Even on Memorial Day weekend, when half the city seemed to be out of town, Gramercy Theatre drew a boisterous crowd to see Honor Among Thieves supporting Ten Ton Mojo. The scene was something out of a different New York era, with denim, leather, and tattoos more than well-represented, dudes throwing devil horns, and a whole lot of yelling. Honor Among Thieves has a decidedly old-school sound, straight-ahead rock and roll, what could be called pre-grunge or post-grunge and particularly appealed to the ’80s metalheads in the crowd. If the “Brooklyn Sound”—wall-of-reverb, loud-QUIET-loud, introspective grunginess—has become so ubiquitous in the past few years as to become the landscape, a band with the balls to un-ironically throw up a slamming cover of a Stone Temple Pilots song stands out.
Odwalla 1221, SADAF, Chicklet, Half Pet
Friday May 19, 8 pm at Alphaville: $10
There’s this weird feature on Soundcloud, ostensibly an interactive one, that allows users to leave a “comment” by clicking anywhere on the wavelength as the song progresses. It seems kind of pointless until you come across a remark like the one left on an Odwalla1221 song that reads: “The world isn’t ready for your genius abilities!”
Four Shows: Syrian Wedding Singer’s Wartime Serenades, Punk is (Sorta) Dead, and Cat Power (No, Really)
Vulture Fest: Cat Power, Frankie Cosmos
Saturday May 20, 7 pm at Webster Hall: $40 to $45
This one’s at the top of our list because, well, Cat Power.
Lucky for you, Vulture Festival managed to do the impossible and book a last-minute gig with the ever elusive, certifiably brilliant Chan Marshall– which is just kind of how things go with her. In case you have lost track: she hasn’t appeared on stage in five years.
It kinda goes without saying, but Marshall has had a stellar career releasing albums as Cat Power. Our sister site, Vulture, writes that “Marshall is still one of our most vital songwriters, and each time she gets onstage is a unique, unexpected, and moving experience.”
But, for a time at least, she was notorious for lashing out at the audience (often justifiably– sorry, not sorry), walking off in the middle of her set, and generally having what the music media machine love to characterize as “breakdowns.” Mind you, the term seems to be reserved especially for women artists when they get particularly emotional, or even just confrontational on stage. (I guess rock star dude bros can have “breakdowns” too, but they usually involve rehab, or perhaps a reality TV show that documents a clinical inability to remove one’s headscarf.) When musicians of the male variety have tizzies on stage we just call it “shredding” or “Kanye.”
Cat Power’s last official tour–to promote Sun, which dropped way back in 2012–was predictably bumpy. Still, if it was easy to frame the drama as a result of “instability” or as a sign of burnout, it was impossible to square her recorded music with such a narrative. Pitchfork pointed out that Sun– Cat Power’s first to “feature synthesizers, Auto-Tune, and Iggy Pop” released nearly two decades after her debut– was the work of an artist at her creative peak, and “[existed] completely and defiantly outside of any larger musical trends.” What’s more, it was Marshall’s mercurial sensibilities that made Sun so magnetic and addictive in the first place.
So why would we expect anything other than an emotional hurricane from Cat Power’s live performances? (Personally, I’m gonna stick this one in the ol’ virgin/slut file, along with all the other contradictory roles we expect women to fulfill simultaneously.)
Let’s be clear: Marshall is older and wiser now, and it’s been years since she has relied on her potent stage juice (Xanax, cigarettes, and “a minibar’s worth of Jack Daniel’s, Glenlivet and Crown Royal”) to get things going. But (while we hope to see a full set from her) we fully encourage her to let it all out– and if that means starting a fire and burning the whole stage down with her, then we trust that she knows what she’s doing.
Weed, Bugg, RIPS, Silk Sign
Friday May 12, 8 pm at Trans-Pecos: $8 in advance, $10 at the door
If you’re a cynical jerk like me, then you might also be immediately suspicious of a band named Weed (in town from Vancouver, BC)– like, if Urban Outfitters had the keys to the record label castle and were given full reign to manufacture some Frankenstein-like on-brand band, it would most certainly be called “Weed.” I can see it now, an album cover adorned with pizza slices, alien faces, ying-yangs, and of course pot leaves, all sloppy-like as if sketched by a fifth grader hopped up on Hi-Chew and Mountain-Dew Slurpees. This “band” would sound like an aughts-does-the-’90s version of Sum-41 and would play shows at the (now-defunct) rooftop restaurant at the UO “concept store” in Williamsburg. In short, total barf fest.
