Streets of Your Town: This week's concerts, with Pistol Annies, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Amanda Palmer, and more
11:53 am Sep. 10, 2012
The piece that composer Steve Reich (Sept. 11, Le Poisson Rouge) wrote about the September 11 attacks opens with the sound of strings emulating the desperate bleating of a disconnected phone. It's a chilling opening, but things only get darker: snatches of phone calls and radio dispatches begin to filter in, the strings mirroring their exact cadence and tone. The whole 15-minute piece is marked by a sense of continuous unease, a striking evocation of both the panic and slow-settling dread of that morning 11 years ago. Reich, in a way, was the perfect choice to memorialize the event. One of the founding fathers of minimalist composition, his works are characterized by their slow build, gathering volume and scope as they go on—the sound settling in like a slow, tragic realization. In this performance, WTC 9/11 will be paired with Reich's other two string quartets, Different Trains and Triple Quartet, the first two of which pair taped elements with strings and reflect explicitly on war, while the latter conjures turmoil indirectly, with its insistently minor-key setting and high-up horror-film violins. Taken successively, they'll serve not only as a tribute to Reich's innovation, but also as a clear-eyed examination of tragedy and its aftershocks. Pallbearer (Sept. 11, St. Vitus) use heavy metal to explore the same emotional terrain. It's not for nothing that their music is referred to as "funeral doom"—its lurching tempos and pitch-black riffing summon all the gloom of a medieval procession to a cemetery. The Florida group Merchandise (Sept. 14, St. Vitus) are just as steadily chugging, though their clanging guitars recall the heavy fog of vintage shoegaze. Phil Elverum, who records as Mount Eerie, (Sept. 15, 285 Kent Ave.) imbues his music with spookiness, too. Lately, he's been taking the suffocating swirl of black metal and applying it to hushed, whispered folk music.
When it comes to suffocating swirl, the Jesus & Mary Chain (Sept. 13, Irving Plaza) are old hands. On their justifiably lionized debut Psychocandy they smothered the lonesome melodies of old Phil Spector songs beneath layers of echo-drenched guitar, making for a sound that was both soothing and abrasive all at once. Where contemporaries like My Bloody Valentine may have topped them in volume, few of their followers matched their knack for subtle, smoky melodies. They refined their palette with each release, scraping off some of the feedback and static that was the natural byproduct of such overdriven sound and replacing it with crisper, but still formidable, chords. Songs like "Head On," from their 1989 album Automatic, saw them ably incorporating brisk dance rhythms, and they unplugged convincingly (with help from Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star) for 1994's Stoned and Dethroned, making a kind of urban-country record. The relationship between founding brothers Jim and William Reid has always been tumultuous, which has made for unpredictable live performances. Reports from the recent run of shows has been positive, though, and given the infrequency with which they occur, this might be your last opportunity to see the Reid brothers before they implode yet again. The Vaccines (Sept. 10, Bowery Ballroom) borrow all of JAMC's bluster, but put it in service of speeding, Ramones-like melodies. Cosmetics (Sept. 11, Glasslands) at times, sound as if someone scraped the vocals from a classic Psychocandy-era single, but replaced the guitars with burbling synthesizers. Turbo Fruits (Sept. 13, Mercury Lounge) are less affected, delivering roaring motorcycle rock & roll while their opening act, Roomrunner, amps up the bang and clatter for dense, brutish songs that approximate the feeling of being trapped in the middle of a packed-room bar-brawl.
The Chicago record label Thrill Jockey (Sept., 14, Death By Audio; Sept. 15, Webster Hall) has been around almost as long as the Jesus & Mary Chain, but their repertoire is far more varied. They first made a name for themselves in the early '90s as the home to acts like Tortoise and the Sea and Cake who were termed "post-rock" and infused a jazz sensibility into languid, soft-spoken indie rock. But in truth that was only one small aspect of the label's personality. A close look at their discography—as well as the lineup of these 20th-anniversary shows—reveals a spirit that is far more restless. In their early years, those post-rock albums were released in between offerings by the heartsick—and perennially underrated—country outfit Freakwater as well as the chugging neo-krautrock band Trans Am. The label's more recent signings—who make up roughly half the bills at these New York shows—are just as diverse and challenging. Arguably the best among them are the Baltimore group Future Islands, who package both emotional devastation and jut-jawed determination in wheezing, woozy synths and give them voice in Samuel T. Herring's pinched growl. The duo White Hills are nastier: big, slashing guitars doing battle with Dave W.'s hooligan howl. If there is a thing that binds the label's roster together, it's a sense of outsiderness. None of the bands fit comfortably within the confines of what would traditionally be termed "indie rock," which speaks volumes to Thrill Jockey's dedication to making cultural iconoclasm their only uniting aesthetic. Amanda Palmer (Sept. 11, Webster Hall) has been just as obstinate over the course of her career, which flourished the instant she abandoned the traditional major label system. The funding of her latest album by fans set records for the platform Kickstarter, and this tour is yet another step in realizing her grand, theatrical vision. Ariel Pink (Sept. 14, Webster Hall) is a stubborn individualist, too—how else to describe someone whose latest album contains a nearly 5-minute, woozy soft-rock song about the virtues of schnitzel? Maria Minerva (Sept. 14, Glasslands) is spookier, exhaling her lyrics eerily over neon ribbons of synth. It was an approach attempted by Yeasayer (Sept. 12, Central Park) on their latest album, the subdued Fragrant World, where they scaled back the '80s electropop of their previous outing in favor of moody set pieces. Amon Tobin (Sept. 13, Wellmont Theatre) has no interest in subtlety. His ISAM Live tour is a visual stunner, the stage comprised of video cubes that both house the artist and display an ever-changing array of psychedelic imagery.
Pistol Annies (Sept. 13, Terminal 5) save the vivid imagery for their lyrics. The country trio—comprised of firebrand Miranda Lambert and her friends Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley—write tart tales of rough lives and bum luck, but shoot each of them through with a wicked sense of humor. On its surface, the pedal-steel weeper "Beige" sounds like a forlorn wedding ballad until the group gets to the black-humor punchline in the chorus: "Daddy's pride and joy/ is marrying some boy/ and he looked afraid/ the preacher turned the page/ and I was wearing beige." They're similarly irreverent about their own lot in life ("one's drinking, one's smoking, one's taking pills" is how they self-describe), and one of the joys of Hell on Heels, their first full-length, is waiting for each tart payoff. The music is similarly loose and ambling, a handful of concessions to burnished contemporary country balanced by big, loose, rambling back-porch Americana. On the title track, they run down a list of the many men they've got wrapped around their fingers. By the final song, you begin to wonder why they don't have more. Beach Day (Sept. 14, Pianos) would make a good opener for the Annies—they apply a country croon to a surf-pop backdrop. Icona Pop (Sept. 12, Santos Party House) are as brash as both bands, but their strawberry-bubblegum electropop is as hyperactive as a classroom full of kindergarteners after recess. Jaill (Sept. 10, Mercury Lounge) and their opening act Fergus & Geronimo have stranger senses of humor. Both have a charmingly ramshackle approach to indie rock, though Jaill skews psych while Fergus & Geronimo opt for a kind of dollar-store punk rock. Kendrick Lamar (Sept. 15, Terminal 5) opts for the confessional over the trivial. On his independent debut, he measured out cleverly-calculated lyrics over dizzy, throwback productions. "The Recipe," the first single from his upcoming collaboration with Dr. Dre, is cleaner and sleeker, but Lamar's punchy delivery remains fully intact.
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