Live Concert Reviews: A Silent Film with Flagship at Bowery Ballroom 11/1/15 and Soldiers of Fortune at Max Fish 11/4/15
Since CMJ last month, things have been incredibly busy in the JOVM world, and with the site being a (mostly) one-man operation, there never seems to be enough hours in the day to do everything that I want to do – or feel that I should be doing. After all, at some point we all have to sleep and although I go to a lot of shows, at some point it’s nice to socialize outside of a show. But in nay case, my plan in this particular post is to go over a couple of shows I’ve attended and covered over the past couple of weeks in one enormous post. And for the most part, this post will be a great deal of just text with some occasional photos for a couple of shows in a similar fashion to the site’s Northside Festival and New Music Seminar Festival coverage a few months back.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2015: A SILENT FILM WITH FLAGSHIP at BOWERY BALLROOM
The month of November began in earnest at one of my favorite venues in NYC, Bowery Ballroom to catch the Charlotte, NC-based duo Flagship and the Oxford, UK-based duo A Silent Film. And as I’ve mentioned a number of times throughout the site and in other places, every time I’m at the Bowery Ballroom I think of the first show I saw as a teenager with my dear friend Jill back in the mid 1990s – a KROC 92.3 FM 92 cent show featuring Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell, who had just released a decent solo effort that year; a Canadian band The Ghandarvas that the rowdy crowd ignominiously booed off and a several others. I also think of the dozens of truly fantastic shows I’ve seen there over the past decade or more including Low with Milagres, Mission of Burma, La Femme and host of others. Of course, to be fair, I’ve also seen a fair share of unimpressive and middling sets that would cause even the most ardent of concertgoers to go the bar or start texting friends. But I digress . . .
Opening the night was the aforementioned Charlotte, NC-based duo Flagship. Primarily comprised of two grizzled Charlotte music scene veterans, Drake Margolnick (vocals, guitar) and Michael Finster (drums), the project can trace their origins to when both Margolnick and Finster were members of two local music projects – Campbell the Band and Margolnick’s solo recording work. Formed in late 2011, the duo quickly signed to Bright Antenna Records and received national attention with the release of their debut EP, blackbush and after a tour with The Wombats. Their self-titled debut full-length was released back in 2013 and saw a UK release the following year.
Live, the duo of Margolnick and Finster recruited two other touring musicians to flesh out the band’s live sound – an anthemic pop sound based around guitar, bass, synths, drums and soaring, larger-than-life hooks that seem deeply indebted to The Fixx (in particular I thought of “The Sign of Fire” and “Red Skies at Night,” both of which are really good songs by the way, of Boy, October and The Unforgettable Fire-era U2, of St. Lucia and Haerts but with somehow much more propulsive – as though it pulsates with an urgent and earnest need. Honestly, the material throughout the set wasn’t the most mind-blowing original thing I’ve ever heard; as a child of the 80s, the formula was pretty familiar – catchy anthemic hooks that you can shout along to paired with soaring synths, a nice guitar solo played through gentle layers of reverb and propulsive drumming paired with plaintive and earnest vocals with contemporary production flourishes. There’s a reason the formula has been copied so much over the years and especially over the past 5 or 6 years – it’s a successful formula that wins over new fans every few years.
Of course, the most difficult thing to manage with such a formula is to actually be sincere, earnest and to truly believe in the power of your material, which the band did with an endearing charm that won over the small and enthusiastic Sunday night crowd. And they certainly won me over.
(Photo Caption: Charlotte, NC-based band Flagship performing at Bowery Ballroom.)
Check out two tracks from Flagship “I Want You” and “Merry Us, Carry Us”
Following Flagship on stage was the Oxford, UK-based duo A Silent Film. Primarily comprised of two Oxford music scene veterans Robert Stevenson (vocals, piano and guitar) and Spencer Walker (drums), the duo can trace its origins to a previous band Shouting Myke, which featured Stevenson, Walker and an early member in A Silent Film, Lewis Jones. After a few lineup changes, the newly formed band chose the band name after Stevenson had written a song that used a melody from an old Charlie Chaplin silent movie.
With the release of their debut EP, The Projectionist, the band quickly received national attention for a sound that many critics have said is reminiscent of Coldplay, Snow Patrol and The Killers – and as a result they played the famed BBC Introducing Stage at the 2007 Glastonbury Festival. Over the past few years they’ve released four full-length albums with this year being a rather prolific year as the band released the New Year EP earlier this year and their self-titled full-length effort last month. Of course much like their opener Flagship, the band live expanded to a quintet to flesh out the band’s live sound – with Stevenson switching between accompanying himself with piano and guitar throughout the set.
