Monthly Archives: April 2011

A Great Big Pile of Nothing

I should’ve expected the worst when a fellow reviewer and I got lost on our way to the venue — an ugly-looking, white-washed building perched between austere apartment buildings and factories perhaps not in use since the child labor laws have been lifted sometime in the early 1900’s. It also didn’t help that it was right next door (and I mean that literally, right next door) to a Western Beef — a supermarket I associate with neighborhoods that are more notorious for their crime rate rather than good choice in music and cuisine. Perhaps I expected too much from Highline Ballroom — hey, maybe the “ballroom” part got to me — but from the outside, the music venue is anything but top of the line.

After a two-flight walk up on rickety stairs wide enough to only accommodate one person at a time, we were met by two Australians — a man and a woman, both dressed in black to match the walls — that appeared to work here. The man scanned our tickets, and the woman politely offered us a table — which, to our horror, came with a $10 per person price tag. Having come from a full day of class and work, we inquired about some sort of coat check. At first, they appeared puzzled, but then informed us that we’re on our own. Strike one against Highline.

The area itself was large and fairly spacious, with two bars on parallel walls and a dining area adjacent to both. The room was well air-conditioned and quite airy — definitely important when packed with hundreds of sweaty, gyrating people. However, packed it was not. Frankly, until the first act, it appeared that there were no more than perhaps 30 or 40 people total on the floor.

Two Lights: Hey, at least the singer's cute.

The first act practically reeked of bubblegum pop and Hollister anthem — a Jonas brothers-y type of band called Two Lights in which the lead singer was cute, the songs were all about summer and breaking up, and the crowd was as enthused as one would be for a root canal.

However, that all changed once A Great Big Pile of Leaves got on stage and began setting up. A mob of tortoise-shell-wearing hipsters rushed forward, pushing to the foot of the stage. Cheers erupted from the pluck of the first guitar string.

They reeked of cliche and unprofessionalism — no introduction to the members (although I was led to assume that one of them was Tyler, due to the yelling from one of the members in the audience), no sound check, no building of a relationship with the members of the audience that weren’t already fans. The songs themselves weren’t catchy in any way, and the melodies were virtually indistinguishable from one another. It was the same breakup, lazy-day crap that Two Lights pulled — just in a scruffier outfit, though I could appreciate the occasional swear or two.

All in all, it was ultimately very forgettable — from the lack of interest to connect to the audience, to the half-assed songs that frankly seemed like a ten year old wrote them (“no time to sleep, no time to eat, trying to make money!” Really?!), a Great Big Pile of Leaves is an act that deserves as little recognition as the effort that they give.

 

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Stuck in the ’80s and Not Trying to Get Out

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I was born into the wrong generation. I’d choose a corny ’80s horror flick over the best CGI or special effects any given day, I don’t think anything could make less sense than paying hundreds of dollars to look like a hippie, and, most unfortunate to me, I could count the number of new mainstream music acts that even slightly arouse my interest on one hand.

I’m not the type to write off all things mainstream at all, I’m always happy to see a good musician gain a huge following when they deserve the attention. Problem is though, that’s just not the case now. People will swarm to buy $400+ tickets to see a washed up pop-star fumble around on stage or be carried and tossed around to the tune of synthesizers and computer-made vocals, but Social Distortion (get ready for some bias, they are my favorite), a well-known and consistently awesome punk band that’s been around forever, still plays small bars and venues, usually for no more than $30.

“Artists” like Ke$ha (it pained me to type that) are praised for their individuality and quirky fashion sense. Meanwhile, if she had come out about twenty years ago when sequined leather shorts and torn up band shirts could be your Sunday best, she wouldn’t automatically join the ranks of ’80s rock goddesses like Siouxsie Sioux, Joan Jett, and Lydia Lunch. She would just be another chick with a crappy voice trying to get attention.

There's a big difference between thrash and trash

I’m not saying everything was better in the ’80s, obviously I wasn’t there and all I have are old records and other people’s memories. But hell, at least the crazy style and brave choices of musicians were great equalizers and allowed the best artists to shine through.

