Parquet Courts – What Color is Blood @Pickathon 2014 Woods Stage

 

Watch the band play “What Color Is Blood” on a stage made of trees at Oregon’s Pickathon festival.

 

 

 

January 20, 2015 – The Brooklyn-via-Texas band Parquet Courts released two albums in 2014: Sunbathing Animal in June and Content Nausea (under the name Parkay Quarts) in the fall. In a performance last summer at the Pickathon Music Festival, the band introduces one of its new songs, “What Color Is Blood.” With an insistent beat and a bit of head-shaking craziness, the group plays to an intensely appreciative crowd at the Woods Stage.

Each month, opbmusic and NPR Music present another video recorded at the Woods Stage at Pickathon, each hand-picked by opbmusic to showcase some of last summer’s highlights. The next premiere will run on Feb. 17.

 

 

 

 

The Antlers, ‘Doppelganger’ (Live) – favorite NPR sessions

July 14, 2014
The Brooklyn band frequently finds inspiration in dark places: On 2009’s Hospice, singer-guitarist Peter Silberman reflects on terminal illness and emotional abuse, while this year’s Familiars turns the Buddhist notion of bardo, a state of being between incarnations, into the impetus for a dialog about multiple selves.

Whether or not you notice his intentions, it’s hard not to be swept away by The Antlers’ dreamy, ambient pop melodies. Familiars is felt in the heart, not the head. Here, the band performs “Doppelganger” in a gorgeous studio session. Head over to watch three more videos documenting the band’s recent appearance.

Enjoy.

The xx: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

 

 

 

It’s easy to think of The xx as a fashionable band: Its members have a sleek all-in-black look, its typography and cover art is coolly and distinctively styled, and the group itself has been showered with validation, including Britain’s 2010 Mercury Prize. But beneath all that tightly controlled image-making lays music that’s raw and vulnerable; shy, worried tentativeness is wired into a sound that shimmers powerfully, but remains as fragile and delicate as a soap bubble.

The xx’s second album, Coexist, came out last fall, and it plays like a series of tensely lovely interludes, each building to a climax that never arrives. Plopped in front of Bob Boilen’s desk and asked to play a few songs from the record, singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft and singer-bassist Oliver Sim have reason to look slightly ill-at-ease: The setting and band configuration robs them of cover. No beats from member Jamie Smith, who opted to hang back at the hotel; no shroud of darkness or bright lights pointed outward to blunt the crowd’s stares. Throughout their characteristically compact seven-minute performance, Croft and Sim avoid eye contact, as they visibly try to ignore the huge throng and cameras positioned maybe 10 feet away from them.

What comes out of their performance is not just beauty, but humanity — the sense that, in all of The xx’s songs, all the calm chilliness in the world can’t quite contain an exposed heart.

Set List
• “Angels”
• “Sunset”

Credits
Producer: Bob Boilen; Editor: Denise DeBelius; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Becky Lettenberger, Claire O’Neill, Maggie Starbard

Live Review: St. Vincent at New York’s Terminal 5 (2/26)

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Annie Clark celebrates her new Top Rated album with a sold out hometown gig.

Photos: Wei Shi

A St. Vincent concert is a great leveler—it reduces all of us, even Annie Clark—to mere specks in the universe that the music of St. Vincent has created. Giants like David Byrne appear alongside unemployed Brooklyners and haughty Manhattan socialites, all eager to bask in her enormous glow. The packed VIP section in New York’s shoddiest large crowd venue Terminal 5 can attest to this: We are all moths flitting toward the great white light of Annie Clark.

When the spotlight hit Clark, she belt out opener “Rattlesnake” with a sly grin, her spiny shadow looming nearby in the corner. She arrived in all reds and blacks, an almost cabaret outfit that flirted with the conservative side of sexy with stark lines. The crowd roared and hissed as they recognized her latest single, their vocals filling the cavernous warehouse of the venue with uncanny volume. Miraculously, most everyone honored the robotic plea issued just prior to the music: “Please refrain from digitally capturing your experience.” This made her message on follow-up song “Digital Witness” hang even heavier in the room: “I want all of your mind.”

