Postcards from the Pit: The Bottom Dollars / Leroy Justice / Rhythm and Stealth, Brooklyn Bowl, 5/6/14

Rhythm & Stealth, who on this occasion were joined by LaToya Kennedy, Illspokinn and Rabbi Darkside, are a complex musical stew, incorporating elements of funk, soul, jazz, ambient electronica and hip hop. Highlights of the set: amazing powerful drums; La Toya Kennedy’s magnificent supple voice; the bass drop that was as loose and wild as it was elegant. If you are standing still during their set, you are doing something wrong.

Leroy Justice were a little bit country, a little bit rock n’ roll and a little bit bluesy. They didn’t grab me at first but they got better as they went along.

The Bottom Dollars also played rockin’ country blues, but theirs had a harder, heavier edge than Leroy Justice, and there were more bursts of jammy psychedelia. They also brought two of my favorite things: some ragtime filigree, and heavy hypnotic drums. (Fans of the Felice Brothers and The Districts: This is a band for you.) They’ll be back at the Brooklyn Bowl again on June 11-12 with Talib Kweli and Res, for the Northside Festival. Check ’em out if you’re around.

Postcards from the Pit: Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s / Empires / Kate Myers, Bowery Ballroom, 5/3/14

Kate Myers: beautiful voice; flashes of songwriting brilliance; not a terrible way to spend half an hour.

Empires: The scrappy little band of my heart (Midwest division) has at long last come out of hibernation – their new record, Orphan, is due June 17 – and I’m pleased to report their garage rock grit is intact, but they’ve added some grown-up polish and flair. Their set was 100% new tunes – bold move! – so I was briefly concerned I had missed a record, somewhere along the line, but ultimately I didn’t really care because all of the songs were awesome. My final assessment: they are the aural equivalent of sex hair.

They’re back in New York on June 18 at the Mercury Lounge, and, special notice to Columbus, Ohio: They’re playing the Afterparty of the Fashion Meets Music Festival in your town, August 29-31, 2014.

Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s: They drift more towards the Eagles country-rock end of the spectrum; I gave them three songs, as I do for anyone, and when I decided I wasn’t feeling it I got off the rail so people who did love them could get closer.

Postcards from the Pit: The Used / Taking Back Sunday / tonightalive. / Sleepwave, Best Buy Theater, 4/15/14

Because better late then never, I guess?

Or just because this show took me a while to process.

Going in, I thought it might be an era ending, the last shot at getting near a pit before my janky spine forced me out into safer, less unruly pursuits. Or at least to attend shows in venues with chairs.

I say “near” because Best Buy Theater has three tiers, two stading, one seats, and there was no way I was getting on the floor for this show. I was still debating the issue with myself when I saw there was one last spot on the granny rail, between the seats and the real (soon to be constantly heaving) pit, and I took it.

Sleepwave were up first. Led by Spencer Chamberlain, formerly of Underoath, they’re so new they don’t have a record out yet – that’s coming later this summer – but they came highly recommended by the ladies at the front who had seen several shows on the tour already.

And they were indeed very good, playing the kind of gritty, grimy metal that is majestically uncomplicated, the kind of thing that makes the urge to bang your head curl tight around your spine, lighting up the centers of the brain attuned to primal roars. It rolled over me like a wave of relief. Music like this is why I fell in love with the roar of the big machine, why once I heard the high wild call of the electric guitar I did not look back.

tonightalive. were up next. They are from Australia and very bouncy; not terrible, but I didn’t fall in love with them. Mostly I appreciated their vigor and sass.

They were followed by Taking Back Sunday. This was actually my first Taking Back Sunday show. I didn’t know any of the songs but watching Adam Lazzara swing the microphone around was oddly comforting. The overall effect was something like walking into the kitchen when you’ve spent most of a party in the back yard. Suddenly you can actually see everyone you’ve been hearing in muted bursts of sound. Conversations you’ve only heard one end of make more sense on the other side of the door.