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A Great Big Pile of… Well, You Know

Unless most of that line was for Western Beef, this could not have been the same night.

Once you step past the facade of the Highline Ballroom, a dull white brick wall shared with a sketchy looking Western Beef (not that there’s any other kind, to my knowledge), the whole feel of the evening changes. I stepped in out of the misty fog and was immediately greeted by a strange ambiance for a rock show; the only lighting was provided by a few red spotlights over the dining area and bar, a strobe over the empty stage, and a few scattered candles. Strangest of all, to me anyway, was the pleasant smell and cool air; But I suppose I’m just a little too used to basement and garage shows. All of the lovely ambiance and friendly staff, however, couldn’t save the night once the bands took the stage.

I couldn’t tell you much about the first opening act, Two Lights , since I spent a good amount of their Jonas Brothers-esque pop set of breakup songs at the bar wondering if I could possibly justify spending $7 on a beer. After half-hearing a few of their songs, it was more than justified.

I would tell you his name, had he taken the time to introduce himself

I made my way back to the base of the stage to catch A Great Big Pile of Leaves set up, rather unprofessionally at that. There was no sound check, no change in drum kit to accommodate the new drummer, not even an introduction of the band or members, which to me is just a matter of respect for the backup members and establishes a relationship with the crowd, which this typical Indie/Pop-rock trio could’ve used to work up some energy.

As with any local band that performs near their hometown, which for Pete Weiland, Tyler Soucy and Tucker Yaro is Brooklyn, there were some excited fans up front, seemingly friends of the brand, who were able to sing along with the scrappy looking lead singer through all of his melodramatic Hipster anthems like Alligator Bop, which seemed to be their best known track.

It could’ve been the sudden tight gathering of the crowd increasing the temperature in the once comfortable room, but I blame the half hour of bad Indie movie soundtrack being performed on stage for the headache (and for the $25 tab).

All in all, a bad gig with good company to laugh about it with is still a good night in my books. I suppose if I had stuck with my original low expectations and not let the ambiance trip me up, I wouldn’t have been as annoyed. Then again, bad music is bad music no matter the lighting.

 

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Just as Fun as Jumping into a Great Big Pile of Leaves

Awkwardly standing near the stage of the Highline Ballroom with about ten other onlookers scattered around the spacious and dim lit room, I noticed a sudden change in the venue’s atmosphere as the next band made their way towards the stage. The air was now filled with liveliness, as passionate and anxious fans began to crowd into the previously empty room, pushing me closer towards the stage.

A Great Big Pile of Leaves, the three-member indie rock band, possessed exceptional stage presence throughout their live performance.

Gradually working their way into their first song of the evening, A Great Big Pile of Leaves played a flawless two minute long introduction, reminiscent of introductions given by the legendary band, Pink Floyd.

Singer/Guitarist Pete Weiland Performing at the Highline Ballroom

Once lead singer and guitarist Pete Weiland began to sing the show took off, as the supportive and energetic crowd cheered, danced, and banged their hands to the beat against the stage.

Although some songs were repetitive at times, A Great Big Pile of Leaves did everything but bore their crowd. Their most catchy and enticing song, Alligator Bop, is composed of lyrics such as, “We’d drive around for hours with no direction and no goal except to act stupid, and intertwine ourselves into situations to laugh about.” Weiland passionately yet softly sings while innovatively taking simple words and construing them to the beat, repeating certain vowels to give the word a stuttering effect. Weiland’s improper pronunciation at times leads to original sounding lyrics, as the singer manages to stay in tune.

With the electrifying sounds of the guitar, drums and bass bouncing off the walls and causing a rush of adrenaline throughout the audience, the band was applauded for the various techniques used to enhance the sound and quality of their music. Weiland used a technique called finger tapping while playing his guitar, a technique typical in more rock-oriented genres, which was used well during the performance.

“When I heard them I had a very entranced feeling,” said Brooklyn resident Antonio Rosa who attended the show. “The way they organized their music was very atypical which drew my attention greatly.”

Bassist Tucker Yaro Performing at the Highline Ballroom

A Great Big Pile of Leaves, the unique name founded by Weiland, began in 2007 when Weiland and drummer, Tyler Soucy, decided to write material and form their own band, as bassist Tucker Yaro joined later on. Their first full-length record, “Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex?” was released the summer of 2010.