St. Vincent is the perfect pop star candidate for our new millennial tastes, and the live show for her fourth and latest, self-titled record reveals this with crystalline clarity. More Bowie than Britney, she cherry picks from the drama and glitz of the ’80s with none of its tawdry, channeling the frisson of nostalgia with a cool elegance that’s decidedly of the moment. “I can’t see the future but I know it’s got big plans for me,” goes a line on “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood” a mid-set deep cut from her 2009 breakout Actor. Assured even in prescient incantations, she seems to speak her cultural import into being, predicting and creating her impact. Because she is a pop star maximalist, donning her guitar from a stagehand like a crown, prancing from center stage to some art deco, stark white boxes like a creature. She even adopts the pose of doe-eyed lounge singer for a sensual performance of another new one, the blasphemous defiance of “I Prefer Your Love.”

But she’s a pop star of her own design, existing within her own distinct confines. Clark bucks beauty standards with casual ease, willfully embracing the female dread of “grey hair” and assembles her locks with the ferocity of a lion’s mane. None of it is accidental, surely, but none of it feels put upon either. Clark is never contrived even when she is deliberate—she feels like Clark even when she’s channeling the star power of St. Vincent. Amid a generation desperately seeking to identify with aesthetic signifiers defined by their relationship to others, she seems strangely unconnected from her contemporaries.

It feels reassuring to see that Clark’s style is all her own. Even when her aesthetic nods to others, at the center of St. Vincent’s visual and aural identity we find the girl Clark and goddess St. Vincent casually interpolated across guitar solos, structured stage banter, and sporadic smiles. The staged, pre-composed banter she prepared to address the audience with has the warm feel of a mother reading a book she knows well to her children—there’s no rigidity in her preparation. Instead, the intermittent speeches reflecting on childhood joys and hopes that is seeking to connect Clark with her fans, comes across as a warm, hospitable foresight.

It’s the moments of animal abandon that really make the live show a spectacle though. Her guitar solos recall why we used the word “shredding” at all to talk about sounds that guitars make. They’re Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, or Poison in nature and fervor, but mashed up against intricate, balanced organs and harmonies and strewn with her compelling yet child-like lyrics. Her freedom onstage seems tied to the reality of her social restraint. Dancing like she’s giving birth or heaving in sickness on “Every Tear Disappears”, or doing a corpselike ballet during the languid, high-register breathiness of “Surgeon”, she seems unlocked, revealed. For “Cheerleader”, she clambered to the highest shellacked white box of the tower to unleash a guitar solo that sounds like a VCR eating the old magnetic tape of a beat-up VHS. As if the reified role of female as sexually suggestive sidelines spectator would itself jam in the machinery of our society and cease to ever be played out again.

These images conflict with the kind but closed-off portraits we get of her in overly-lengthy and wide-eyed profiles, or even photographs of her. The hype wearies us even as we seek to know her more, but this dichotomy also speaks to our continued fascination. Hence her popularity and the all-around-din of her celebrated genius: She knows herself, and she’s assured enough in that knowledge to keep it under the lock and key of her watchful, careful dialogue with the public.

Her prepared monologues make one thing clear, though, which is that Annie Clark is a great lover of the unceasing awe of childhood hopes and dreams. For an encore, a solitary, stripped down version of “Strange Mercy” from 2011’s record of the same name soothes like a lullaby, encouraging impossible dreams with a peculiar insistence. “I’ll be with you lost boys/ sneaking out where the shivers won’t find you” goes the Peter Pan-invoking refrain. Clark invites us to re-stoke the embers of our imagination, before we learned it wasn’t cool to dream big, whopping guitar-solo energy into the tiny, extraordinary hopes we had for ourselves. Before we learned that mercy is indeed strange, and rare in our encounters with the injustices of reality, law, and hierarchy. So she sings us the lullabies and livid, seething rock songs to soothe our embattled hearts. We can never be children again, but in the flicker of her looming shadow, we find a blind belief in recapturing innocence. Whether it’s a losing battle or not, Annie Clark stands as a witness that this battle is not futile.

The Welcome Contradictions of Ella “Lorde” Yelich-O’Connor + U.S. Debut Concert

LORDE1

 

The other day, a friend of mine who recently moved to New York from Salt Lake City was lamenting the collective fashion sense of her Williamsburg brethren. Back home, she explained, you could automatically tell who was alternative and who was a square, based simply on the way they were dressed. In New York, it’s different. “Everything’s blended together,” she said. “There’s no way to tell who’s mainstream and who’s not.”
 
