Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Morning Jacket Perform ‘At Dawn’

Concerts where bands play out an entire album are few and far between, usually only reserved for anniversary events or comeback tours, or almost exclusively Pink Floyd. However, in a recent five night residency at Terminal 5 (New York City) My Morning Jacket dedicated each evening to a single album, suitably themed, and with limited interruption.

Following support act ‘Hacienda’, a Texas-based rock and roll group with an endearing pulse and swagger, My Morning Jacket emerge as shadows behind a psychedelic curtain reminiscent of the relevant album artwork and building the drone of the album’s opener and title track; ‘At Dawn.’ A howl and a drum fill lead into second track ‘Lowdown’ which sounds as smooth as on record, and is followed by the aptly named ‘The Way That He Sings’ (cue mass ‘hum-along’) in an upbeat country-come-pop-rock double-hit suit. Melancholy ‘Death Is The Easy Way Out’ slows the pace and flows eerily into standout track ‘Hopefully’ where James is able to showcase his vocal talent to the utmost; note perfect and bouncing the lyrics off every wall and chandelier. The introspective trio is completed with ‘Bermuda Highway’ before the driving blues-infused ‘Honest Man’ which is extended beyond the album version’s near eight minutes for a thrilling riff-roaring crescendo. The pleasantly warming love song ‘Xmas Curtain’ complete with jingles and steel drums proffers the delicious refrain; ‘’you’re the criminal that never breaks the lock,’’ and adds to the nostalgia. Fading out, a kick drum hurls the band and crowd into ‘Just Because I Do,’ a raucous pop-rock number that sees the crowd rising and falling in unison to the dynamic change in tempo. Band exit, James stands alone and fumbles his way beautifully through ‘If It Smashes Down,’ sparsely picking at his banjo, a reverb enhanced vocal master class; howling, operatic, his chords hit the highest peak and enrapture the now silent audience. The deathly slow ‘I Needed It Most’ sees James tearing himself to shreds, belting out each line and slamming each strum pattern as if his life depended on it. Band return and ska-influenced number ‘Phone Went West’ is a finely crafted song with a catchy chorus and arguably the best ‘band’ performance of the evening; James’ vocals for once subdued, spoken not sang, but lengthy solos and uplifting instrumentals straying from the album version producing arguably the best ‘band‘ performance of the night. Psychedelic, throbbing, ‘Strangulation’ lives up to its name both on record and as a gig-closer, with all the genres of country, blues, pop, rock, represented on this album, the finale starts hard and heavy, turns once more into a rhythmic gospel number for the most part, before descending into chaos; driving bass, crashing cymbals, towering screams and feedback.

On record Jim James’ vocals are unquestionably unique and starkly mind-blowing on the more introspective tracks. Live, they somehow manage to sound even purer, taking off and soaring throughout the concert hall. For whatever reason My Morning Jacket have decided to do this series of album-focused gig nights, the outcome of tonight is that they make you realise, even more than you did before you chose to go, what an amazing album ‘At Dawn’ is, and also appreciate the thought involved in mixing the album, from opening song, through peaks and troughs, to the final track and unending afterthought.

My Morning Jacket performed ‘At Dawn’ (2001) in its entirety at Terminal 5, W56th Street, New York City.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan (Feat. Willy Mason) @ Bowery Ballroom

Vacating the bar in the Bowery Ballroom just minutes prior to going on stage, support act Willy Mason is perhaps the most humble, relaxed and ultimately genuine twenty-five year old on the planet. Introducing himself and announcing his pleasure to be in New York, he furthermore declares his intention to play a set of entirely original music. Racing through a number of intimate, seemingly ‘off-the-cuff’ songs, interspersed with classics like ‘Hard Hand To Hold’ and ‘Into Tomorrow,’ he delivers his bold vocals with such ease that his words seem made to be heard over the sound of breaking glass - which on a night like tonight is a prerequisite, given the marked disrespect from a rather vociferous contingent of this Manhattan audience. More ‘rarities’ and previously unheard tales of sorrow masterfully crafted drift out across the ballroom in Mason’s resonant deep declaration. Live favourites ‘Waiter At The Station’ (written by his mother) and ‘I Got Gold’ (written for his father) end the set in fine style as Mason gives a simple nod, picks up his bottle of Red Stripe (which he alleges had been staring at him all set) and thanks the New York crowd before heading back down to the bar.