Although the band is currently unsigned, they are now on tour, opening for The Appleseed Cast. They will be back on the road again this fall, touring with Motion City Soundtrack, Say Anything, and Saves the Day.

A Great Big Pile of Leaves has great big journey ahead of them.

 

 

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Campbell’s music is icing on the cake for the happy-go-lucky

If listening to soulful music is like treating yourself to a scrumptious piece of red velvet cake on the cheat day of your diet, than Brooke Campbell’s CD Sugar Spoon is the icing on top of it. 01 Sugar Spoon

Campbell is a singer-songwriter virtuoso of folk, pop and bluegrass music. She constructs music that will cause one to long for a simpler country life, reminisce about old loves and new, and think about life’s labors. Singing it all with a country-ish twang and being a mellower version of the Dixie Chicks, Campbell’s music easily matches her upbringing in Whiteville, North Carolina.

According to her website, she loves to “write music and sing it for folks.” This is the case despite the size of the crowd, which was clearly evident considering the small crowd of listeners she serenaded in the 92Y Tribeca. According to their website, 92YTribeca Nightlife [...] offers outstanding live experiences for audiences, performers and participants alike.”

At 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 14, my classmates Jerrica, Sabrina, Ashley, Gladys consisted of about half the audience until there was an uptick of attendance as curious onlookers trickled in.

Enjoying the dim atmosphere of a rather boring venue, I let the extremely sad songs, most of which were about Campbell’s life, sink in. It was enough to bring any love sick fool, like myself, to tears. The glass of red wine did not help much either, especially as the music to one of her songs truly sounded like rain drops landing on a lake.

Still, a fan of guitar and folk music myself, much of Cambell’s music lacked the emotion I expected from this genre. Singing almost at a whisper, her vocals didn’t have the excitement I desired and expected when I walked in to find a woman with a guitar.

Occasional faster strums occasionally did break the monotony of the relatively slow strums that would put anyone to sleep with its soothing rhythms that came from Campbell’s red wood acoustic guitar.

Cambell’s breathless voice then added to it lightly. Her voice was as subtle as her body movements; she tapped her foot slightly and moved from side to side, bopped slightly to her beat, and appeared like the picturesque starving artist playing the blues.

Track after track was played from her latest album Sugar Spoon, which came out in 2009. According to her website, the album was produced by William Berlind in Manhattan and a church in Nantucket.

Good music nonetheless, I left the venue with a relatively melancholy mood to start off my spring break. However if your life is virtually void of hardships, listening to her songs is sure to be an effective remedy to decompress after a stressful day.

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The Only Good Thing About Amber Is Just The Name

For many years, I had always told my friends how much I hated to experiment with new

Chicken -Pineapple: Amber style

foods. When I would get hungry, I liked to eat foods I knew and I enjoyed. It really bothered me when I would buy food I had never eaten before and I ended up hating it. As i grew older, such ideas started to disappear and I decided to give different foods a chance. To my surprise, I started discovering new delicious and very tsaty foods. Now, it’s one of my various hobbies.

It goes without saying, there are times where i really don’t like the food or the service for that matter. Amber Sushi Bar, located on 27th street and 3rd. Avenue, would be a great example of what terrible service looks like.

When I first entered, the first thing I noticed was the bar on the first floor. It took almost half the space of the first floor. Nevertheless, it looked tempting and inviting. The decorations give the restaurant a cultural and traditional, yet modern look and feel. Upstairs, things take a complete turn down.

The space is more limitted in the second floor, forcing the management of the restaurant to decide on a horrific seating arragement. The tables are arranged by rows, one after the other, with only few inches of space beatween each table. When I was directed to my table, where my friends had been waiting for me, as I was sitting down, my backside ended up in the face of an unfortunate customer sitting in the table next to ours. It was, I have to admit, an embarrasing moment.

I waited 15 minutes before I finally got a menu from the waitress and another 15 minutes for her to come back to take my order. We were given a choice between soup and salad. I opted for the salad. I got my main dish before the salad, and I had to let the waitress know she had forgotten to bring, not only my salad but my friends’ as well.

