03 November 2009

Northside Festival, Day Three : The Best Bishop Allen Set I've Seen. Also, Darlings, Motel Motel, April Smith.

So it's a shame I didn't write this about four months ago, because I simply don't remember much anymore. And also because nobody really cares about Northside anymore, do they? Ah, well, that's what I get for being lazy.

In fact, I wouldn't bother to write about day three if I hadn't seen a fantastic set by Bishop Allen that night. The fact that Bishop Allen was going to play Northside was the original reason for my interest in the festival. It was also the one show I wanted to go to terribly, and the one show I risked not being able to attend - because I'm silly and didn't ask off, I was scheduled to work that night. Heh, oops. After some careful cajoling (ie, asking one of my managers, "Can I please have off work on Saturday, pleeeease??"), things worked out and I was free. (I don't work there anymore, so I really don't care who knows about this, either.)

Right, so. First stop was Spike Hill, yet again, to check out The L Magazine's "NYC Bands You Need to Hear" showcase. I got there late, so the first band I caught was Darlings, not to be confused with the punk outfit The Darlings, although there's a bit of a punk spirit alive in an otherwise pop band. Maybe it's a bit more of a "screamy garage" spirit than a "punk" spirit. Anyway, after their set they announced they were opening that night for...Bishop Allen. Oh. Well, that answered my question of "Who's opening for Bishop Allen...?", but also made me think, "Man, I could have checked out another band instead and still not missed this one..."

Don't quit remember what I did after that. I definitely remember wandering over to Public Assembly, where I caught the tail end of Motel Motel's set. Um, I remember having liked them. I guess Paper Mag said they were "better than Cold War Kids," which is actually the best comparison I can think of right now.

Anyway. Back to Studio B, which I got to way too early and therefore had to sit around for a while, reading and drinking free beer. Oh, noes.


First up were Darlings, who hadn't changed in the few hours since I'd seen them last. Ta da!

Bishop Allen

Oh, and of course, Bishop Allen. I'm not exagerrating when I say this was the best performance I've seen them give yet. Maybe that's not super-high praise, as it was only the fourth time I've seen them live. It's probably a lot more impressive when I say something like, "Oh, that was the BEST I've seen OK Go play," because I've seen them a million and three times so if I say "this was the BEST," it really means something. But I digress.

It had a lot do with the fact that it was a hometown show. The last time I'd seen them had been a hometown show, too, but that had a much more relaxed, "We're just playing to our friends and family" feel. Here, Justin pointed out that "we live around the corner from here...a lot of songs were written about places nearby..." That's what spurred them on.

And it wasn't that the band played with unusual enthousiasm, energy, or technical skill. It was the build in the songs and the set that was spot-on. Listen to classic Bishop Allen tracks like "Flight 180" and "The Monitor." There's an emotional build that enhances, or perhaps even creates, the power of those songs. You don't just go from "Once a great ironworks stood at the end of my street..." to "And we're singing la da da da da da da, but what then?" without moving upwards in feeling. The song just wouldn't work without it. And that's what they did so well : balancing and creating the build of emotion within their songs and within the set as a whole. The setlist didn't feature heavily from their recently-released Grrr..., either. I didn't expect that it would, as their set in April was a good mix of new, old, and older stuff, but less than half the setlist was dedicated to their latest record, leaving room for songs like "The Same Fire" (one of my favourite love songs ever), "Like Castanets," "Click" and, of course, "The Monitor" and "Flight 180."

It's hard, after so much time, to really describe what made this such a wonderful performance. Saying, "The build, the build! The build was incredible!" doesn't really point to something concrete that someone who wasn't there might understand. Let's put it this way - you all know that certain Bishop Allen songs ellicit a, um, certain emotional response from me. When I saw them at the Music Hall of Williamsburg last November, I cried through nearly half the set. This time, I figured I was over that, but that didn't stop me from being caught in the gut and tearing up a whole bunch. Lame? Maybe. But when the wave of emotion and power sweeps up and over like that, it's hard not to be caught in the swell.* A performance doesn't need to be particularly enthousiastic, cloying, balls-to-the-wall, contrived, or in-your-face to be remarkable. It just requires the right songs played the right way.

And some local inspiration. That's what we got that night. If you weren't there, that's what you missed.

Later that night, I caught the end of April Smith and the Great Picture Show's set at...well, I don't remember where it was honestly. But she was fantastic and cheeky with an incredible voice. I wish I could do her justice here, but that's for another post.

*(Wow, now that's a lame sentence...sorry for the tired analogy, guys.)

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