Somewhat jet-lagged and unused to humidity after three weeks in suburban Phoenix, where we're running for Congress in the Green Party primary on August 24, we did manage to see at least one show in The L Magazine's Northside Festival.
We took the B43 bus up to Greenpoint and walked to the Newtown Barge Terminal Playground for the afternoon performances by Elvis Perkins in Dearland, A. A. Bondy and ARMS.
Presented at the MetroPCS Stage by Consequences of Sound, the show was supposed to start at 1:30 p.m. on a hot and humid afternoon. We got there a bit early and paid our $17 at the gate.
We'd never been to this playground before; it's mostly a ballfield, we guess, across from the Greenpoint Playground for kids
by the triangle formed by Commercial, Dupont and West Streets just off the river.
It was the terminal for the Newton Creek Barge Canal back in the day when this was one of the busiest waterways in the country, with all the oil refining, shipbuilding, printing, glass and pottery making, and cast iron manufacturing around here.
There was a decent breeze from the waterfront and good shade from some giant trees, and for about half the three hours, clouds kept the sun in check so things were bearable.
The Open Space Alliance had its familiar tent, with some kind of beer for sale. We assume it was Heineken since they were listed as a sponsor of Northside, but we didn't pay attention since we don't drink.
The show started pretty much on time with ARMS, although the crowd was small, maybe 40 or so, at the beginning of ARMS's set. (We overhead one guy telling his girlfriend that "more people need to read Brooklyn Vegan.")
It's kind of weird, but we usually look around when we go to venues like this to see if we are the oldest person there; this afternoon, maybe the crowd grew to 200 and we didn't see anyone we thought was older. Maybe the parents of one of the performers or something, but we doubt it. Anyway, all three bands were talented, and even a cheap old Jewish man felt the ticket price was well worth it.
We don't pretend we can talk intelligently about the music, but we actually did know Todd Goldstein of ARMS. It seems like just a year ago all our writer friends were really excited about his old band, the Harlem Shakes, so we listened to them and enjoyed their work. They seemed to break up just as they were starting out famous. (Okay, these are probably ignorant comments but when you get old, you just don't care anymore.) Anyway, his work with ARMS seems just as literary, if that's not an insult.
Rawkblog compared Goldstein's new and old bands when it reviewed ARMS's EP, titled EP:
Harlem Shakes were a spastic, unmedicated and ADD-suffering indie-pop band, but ARMS’ stuff is more introverted, full of luminous guitar arpeggios and mournful vocals. Which is not to say the band shows no muscle – Goldstein allows himself enough guitar breakdowns to keep the songs as sweaty as they are self-aware.
Besides Todd, ARMS is Tlacael Esparza on drums and Matty Fasano on bass. We especially liked "Floaters." Todd said some funny things between sets today. Before we knew it, their set was over and we felt wistful.
A.A. Bondy surprised us by being so impressive. You can sense his integrity, and that carries over into his music, which is soulful but gritty. Again, we hope it's not an insult, but Bondy also seems like the kind of musician writers like. The novelist Michael Koryta wrote about his song "How Will You Meet Your End?" in the New York Times Paper Cuts litblog:
A dark musical tale that seems to reach out from another time, this is a song I can — and do — leave on repeat for long stretches. For both “So Cold the River” and “The Cypress House,” I turned to this song often because I found its haunting lyrics and melody to be perfect tone-setters.
Our favorite was the Nirvana-ish "Killed Myself When I Was Young," which appeared on NBC's Friday Night Lights. Bondy's version this afternoon managed to be low-key yet full of energy, if that's not a contradiction. Below is a performance at the Mercury Lounge a couple of years ago:
Scott McLellan, wrote this about A.A. Bondy last year in the Boston Globe:
His second album, "When the Devil’s Loose," has a lot of chaos and strife churning below calm pacing and bemused tone. The album’s first couple of songs put out a thick haze of cryptic imagery. Then the phenomenal title track tightens things with a cautionary tale tucked into a litany of disasters. A young Bob Dylan used to craft songs like "When the Devil’s Loose," but delivered them with a staccato panic.
Bondy, though, keeps his cool while observing the wreckage...Bleakness bubbles up again before the record is over, but his song "The Mercy Wheel" suggests that Bondy is giving the devil a fight.
(You can get a much more informed take on A.A. Bondy's appearance at Citizen Dick, along with a video from the show.)
During the break between acts, we noticed the guys at the Mexican food booth were watching the World Cup on TV, as were some of audience members.
Elvis Perkins in Dearland had a lot of instruments to set up. In addition to Perkins, whose 2007 debut album Ash Wednesday got a lot of great reviews, the band includes Brigham Brough (bass,vocals, saxophone), Wyndham Boylan-Garnett (organ, harmonium, trombone, guitar, vocals) and Nick Kinsey (drums, clarinet, vocals).
Perkins is simply amazing. (Of course we don't know nothin' about birthin' babies. See Colin Jones' review of this show at Death+Taxes for intelligent commentary.) Here's "Doomsday," to us his best song. As NPR noted, "Though he originally wrote the song as a waltzy "dirge," he ended up shifting the mood after discussing it with his band mates. The same joyous sound permeates the album, often serving as a hopeful contrast to its troubled origins.
We'd like to write about Elvis Perkins without mentioning his family, but obviously the lives and deaths of his parents, Anthony Perkins and Berry Berenson-Perkins, play a role in his music (his mother's death on 9/11 informs "Doomsday"). As is often noted his other famous relatives include his aunt Marisa Berenson, great-grandmother Elsa Schiaparelli and great-great-uncle Bernard Berenson, but we're not sure what that has to do with anything. Our only famous relative was our great-great-uncle Dave Tarras, who tried to teach us to be a musician too but soon figured out our only ability in that area is appreciating talented musicians.
Perkins' lyrics on songs like "While You Were Sleeping" are arresting, but it's the vocals and instrumentation that make them magical.
By this time, after 4 p.m., the crowd was pretty big. The sun had been out strongly for the past hour, and we were sweaty but really enjoyed all the bands we saw in just this little slice of the Northside Festival.
By the southwest corner of the playground were the coolest breezes, and from there we left slightly early, not staying quite till the end, but hey, we're going to be 60 on our next birthday. Anyway, we're really grateful we got to see this afternoon's show.