As far as the food goes, what can I tell you? It was average. It was not extremely good, and it did not make me feel like it was the best food I had ever eaten. But it was not too horrific either. I had a Pineapple Chicken dish that tasted very similar to the ones I have tried at some other restaurants. It was missing something. I wanted the dish to have something different to make such a typical  dish a unique one, but unfortunately, it wasn’t there. I can only say this: I would not go back to Amber as long as it is my choice.

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Brilliance Walks Through The Halls of Baruch College

Le Blanc in a Conference

Walking now through the Halls of Baruch College and teaching at some of the school’s classrooms is the great writer Adrian Nicole Le Blanc. The author of the book “Random Family” which chronicles the lives of a family she followed for 10 years, has been this semester’s writer in residence, expanding and sharing her knowledge with some lucky students.

I had the privilege of attending her conference, despite the tiresome day I had. I was dreading the whole idea of attending a conference that would discuss a book I had not read, especially after such a hectic day. However, I put my responsibilities ahead of me and attended the conference and I have to admit I am glad I did. I left the conference feeling highly encouraged and grateful for the best advice she gave, “always have a plan A and behind that, have a plan B.”

Le Blanc started her writing career as an intern at Smith College and freelancing at the New York Times. I look forward to reading her book during my free time. Sometimes, putting our responsibilities first, even after stressful days, actually pays off.

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Music Cover Takes Over J&R

Left to Right: Megan Thomas, Shannon Conley, Steph Paynes

It was 15 minutes to 3 and I found myself running late for the event. Splish Splash, Splish, Splash, my pants was drenched wet, my socks soaked in rain, and my umbrella destroyed halfway battling against a 14 mph wind. I should have stayed in bed but instead I was rushing to see Lez Zeppelin.

Lez Zeppelin, the all female tribute band, not to be confused with Led Zeppelin, the all American male rock band from the 60s, performed at J&R music store on April 16. The band staged at the $5.99-$19.99 CD sections and was supposedly set to perform at 3pm.

A small crowd of 35 started to form, pre-dominantly middle aged males and a few families. I was lucky enough to get a close spot near the stage. However, it was unfortunate that the band didn’t show up on time and I was stuck in between aisles breathing in dust from the plastic wrap of the CD’s and the smell of unflattering cologne from the guy next to me.

The band setting up

The band arrived 45 minutes late and the crowd was less than welcoming after having their patience tested. The 4 band members, minus one group member, immediately set up and apologized for the delay. They started the event off with a song from their recent released album, Lez Zeppelin 1, track 2, “Baby, I’m going to leave you.”

“Baby, I’m going to leave you,” can be described as a drug, a repeating trance with a smooth calmness to the ear. When the chorus hit, it gets your head rocking wildly back and forth with the beat of the guitar.  Compared to the original version, Robert Plant, lead vocalist, sang it with soul while Shannon Conley sang it with a country, hippie accent that puts you into a dazed and relaxed the mind. I personally like both and applauded Steph Paynes, founder and guitarist of the group, for her amazing rock and roll solo. She rocked it out like Vinnie Moore. The riffs of her electric guitar quickly stirred up the ground, the vibrations crawled up my spine and spiked into my chest.

In unexpected times, Paynes slowed down the pace of her strumming and Conley comes back in with her trance-like vocal and ended it with a stretched. “It’s calling me, it’s calling me back…home…..” Megan Thomas sat there giving her support.

The band started out in New York in 2004. They devoted their performance to the original works of Led Zeppelin and within a year, they started to get more media attention. They appeared on Spin magazine, Chicago times, and CBS Good Morning America. They have toured in Europe, Japan, and the US. Right now, they are planning to do an extensive tour on the east coast.

 

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Video Daughters Makes Noise Become Music

Video Daughters takes you on a trip to the world of noise

If you don’t like noise, stay away from Video Daughters. Because if there is something this experimental band is good at, it is creating noise.

