Skip navigation

Category Archives: WE SAW

MIDNIGHT MASSES: RESURRECTED

words by Kristina Ensminger

Who: Midnight Masses

What: The first of two reunion shows after a year-long hiatus

Where: Zebulon– Brooklyn, NY

When: January 5, 2012

Midnight Masses was born from death. After unexpectedly losing his father—who was both a music lover and a Catholic preacher—Autry Rene Fulbright II traveled to Austin and collaborated with friend (and current …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead bandmate) Jason Reece to construct the foundation of what would become Midnight Masses. After the release of their four-song EP, Rapture Ready, I Gazed at the Body, there was an avalanche of press praise, noteworthy live performances, and a growing collection of contributors; the Masses momentum was increasing exponentially. But at the peak of the buzz buildup, producer and close friend, Gerard Smith of TV on the Radio, passed away and the project came to a halt.

The first word from Masses after their hiatus was the announcement of two last-minute reunion shows in Brooklyn—the first of which was at Zebulon, followed by a set at Union Pool two days later. The “stage” at Zebulon wasn’t designed for a 10-piece collective, but the close quarters made for a very intimate, band-in-your-living-room setting. The lineup included three of the four core members—Fulbright, Eric Rodgers and Destiny Montague—as well as a handful other guest musicians who added strings, a trombone, and extra percussion to the mix, creating a Spector-like Wall of Sound.

The set opened with the lyrical graves and rattlesnake tambourine shakes of “Burial Song”—which references Mogwai’s “My Father, My King” and the Jewish prayer “Avinu Malkeinu”—and went straight into the bleak Southern Gothic road trip, “Debtor’s Song.” But before things became too dismal, the ethereal five-part harmonies of “Heaven” broke through with a hopeful burst. Throughout the night harpist Ellena Phillips was an angelic force—both visually and sonically—and her delicate strums and enchanting energy tempered the darkness with a radiant light.

Toward the end of the set during the cover of Sonic Youth’s “Do You Believe in Rapture?” people sat on the venue floor, arms locked and legs crossed, rocking together and singing along. Fulbright dedicated “Polly Come Home” to the memory of Gerard Smith—a cover song he recorded the day that Smith passed—and violinist Adriana Molello played a heartrending solo to accompany the drowsy duet. The closing song “Desperate Man,” an out-of-body reflection from the balcony of the afterlife, ended with an a cappella group harmony that seemed to fuel the spirit’s final ascension.

Although there are no set deadlines, Fulbright has plans to release the long overdue LP at some point soon. In the meantime, he wrote a short film based on the music of Midnight Masses, “Now Here is Nowhere,” starring “Walk on Water” vocalist and friend Jaleel Bunton (TV on the Radio), which will be released in collaboration with Illium Pictures. The film focuses on the war between angels and demons—that happen to be trapped on Earth in the form of Beat Generation poets. “It’s kind of like Jesus Christ Superstar meets Gummo,” Fulbright explained.

While discussing his schedule crunch and project overload in the coming year (he’s currently in Austin recording the next …Trail of Dead record, and working on a debut album for his Masses side project, Haunted Hauses) Fulbright notes that, despite all of his grand plans, he could easily drop dead tomorrow…and according to him that would be fine. “One thing that I’ve learned is that life is full of wonderful, beautiful, tragic, fucked up, amazing uncertainty. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

THE LOOM: GOLD INSIDE A FOXHOLE

Words by Kristina Ensminger

Who: The Loom

What: Opening act for BOBBY on a short Northeast tour

Where: Mercury Lounge – New York, NY

When: December 3, 2011

Part of being a professional music fan is getting your hands dirty; if you want to find the scattered pieces of gold hidden in the refuse, you’re going to have to rummage through the trash. But the thrill of uncovering a new band is what keeps you digging, and when that discovery comes in the form of an exhilarating live set, it doesn’t get much better. I heard about The Loom from a friend who books loft shows in Brooklyn as a part of her underground supper club, Whisk & Ladle, so we arrived early to check them out.

