Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
Letters From A Voyage To Sweden
NYC Popfest with Cats On Fire, Liechtenstein, The Tartans and Don Lennon at Don Hill's in New York City
Frank YangIt seems a bit ridiculous to say that I was in New York City on Friday night with nothing to do, but right up until the middle of last week, it looked like that was what it was going to be. Which isn’t to say I would have spent the evening watching television in my hotel room… but that was certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. I’d been considering hitting up the Friday night show of NYC Popfest, despite not knowing any of the acts on the bill, mainly because Don Hill’s was conveniently located just down Greenwich Ave from my hotel, but when the “special guest” was revealed to be The Radio Dept playing a second show in addition to the one I’d booked this whole trip to see, well that sealed it.
Doors for the show opened some 70 minutes later than scheduled, so there wasn’t hardly anyone inside when local solo act Don Lennon started the evening off. An acoustic singer-songwriter sort, Lennon’s songs were interesting, tuneful and topical and certainly clever, but not especially funny. Which isn’t to suggest that lyrical cleverness needs to be delivered with humour, but Lennon’s narratives seemed to be all set up and no punchline – or maybe he was just more deadpan than I was capable of appreciating.
Los Angelenos The Tartans required no such close examination to appreciate – they wore their influences and the sound on their cardigan sleeves. The five-piece band were like factory issue twee-pop with bouncy rhythms, boy-girl harmonies, instrument and lead vocal swapping and strategically-placed melodica, glockenspiel and handclaps… but while they certainly nailed the look, they only managed to graze the sound. Certainly, their tunes were peppy, sing-song friendly and melody-laden but the lacked the sort of personality that would have been necessary to really make an impression. On the plus side, they were still very much a new band and obviously talented – there’s no reason to think that with time, the substance and focus won’t come. But at the moment, they’re not there.
The Radio Dept, I will cover tomorrow along with their headlining performance at The Bell House in Brooklyn. Patience!
I wasn’t completely truthful when I said earlier that I knew nothing of the bands playing this show – I’d gotten a few mailings last week about Swedish trio Liechtenstein, so I had a notion of what to expect from them. Unfortunately, while the samples I’d been given held some promise, their live experience didn’t do much to deliver on that. With their ’50s-primitivist retro-pop sound, the best parallel I can draw is Vivian Girls, but while Liechtenstein are unquestionably better musicians and are arguably pursuing more interesting creative paths, they don’t make it sound especially catchy – and if you’re playing something called Popfest, you better have some hooks at the ready. Their new record Survival Strategies is out June 2.
I realize that I’ve sounded rather down on everything covered so far, but don’t interpret that as my having a bad time – none of it was by any means bad, simply unimpressive and when you’re facing a large bill with a lot of unknowns, you’re hoping at least one of them will turn out to be a genuinely pleasant surprise rather than just a way to pass the time. Final band Cats On Fire, over all the way from Finland, didn’t out and out wow me but they certainly managed to get me to overcome my disdain for their name and wrapped things up on a high note. Charming and upbeat and hailing from the Smiths school of pop, they didn’t necessarily do anything new – new isn’t really the motivating factor for a lot of indiepop – but they did it well and with vigor. Mattias Bjorkas was an animated and entertaining frontman, all archness and gyrations, delivering tunes from their newly-released album Our Temperance Movement amongst others. After a sweaty set they were called back for an encore and had the crowd properly worked up for the indie-pop dance party that followed. Me, I went back to the hotel and got some sleep.
Photos: Cats On Fire, Liechtenstein, The Radio Dept, The Tartans, Don Lennon @ Don Hill’s – May 15, 2009
MP3: Cats On Fire – “Horoscope”
MP3: Liechtenstein – “Roses In The Park”
MP3: The Tartans – “My Baby Doesn’t Care For You”
Video: Cats On Fire – “Tears In Your Cup”
Video: Liechtenstein – “Security By Design”
Video: Don Lennon – “Last Comic Standing”
Video: Don Lennon – “Where Is The New Adventure”
MySpace: Cats On Fire
MySpace: The Tartans
MySpace: Don Lennon
The Yorkshire Evening Post interviews A Camp’s Nina Persson and Spin has a couple MP3s available to download – the new single and an acoustic version of a track from Colonia. A Camp play the Mod Club on June 1.
Denmark’s Mew manage to take the blue ribbon for most ridiculous album title of the year. No More Stories Are Told Today I’m Sorry They Washed Away No More Stories The World Is Grey I’m Tired Let’s Wash Away is out August 25.
Video: Phoenix – “1901”
Underworld are at the Kool Haus on August 11.
For a limited time – like the rest of today – NME is offering a couple downloads to mark the release of the new Manic Street Preachers album Journal For Plague Lovers. A remix by The Horrors, James Dean Bradfield’s favourite new band and one of many contributing to a forthcoming remix album of Plague Lovers, and a cover of The Horrors’ “Vision Blurred” from Primary Colours by the Manics.