All due respect to my friend, there are still plenty of freaks walking around in NYC. But her observation is useful in evaluating the output of a new crop of indie singers, who, as Steven Hyden noted over at Grantland, don’t sound all that alternative. Like the kids in Brooklyn that my friend can’t figure out, these artists are mixing signals in a way that makes them hard to decipher and emblematic of a shape-shifting generation.
 
One of the best and poppiest new acts toeing that line is Lorde, a 16-year-old Kiwi with a voice like Lana Del Rey and an attitude far more interesting. Where Del Rey seems content to be a poster-girl for an industry-stamped combination of vintage style and vague, fashionable angst, Ella “Lorde” Yelich-O’Connor is more difficult to pin down, and is, as a result, a lot more fun.

The first single from her new album Pure Heroine is a good example. “Royals,” seems at first to be a straightforward song, with the same anti-consumption attitude that has powered recent radio hits (“Thrift Shop”) and avant-garde outbursts (“New Slaves,”) alike. But the song is knottier than it first appears.
 
For one thing, similar to Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank),” it’s got the potential to sound like a celebration of the very things it purports to reject. The song’s catchy, elongated bridge: “gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom, bloodstains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room” etc. will no doubt lead some epic party sing-alongs. And those signifiers’ placement within the song guarantee that they’ll be celebrated with the fervor that Lorde is initially denying them.
 
Then there’s the chorus, where things get really tricky, as it operates on a distinction between being a “royal”–someone with money–and “ruling,” which, apparently means simply being awesome, a trickier aspiration that’s less easy to assume simply by making some money.
 
This is fascinating stuff, which contains an undercurrent of political thought that has (for the most part) been missing from mainstream pop since rap found shiny suits. The difference is that there’s no confusion here about “serious” music–Pure Heroine makes it clear that pop songs are as useful as vehicles for in-depth ideas as any banjo-powered protest jam.
 
The album is chock full of moments of genuine rebellion–a spark that can’t be consistently found in any one genre of music anymore. “Buzzcut Season” opens with a line delivered innocuously enough: “I remember when your head caught flame.” The story goes on to detail a genuine devil-may-care reaction to an unintentional hairstyle change–a rebellion more difficult to signify than the simple mention of molly in an otherwise perfectly bland anthem-by-numbers. But at the same time, the song is pure pop, with girl-group cooing, another of those head-grabbing bridges, and talk of “explosions on TV” and other recognizable symbols of pop bombast.
 
Lorde – Webster Hall – 9/30/13
 
Better Than: Whatever the hell I was doing at 16.
 
Lorde has a darkness about her. Around 9:30 p.m, she slinked on a fairly dark stage that never let itself become much more brightly lit than moments of off-center spotlight grazing her dancing along to the beats of her songs. In all black herself, Lorde’s stage presence is as much an antithesis to pop as her lyrics are. But beneath her Wednesday Addams exterior and pouting lyrics that serve as the linguistic equivalent of giving a one shoulder shrug, the rapidly rising New Zealand native is beginning to cast a pop star mold for herself that’s as refreshingly moody as it is addicting.
 
In her contrarian pop way, Lorde is still very obviously cultivating her own presence on stage. It’s charming and relatable the way she moves to her own tunes by jerkingly hunching her body over her microphone in time to the drums while her fingers pet the air in front of her like a cat. She looks natural, unchoreographed, and less apathetic than her music would make one assume. Much like her audience, Lorde couldn’t help but get lost in the lush beats and sound of her debut album Pure Heroine. Its songs sound even more captivating live.
 
With only the new album and a short EP The Love Club under her belt, Lorde’s setlist was understandably short. Beginning with “Bravado,” a gothic electro-pop ballad from her EP, she sang how she wants “the applause, the approval” before becoming the hearty recipient of both from the packed audience. The repetitive but hauntingly doom-beat driven “Biting Down” followed and brought out the debut of her most intense incarnation of her clawing and hunching drum dance.
 
Single “Tennis Court” arrived early in the set and delivered the night’s sweetest moment when the audience warmly and enthusiastically cheered right after Lorde sang “pretty soon I’ll be getting on my first plane.” The applause felt sincere as the singer continued on without missing a note. Even sweeter was her crooning, swooning cover of The Replacements’ “Swingin Party” which gave her an opportunity to really show off her rich voice in all its glory. The Replacements weren’t the only artist Lorde covered during the night, however, and her version of “Hold My Liquor” from Kanye West’s summer smash Yeezus was a particular delight as it slipped in and out of her setlist with a surprising amount of ease.
 
