11:09 am Oct. 8, 2012
If he had any interest in swaying in the fickle winds of popular culture, the proper time for John Lydon to have reconvened Public Image Limited (Oct. 9, Music Hall of Williamsburg) would have been a decade ago. At the time, scores of young bands—among them, The Rapture, Radio 4, and the underheard Baltimore band Wilderness—were evincing a clear debt to PiL's gleaming spirals of guitar and howling vocal delivery. That he didn't is a blessing—despite Lydon's questionable antics in the intervening years, he rightly assessed that such a naked cash-in would have been contrary to the group's obstinate nature. Formed in the wake of the splintering of the Sex Pistols, PiL was, at first scan, everything that group was not. They soared where the Pistols pounced, churned instead of walloped, and balanced their prickly songs on top of nauseous, dub-influenced rhythms. Their lauded 1979 album Metal Box was full of icy art rock, and the band's live shows at the time had a reputation for audience provocation (the band often played behind curtains, or with their backs to the audience). They mellowed over time, eventually writing clean, cruising songs that edged a bit more toward formal structure where the early material floated like toxic vapor. The current incarnation of PiL lacks key founding members Keith Levene and Jah Wobble, but this year's This is PiL has enough crackle and bite to suggest their live show will still deliver surprises—welcome or otherwise. The U.K. band Micachu & the Shapes (Oct. 8, Le Poisson Rouge) share PiL's fondness for noisy songs that clatter around jittery rhythms. The just-released Never is full of clang and clatter, frontwoman Mica Levi's tiny voice darting in and out of scuzzbucket beats. Swans (Oct. 10, Bowery Ballroom) easily equal—and often surpass—PiL in terms of sheer menace. Reformed by frontman Michael Gira after a 13-year hiatus, their live shows are just as sonically punishing as any they performed in their '80s heyday. Waka Flocka Flame (Oct. 9, Irving Plaza) also likes to keep things loud—his antic delivery and searing, synth-based productions have made him one of hip-hop's most delightfully bracing performers. John Zorn, always a noisy, defiant performer, is taking the same spirit of iconoclasm that has defined his music to its logical political end, headlining the Save the Village (Oct. 10, Le Poisson Rouge) benefit, which seeks to block the expansion of the NYU campus into Greenwich Village. The Soupcans (Oct. 13, Death By Audio) and the Blind Shake (Oct. 11, Death By Audio) are closer to the violence of Swans, dishing out big, serrated blocks of sound that seethe and swipe. Grooms (Oct. 10, Glasslands) pack just as much menace into spacier sonics, and the recently reunited proto-emo band Texas is the Reason (Oct. 10, Music Hall of Williamsburg) dishes their fits into a series of stops and starts.
Texas is the Reason's songs vented heartache with mule-kicking guitars, but Tom Krell, who records as How to Dress Well (Oct. 8, Santos Party House), drowns his sorrows in waves of foamy synths. Krell's 2010 debut, Love Remains, was cited as Exhibit A in the then-nascent, and also quickly (and somewhat unfairly) derided "chillwave" scene, but on this year's Total Loss, he shrugs off any hint of amateurism or trendiness. It's a lovely, brooding record, one in which Krell makes good on his much-avowed allegiance to contemporary R&B by ladling his vulnerable, perfectly-imperfect falsetto over somber church organs and twinkling keyboards. It plays out like a hymnody of heartbreak, Krell too wounded and too tired to raise his voice, and the cottony instrumentation feeling like they're meant as comfort. The cannily-titled "Say My Name or Say Whatever," nods toward the similar title of a Destiny's Child song about romantic duplicity, but adds to it a more crushing sentiment: ambivalence. Krell knows the only thing more devastating in romance than departure is indifference. On Total Loss, he is a lonely soul floating in space, isolated and ignored. He would do well to pour his heart out to Morrissey (Oct. 10, Radio City Music Hall; Oct. 12–13, Terminal 5), who was writing about failed romance since before Krell was born. Of late, he's been threatening retirement, which makes catching him on this run of shows that much more essential. Jens Lekman (Oct. 8, Terminal 5) in many ways, is his heir apparent. Since 2004 he's been writing tart tales of love shot through with his sly sense of humor but, in the wake of a recent breakup, he's produced I Know What Love Isn't, a remarkably clear-eyed appraisal of romantic disintegration. Perfume Genius(Oct. 8, Music Hall of Williamsburg) is just as tender; on the beautiful Put Your Back N 2 It, his voice barely rises above a whisper, and is generally accompanied only by piano or guitar.Frightened Rabbit's (Oct. 8, Bowery Ballroom) take on breakups are more violent—and, in some ways, more realistic. They excel at recreating the clammy sense of desperation that arrives when a relationship ends, and deliver it in tumbling, clawing indie rock. Santigold (Oct. 13, Roseland Ballroom) doesn't concern herself with matters of the heart; her songs are lean and percussive, her moody croon snaking through rat-a-tat dance rhythms and lunging guitars.
