12:05 pm Sep. 4, 20121
In Bob Dylan's (Sept. 4, Capitol Theatre) new video, a pie-eyed young man goes cartoon wolf over a girl he spies across the street and tries to get her attention by performing an elaborately-choreographed impromptu dance number in the middle of the street. The setup is immediately familiar to anyone who's caught even 15 minutes of arch-indie romcoms like (500) Days of Summer or Garden State, the kind where the squirrely nerd gets the girl and the fastest way to a woman's heart is with healthy helping of quirk. But then, as the young man approaches the woman's car, something surprising happens: instead of falling into his arms, she pulls out a bottle of pepper spray and unloads in his eyes. For the remainder of the video, the would-be paramour is tripped, kidnapped and, in the video's most darkly hilarious sequence, taped to a chair and beaten with baseball bats. The punishment is intercut with scenes of Dylan and a gang of glam-rock street toughs, ambling lazily through the city streets at night. That video, all five-plus minutes of it, is exactly why any and all attempts to write Bob Dylan off as musty classic rock will fail. He's got a pitch-black sense of humor, a fabulist's sense of accuracy, and a years-in-the-making indifference towards convention. He is responsible for some of the greatest songs in the rock canon, and he refuses to play them as written. And now even his voice—fully hollowed-out, more rasp than tone—is part of his arsenal, yet another towering, thorny obstacle keeping Dylan's audience from the warm nostalgia acts of his stature are meant to provide. With each new record, he recedes further into history—Tempest pulls liberally from '30s ragtime and blues. He is the ultimate existential contrarian: the rest of us grind forward. Dylan spirals merrily back. The Roots (Sept. 7, Capitol Theatre) are the clearest contemporary heir to Dylan's love of gamesmanship and limber live shows. Their performances read like encyclopedias of the past 30 years of popular music, gracefully assimilated with their own genre-defying catalog. Bob Mould (Sept. 7, Williamsburg Park) looks backward in a more literal way; on this show, he'll be playing selections form Copper Blue, the 1992 power-pop classic he recorded with his band Sugar. And the hardcore band Sick of It All (Sept. 7, Webster Hall) manages to make the past still punch and kick. The records they made in the mid '80s were split-second speeding bullets of sound, and their assault has barely diminished a quarter century later.
There's a different kind of ruckus going down at Riot Fest (Sept. 8, Williamsburg Park), a one day festival showcasing punk rock in its many current forms. Headliners Gogol Bordello are an apt choice—their live performance reach the kind of chaos that used to break out in the second reel of a Marx Brothers movie. Frontman Eugene Hutz high-kicks and pirouettes between an army of backup dancers and their music—a highly-caffeinated combination of traditional Gypsy music and, er, traditional punk rock, is perfectly suited to these kinds of manic shenanigans. Punk legends The Descendents play it straighter, but that doesn't mean they're any calmer. Their 1982 debut Milo Goes to College blended ragged-throated hooks with stressed-out lyrics about adolescent disaffection. The Bronx are more brutal, preferring sustained, slashing chords over jackhammering riffs. And Screaming Females dose their aerodynamic punk with a healthy appreciation for classic rock—particularly, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Marissa Paternoster's howl is unholy, and you can hear decades of guitar greats in each of her fretboard-wrecking solos. Omar Souleyman (Sept. 7, The Well) is not on the bill at Riot Fest, but he should be. His revved-up Syrian techno music, known as dabke, is as infectious and relentless as the best pop-punk. Colleen Green (Sept. 5, Mercury Lounge) drags punk back to the bedroom, writing noisy drum-machine-powered songs slathered in reverb and built around her drowsy voice. Divine Fits (Sept. 9, Music Hall of Williamsburg) combine the talents of Spoon's Britt Daniel and Handsome Furs' Dan Boeckner and end up sounding like a bit of both, marrying Daniel's knack for acute melodies with Boeckner's icy, emotionless synths. Altar of Plagues (Sept. 5, St. Vitus) conjure a different kind of iciness—specifically, glaciers. Their droning, slow-moving metal songs are as towering and terrifying as a lumbering mammoth.
Day Off New York (Sept. 3, City Winery), a day-long showcase presented by the record label Fool's Gold, will likely be just as rowdy as Riot Fest, even if its location, on the surface, seems better suited to polite applause and proper table manners. But while City Winery generally hosts artists that fit squarely inside the public radio singer-songwriter set, Day Off is taking place in their backyard, which makes it feel a lot like the rebellious half-brother of the well-bred, properly-coiffed socialite. The lineup seems specifically crafted to guarantee a little controlled chaos: the fast-ascending rapper Danny Brown drops impish, cleverly-constructed punchlines over productions that blink like the neon lights in futuristic cityscapes. French Montana's approach is a bit more rudimentary: his clipped, laid-back rhyming recalls his rival Jim Jones, and the dusky production on his Cocaine Everything mixtape could have appeared on any similar mix in the late '90s. Flatbush Zombies, fresh from a tightly-wound appearance at the AfroPunk Festival, bring a surrealist sense of humor to horrorcore hip-hop. And Just Blaze, the producer who provided the sweeping, emphatic backdrops for songs like Jay-Z's "Public Service Announcement" and Kanye West's "Touch the Sky," seems physically incapable of underplaying. Which makes sense—the last weekend of summer deserves a bit of high-stakes partying. Odd Future (Sept. 4, Paramount Theatre) also have an appetite for anarchy. Though they've, mercifully, backpedaled from some of their more problematic lyrics (in interviews, anyway), their live shows continue to border on pandemonium—skate-punk attitude funneled through pitch-dark hip-hop. At the opposite end of the scale—both in name and music—are Atoms for Peace (Sept. 8, MoMA PS1) , a band featuring Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It will more than likely be Yorke who handles this afternoon D.J. set, though the lack of specificity means there's always a chance the decks will be manned by, say, drummer Mauro Refosco.
Those looking to get an early start on autumn would do well to investigate Brooklyn's Cult of Youth (Sept. 7, Public Assembly). The group, once just a solo project of frontman Sean Ragon, blends the doomy, downcast approach of early goth with a kind of crisp, mysterious pagan folk—think Early Music meets Peter Murphy and you're getting close. Ragon's grim voice is the dark planet around which the songs revolve. Buried beneath layers of echo, he sounds like an ancient priest casting spells from across a span of centuries. On the upcoming Love Will Prevail, he oscillates between a doomy croon and a stern, commanding growl. The music billows around him like smoke from a cauldron—blank-eyed acoustic strumming, imposing bass and thudding, trance-like percussion, occasionally augmented by funereal keyboards or, as on "Path of Total Freedom," mournful cemetery brass. The songs feel as if they've been written to accompany some long-forgotten ritual, still practiced by one obscure, shadowy cult. The Swedish band Holograms (Sept. 4, Mercury Lounge) and the darkwave duo Xeno & Oaklander (Sept. 7, 285 Kent) also dwell in shadows. The former replicate the agonized howl of the earliest Cure records; the latter deliver steadily-bubbling synth-based music offset by eerie, ghostly vocals. TEEN (Sept. 5, Glasslands) are more melancholy than malevolent. The breathy vocal harmonies of sisters Teeny, Katharine, and Lizzy Lieberson (with help from Jane Herships) make their ethereal, gently-waltzing songs feel perfect for the afterlife's saddest Senior Prom.
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