Sunday, June 14, 2009

John Norris at Northside, Day Three: Kurt Vile, Woods, Grooms

Posted By on Sun, Jun 14, 2009 at 10:34 AM

Less Artists, More Condos, More Sweat, and even more noisy, fuzzy lo-fi pop weirdness—that was the menu at The Shank on Saturday night. A damn fine bill of musical innovators, artists from no-frills imprints like Siltbreeze, Shrimper, Woodsist and Death By Audio were represented, but at the top of the bill was a super gifted gent who made news in the past month as the latest and greatest signing to a little label called Matador: Mr. Kurt Vile.

“Thanks for being patient. The other half of our band is one the way. They’re just around the corner.” That was the Philly phenom’s announcement to the crowd around 1:45am. Fifty per cent of Kurt’s band the Violators were playing at Union Pool with The War on Drugs, and well, double bookings, things can run late.

Never mind—at 2:20am the full band took the stage in blistering fashion. Thunderous noise, heavy riffs and Vile’s reverb soaked vocals—all worth the wait. The Violators are Kurt’s rocking outlet — anyone familiar with the crazy good 2008 compilation Constant Hitmaker (the record that, let’s face it, got him the Matador deal) knows he has a multitude of pop sounds in him as well. A rousing response from the Shank crowd greeted the best known of those songs—the gem of a track, “Freeway”, here delivered in especially muscular form. Keep an eye out for my interview with Vile soon here on The L.

It was a different noise—the keyboard-driven variety—that preceded Kurt. The synth noise duo Blues Control—representing for Queens, Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho offered the most hypnotic set of the night, generating waves of alternately droning and driving sounds that ebbed and flowed and veered into electro-cacophony.

Earlier on, it must be said, bands got, ‘shanked’ with some sound issues. Grooms’ first song was done with no vocals on the mic, a speaker was beset with problems, and there were serious monitor cut outs for Woods.

That however, did not keep Woods—a band that’s become synonymous with the term ‘psych-folk’ (they are that and more) with their fourth album Songs Of Shame—from turning in a typically mesmerizing show. Woods play especially low—low drum kit, close to the crowd, guys aren’t that tall, and G. Lucas Crane and his cassette contraption are actually on the ground. Which I think is a shame only because I want people more than two rows back to be able to see the band responsible for this transcendent sound. Jeremy Earl’s falsetto vocal, Kevin Morby and Jarvis Taveniere on the drums-guitar trade off, and songs that just get better on every listen, including, obviously, the winner “Rain On”, which closed out the Shank set and had at least a dozen people singing along. I got the chance to talk to Woods before the show, and you’ll be seeing that conversation soon right here.

Following Woods was a band people might not have known by name, Grooms, but if they had been going to Brooklyn shows in the past five years, they knew the faces and the sound. Grooms, you see, is the recently adopted new name for Muggabears. Frontman Travis Johnson explained to me that the band had finally had enough of people expecting to getting something warm and fuzzy and cute with a name like Muggabears, while in fact they were way noisier. Now, ‘Grooms’ may not be the noisiest name around, but guess what? Grooms sound a lot like Muggabear, if not harder—and that’s a good thing. Frantic, piledriving fuzz pop like fans have come to expect from them, and which can be found in the aptly titled new album Rejoicer — whose first single “Dreamsucker” is flat out excellent. Oh yeah—and Travis also began things by announcing “This entire set goes out to John Norris.” Thanks dude. As though I didn’t have enough people wondering wtf I was doing at The Shank. In any case, I am happy to report that a Muggabear by any other name sounds just as sweet.

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