And then, finally, The Used. They have a new record out, called Imaginary Enemy, but they played a mixture of new stuff and fairly deep cuts. About half way through I realized why I had been suffused with wistfulness for the whole night: if I was about to go out, I was going out as I came in, because it was Pretty Handsome Awkward from Lies for the Liars (2007) that drew me back in to rock and roll in the first place.

And then they played Pretty Handsome Awkward and had the crowd do what used to be called The Wall of Death but has been renamed The Wall of Love:

As the they chugged through the opening bars I felt the surge of adrenaline and joy and scouring expiation of whatever curdled hurt I have been carrying around that I always experience, listening to that song. And I realized – while I still definitely wasn’t getting in the middle of that mess on the floor – I wasn’t quite ready to be done. Not with them, or the kind of music they make, or the scene they are a part of. Not with any of it.

I’m still in.

I’m not sure if this crossroads I’m at is the end of the beginning, the beginning of the end, or just a new beginning. But I’m not getting off the road.

Postcards from the Pit: Self Defense Family / Pity Sex / Ovlov / Loss Leader / Deep Pockets, Santos Party House, 1/19/14

Better late than never, pt 2!

I suppose I should explain this venue too. The Santos Party House, which opened in 2008, is partially owned by Andrew WK, King of All Things Party-Related. This particular show was held in the basement, which is medium-swanky, as opposed to the upper levels which I have never seen but are at the “table reservations available” level of fancy.

Anyway, onwards to pictures!

Deep Pockets: I only caught about three of their songs, but what I heard I liked. They classify themselves as indie grunge on bandcamp, but they sounded like a punk band with a refined pop sensibility to me. As it turned out they had the lightest vibe of the evening; it would get progressively darker and sludgier from there.


Loss Leader: My notes on this one were “aggressively weird heavy droning rock and roll” and please know I meant that in the best possible way. I spent most of their set watching their lead guitar clamber all over the stage – and one point I lost him, only to realize a few seconds later that he was perched on the top of a nearby wall – and the end of their last song was punctuated by the sharp crack of a broken guitar. Musicians destroying guitars is not a new trick, but this time it felt more like a sharp reminder to pay attention than wanton, careless destruction.


Ovlov: For them my notes were “they put the “heavy” back in heavy metal” – they classify themselves as indie pop on bandcamp, which, what, no, – but though they were a little bit sludgy they also had good energy, and were not just a wall of (slightly fuzzy, feedback-y) noise. Unfortunately the sound was super muddy so I couldn’t really hear their singer at all, but I nonetheless enjoyed their tunes. They’re playing at Shea Stadium Brooklyn tomorrow (Saturday, March 1) if any of you will be around and want to have your faces gently melted.


Pity Sex: I think my first response was Oh, now this band is going to be fun to Google when i get home. Followed immediatly by And I had better tweet . . . carefully. Really, though, it’s an awesome band name. They were a little bit lighter than Ovlov, maybe a hair less drone-y. I’d call their sound punk fused with shoegaze with metal accents, I think. I couldn’t hear their singer(s) either, which was minorly disappointing, but again, I still enjoyed their tunes.


Self Defense Family: They aren’t so much a band as they are an artist collective whose medium happens to be heavy music. The entity referred to as “Self Defense Family” is just one of their many collective and individual projects. They tend towards the abrasive; Patrick Kindlon does most of the singing and his vocal style is, shall we say, an acquired taste. (He’s also the vocalist for Loss Leader, above, and the only thing the two bands have in common is his voice.) I’ve been listening to odds and ends of Self Defense Family’s stuff for a few years now; some of it I like, some of it I don’t, but what I do like, I like a lot.

Seeing them live is also kind of abrasive – they’re loud, there’s a certain amount of yelling – but some aural scratches and scrapes are worth it for the experience of watching Kindlon sway in the center of the whirlwind of sound while conducting the symphony of angry noise.