Thankfully, Weed are not at all as I feared them to be. Instead they embody ganja in its realest, unmarketable form– as skater fuel, spiritual inspiration, and the stuff you ingest to make you slow down and, like, wonder about the universe for a moment. Sonically, that translates as sorta shoegazey (but not in any serious sense) stoner rock with a whole lotta reverb.
Street Eaters, HVAC, Boys Online, Salty
Tuesday May 9, 8 pm at The Silent Barn: $8
You know that rumor that’s been going around for a while now? Something about how “punk is dead.” Come to think of it, seems like this has kinda always been the case. Prepare to have your mind blown, but consider the possibility that maybe this debate has been on the table since the dawn of friggin’ time. Hear me out: clearly “punk”–as a state of mind–existed long before The Velvet Underground and The Stooges and all that, even since the dawn of time. Shakespeare was kind of a punk (in fact, he was waaaay ahead of the curve when he used the term way back in 1602). And Sappho, well she was about as punk as anyone could hope to be when she was writing poetry circa 570 BC.
Given that punk (ideally, anyway) is youthful, rebellious, and against the status-quo, it’s only natural that questions about its continuing relevance are about as common as punk manifestos. It’s hard to admit, but in a lot of ways– looking around the NYC scene especially– punk, when considering its most visible forms and “successful” bands (lol whatever that means), still suffers from hyper-masculine, misogynist tendencies. Yes, still. Which, needless to say, has not only gotten old, but has been old– like, forever.
You might think that’s sort of sad, since right now especially (given the awfully depressing circumstances of our most horrifying present) we should all be going to more punk shows. It is, if you’re going to the same old shows, headlined by the same old bands. But there’s an easy fix: support the bands that are not zombie relics of another era– bands that include women, queer and trans musicians, people of color, Muslims, Jews, everyone, everyone. If you even need reason, you will be rewarded not only with a fresh-feeling scene, but excellent sounds that remind you why you started listening to punk in the first place.
Thursday May 11, 7 pm at Le Poisson Rouge: $30
The war in Syria has gone on for so long that many of us here in the West have grown numb to it– which might sound callous, but it’s difficult to avoid mainly because the narrative has been dominated by chaotic battlefield reports and gruesome images of the violence inflicted by Assad on his own people, including children and civilians in general. The only way to avoid going completely insane over such horror is to keep a safe distance.
But this can’t go on forever– and slowly, we’re starting to receive dispatches that are more human: personal accounts by the people who have actually been there. Art is an especially useful way to reach people, and more importantly move them.
Enter Omar Souleyman, an unlikely rock star who “began his career as a prolific wedding singer” in Syria, “releasing nearly 500 live albums before civil war broke out” in 2011. His life, like many more, was upended in profound ways, but he continued making music even after leaving his home in Al-Jazira (a region in Syria’s northwest) for Turkey, which took on a whole new depth. Now, the West is listening to Souleyman, whose sounds and heartfelt lyrics give listeners no choice but to reckon with reality.
On To Syria, With Love, the album Omar will release on June 2, he sings: “It’s been six years I’ve been away, and I’m tired of looking for home and asking about my loved ones. My soul is wounded and it’s like having dust in my eyes. We are in exile, and our nights are long. Our homeland is our only comfort. Life caused us so much pain—our wounds are too many and every wound calls out, ‘We miss Al-Jazira.’”
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct the release date of “To Syria, With Love.”
Hank Wood & the Hammer Heads, La Misma, Mommy, Conspiracy, Shimmer, Fur Helmet
Friday May 5, 8 pm at Saint Vitus: $15
This lineup reads like a who’s-doo of Toxic State records. Arriving straight from the “institutional abyss” is Mommy. Then you have the Portuguese spittlin’ piss punks of La Misma, and scene stalwarts like Fur Helmet and Conspiracy. I mean, Saint Vitus has been called “one of the best-booked bars in New York”– even so, you’re rarely gonna find so many excellent punk/hardcore bands in one place outside of a funeral or, like, a festival (shudder).
