Northside Day Three: pow wow!, Elika and More

06/14/2009 1:34 PM |

pow wow! — Bar Matchless
The Blue Ribbon in the hustling category for the inaugural Northside Festival clearly goes to pow wow!, who have perhaps played more shows than all other acts combined. Street corners, bars, sandwich shops—I half expect them to show up in my apartment hallway (which is NOT accepting badges, thanks). But despite their high saturation level, the hard work seems to be paying off. A huge influx of people streamed into Matchless as their late afternoon set there started and then sort of dissolved when they shut off the crisp pop valve and packed up. The band sort of flies in the face of the current DIY scene, in that theirs are not songs made to be buried under waves of fuzz, or any other mystery-lending filter. Even when the music would digress into little knotty riffs for a second, their sharp, chugging momentum would still glide forward, shark-like. You have to root a bit for the band to graduate from small rooms, if only because the excessive cleanness of the compositions could only benefit from the crispest speakers possible.

* A side note: apparently the psychological aversion to standing directly in front of the stage of anything other than a super-packed venue is so great that people would rather clump together in the open air section of a venue under umbrellas in the rain than move under roof to fill a few gaps in the room proper. That’s sort of insane, right?

Elika — Music Hall of Williamsburg
Elika are a local guy/girl two-piece, who sound like streamlined chart pop from an alternate universe late-90s. Sure, trip-hop and shoegaze had their fans, but we never really got to the point where there were slightly safer emulators clogging the airwaves. But they sounded nice, and tastefully dark (but with too much polish to really get at anything really desperate). The emphasis seemed to be on texture rather than immediacy, though an insistent electronic pulse was welcome those times when it would occasionally bleed in. They seemed a little small for the big stage in the end, letting you notice that, fuck, Asobi Seksu’s lighting set-up behind them looked reeeeally expensive.

Cymbals Eat Guitars — Music Hall of Williamsburg
I had heard a few whispers of discontent towards Cymbals Eat Guitars live set before catching their show last night, but I wonder how different the experience must be seeing them in a small, tight space. Whatever else you can say about their music, they aren’t shy. They are a big, expansive rock band and absolutely not a snappy pop act. They could use a bit more of the pop, honestly. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a band that seems so specifically dude music, for dudes. The levels of intense sweat just pouring off lead singer Joseph D’Agostino in sheets didn’t exactly make them more cuddly. Occasionally they would channel tougher, peppier bands like The Exploding Hearts or Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Those were the most engaging bits. As the young band continues to grow up and out, we’ll cross our fingers that the sprawling guitar vistas might be broken up with some short and memorable detours.

tUnE-yArDs — Glasslands
OK, so this is what I wanted on a Saturday night: pop music, in novel constructions. Merril Garbus’ one-gal act was maybe the most purely fun set I’ve seen this long weekend. Those who might be skeptical of a hissy lo-fi debut record and a name capitalization scheme that seems to have come from a 12-year-old Florida girl named asHLYnN, should really try to catch Garbus’ bubbly, confident show. “I just feel like playing party music tonight, that OK?” she asked a mostly full Glasslands room, before taunting us with supposed rumors she’d heard that New York, as rule, did not dance. It was hard not to move when she started banging out tracks as immediately infectious as the vaguely Micachu-ish “Jumpingjack” (the M word is high praise from me indeed). On record, her songs are peppered with fuzzy field recordings that sap them of a bit of punch. On stage, they seemed purer somehow. She played ukulele, pounded two standing drums, and caught live samples of her own beats with a floor pedal, which let her loop them forward and move on to complementary bits and pieces. Her primary weapon was a huge animated voice. It went from sweetly folkish to something like a huge, odd South African spiritual. The whole package was most impressive. You sort of had to leave the room grinning.