At one point he asked us why we were so quiet. My feeling, then and now, is this: he (they) had our undivided attention, and we were listening, waiting to see what might happen next, and possibly taking a moment to catch our breaths.

Some of these pictures are fuzzy; I’ve included them to try and convey the general ambiance of their set.


Postcards from the Pit: The Dirty Nil / Weird Womb / Phone Home, Shea Stadium Brooklyn, 2/20/14

Ok, so first I have explain the venue. Shea Stadium Brooklyn is, uh, not the ballpark, which used to be a few miles north in Queens, until it was demolished in 2009. It’s actually the opposite of a stadium: one cozy room with comfortable couches scattered around the edges and affordable drinks. The vibe is very punk-rock clubhouse, largely because that is what it is; it was founded by members of the SoSoGlos, also in 2009. It’s also unlike other venues in that every performance is recorded and made available on the internet for free. The process takes about a week, so if you’d like to hear the show I went to, check their website this weekend.

Now, onwards to the show. Note: the one thing Shea Stadium Brooklyn does not have is strong stage lights. So some of these postcards are very blurry postcards.

Phone Home was first, and they played what I can only describe as a torrent of heavy jammy-psychedelic noise. If you clicked on that link back there, and I encourage you to do so, know that they are 200% louder and more viscerally intense live. Here they are in action:


Next was Weird Womb, who yanked our collective chains a little bit every time they told us their name, so towards the end I was briefly convinced they were called Pretentious Peach. (Which, how awesome is that name, for a punk band? I’d go to that show just to see what they did when they came out on stage.) Anyway, they were more on the garage-punk end of the spectrum, and heavy enough to cause a two person circle pit. There was also some vigorous head nodding and metal-swaying going on.


And then: The Dirty Nil. They are from Toronto and this was their fourth (!) show in America and second in New York. I was at the first show, too, which was at a different tiny venue (Glasslands), and both times I’ve left feeling like I’ve been given a special treat/got away with something. They are so good, you guys. They also got the front row to dance. By “front row” I mean “two people” and by “dance” I mean “hard-core two-step/skank,” but still, dancing, it was happening. And the general rate of head-nodding and metal-swaying increased a notch as well.


And then I slipped away into the icy night, thus missing Le Rug who played last. Perhaps next time!

Postcards from the Pit: Panic! at the Disco / The Colourist / X Ambassadors, Roseland, 2/4/2014

It’s a rare thing, getting to watch a band grow up.

My first (indoors) Panic! at the Disco show was at Roseland Ballroom in May 2008. I say indoors because my actual first Panic! at the Disco show was at Bamboozle a few days earlier, and when I saw them I couldn’t really see them, because I had just broken my glasses in the Bouncing Souls pit. I could hear them just fine, though, and against all odds – they were in their hippie phase, wore lots of beige and had four tattoos between them – I loved them.

But at Roseland I could see them, and they looked like sweet-faced deer in the headlights. Their stage presence was probably best described as “charmingly awkward.” But the songs still made me happy. And so, for good or for ill, I was in for the long haul.

This past Tuesday night – six years, two records/style-shifts, and three line-up changes later – they were at Roseland again, one last time before the places closes down in the spring.

The openers this time around were X Ambassadors and The Colourist.

X Ambassadors had a dark dreamy-draggy-occasional-burst-of-thundering-drums vibe going, which I rather liked. Plus their lead singer is also their saxophone player, which was unexpected and awesome. Verdict: A++, would see them at their own show.


The Colourist was a little bit bouncier; apparently they describe themselves as “majestic rock” and/or “math pop” which, okay, I guess that makes sense. All I can tell you is they had super-intense, high-energy drums (majestic, indeed) that were precise but not cold or stiff, and that when they were done I definitely wanted to see them at their own show as well.

And then Panic! at the Disco came out, and – though I have seen them many times since 2008, I’ve watched the show evolve, I know what’s coming – I was struck, again, by how Brendon Urie has evolved as a front man. Gone is the almost-bashful boy who once wore a ringmaster’s costume, and his place is an actual showman in a glittery jacket and skin-tight leather trousers with a signature back-flip move – which he deployed twice – who finally seems comfortable in his skin.