It is drums and hums turning into industrial noises, taking you into dark street corners. It is cars speeding on a highway. Its equally poppy and hard. And it is definitely not always rhythmical, but then again, clearly never boring.

Video Daughters, a Brooklyn based group of four is not a band that could step up on stage at Madison Square Garden. But in a place like Public Assembly in Williamsburg, an old factory building transformed into a popular performance space, Video Daughters fits perfectly. Dressed in plaid-shirts, with their long and unbrushed hair, the four members succeeds with the rough-enough-but-still-cute look, that easily attracts young hipsters from the neighborhood. This Sunday the 17th of April a crowd of about fifty, both female and male youngsters, gathered to nod their heads and swing their bodies to Video Daughters electric rhythms.

While setting up their gear on stage Mike Green, lead singer, guitarist and on-and-of drummer announced that there was a new addition to the band: Randy Riback, taking care of the drums. Prior to this new member,  all the other three musicians used to rotate back and forth between the drums and their main instruments. Now John Creedy stays steadily behind the guitar, Scott Townsend jams the base and Mike Green plays around with the keyboard and computer. But despite their more steady roles, the members are not afraid to use their energy, encouraging the crowd to follow their jumps and shaky dance.

Video Daughters starts of strongly, with their newest song “Get Me A Body.” This poppy song definitely brought out some smiles, and in my head it painted up a scenic view of a bike ride in the summer-time. The downside of this tune was its strong remembrance of  the experimental rock band Animal Collective’s music. Off course a band can have influences from other musicians, but “Get Me A Body” lacked something different and personal, and could easily have been mistaken for a Animal Collective song.

The show continued with older beats, and Video Daughters balanced the songs well. The longer and more repetitive songs could easily have put anyone to sleep after ten minutes, but just at that moment Mike Green gave out a loud shout – and everyone was awake.

One of the bands most popular songs, “Wild People,” explains itself in the title, and both the band and the audience definitely went wild to this simultaneously steady and off killer beat. It was adrenaline, sweat and beer all over.

The energetic performance of the band was admirable, but it had its downsides. While the lead singer Mike Green shone as a performer, dancing along while banging on the keyboard, the vocals suffered. Throughout the performance it was hard to hear the lyrics, and sometimes the loud instruments made the vocals entirely disappear. But then again, once caught in the electrical waves of Video Daughters, you don’t really need those words. It is all about noises and movement.

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MVP, Still a ‘Baadasssss’

Melvin Van Peebles is cooler than your grandfather.

Case in point, the controversial 78 year old singer/director/actor/writer still regularly performs with his band, cheekily named Laxative (because, according to their Facebook page, “they’re a crew of musicians who make sh** happen and get sh** done”).

The show opened with a masterful  jazz-funk cover of the song “Won’t Bleed Me” from Van Peebles’ notable 1971 Blaxploitation film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.  Armed with a large book, literally of Biblical proportions, Van Peebles took the stage.

Laxative provided smooth (pun slightly intended) background music complimentary to Van Peebles’ contrasting raspy vocals. Using a sprechgesang style of performing, each song was like an intimate storytelling session with a respected elder.

Encouraging audience participation and often referring to his band members as “brothers and sisters,” Van Peebles created a sense of community while sharing songs about relatable struggles such as heartbreak and financial hardships. The venue, Zebulon, instantly transformed from a standard Williamsburg bar into what felt like an intimate gathering in someone’s living room.

Though Earth, Wind, and Fire famously performed the soundtrack for Sweetback, Laxative does not possess their same finesse. While including a similar fusion of funk, soul, and blues, the band is more subtle and consists of a calculated roughness.

Performing regularly at local venues such as Zebulon, Laxative also plays internationally, having recently done a show in Paris in February. The audience consisted  mostly of 30-somethings and hipsters who just happened to stroll into the bar.

During intermission, Van Peebles mingled with members of the audience and his girlfriend, who, he joked on stage, was not his niece, but his “squeeze”.

A true character, Melvin Van Peebles himself is almost more entertaining than the band’s music.

During one of the songs, the band crooned, “We’re all just actors in life’s play” and going to see Laxative is like being a part of an underrated off-Broadway play- unexpectedly fun and entertaining.

 

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