Wednesday, May 20th, 2009
Let Me Have This
NYC Popfest with The Radio Dept, Pants Yell!, The Secret History, Eux Autres and Computer Perfection at the Bell House in Brooklyn
Frank YangI’ve been to a LOT of shows in the past decade or so, and as such my list of bands whom I’m still waiting to see live is pretty short by this point – and last week, it got one big name shorter when I got to see reclusive Swedes The Radio Dept not once but twice in New York thanks to their headliner status at NYC Popfest. The venue for the big show was the Bell House in Brooklyn, a good-sized venue with a vibey bar/lounge up front and a nicely-laid out if horribly-lit live music room in back. Though The Radio Dept remain very much a cult band, the show was well sold out – probably with no shortage of fans like myself willing to make a pilgrimage to catch one of their rare live performances. And do some shopping. Hey, any excuse to plan a trip to New York City.
In addition to The Radio Dept was a lineup of four other bands who, like those who played the previous night were all unknown to me but who hopefully would make more of an impression. Leadoff hitters Computer Perfection, a five-piece outfit hailing from the Detroit suburb of Ferndale, were a promising start, blending sunny indiepop staples (jangly guitars, he-she harmonies) with more electronic elements and some unconventional song structures. They had a lot of ideas going on and mostly got them to work – they’re coming to Toronto for NxNE with a show at Holy Joe’s on Friday, June 19.
California’s Eux Autres traded in some of the preceding act’s sophistication for a more direct and classic tact, relying on great tunes, melodies and a lot of energy to make their point. The trio, led by brother and sister Heather and Nicholas Larimer delivered the right balance of sweet pop and punchy rock to impress – thumbs up.
The Secret History, from New York, took things big again, with a seven-piece band including two female singers and an impressive lineage. Lead singer Lisa Ronson is the daughter of former Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson and many members, including chief songwriter Michael Grace Jr, used to be in cult pop heroes My Favourite. Stylistically, they were rooted in big, lush retro-pop but willing to turn up and rock out – no twee merchants here. Versatile and tight, their set was upbeat and enjoyable and their sound decidedly different from what I’d been subsisting on most of the weekend to that point. Good stuff.
Pants Yell! had made the drive down from Boston and brought with them some of that city’s unmistakable college rock vibe. Relative to the other bands on the bill, they were more taut and jaggy, though still highly melody-friendly and not out of place as something called Popfest. To close out their set, they brought out Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, with whom they would be playing some shows, to sing a couple songs with them. By this point I was starting to fade and was conserving my energy for the final act, so I can’t really tell you more than that.
Now even though I was anxious enough to see The Radio Dept live to make a road trip out of it, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I expected them to put on a great show. After all, this was an outfit that was famously reclusive, played out very infrequently and whose records were very much studio creations (even if the studio in question sounded like a bedroom) – not really a recipe for an epic live show. But regardless, an opportunity to see they who’d created music so dear to me was not to be passed up and so I went.
The Friday night show at Don Hill’s was advertised as a “warm-up show” but it was hardly a dry run. Their eight-song set ran over half an hour – a full showcase at some festivals – and even though they had no drummer, no bassist and played over a significant amount of pre-recorded backing tracks – usually things that’d put me right off – they still grabbed the heartstrings. It’s the songs. It didn’t matter how they did it, but they came off with all the beautiful melancholy the records carried without sounding like a karaoke act. Favouring the cleaner sonic aesthetic of their more recent works, both Martin Carlberg and Johan Duncanson reproduced their surprisingly intricate guitar parts flawlessly, Carlberg’s vocals were resonant with yearning and resignation and the feeling of being wrapped in a fuzzy blanket of sound very much in effect. True, their onstage charisma was nearly non-existent – they seemed awkward and uncertain how to respond to the enthusiasm of the audience – but even that fit perfectly with their persona.
And that again was much the case at the Bell House show, and though they didn’t necessarily sound better or seem more assured onstage – they may actually have seemed less, with much conferring between songs about what they were playing even though a set list had been drafted. But despite all that, this show felt grander and more momentous – even though the occasion of finally seeing them live had been taken care of the night before, this still felt like the show that I had come to see.
The set was longer, though at maybe 50 minutes still much shorter than most everyone in attendance would have liked, and both Lesser Matters and Pet Grief were well represented, as well as some EP and b-side tracks and a few new tunes which should appear on Clinging To A Scheme if/when it’s finally released – when asked when to expect it, Carlberg guessed, “August? September?” (their new EP David is confirmed for a June 24 release).
As far as musical pilgrimages go, this one was decidedly on the understated side but it – and the just getting away from home if just for a few days – was just what I needed. It’s been intimated that upon the record’s release, there’ll be more touring on this side of the Atlantic. I’m not holding my breath on that but do hope there’s truth to it. A Radio Dept show will always be a good excuse for a trip.
Photos: The Radio Dept, Pants Yell!, The Secret History, Eux Autres, Computer Perfection @ The Bell House – May 16, 2009
MP3: The Radio Dept – “Freddie and the Trojan Horse”
MP3: The Radio Dept – “The Worst Taste in Music”
MP3: The Radio Dept – “A Window”
MP3: The Radio Dept – “Pulling Our Weight”
MP3: The Radio Dept – “Why Won’t You Talk About It?”
MP3: Pants Yell! – “Kids Are The Same”
MP3: Pants Yell! – “Your Feelings Don’t Show”
MP3: Pants Yell! – “My Boyfriend Writes Plays”
MP3: Pants Yell! – “Onward Sailboat”
MP3: Pants Yell! – “The Not Society Life”
MP3: Eux Autres – “When I’m Up”
MP3: Eux Autres – “Ecoutez Bien”
MP3: Computer Perfection – “Able Archer”
MP3: Computer Perfection – “The Fool Is Hurt”
MP3: Computer Perfection – “How I Won The War”
MP3: Computer Perfection – “Sweetie Pie”
Video: The Radio Dept. – “The Worst Taste In Music”
Video: The Radio Dept. – “Where Damage Isn’t Already Done”
Video: The Radio Dept. – “Pulling Our Weight”
Video: Eux Autres – “Anne Boleyn”
MySpace: The Radio Dept.
MySpace: Pants Yell!
MySpace: Eux Autres
MySpace: Computer Perfection
Apparently someone thought that revealing the NxNE schedule via Twitter would be a good idea. That person was wrong. In addition to the Thursday showcases announced yesterday, it seems that No Age’s showcase will be happening on Friday, June 19, at Lee’s Palace.
MP3: No Age – “Eraser”
Dirty Projectors will be supporting TV On The Radio at the Sound Academy on June 2 but for those who can’t or won’t go to that show, take heart – they will return for their own show at Lee’s Palace on June 24. Their new album Bitte Orca is out June 9.
Norway’s Casiokids have a date at the El Mocambo on August 5.
Video: Casiokids – “Fot I Hose”
As promised, Glasvegas are returning to North America this Fall… but it’s as support for Kings Of Leon. Dates have been announed for September 17 at Scotiabank Plaza in Ottawa, September 19 at Copp’s Coliseum in Hamilton and September 20 at the John Labbat Centre in London. Obviously there’s a conspicuous open date and no Toronto gig – Kings Of Leon were here last month, can they swing another arena show so soon while playing these other nearby markets? And if not, will Glasvegas be doing their own show to satisfy those who didn’t make it into their Mod Club gig in April? I don’t know but I suspect yes.
MP3: White Lies – “Death”