(I really love that back flip. So graceful, and he makes it look effortless. I live in hope someone will put him in a Broadway show while he can still stick the landing.)


Postcards from the Pit: Andrew WK / Team Spirit, Irving Plaza, 12/31/13

My first post of the new year goes to my last concert of the old year and/or first concert of the new year: Andrew WK and Team Spirit at Irving Plaza.

The night began with punk rock heavy metal karaoke – live band, audience participation – which was more sublime than ridiculous, due mostly to the assembled crowd, which included multiple generations of headbangers, punks, and miscellaneous People In Black as well as others who had come down to capital-P Party with Andrew WK.

I was there because, frankly, 2013 was kind of shit, and Andrew WK – in many ways heavy metal’s holy fool – is about fun in an uncomplicated way that I find very attractive. And that was how I wanted to start 2014, with uncomplicated fun.

But back to karaoke. There were a lot of beautiful moments: the dude in the Lil Bub hoodie who led us in a sober, stirring rendition of War Pigs; the girl who grabbed Oh Bondage Up Yours! by the throat and made it her own; the girl and the guy who led a gleeful sing-along of Fight For Your Right to Party; the last dude, who slammed through Communication Breakdown like he did it every day. They were all rock stars, and I have the pictures to prove it.

The first band was Team Spirit, who I mostly enjoyed, though their set started to drag a little bit towards the end.


And then, as midnight approached, Andrew WK’s band slowly began to appear:

There was a countdown, and at the end, the clock and year flipped over, Andrew WK walked out and the pit went bananas. All pictures after this juncture were taken while I was being moshed into the barrier and/or during lulls in crowd surfers. Make no mistake: it was a hot, sweaty action-packed good time and I enjoyed myself thoroughly, but I was glad I had that barrier to cling to.

After the final encore, as the band was walking off, the crowd the started chanting Thank you, Andrew, which surprised me, and made me wonder if his pit does that all the time, or just on special occasions. In any case, then and now, I echo the sentiment. Thank you, Andrew WK, for dropping us into 2014 on a tide of sweaty enthusiasm, grace and the simple but beautiful pleasure of jumping up and down and banging our heads.

Postcards from the Pit: The Architects / DeathSpells / The Scandals, the Knitting Factory, 11/19/13

I went to see the Architects, DeathSpells and the Scandals at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn this past Tuesday, and it was awesome.

The Scandals are from Bayonne, New Jersey, and they play Jersey punk at breakneck speed.



DeathSpells is a new venture from Frank Iero (My Chemical Romance) and James Dewees (Reggie and the Full Effect, The Get Up Kids) and is more pop-industrial than punk.

And by “pop-industrial” I mean it’s weird experimental noise you can dance to – well, stomp-sway and headbang and bounce a little – which the crowd and I did, enthusiastically.

Sadly Frank Iero’s voice got a little bit lost in the mix; this may have been because I was right up on the rail and too close to a speaker. But their songs worked great as instrumental pieces, too, so that was okay.



The Architects are at a transitional period, musically; up until now they’ve played thrashy punk mostly – to quote Brandon Phillips – “about drugs and law enforcement.” Their most recent record goes in a little bit of a different direction – I’ve already written about how much I like it – and has more of a punkabilly vibe, which in practice means they now sing some songs about girls.

They still play the old songs like bootleggers outrunning the law: fast, but nimble and focused. But I’m pleased to report the new songs were seamlessly integrated into their set. And that their set is still a glorious, exhilarating torrent of punk rock.

Also, yes, that is Frank Iero on bass and possibly specifically on Mikey Way’s sparkly bass, at that; their regular bassist is temporarily absent and Iero is filling in.


