Miracles of Modern Science @ Southpaw 05/21/09

in shiny spacesuits. yeah!

Okay, people, I do have one thing to say: any band that takes to the stage wearing shiny spacesuits is pretty much going to get a vote from me. They may suck, but I’m going to say, ‘yeah’.

Luckily, Miracles of Modern Science, or MOMS (such lovely nerdy freakishness that makes me very happy indeed) happen to actually be talented.

What I particularly loved about them was they took to the stage (shiny, silvery, glittery spacesuits!!!) and played a bunch of instruments most people will never associate with rock or pop. Violin, double bass, cello and mandolin. Well, they also have a drummer, too, just to keep ’em all in time.

Seriously, this band really grabbed the crowd’s attention. They played catchy tunes, and had an infectious vibe that moved through everyone (not the swine flu).

Redolent of Ra Ra Riot and Arcade Fire, I thoroughly recommend you checking out Miracles of Modern Science next time they play.

Which, incedently is going to be Wednesday 08/12/09, at Union Hall, Park Slope. 9pm. Go. You’ll like it. Quite possibly love it.

Mr Neil Seal of Approval? 4 Stars out of 5!

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Golden Bones @ Southpaw 05/21/09

golden bones!

I walked in to the middle of Golden Bones’s set. And I was struck by how…good they were.

I don’t mean I was expecting them to suck, but as the first band up, I figured they would be the weakest link in the line up. But they were far from that. In fact this was an evening where the three bands proved to not only be very different from each other, not only in sound, but in stage presence, but also gave forth a high quality across the board musical experience. Which, in my experience, is rare.

Golden Bones is a pared back band and sound. Reminiscent of the old school pub band. They don’t have bells and whistles or a look or anything to capture the audience, anything, that is , except for their sound.

Their sound grabbed you. It’s their hook, they don’t need bells and whistles. They captured the audience with their deceptively simple but infectious melodies and tunes.

Their sound is bluegrass, blues, 70s movie honky tonk, and a decent dash of country, but they blend it with something else that I can’t quite put my finger on that’s almost magical, that particular ingredient that pulls a dish together and makes it into something really special.

And that, my friends, is what I found when I listened to Golden Bones.

Do yourself a favour. Check ’em out on myspace, or, even better, head on down to Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn to hear them play every Friday for the rest of July.

Pete’s Candy Store. 709 Lorimer St. 8.30 pm. Free!

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.5 stars out of 5.

The Nightrats @ Southpaw 05/21/09

Before I launch into this review of one of the most innovative, exciting and fabulous bands running about the NYC area (well, I’m not sure if they run, but they do make some mighty fine music), Mr. Neil would like to say sorry for being so incommunicado.

Mr. Neil has been busy. This review and the other three following it, are, for want of a better few words, really bloody late. There’s no excuse, except for the fact I was busy. There are lots of sparkly bits and bobs and things to be…shined, in the Mr. Neil fiefdom. Sometimes these things are very important and they make the sharing of great musical experiences run quite late.

But I think we’re back on track.

ANYWAY, BACK TO THE NIGHTRATS @ SOUTHPAW!

OMG! The Nightrats!

Having a Thursday night headlining gig at an Indie Mecca spot like Southpaw was a great boon for The Nightrats, and I was excited for them. I got on my bike and trundled over to Park Slope.

They had two acts before them, Golden Bones and Miracles of Modern Science (MOMS). The bands were all very different, and for some reason that worked perfectly. The crowd grew as the night went on and by the time The Nightrats were ready to play, the audience was more than ready for them.

Last time I heard them, they had two other members. This time, it was just the two of them, Randy Frey and Chris McMillen… and old Mozart’s rusty squeezebox, supplying us with their samples to go with their songs.

Thing was, it didn’t matter. It just didn’t matter; in fact, it may have been more powerful because of this.

Whether it’s two people, or our two leading men and a whole ensemble supporting them, I’ve seen enough of their shows to know they are always true to their music while still being able to be free and organic in their musical growth and output on the night

I always go back to 50s Paris when describing them, but seriously, they invoke, no matter where they are, what the space or the mood and size of the crowd, an intimate musical experience that is at once pure art and fantastic entertainment.

The acoustics at Southpaw are great, but even if they weren’t this band would have still owned the crowd. People stopped talking and started listening when they took the stage.

They nailed it. The space was big, their musical style is intimate and yet they managed to fill the space with their sound and presence while still making everyone there think they were one of a few privileged people listening to something underground, hip, happening, ultra smooth-cool, and listening to it way before anyone else would be, for a while.

I don’t call them rock stars, or rock star wannabes. They have too much talent, integrity and artistic vision for that (not that there’s anything wrong with being a rock star, or wanting to be, these are simply very different visionistic styles and also different musical styles. But, it is very easy when you’re on the stage to launch into ego-assuaging moves without thinking once about what you want to give, only wanting the accolades).

The Nightrats are artists who have that factor to appeal to the general public, once they catch on.