Wolf Eyes, Eartheater, Twig Harper
Saturday April 22, 8 pm at Brooklyn Bazaar: $13
Wow, what a whirlwind couple of years these must have been for Wolf Eyes– and this #blessed bestowance is well deserved for the band, which started out making noise, then moved toward not-noise-at-all noise that really was noise, until they transcended noise altogether. The comeuppance has meant, among other things, a new record label to call their own, a music festival in their honor (Trip Metal Fest will be back this year for a second go-round), a stream of sold-out shows in places that are just slightly above the underground and well beyond the borders of Metro Detroit, and now Undertow, a new album hot on the pup paws of 2015’s I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces.
It’s true that one of the saddest sights in the world is a lifeless party struck down by under-attendance. We’ve all been there, at some point, and the sorry scene is always the same: a mostly empty room forms into a joy-sucking vacuum, where laughter feels forced and boozing looks like desperate denial. But nightlife veterans know that parties too big for their britches can be just as bad, and that even great parties will start losing their collective spirit as more and more people pack it in.
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If you’ve never been to a Pink Mass show and your idea of BDSM is 50 Shades of Grey, then grab your smelling salts for this one. Even I found myself flinching at photos of the band’s live performances– gory scenes of large, sweat-soaked men sheathed in balls-to-the-wall bondage gear, bending into various shapes of mastering and submitting, and abiding strictly by the band’s stated “personal interests”:
Xiu Xiu, Dreamcrusher, Gold Dime
Thursday April 6, 8 pm at Brooklyn Bazaar: $13
If you’re wondering what Xiu Xiu is all about, take Morrissey’s whinny, combine with scratchy dance music and pop presence, and dump the resulting liquid on the ground, because Xiu Xiu is anything but rut-stuck. If there’s one habit that the depresso-electro outfit can’t quit, it’s danceability. Leading vocal dude Jamie Stewart might sound like he’s violently ripping his hair out at the moment, and so sad that he might tip over a newspaper stand if he comes across one, but he’ll never get in the way of you and your shimmy.
Fred Thomas, Kyle Forester, What Next?
Wednesday March 29, 8 pm at Union Pool: $12
Back in 2007 when Saturday Looks Good to Me had found its way into CMJ, the Detroit Metro Times wondered, “Will Success Spoil Fred Thomas?” The short answer has turned out to be, no, not really. The slightly longer one is that Fred Thomas is a nice guy. So nice is Fred Thomas, that even after finding some well-deserved recognition in a fast-shrinking corner of music that is still confoundingly known as “indie rock,” he still does normal cool-dude stuff. He recently even stooped to record the lowliest trash-life punk that Detroit has to offer: the K9 Sniffies, whose members I hesitate to even call “musicians” (but who I am obligated to admit are my friends, or whatever).
Soap Library is the “holistic” tape label we told you about in December that’s out there crafting some mighty fine-looking, object-d’art cassette tapes. Big whoop, you say? Well, they also create multi-sensory experiences for their listeners by way of custom accessories that are way cooler than a kooky matching necklace that you’ll never be not-embarrassed enough to wear.
Concert for Immigration Rights: Glasser, Underground System, Tigue, Elena Moon Park & Friends, Ashley Bathgate, and Ljova
Wednesday March 22, doors 7 pm at Le Poisson Rouge: $25
Le Poisson Rouge is hosting a benefit this week for the New York Immigration Coalition, which is cool. As you might expect, they’ve put together an eclectic lineup to help rake in the cash for a chill cause: defending immigrants rights. Funds are going directly to the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) which provides services that LPR says are “particularly crucial in the wake of the recent presidential executive actions.” Hear, hear.
Lady Pills, Dead Stars, RIPS, Monograms
Wednesday March 15, 8 pm at Trans-Pecos: $10
Another one of our own bit the dust– say it with me: RIP Shea Stadium. Now what? Get out there and keep supporting DIY venues across the city. And yes, that also goes for homegrown spots that just happen to be certified-legit, grown-up, and now pleasant after years of hard and risky work– never forget that these dudes are threatened by the looming, apparently totally arbitrary powers that be.