There's something about an intimate show setting that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Walking through the hipster-laden neighborhood that is Williamsburg, with the wailing of Jeff Tweedy and the 6,000+ attending the Wilco show at McCarren Park Pool filling my consciousness, I gleefully headed over to one of my favorite local venues for a show of epically smaller proportions.
Death By Audio is less of a venue and more of an alternative space that is occupied by musicians and artists and therefore serves as a breeding ground for all things creative. On this night I went to see Bears, who's new album is in heavy rotation these days on my stereo, but it was a stacked, cross-continental bill that also included headliner Kyp Malone, Seattle-by-way-of-Japan Esurance guitar virtuoso PWRFL Power, Lawrence, KS' Ghosty, spastic NY noise entrepreneur Crime Novels and all the way from Santa Rosa, CA, That Ghost (as well as a host of other openers I didn't get there in time to see). Proving yet again that aiming small can lead to big results.
Photos By Nate Dorr
First up when I arrived was the one man show Crime Novels (government name: Ellery Martin Samson). His seven-minute set is one that intrigues me greatly, as it plays out like one would envision an electronic hardcore band to sound. With well-constructed beats playing behind him, he screams â€“ mic-less â€“ into the crowd. Because of the lack of a microphone, the screams never become overpowering and instead blend seamlessly into the music, almost acting as an instrument rather than a point of attention. I'm not entirely sold on his spoken-word delivery and find myself more interested when he holds the rhythm through his vocals â€“ but then again, riling around and screaming at people for 7 minutes leaves a lot to the imagination. Still, I have a feeling Ellery could be onto something here.
Next up was the Kansas pop of Ghosty. Currently touring with Bears and PWRFL Power, Ghosty reminds me of the laid back cynicism of bands like the Crystal Skulls or the Shins but with a bit of a mid-West twang. In fact, one could argue they were well suited to be opening for Wilco a few blocks away. I'm sure they wouldn't have minded.
Apologies to That Ghost who played between Ghosty and Bears, their set fell during my intermission. I needed air and a beer.
Bears were up next, and as always, they delivered a solid twee pop set that delighted the crowd. As Nate (photographer) put it, they create simple songs yet are able to include a bevy of elements without sounding forced. Seamlessly they blend three part harmonies, bells, keys, tambourines, wood blocks and handclaps that could inspire even the most jaded New York music fan to get involved. Playing a bunch of songs off of their new record Simple Machinery, the set was a bit darker than times past when I've seen them, but once they hit the should-be-a-TV-sitcom-theme song "Who Knows" they had the full attention of everyone in the room. And by the time they played their classic closer "Stay", everyone was clapping in unison and singing along to the one word (if "ooh" is a word) chorus.
Where Bears had me expecting a good show, PWRFL Power (government name Kazutaka Nomura) left an unexpected indelible impression on me. Most recognized for his animated presence and song "It's Ok" in an Esurance commercial, it's hard not to be fooled by his unassuming stature. But his pristine Epiphone guitar shows he means business, and before long you get a sense of his creativity and profound wit when the classical and jazz guitar prodigy displays his humor. With songs about such subjects as wanting a fake ID to say he is 16 because he's in love with an underage girl, or longing to teach a pretty girl how to hold chopsticks correctly, how could you take this guy seriously? Quite the contrary, how could you not?
PWRFL Power Esurance Commercial
Closing the night (for me at least) was TV On The Radio front man Kyp Malone, and in stark contrast to PWRFL Power's soft spoken vocals interwoven with an electric guitar, Kyp's vocals were sharply stabbing over his softly played acoustic guitar. In fact, every time I've seen Kyp perform solo, it takes on a different aesthetic, and his set proved to be the perfect ending for a night that started with a guy screaming and rolling around on the floor and climaxed with a soft-spoken ax-wielding singer songwriter.