The thing is, I say listen to them now when you have the chance before you find yourself having to fork over many a pretty penny to hear them play. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  • The Nightrats are playing tomorrow night (Saturday!) at Public Assembly, in Brooklyn, at 8pm, sharp. It was meant to be in the back room, but now they’re taking the mainstage That’s 8pm, Public Assembly, 70 N 6th St, Williamsburg.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.89 out of 5 Stars.

Jesse Lent, Unplugged @ 25th & 1st, 25/04/09

Making sweet music for our earsby DJW

I happen to know of Jesse Lent, simply because he fronts one of my favourite NY bands, The Monte Vista, so when I was informed he was playing a solo acoustic (unplugged, if you will indulge me) show this past Saturday, I was both excited and apprehensive.

Excited because talent is always exciting. Apprehension, however, because some artists cannot provide that ‘X’ factor to something so honest and intimate.

And good acoustic must be honest and intimate. It must also be compelling. And we were in an outdoor setting, which sometimes doesn’t give a performer the platform to deliver the goods.

Luckily, Jesse Lent was more than able to deliver. He was honest, real, and yet larger than life. The thing you need to grab an outdoor audience. Lent commanded our attention through the organic flow of voice, instrument and the emotion he conjured through each song.

Lent‘s performance was Chris Isaak without all that angst, Dylan if he was born in the 70s, and also a splash of Neil – that crooner quality in his voice.

As I said, I love his band, but to be perfectly honest, I preferred him like this. It could be because I have a real love of this kind of music. Especially when it’s done this well. When it’s just the performer and their instrument, the ability to be organic and flexible with the sound, with your own mood and the mood of the room, is thrilling from the audience’s perspective. Think Nick Cave’s live acoustic performances (the man and his piano) in Berlin with his Bad Seed songs and you know exactly what I mean.

Playing familiar songs in an unexpected, fresh way is what keeps audiences coming back again and again. Even when you think you know what’s coming, each performance is injected with something new and that’s exciting.

Jesse Lent did just that. The Monte Vista songs I knew were presented to us in a fresh and new way. Lovely, unexpected, honest and real.

I can’t go without mentioning Lent‘s one cover song. INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart. It was fantastic. Lent owned the song, made it his without betraying the base truth of the song.

Mr Neil says, my hat off to you, young sir. Mr Neil also says, more solo shows, please!

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.75 out of 5 stars

The Monte Vista @ The National Underground 03/27/09

The Monte Vista rocking out @ The National Underground

by DJW

This was my first viewing of The Monte Vista live and they did not disappoint (which is a good thing, because Mr. Neil does not like to be disappointed, since it’s always just so…disappointing).

After hearing their CD I’d marked them as a band to watch for. It’s a great CD, and they promised a good live performance, but they exceeded my expectations.

The National Underground’s cave-like space doesn’t work for every band’s style and vibe. But it suited The Monte Vista down to the ground. The space is small, but not intimate, and it’s the kind of place if you don’t have the ability to hold your audience then they will slip through your fingers.

The Monte Vista held our attention tight from the first few bars and the crowd moved in around the stage. The only other act with the same ability I’d seen that night was The Nightrats, and each for their own, distinctive reasons.

Good music is open, honest, vibrant, and those that hear it know it. No matter what umbrella it comes under, it’s that undeniable truth we all seek out.

I said it in my review of their CD, and after hearing them live, I shout it out. They have the soul of a Melbourne (Australia) pub band (which to those of you sadly not in the know, is a damned good thing).

I think Crowded House, Hunters and Collectors, Paul Kelly, even Midnight Oil. I’m not saying they are the same musically as The Monte Vista, but they all share a realness, a commitment to their vision that’s not tainted by gimmicks, mirrors or names. Just no-holds-barred talent. Pure and simple.

The Monte Vista‘s high energy, no bullshit performance draws you in. Edgy, sharp and eminently watchable.

They are a band who are able to sound different live yet stay true to their recorded sounds. Edgier and darker than their CD, the intensity is a pulsating neon sign that belongs in a smoky, beer-stained bar, with people who know the score.

Their front man, Jesse Lent, is a rocker who has the fine distinction of moving from sub-genre to sub-genre without compromising his artistic vision. And the bassist and drummer know how to do the same. The band is smooth crooner melded with raw Iggy Pop honesty. Their grunge-tinged edge made the entire room rock out and the girls lean in.

The Monte Vista were pure single malt whiskey, straight up, from the bottle. Fire in the belly, uncompromising yet smooth.

I don’t know when they’re playing next, but if you haven’t heard them, check them out, both on their website, and on myspace. And then, head on down to their next show. You won’t regret it.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.65 out of 5.

The Nightrats @ The National Underground 03/27/09

The Nightrats using dark magic to transport you to Paris....

by DJW

When The Nightrats took the stage in their black Chairman Mao uniforms, it was a tiny nugget of dramatics that perfectly complimented their unique music to come. A great entrance is always welcomed and in a space like The National Underground, where the stage is a cave at the back of the room (and not elevated), this feat can be somewhat hard to do.

