow-up Wounded Rhythms became runaway hits, and it was clear she had something amazing radiating from her being, even though she actually seemed to shun the spotlight. Her music at the times was very dark and penetrating, but they did often seem to be about the trails and tribulations, the ups and downs, of a monogamous relationship, hers in particular. Still, it has been a couple solid years since she had been heard of much of her at all, so it was anyone’s guess what may have become of the goddess who would be the indie-pop queen. Apparently, there was a heart-wrenching breakup for her in there, one that influenced her to pick up and move on to LA, which is where she wrote and recorded a majority of her new opus I Never Learn, which has turned away from catchy lavish rhythms and gone into total splitsville/tears in my liquor territory. After hearing the new album, it was with great anticipation that I was able to once again to gaze upon this amazing siren of emotional seas and be wooed into the stormy rocks by her song once again.

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