Naturally, before the night ended, Lorde had to include “Royals.” Being the opposition to modern pop luxury, hence her reign on the Alternative Charts, she chose to not make her biggest song the bookend to her concert and completely skipped an encore despite the crowd lingering for an abnormal amount of post-concert time. Non-closer “Royals” elicited a massive sing-a-long without Lorde having to do the gimmicky microphone-towards-the-audience trick. Afterwards, she blazed through her final tracks, including a glimmering performance of “A World Alone” at the end. With that, Lorde left the stage as mysteriously as she entered it before allowing the set to be illuminated brighter than it had been all evening.
 
USA DEBUT Lorde – A World Alone (live @ Le Poisson Rouge 8/6/13)
 

Thom Yorke’s Atoms for Peace shakes up Brooklyn’s Barclays Center

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Atoms For Peace Concert @ Barclays Center 9/27

“I’m Justin Bieber,” quipped Thom Yorke, before gesturing to the man on his left, Flea. “And this is…Justin Bieber.” This was the extent of the band’s introductions at last night’s Atoms For Peace concert at Brooklyn’s cavernous Barclays Center. Yet also a good indication of what this project represents for Yorke: a chance to cut loose, and a welcome respite from the (at times) stifling severity his other band warrants. The lanky frontman soaked up every second, gleefully flailing his arms and greeting the crowd with a big, goofy “Wassssup?!” It helps that he’s palling around with a guy whose perhaps best known for this.

The near-capacity crowd at Barclays responded accordingly: arms aloft, sway-dancing, shrieking, and hollering. Given the degree of obsession Yorke and Radiohead inspire, it’s doubtful many were ignorant of their proper debut from earlier this year, Amok, but such a physical response was likely from the band’s nefarious live sound. Simply put, Yorke’s co-conspirators — the aforementioned Flea, famed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, esteemed session drummer Joey Waronker, and percussion virtuoso Mauro Refosco — rock, injecting irresistible rhythmic life into these songs. Flea, in particular, is a joy to watch, bounding from one side of the stage to the other with the alacrity of a toddler, and hearing him crush the outro to “Harrowdown Hill” was one of the show’s highlights. Hell, the Chili Peppers bassist even made the melodica look cool (as he did on “Skip Divided”).

Together, these five covered a significant amount of musical ground over the course of the night’s 90 odd minutes. In addition to just about everything from Amok and 2006′s The Eraser, Yorke also utilized the first encore (of two) to bust out some rarities, including Radiohead B-side “Paperbag Writer”, a jammy rendition of rare single “Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses”, and, most impressively, his 1998 collaboration with U.N.K.L.E., “Rabbit in Your Headlights” (if you’ve never seen its music video, fix that immediately). Performed live, the typical Atoms For Peace song starts relatively simple and gradually explodes with color, texture, and rhythm, and it was the same with the scintillating light-show, a frenzy of zig-zagging lines and pulsating fields that could go calm and serene during the more intimate moments.

Put together, it was an odd balancing act that didn’t look like one because it was so seamlessly executed. It also, in some ways, felt like a more authentic experience than a Radiohead concert might, at least in that a universally adored and critically lionized man ought to appear as if he’s having fun commanding a rapt crowd of thousands. (Even if his lyrics suggest he’s anything but deluded.) Ideally, for Yorke, Atoms For Peace will continue to provide the yang to Radiohead’s yin, part of a creative cycle of tension and release that yields masterful work on both ends.

While Atoms For Peace had no trouble holding down the arena, opener James Holden went over surprisingly well in the massive space, particularly for a two-man operation dishing out instrumental electronic music. Radiohead have a history of booking adventurous openers, and it’s good to see this tradition continue with Yorke’s other projects. Holden’s presence also served to place Yorke in a broader context, as a key link between the murky electronic underground vanguard and the grander gestures of arena-friendly pop and rock. If Yorke can get a few ignorant kids hopped up on the possibilities of music outside their comfort zone — or get a few hardened cynics out to an arena show — the world of music is better off for it.

Setlist:
Before Your Very Eyes…
Default
The Clock
Ingenue
Stuck Together Pieces
Unless
And It Rained All Night
Harrowdown Hill
Dropped
Cymbal Rush
Encore #1:
Skip Divided
Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses
Rabbit In Your Headlights
Paperbag Writer
Amok
Encore #2:
Atoms For Peace
Black Swan