The unlikely duo of former Belle and Sebastian singer and cellist Isobel Campbell, and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, QOTSA, Gutter Twins) remain initially elusive in order to allow anticipation, as well as the crowd itself in the Bowery Ballroom, to build. Sauntering silently on, backed by a four-piece band, the pair launch into the opener from new album Hawk; ‘We Die and See Beauty Reign,’ a track that wouldn’t sound out of place in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks’ ‘Red Room‘; a dream-inducing, pulsating slow dance to hypnotize every listener. Followed by most recent single ‘Come Undone,’ Lanegan, with words on a music stand in front of him, assumes his trademark stance, gripping the microphone with right-hand, stand with left, wincing with every note and watching over his female counterpart like Halloween‘s killer Michael Myers. Campbell on the other hand, who has produced the new album, is noticeably nervous, delivering her breathless vocals perfectly, but shifting around to involve her beloved cello and as many obscure percussion instruments in each song as possible.

‘Honey Child What Can I Do?’ ‘Ballad of the Broken Seas,’ and ‘The Circus is Leaving Town’ from debut album ’Ballad of the Broken Seas’ are a testament to Campbell’s song-writing flair. And despite the author’s unsettled demeanour, Lanegan appears more relaxed with each song, plying vocals to make anyone’s heart crumble in their chest. Vacating the stage after this medley, Lanegan is replaced by ‘’support’’ act Willy Mason, who appears on the new album and performs ‘No Place To Fall’ and the fantastic ‘Cool Water.’ Arguably too humble, especially when stood alongside the inanimate Campbell (long periods pass with the band playing and both Campbell and Mason shoe-gazing) Mason nevertheless ‘plays his part’ in tonight’s main act proceedings like a seasoned professional; running through note-perfect renditions of some of the new LP’s finer moments.

With Willy gone and Mark yet to return, Isobel plucks up the courage to introduce her band, including fellow song-writer, guitarist and oddly referenced ‘colleague’ Jim McCulloch before whispering a haunting version of ‘Saturday’s Gone’.

Lanegan back, the McCulloch penned ‘Salvation’ from second album ‘Sunday at Devil Dirt’ is blue-grassed up live, and ‘Back Burner’ from the same record demonstrates Campbell’s beautiful harmonies but also pedantry, again making sure every scratch, rattle and click is included from the polished version. The latter also demonstrates Lanegan’s incredible voice, a growl that only a prolonged 80-a-day habit can produce. An upbeat finale awakens the audience and rapturous applause ensues as the stage becomes deserted on the stroke of midnight.

Returning for the encore, partially sedated from preceding enchantment, no one could have expected such a spectacle. Favourites from ‘Ballad of the Broken Seas’ are made to sound darker and fresher; ‘Revolver’, ‘(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?’ and ‘Ramblin’ Man’ even see Lanegan shifting his shoulders and forcing out the revered drawl in a spine-tingling fashion. Before departing, even the most ardent fan could not have predicted the gig closer. ‘Wedding Dress,’ a Mark Lanegan (Band) original, thumps and grinds, the mesmerizing man himself gives it his all, as do the band, with raucous solos and crashing drums - a welcome, chaotic, mammoth goodbye.

'Hawk' by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan (Feat. Willy Mason) is available now on V2 Records.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Kimya Dawson @ Knitting Factory

Running through songs from her forthcoming LP Kimya Dawson relied heavily on her cute persona and unconditional love from the audience to guide her through a set blighted by a bout of Laryngitis, hiccups and false-starts. In a shockingly brief 40 minute ‘headline’ set, there was just enough magic in the new tracks to keep the crowd engaged and ultimately satisfied following the abrupt finish. Her endearing charisma shone through in brief monologues about Seattle, daughter Panda and accusations of ‘selling-out’ after her hugely successful contribution to the film Juno.

True to her nature, the set became increasingly eclectic once it passed the half way point. An a cappella rap tirade (’Check Your Snob at the Door’) aimed at those voicing cynicism towards her new found fame preceded without doubt the saddest and most personal song of the evening; (‘Walk Like Thunder’) encompassing all matters of life, death, equality and love. To finish, ‘So Nice, So Smart’ lifted the mood and restored a degree of normalcy; a well-received gem to round off a short and indifferent yet largely entertaining performance.

Friday 8th October - Kimya Dawson was playing at the Knitting Factory, Williamsburg, Brooklyn.