The five-piece used more than 10 instruments in their set, but the textures were woven together so seamlessly that it never felt overwhelming. Frontman John Fanning was on lead vocals, guitar, banjo and ukulele. Dan DeSloover racked up some Jimmy Page bonus points and rocked the electric bass/bow combination. Vocalist/keyboardist/percussionist Sarah Renfro—the replacement for Sydney Price, who left the band shortly after the band recorded their debut LP, Teeth (Crossbill Records)—alternated between the mic, the keys and various percussion instruments, including an extra floor tom that she pounded in a mesmerizing, trance-like state. Lis Rubard was a one-woman horn section, with a trumpet and a French horn that she ran through a delay pedal; and drummer Jon Alvarez was relentless, only stopping long enough to stand for full-band vocal harmonies.

Their live show had the remarkable combination of studio quality sound, captivating energy, and a cohesive group dynamic. They opened with the sparse “Song for the Winter Sun” from their self-released EP, At Last Light, and then dove into the frenetic, percussive rhythms of “The Middle Distance.”  The battle between calm and manic and the contrast of folk harmonies and electric dissonance were pleasantly jarring. Fanning’s songwriting prowess was clear from the outset.  His storytelling skills were less grandiose than Colin Meloy, and his lyrics were more optimistic than Spencer Krug, but equally earnest. There are hints of Krug in Fanning’s vocals as well, particularly in the chants of my personal favorite, “With Legs” (Trade winds and the lion’s share / White teeth and your golden hair / Your sure hands and your pedigree / Your wet wings in the dampened leaves).

The Loom will hit SXSW and embark on an extended West Coast tour next spring, and according to Fanning, their second album is anxiously waiting in the wings—all of the songs are written and about half of them are arranged. This is definitely a band you should catch live; but in the meantime, grab their record and cozy up for a sonic staycation with the tightly knit layers and radiant textures of Teeth.

BOBBY: WILD SOULS OF FOAM

Words by Kristina Ensminger

 

Who: BOBBY

What: First headlining show in NYC

Where: Mercury Lounge – New York, NY

When: December 3, 2011

The first time I listened to BOBBY’s self-titled lucid-dream-pop debut (Partisan Records), I was on a 14-hour train ride from New York City to Montreal. It was the perfect introduction—experiencing the album in the same setting in which it was written and recorded: isolated, surrounded by nature, observing the world vicariously (my filter was the Amtrak window; Tom Greenberg’s was the imaginary ghost of BOBBY—the protagonist who serves as the band’s inspiration and the spirit through which the music speaks). When the echoing apologies of “The Shed” faded out, I started the album over and returned to the spectral “We Saw.” And then I did it again. And again. And again.

Although I was instantly hooked by the polyrhythmic textures and artful lyrics, it wasn’t until repeat round 10 or 15 that I truly understood what was so engaging (er, addictive). This album can’t be chopped up into marketable mp3 morsels for the A.D.D. generation; it was designed for an excavation. The more I listened, the more I found myself digging deeper into the music, mentally dusting off the edges of each song, and finding it almost impossible to put down my brush. With every listen, another intricate treasure was exposed…distant echoes, brief percussive accents, tiny shards of sound.

Of the original seven members of BOBBY—which included Mountain Man’s Molly Erin Sarle, who sang on the record, and later bandmate Amelia Randall Meath, who toured in her place—only three remain. The current four-piece consists of frontman/guitarist Tom Greenberg, multi-instrumentalist Paolo Menuez, drummer/boy wonder Martin Zimmermann, and the newest addition, Maia Friedman, on vox and keys. The current lineup feels more cohesive onstage and the depth and breadth of BOBBY’s sound remains, despite the lower head count.

After wrapping up a West Coast tour with Little Scream, BOBBY returned to the Mercury Lounge (after a stellar set opening for Mountain Man this summer) for their first headlining show in New York. When the band took the stage, a warm red hue turned the leaves of the lush kick drum fern a desiccate brown, just in time for the opening strums of “It’s Dead Outside.” The energy of the crowd was palpable and the band’s reciprocation was evident. Greenberg sat in his signature stage chair in socks (and an Andy Warhol wig left over from Halloween), and everything about the performance felt more comfortable and more personal than their previous sets.