Unfortunately, as soon as the band got on the stage I hated everything about them. I hated them so much that several times throughout their set I thought about leaving – and yet I stayed for most of their set. Why? Because I think I might be a musical sadomasochist! Seriously though, I found Stevenson’s stage presence to be obnoxiously pretentious and phony as though he were trying way too hard to be a frontman. And by doing so, it struck me as though he forgot that connecting authentically with the crowd – if they were more discerning – would have actually won them over. Musically, their sound liberally borrowed the worst tendencies of Coldplay, Snow Patrol and The Killers – bombast and cliché without real sentiment. The set’s prettiest song “Lavender Fields,” which was written as a nostalgic ode to Stevenson’s extremely English, childhood home felt as though something was deeply missing. “Lightning Strikes,” a crowd-pleasing anthemic song struck me as cribbing off 80s Bruce Springsteen, while another song immediately struck me as liberally borrowing off Prince’s “When Doves Cries.”
Inexplicably to me, the crowd had not only been there for A Silent Film, they were appeared as though they were moved by material that struck me as boring, phony and plodding. As you can imagine, as a blogger I’ve seen to a lot of incredible bands and seen sets that were among some of the best moments of my life. I’ve also seen a lot of dreadful bands – some of them memorable because they were that bad. Being bad is one thing; after all, it takes an incredible amount of blind and stupid courage to get on a stage with the crazy idea that you can win a crowd over. That kind of stupidity and self-delusion is kind of admirable – especially when we all know that if we got on the stage that we’d be blubbering idiots. If you’re going to be bad, be bad with some passion and chutzpah, goddamn it! At least with passion, the most dunderheaded and middling clichés are believable and honest – even if they’re stupid. But the most unforgivable thing is to be boring.
(Photo Caption: Oxford, UK-based act A Silent Film at Bowery Ballroom)
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2015: SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE at MAX FISH
Wednesday evening I had stopped by Max Fish in the Lower East Side to catch New York-based indie supergroup Soldiers of Fortune. And being in the new Max Fish space over on Orchard Street, near Delancey Street was kind of odd because management replicated some of the space’s original layout and feel – i.e., the impossibly small bathrooms near the pool table, the S shaped bar and so on but in a larger space. In fact, they had a small basement area that you can tell they used for DJ parties and live performances unlike the old space. And although I didn’t go to the old space on Ludlow Street often, there was something that felt missing in the new space – a familiar griminess and grunginess, the old bar smell. But you go where the shows are, you know?
Now if you’ve been frequenting JOVM over the past few weeks you may recall that I’ve actually written about Soldiers of Fortune some time ago. Comprised of Brad Truax, who’s a touring bassist for renowned indie rock act, Interpol; Kid Millions, who’s best known for his work with Man Forever and Oneida; Barry London, who’s Kid Millions’ bandmate in Oneida; and Matt Sweeney, who’s been in a member of several acclaimed acts including Chavez, Zwan and the backing band for Bonnie “Prince” Billy; Jesper Eklow, who’s a member of Endless Boogie; Mike Bones; and Papa Crazee, who’s a bandmate of Kid Millions and Barry London in Oneida, Soldiers of Fortune may arguably be one of the more accomplished locally-based All-Star bands in recent memory. Ironically enough, the band started off conceptually as a sort of anti-band with the goal of getting together to play an occasional show with the idea of jamming and relying on instinct, intuition and the chemistry and simpatico of the musicians on stage.
However, after meeting with Mexican Summer Records‘ label head Keith Abrahamsson signed a record deal and recorded a 12 inch titled Ball Strenth. A couple of years later, Abrahamsson convinced the members of the band into the studio for a second studio session. As the story goes, they were offered “undisclosed” amounts of studio time and carte blanche to do whatever it was they wanted on wax. After a period of procrastinating, they took a six month hiatus and returned to the studio to write and record about a dozen rough song sketches and then called up a bunch of vocalist friends, including Clark Bronson, Stephen Malkmus, Cass McCombs, Dan Melchior, Ethan Miller and Matt McCauley to sing over their sketches. And the end result was the band’s recently released full-length effort Early Risers.
When the band finally got on “stage” I counted at least seven members. Admittedly, it was dark and the small room somehow got impossibly crowded in short order. Heaven help you if you were claustrophobic – or if you were incredibly short and didn’t get there early to save a spot. The set’s first song possessed a noisy and bluesy swagger as their drummer howled along to the squall and managed to sound deeply indebted to a variety of 70s rock – although mostly glam and blues while occasionally nodding towards psych rock. But what made the set’s first song and rest of the set interesting to me was the fact that although the material was sketched out, it still felt very jam like and ragged. Naturally, that allowed for extensive soloing and for a free flowing flying by the seat of your pants feel with a bunch of guys just jamming for fun. Interestingly songs morphed into each other and it gave the set the feeling of playing one continuous song with a variety of ideas in a fashion similar to jazz. The set’s fifth song reminded me quite a bit of The Fire Tapes as the song felt more directly psychedelic than anything else they did during their set. If there was one niggling problem, it was that I wished that on occasion they announced a song or two but it was still an impressive set of material based around their new album.