Postcards from the Pit: Adam Ant & The Good The Mad & The Lovely Posse / Prima Donna, Irving Plaza, 8/17/2013

Before we get started, here is what you need to know about Adam Ant: he is, was, and ever shall be a rock star.

He was the original Dandy Highwayman, a cultural lightning rod and, first with a band as Adam & the Ants and then as a solo artist, (unwillingly) associated with New Romantic movement.

Captain Jack Sparrow looks like him, not the other way around.

In 1985, he left the music business to be an actor, and did not return to the musical stage for almost a decade. From 1993 onwards, he enjoyed some musical successes and weathered many non-musical trials and tribulations, until 2011, when he returned in earnest.

All of that is to say, when I saw his name float up in my concert listings a few months ago, I was surprised he was playing again – I missed it when he came through in 2012 – and more so that he was appearing at Irving Plaza. I love the place, but it is a shoebox.

Actually he did two nights at Irving Plaza. I went to see him on the second one, and it was amazing.

The openers were Prima Donna, from California. They were a lot of fun, and had a solid punkabilly vibe lightly spiced with surf guitar. Also they have a great crowd sing-along song where one of the lines in the chorus is I am a sociopath.

Here are some pictures of them:


And then: Adam Ant & The Good The Mad & The Lovely Posse. He sounds great and looks great and we jumped and sang along and danced as much as we could, jammed in as we were. Prince Charming, which came at the end of the main set, was transcendent, with the big drums rattle-roaring and the room singing.

As I wriggled my way out into fresher air for the encore, I got a good look at the rest of the crowd, and I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite that many 40ish people grinning helplessly at the stage before. Everyone there was just so happy to see him, and it was awesome to be part of that energy.

Plus he played Goody Two Shoes which was totally my jam when I was a twelve year old nerd who desperately wanted to have a dramatic, mysterious inner life.

Some pictures of him and the Posse members I could see:


The tour isn’t over yet! Check the dates and catch him if you can.

Postcards from the Pit: Fall Out Boy / NK, House of Blues Boston, 5/26/13

In which I went to Boston for Fall Out Boy, and it was an awesome, sweaty, raucous festival of joy.

But to back up a little bit: Up first was NK, which is Ryan Hunter and Brian Byrne (Envy on The Coast) and Billy Rymer (Dillinger Escape Plan), and they’re currently touring with Isaac Bolivar and Matt Fazzi (Taking Back Sunday).

They have a heavy rap-rock Rage Against The Machine vibe going. I didn’t know any of their songs but I could nonetheless appreciate the barely controlled surge and snarl of their drums and guitars. I’m pretty sure it isn’t possible to listen to their set and not suddenly find yourself banging your head.

Some highlights:

This really is Ryan Hunter (Envy on the Coast). He cut all of his dreads off!
Joe Trohman and Isaac Bolivar, headbanging.
The right side of the stage . . .
. . . and the left.

And then it was time for the main event. Fall Out Boy came out in a burst of light and noise and kicked it off with Thriller – their Thriller, not Michael Jackson’s – which was an absolute perfect choice and caused my heart to clench with pain and affection even as I was grinning at them like an idiot.

I have a medium-sized number of thinky thoughts about the show / spectacle, specifically: that both Thriller and This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race have gained new, sharper edges over time; that The Phoenix is both the thrilling rally cry of a band coming back wrapped around a reminder to hold on, hold on, even when your band has gone away; that if you don’t start jumping during The Phoenix, I think you might be dead inside; that Fall Out Boy has emerged from their hiatus as an energized and cohesive unit, ready to rally the troops and take on the world (and maybe take over the world, too); that calling their record Save Rock and Roll might be brash and a little obnoxious but, well, Fall Out Boy would not be Fall Out Boy if they were not brash and a little obnoxious; and that brash, a little obnoxious, overblown and sometimes overwrought is why we love them. It’s why we jump up and down and and wave our hands in the air. It’s what makes the room sing.

And now, some pictures. I was three rows back from the stage and, as you will see, deep in a forest of hands, but these are some of the good shots:



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