Rather than trying to recreate the album, the band took the studio skeleton of each song and fleshed out a new live form; the result was a raw, bloody-knuckled version of the original—less refined, but more potent. The live version of “Ginger (Water Birth)” was much darker live, building into a chaotic crescendo of Pole Position engine revs, screams, moans, bass drum thumps and cymbal rattles. In addition to the old favorites, they played two new songs, one of which featured Menuez belting out incredibly strong backup vocals and facing off with Friedman in a surround sound bird battle of alternating “hoo” chirps. The new material feels more tailored to fit the four-piece, and their sophomore effort, which they’re currently writing, doesn’t seem to be retracing any of the steps they laid on their debut. After their most rousing performance yet, at least in my handful of experiences, the drum fern returned to its original green glow, and the ghost of BOBBY lingered in the form of a lone Warhol wig on Greenberg’s wooden chair.

Madeleine L’Engle believed that a good piece of literature never has to convince you to believe in it or agree with it.  I feel the same way about a good album. And it’s not my intention to coerce you into believing in BOBBY, although I think you should. Like most objects of greatness, it’s difficult to explain what qualifies it as such; but like all great albums, it simply is.

FALLING OUT  WITH THE PHANTOM FAMILY HALO

Words by Kristina Ensminger

Who: The Phantom Family Halo
What: A live preview of their upcoming album, When I Fall Out (February 14, 2012; Knitting Factory Records), in its entirety.
Where: Death by Audio – Brooklyn, NY
When: November 27, 2011

The Phantom Family Halo, brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Dominic Cipolla, is an amalgamation of Cipolla’s eclectic musical taste—from Amon Düül to John Cale to Alice Cooper. With such a wide-ranging palette to draw from, PFH’s sound can’t be filed neatly under any one genre; psychiatric-meets-psychedelic krautrock seems to be the most fitting. Their most recent release, The Mindeater EP, a split with fellow Louisville native Bonnie “Prince” Billy, is more somber folk than psych-rock (the exception being the electric, jam-heavy cover of “I Wonder If I Care as Much,” with its epic five-minute guitar solo), showing Cipolla’s chameleon-like appeal—he’s as equally adept at acoustic subtlety as he is at electric experimentation. 

The When I Fall Out show at Death by Audio felt like a thumbnail preview of what PFH is capable of live, but not the whole picture. Early in the set, Cipolla inquired, “Can anyone see sparks? Because I’m getting the shit shocked out of me.” The shock factor was fitting, since Cipolla acted as the band’s lightning rod—his stage presence was reserved, but he still managed to conduct a massive amount of energy from his grounded stance. Conversely, William Benton—who played bass and some guitar on the record—had a much more physical presence, wailing on guitar and making use of as much of the small stage as possible. The visual art element was hard to decipher (the projection was lost against the painted walls at DBA), but the raw DIY sound actually complemented the album’s dark subject matter and gritty vibe.

When I Fall Out is the first of two concept albums (the second of which will be released next fall) written as a catharsis after Cipolla lost a close friend. A Dante-like journey through the macabre, each song represents a different level of darkness. “White Hot Gun,” with manic guitar solos that build into a raging climax, seems like the sonic equivalent of watching someone in a padded cell devolve into madness. Abruptly downshifting, the next track, “Dirty Blade,” glides into the numbness of grief with a funky, low-end piano bass line and tiptoeing guitar riffs. “Above My Head” feels like pre-institutionalized Roky Erickson, while “Lightning On Your Face” has a dark cinematic surrealism.

The second-to-last track, “The Fall Out Suite” (a bookend to the opening track “The Fall Out”), feels and sounds like a final acceptance of death—both haunting and soothing. The last track, “Vital Energy,” seems more like the album’s epilogue, a glimpse into the spooky transition between worlds that ends with a Barrett-era Floyd-like battery drain, the final notes and thoughts being slowly sucked away into another realm. Whether this song represents the end to this chapter or the beginning of the next story, whatever follows is sure to be epic.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: