Words by Gerard London
Photos by Jonny Leather
This past Wednesday, a friend of mine accompanied me in a New York taxi, uptown to Central Park to see a band from Bucks County, who go by the name of Illinois. If you haven't heard of these guys, they're an Americana/indie-pop/R&B(?!) band, said to have been playing music together since little league. I came across them when I first moved to New York. Saw them play the Mercury Lounge and was blown away. I never before was so instantly impressed and inexplicably excited by a new band. The kind of impression that makes one almost angry - the bad notion that none of one's own endeavor turns out even half as good.
So we lumbered along the Central Park sidewalk, in near-perfect weather, unmistakable harmonies sounding across the park; pouring from giant speakers at a time when the boys have veritably mastered their own songs. Particularly the opener to the set, "Oh Asia", and the following "Screen Door"â€”the latter from the band's debut EP, What the Hell do I know? - while having arrived late, the sound of the band without seeing them was instantly impressive (one sense is dulled, and another one is heightened).
The crowd was a quarter-full at the beginning, and the band's frontman, Arch, was looking like a Christmas elf in a green beanie with the fuzzball tip. He didn't sound like any damn elf, though - this guy could really sing, with charisma and quick wits that felt as if one of your old pals was on stage.
The rest of the set proved to be odd and enthralling. Illinois played four songs from their upcoming release, which is under-wraps and seems to be some kind of Frankenstein of beats, raps and croons from a man called "Kid Catastrophe." The track "She's so Funny" chugged along with the tortured lament of a man that always falls for crazy, and a rowdy group of audience members near me seemed to empathize singing audibly to the anthemic chorus of "I just want some sunshinnneee."
Another brand new song "I am Fine", definitely could be hip hop. Arch actually beat-boxed, as the chorus murmured along with a celebratory though surprising: "Iâ€¦ wiki-wiki I am fine". By the time that song finished, and the perfect follow-up and closer, "Bad Day" began-â€”the funny story about waking up late to work, sparkin' a bowl and getting "freeeeee"â€”the crowd grew more dense as the kiddies became antsy to see their UK boys, The Kooks.
The end to this night was inevitable: I momentarily lost my friends and got sick from two hot dogs and too much cheap red wine. If not for New York natives Stellastarr* setting-up The Kooks with such a fine set, I may've left at the first black-bile burp and the swirling twilight sky, growing dark like one's lips after a lot of bad burgundy.
The Kooks played to a packed lawn of young folks, with a stand-in drummer who made their set decidedly more rocking if slightly less pretty. After a slew of hits from their debut Inside In/Inside Out and most recent record Konk the band left the stage and violinist Marquis, who played before Illinois but whose set I missed, joined lead singer Luke Pritchard for a stripped-back version of "Jackie Big Tits". The full band took the stage for closer and crowd sing-along favorite, "Sofa Song", and the people spilled out of the park and into the streets for what was seemingly the last NYC Summer night until next year.