Santigold's approach is somewhat similar to the one taken by the British singer Ellie Goulding, (Oct. 11, Santos Party House) but where Santigold's verses often sound like wartime rallying cries, Goulding's are wispier and more ethereal. Her latest, Halcyon, takes its cues from her breakthrough single "Lights," pitting Goulding's cooing, childlike voice against a battery of dense, busy production. At times it feels like a more tentative take on the kind of operatic songs expertly executed by Florence & the Machine. But where Florence's music projects confidence—even when she's singing about romantic confusion—Goulding's feels more fragile, the constellation of sound behind her only highlighting the fear and trembling in her voice. On lead single "Anything Can Happen," she confesses "I've been trying to hide," as synths stomp inexorably forward. The title seems to allude not to possibility, but to uncertainty and the ever-present threat of disaster. It may not be quite as rousing, but it is certainly more honest. The Go-Gos (Oct. 11, Best Buy Theater) were also good at burying raw emotion in glittering packages. Though their records are often wrongly considered to be dated '80s radio staples, even the briefest revisiting reveals them to be near-flawless collections of sparkling power pop, with barbed lyrics that take down backbiters and bad lovers. On their last record, Army Navy (Oct. 11, The Rock Shop) executed a similar trick. The Last Place was a stirring document of an illicit affair, but it was bundled in such soaring hooks you'd be forgiven for missing the emotional turmoil. The turmoil is more obvious in the music of Butter the Children (Oct. 11, Big Snow). Their sugary vocal melodies take a back seat to their barbed lo-fi guitar, which recalls the brattiness of pioneers like Huggy Bear and Superchunk. Shellshag's (Oct. 12, Death By Audio) songs are gnarlier still, thick distortion caked on to chunky guitar chords. Buke & Gase(Oct.12, Mercury Lounge) also raise a racket, creating tense, percussive songs with the homemade instruments that give the group their name.Twerps (Oct. 12, Cake Shop) are lighter and brigther, their loose spiral of guitar at times recall the glory years of the bands who recorded on New Zealand label Flying Nun.
Since he began recording in earnest in the early '60s, the music of Glen Campbell (Oct. 13, Carnegie Hall) has been defined by the rare combination of tenderness and rugged individuality. His rambling 1967 song "Just Another Man" perfectly captured that duality. "I could be happy here with you," he begins tenderly, before adding "but I must sow wild oats to reap." It's a sentiment best summarized by his masterpiece, the gently longing "Wichita Lineman." Against a backdrop of delicate guitar and somber, searching strings, he depicts a lone telephone repairman coasting down empty country roads, quietly going about his work while dreaming of a far-off lover that he either can't or won't return to. Though it was written by Jimmy Webb, Campbell's performance is what makes it, capturing both the loneliness and the resignation in the song's narrator. Campbell's own life has also been beset by tragedy: recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, this run of shows will be the last before he retires. If his performance on last year's Grammy awards is any indication, all of his old charm remains fully intact. John Darnielle, the personality behind the Mountain Goats (Oct. 13–14, Music Hall of Williamsburg; Oct. 15–16, Bowery Ballroom) also writes about loners and introverts, but his songs are shot through with a kind of violent optimism, hoping and believing the best in the face of overwhelming odds. Calexico's (Oct. 13, Webster Hall) connection to Campbell and Webb is a bit more literal; like those two, the Arizona band looks for new ways to write country songs, incorporating both rock and Latin music. Dark Dark Dark (Oct. 12, Knitting Factory; Oct. 13, Le Poisson Rouge) share Webb's tenderness and fraglity; the songs on their haunting new album, Who Needs Who sound like they're taking place in a quiet, candlelit room, vocalist Nona Marie Invie's pained alto the perfect contrast to the gently-falling piano accompaniment. The jazz singer Kurt Elling (Oct. 12–13, The Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center) also balances the gentle and the dark, measuring his phrasing to counter long, sonorous notes with soft, whispered ones. And Night Beds (Oct. 11, Union Pool) are even lusher, delivering dreamy songs where guitar and strings and keyboards blend into a woozy, humid haze.
More by this author:
- Streets of Your Town: This week's live shows in New York, featuring Kendrick Lamar, Thurston Moore, Ravi Coltrane and more
- Streets of Your Town: Live shows in New York, featuring TORRES, Kurt Vile, Patti Smith, Tune-Yards