Brooklyn in a Box was not the official name of the 4-band extravaganza, but it should have been: it took place in the AB's mid-size ABBox (there are also the massive Main Hall and the small ABClub) and 3 of the 4 bands resided in Brooklyn. I lived in Brooklyn (Park Slope, to be exact) in the mid-80s, from 1st to 3rd grades. It's nice to see that it's gone from a land of exile (according to Sex And The City) to a land of indie-rock (and jazz) pilgrimage. Also, it was fun to see so many indie-rock hipsters, who were little more than photos on blogs for me, up close. So, they really do wear those t-shirts! and those glasses! and those hair-cuts! The night was full of revelations.
Au Revoir Simone (MySpace)
At 5:15 PM the crowd was still pretty small. Three girls, their keyboards and their drum machine. How could you not love them? I certainly did. Annie in particular endeared herself to me by jumping around wildly, infusing the music with an energy that wasn't really there.
Plain-spoken, barely melodic voices over lush keyboards, church organ drones and gently pulsating filtered beats: it was like being at a slumber party, all pajamas and pillow fights. That quality doesn't come across as strongly on the songs on their MySpace page, which are more soothing and dreamy. I was occasionally reminded of Feist. At 30-35 minutes, the set was exactly the right length (apart from making us wait a long time for the next band). On the last song, they cooed "Young hearts be free tonight/Time is on your side" over a club beat, but the enthusiasm was bittersweet.
Mates Of State
An organ/drums duo (kind of like Rhoda Scott and Kenny Clarke) playing wordy power-pop (unlike Scott and Clarke). It was at this point that I realised how common singing drummers apparently are. I had been totally unaware of the extent of this phenomenon prior to seeing Grizzly Bear. I didn't really get into MoS until the last couple of songs, perhaps because I sat in the balcony during their concert, but also perhaps because the singing seemed to unwind the music's energy. I couldn't make out what they were talking about, but I'm not sure I really wanted to.
A friend called me during the set and I moved to the stairwell in a failed attempt to hear him. For some reason a random guy started talking to me. For the first minute or two I could not understand what he was saying. Then it took shape, sort of, and a very bizarre 10 minutes ensued. Here's a sample of how the conversation went:
[we are discussing Múm and Sigur Rós]
Me: "How are they different?" (I don't know Múm)
Him: "I prefer Múm because you really feel that, when they step outside, they see icebergs and things. There's a glacial side to the music. [glances sideways] It's like Fluide Glacial, because, you know, I've always been into comic books."
I remember that part because it was the most logical of his non sequiturs. When I told IVN about this, she diagnosed schizophrenia. I don't know about that, but was relieved when I managed to extirpate myself from the situation.
TV On The Radio (MySpace | blog)
The main reason for my presence, obviously. I managed to get myself noticed again, when Kyp Malone (from a distance, he looks like Santa Claus) asked "Who saw Grizzly Bear last night?" I raised my hand, he pointed at another group who had also raised their hands and said "You were there," then pointed at me and said it again, bringing a satisfying end to the saga of my Kyp Malone interactions.
The concert itself was pretty great. I felt that there was another level they could take it to by opening up the songs a little more, but that's my improvised music bias talking. The one song that sort of did go there was the only one from Return To Cookie Mountain I'm not too fond of, "Let The Devil In." It was made great, though, by Tunde Adebimpe shouting the beery, arena singalong chorus into a megaphone and four guys coming out to add some wild percussion. At the end there were maybe 30 seconds of freak-out noise and "tribal" drumming that offered a brief glimpse of the loosened song structures I was craving.
"Wolf Like Me" unsurprisingly confirmed its status as RTCM's best song by making certain audience members hurl themselves wildly into other people. Several other tracks are amazing ("Playhouses" and "A Method" surround "Wolf Like Me" and make for an awe-inspiring stretch) and pretty much everything is at least very, very good, but "Wolf Like Me" is irresistable from the very first time to anyone who hears it. "Staring At The Sun" drew a similar response, and, compared to the recorded version, focused more on a thumping four-to-the-floor beat than guitar drone. I kind of wished for a more accurate reproduction of the detail present in the album's various layers of guitar (from slate-grey drones to agitated noise to more fine-grained playing), but that may well be impossible to do on stage.
When I started listening to RTCM, I thought I could hear a bunch of influences from musics more commonly associated with black Americans than rock (an unfortunate state of affairs, but anyway...), but the more I listened, the more that fell away and I started hearing it as, well, rock. The concert as a whole, and the stomping last song in particular, cemented this view.
Dave Sitek's guitar had wind chimes dangling from it, a very cool, producerly, I'm-all-about-sound touch, I found.
My second encounter of the night was much better than the first: Em (?) and John from Canada and Sebastian from Norway were three exchange students (and musicians) who had taken the train from Rotterdam to see TVotR. Very cool guys, it was fun talking music with them, but especially listening to them dissect the various bands they'd seen, as their indie-rock expertise was way out of my league. Still, Sebastian name-checked Jaga Jazzist, Miles and Coltrane, while Em knew The Bad Plus.
We Are Scientists
The trio above had thoroughly lowered my expectations by calling the Scientists run-of-the-mill, but I enjoyed WAS nonetheless. Or maybe I enjoyed it because they had thoroughly lowered my expectations. I recognised one song from the radio. This was the only band whose lyrics were decipherable, but unfortunately they were too boring to bother keeping up with. It was difficult to tell if the between-song jokes the mustachioed bassist traded with the singer/guitarist were purposefully stilted or just bad. Like those Anthony Braxton heads, I kind of enjoyed that feeling.