Musings of a Saddle Creekdipper

Rilo Kiley's diminutive singer, Jenny Lewis, looks like Strawberry Shortcake on the Sunset Strip, but when she opens her mouth she's transformed into Loretta Lynn for the lurking class. On a sold-out Sunday night at the Knitting Factory, Lewis led her L.A. quartet through a glorious set of sun-kissed kiss-offs that paid tribute to the emotional and professional constipation of “the overpaid, the underworked, and the uninsured”—in other words, exactly the types expected to be seen drinking three-plus Rheingolds on a school night.

Made you look: Slim hollers 'Nam Songbook
photo: Cary Conover
Made you look: Slim hollers 'Nam Songbook

The band's ouvre dives and rambles from the carnival to the carnal, often in the same verse. While guitarist Blake Sennet wanly wandered his way through a few vocal turns, the show belonged to multi-instrumentalist Lewis, who sang about being a better daughter while cussing like 50 Cent stubbing his toe, and alternately purred and roared about "not going back" to the assholes that got her here in the first place. (Indeed, it would be disingenuous—if not downright dissing the ingenue—to say that half of the fun was being surrounded by typically meaty indieboys shouting, "You fucking rock!" to a frontwoman.

Brightened by Bright Eyes and the rest of his Omaha cronies, Rilo Kiley's brilliant 2002 sophomore release, The Execution of All Things, was a sparkling model of grassroots community building—an ethic realized live when every other band on Saddle Creek emerged near the end of the set (including Conor Oberst, evidently on furlough from his New Dylan™ responsibilities) to shout along in joyful noise. "Let's talk about all of our friends who lost the war," Lewis sang, "and all the novels that have yet to be written about them." And on this night, it was possible to hear hope in her frustration. —Andy Greenwald

Godspeed You Soft Pink Emperors

There wasn't a moment to get one's bearings once the Hidden Cameras took stage for their U.S. debut Wednesday night at Fez. Here was a shambolic congregation of nine to 12 scruffy Canadians making rickety-rackety symphonic pop and twitching together in non-corresponding rhythms, while barely discernible video projections heightened the hectic fringe lunacy of the whole scene. And this was before the Speedo- and mask-sporting go-go dancers hit the stage . . . and hit on nearly everybody in the audience excoriating them to flaunt the Fez's cabaret laws. Simply remaining seated and not joining the chaos of this sensory-overloaded moment seemed like penance. By the end, those who stayed were pogoing in the aisles with the Holy Ghost on their faces.

The name Joel Gibb has given the sound of his Toronto-based army of lovers is “gay church folk music”—which, depending on how liberally you ascribe the metaphor of worship, is not too far off. Like Belle & Sebastian if they had cojones—or at least a greater affinity for the muscular strains of Flying Nun (Chills, Clean)—the Cameras' catchy snapshots are pop creations of arranged precision, stallion tempos and homemade free-for-all. The bubblegum crowd hooked on these commandments won't be betrayed by a single track on the group's upcoming The Smell of Our Own (Rough Trade).

Yet the Cameras' greatness has as much to do with the idiosyncrasies of Gibb's vision as with its Magnetic Archies appeal. The overwhelmed reaction of the mixed Fez audience made it apparent that the inclusive nature of his gay indie-pop utopia shines through. This doesn't, however, occur at the expense of its radical strains—the show included both of Smell's paeans to golden showers, and "Ban Marriage," possibly the finest anti-vow stomp ever written. And those who can't appreciate the self-assurance of such a grand, catchy scope can just continue praying to their own false idols. —Piotr Orlov

I Ain’t the Way You Found Me

The trick to Hall & Oates's method of modern pop is in their nearly claustrophobic aural space—about the size of a Porsche interior, complete with bitchin' LED readout. With tightly wound, looped hooks, they made their craft work like Krautrock, then added falsettos and harmony, exploring the same dialectic as, say, Yaz: blue-eyed adventurousness pitted against mechanical groove. After Entertainment Weekly declared their new album, Do It for Love (self-released, DIY-style!), better than Fischerspooner's debut, my mind reeled with indie-cred strategies they could implement. Might they join the ranks of Neil Diamond and the Carpenters in transcending (gulp!) wild commercial success to attain recognition as underrated geniuses? Rest assured, though Saturday's show at the Beacon Theatre found Hall & Oates playing to enraptured housewives from Long Island. So much for cult status.

Hall's elastic tenor still sounds fantastic (and props to Oates—as Pharmacists guitarist Drew O'Doherty points out, H&O backup vocals are mixed louder than the leads), and his restlessness with melody lines marks him as an entertainer who refuses to go through the motions. They delved into deep tracks ("this is a Big Bam Boom song"), honored Billy Paul, and stretched out arrangements like they were waiting for Eddie Hazel to show up. During an instrumental coda to "Say It Isn't So" (H&O fans Spoon lifted that song's opening for Girls Can Tell), T-Bone Wolk threw his bass behind his head and performed a patient, lyrical solo. Still, here's an interesting conundrum for minimalist geniuses with a yen for improvisation (Darryl Hall is "one of the greatest ad-libbers of all time," according to Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard): How does a group stay interested in songs whose greatest virtues are streamlined hooks and rhythmic repetition? "Do what you want/Be who you are," their song goes, and their forward-looking dedication to the new songs won them ovations, but when they marred the proto-Neptunes classic "I Can't Go for That" with a flute solo, I had to sing back: No can do. —Sean Howe

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