And, their little army is swelling (I knew it!). They have a drummer now. I was told he approached the band after their gig at Goodbye Blue Monday about drumming for them. That gig, if you remember (or care to go and read the review listed upon our hallowed pages), was a mere ten days ago, but listening to them play, you’d never realise – the drummer melded seamlessly into the band and they sounded as good as ever. In fact, it sounded as if he’d been with them forever.

It did, however, give The Nightrats a slightly more organic feel. Without having to rely on and, indeed, keep in step with their prerecorded drums, I felt there was more room to explore. It wasn’t better or worse; simply different, and that’s always a good thing.

But they did still have the samples that give them their vaudeville/Coney Isle edge, for which I am most pleased. In fact I can see them playing at one of those tacky places on Coney’s boardwalk on a rainy pre-season day, with a bunch of grizzled old men drinking whiskey…

The National Underground (the cave of a stage not withstanding) was still a step further away from my dream of the hole-in-the-wall Parisian hangout where they play for my delight (damn it), but The Nightrats took the space and made it all their own.

Being a band with an intimate feel working with a space that is not intimate at all (simply small), they were more than able to adapt to the space’s vibe.

Their sound was different, more spiky energy, something a place like The National Underground demands if you want to be able to keep your audience interested. And keep their audience interested, they did.

The sound was dark whiskey and melted ice with a splash of Brooklyn chutzpa added for a more robust flavour.

Still evocative, still addictive, still alluring, but more than able to stand up to whatever comes their way.

The Nightrats prove themselves to be a band that can work the vibe of the room as easily as if it were nothing more than air. They are a flexible, organic entity that can continually offer forth quality in familiarity’s cloak and yet always promise and deliver new gifts that surprise and delight.

Seriously. This is one extremely talented band. Their music is unique, addictive and hot. So do yourself a favour if you haven’t sampled The Nightrats. Give them a listen through their myspace link. Buy some songs – you’ll be more than glad you did.

They are next playing at Zebulon Cafe, 258 Wythe St in Williamsburg, 9pm, April 18.

Be there or you’re gonna kick yourself (also you’ll be square, man, SQUARE.).

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.65 out of 5 stars (and they are all golden.)

Swoon & Mike Borgia Downstairs @ The National Underground 03/27/09

Swoon

swoon's moody pop rock upbeat angst music on stage.by DJW

While we’d actually come to see both The Nightrats and The Monte Vista (Mr. Neil is in command of a very small troop division), our early arrival introduced us to Swoon.

Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get with early arrivals, but this was a pleasant surprise.

Swoon have a nice brooding pop sound that seemed to suit the National Underground space very well. Especially since the space has its own nice, dark, brooding quality going on.

Singer Minnie Cho’s understated voice is, like the melodies, pleasing and delicate, but with an intriguing edge. And it provided a nice counterbalance to the grungy guitars.

Swoon‘s crowd was small, but enjoying the show, which is always a good sign.

For me their vibe was tinged with an ’80s and ’90s edge. Grunge meets Tiffany. It was as if someone had morphed aspects of Nirvana to parts of The Bangles, and that band was now cheerfully wandering along the road of teen-angst with a pop-melodic beat (and we should throw a piece of Brit-pop in for good measure).

Swoon held the attention of their crowd and they are definitely a band to check out.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3 out of 5 stars.

Mike Borgia

Mike Borgia rocking it old school. You know, with an acoustic guitar.by DJW

Mike Borgia performed between The Nightrats and The Monte Vista, and he apparently was a last minute fill in for the night, which is never an easy thing (but always, as any artist knows, a great opportunity).

A paired down, bare-bones presence on the stage, Mike Borgia played acoustic guitar with (in a throwback to another time) accompaniment from a double bass. While the feeling was somewhat reminiscent of folk, as in a quiet, listening space is seemingly demanded (I remember being shushed and given the evil side eye at a Bob Dylan concert in Canberra…), which with the crowd didn’t seem to be quite right, Mike Borgia isn’t folk.

His music really did warrant a close listen, and he had elements of an edgier Dallas Green, and his vocals, arrangements, guitar and honesty reminded me of Paul Kelly, a favourite of mine.

His voice had a lovely, clear emotional scale to it which makes him someone almost designed (when playing in this intimate way) for a small place, somewhere with a crowd that is sitting down and sipping their cocktails or coffee, a crowd that had come to actually mellow out and listen.

All in all, Mike Borgia is definitely worth your while checking out. His sound on his myspace page is at times different, which promises for a versatile performer, which I always find most positive. My only beef with his myspace is there are only snippets of songs (a fine marketing ploy on his behalf), so you’ll have to mosey on along to one of his performances or download some songs. Mr. Neil will check out another performance when he plays in town.

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3 out of 5 stars.

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