Friday, June 12, 2009

John Norris at Northside, Day One: Bonnie Baxter, Himalaya, Gigantic Hand

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2009 at 11:57 AM

So, as we speak thousands of people are congregating on a farm in Manchester, TN, listening to music into the wee hours of the night. And??? We’ve got a damn fine music festival happening right here in our own backyard, one that includes some of my favorite artists: Sunset Rubdown, Ponytail, The Dodos, Anamanaguchi, Kurt Vile, Woods, Real Estate and many many more. So I’m good. Plus — we get to sleep in our own beds, and we’ve got showers. (Details after the jump.)

Actually on day #1 of the first ever Northside Festival, Brooklyn had a lot of showers, as in the inclement-weather variety. That London kind of foggy drizzle. Through that soup, I made it over to North 6th to pick up my badge at festival headquarters, where only seconds after arriving in the Heineken-sponsored lounge I was offered a beer to help me pass the time. Um, OK. Also met a Northside volunteer named Christopher, a drummer looking for a gig. Cdepomp1@yahoo.com. Gotta help a brother out.

The trusty B61 bus runs up to Greenpoint no matter the weather, and that was a good thing since my first port of call was Coco 66, in hopes of catching the LA tribal-jazz-dance collective known as the Pleasure Circus Band. Problem was, Coco was oddly quiet. “Oh, Pleasure Circus Band?”, says the helpful volunteer at the door, “yeah, they cancelled.” Right. Flying start. I got the full story when bassist and bandleader Oliwa approached, to explain to me that because their drummer was delayed on a cross country move from Cali to New York, they were drummer-less and could not go on. Alas, Christopher was nowhere to be found.

I did manage to catch Brooklyn’s Bonnie Baxter, however. Wearing fishnets, with a white feather boa tied to the mic, Bonnie worked with Coco 66’s cabaret-like setting. Musically though, she and the band delivered dreamy reverb-soaked atmospheric soundscapes (as one of her songs is called) that were mesmerizing and trippy.

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Not half as trippy as what was in store next, down on Bedford in the much more packed Spike Hill. Local psych rockers stalwarts Himalaya curated the night’s show, and turned in a solid set of sweaty drone-y throwback gaze — some of it stoner, some more sweet, and in their more Floyd-like moments, like the entrancing “15 A Day” or “31”, damn if my thoughts didn’t turn to the hallucinogens on offer right now down at Bonnaroo’s Shakedown Street. Visually, a Himalaya show is all shadows and geometric projections, including their trademark Rising Sun — sonically, I thought they might blow the windows off of little Spike Hill, with a serious wall of sound finish that would have made Kevin Shields proud.

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After that a little lightening up was called for, and we got it by maybe 50%, in the form of the urgent, insistent indie rock of Gigantic Hand. Like Himalaya, these guys have been at it a few years, but as the show revealed, the songs on their recent album Permanent Skin (Triple Down Records) are something special. Tracks like “Glass Son” and “11 to 40 Miles” recall the jagged, yelping sound of Isaac Brock and Modest Mouse, and in other, moodier moments, the baritone of Matt Berninger and The National. And yet, live, the band sears and soars to a place all its own, to create one uniquely Gigantic Handprint. A pretty thrilling way to wind up night number one. The music inside may not have been sunny, but hey, it matched the weather.

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