Better Than: Getting a haircut, unless there’s a complimentary head massage.
If level of enjoyment could be measured by length of hair, everyone at the Mikal Cronin show was having a really, really good time. Last night at the Bowery Ballroom Cronin took the stage with the rest of his blissful gang to play their glowing, good-natured pop songs to a crowd of–oh, what should we call them–Cronies? Cronins songwriting exhibits the terse hold-then-release tension of pop in spades, and the Cronies ate up every note. Stoner jams these are not, but they do vibe heavily with the laid-back crowd, who had put patchy couches and tie-dyed pajamas to pasture for the evening in favor of a little more energy-dense fare.
The stage had been dutifully–if uncharacteristically–set by Cronin’s tour buddies, Oakland’s Shannon & The Clams and Baltimore’s Roomrunner. The choice to put these three distinctly and stubbornly diverse acts on the same tour is a risk, but by The Clams’ opening chords the similarities began to show. Roomrunner, who have taken issue with–while living up to–Nirvana comparisons, similarly showed signs of the same symptom of this tour: each band, in their own wildly variant genres, are as tight and well executed live as they are on record.
The Clams shoo-shoo-shoo-wahhed their way through a quick, uplifting set, only stumbling once or twice with new drummer. Roomrunner–whose shows are typically punctuated by rigid, garage-rock that leans on masterful bass lines–felt notably shrunken by the stage at Bowery even when they brought ex-guitarist Sam Garrett to play along. The songs were dense and occasionally unpredictable, due in large part to Denny Bowen’s solitary moments of frenetic guitar noodling, but they triumphed when the crowd knew what to expect.
Mikal Cronin’s sophomore solo album, MCII (Merge), released last month, is simplicity worthy of exaltation. Cronin’s band–consisting of Emily Rose Epstein on drums, Chad Ubovich on lead guitar, and Mike Anderson on bass–dressed in black-and-white, plain and economical. Cronin, on the other hand, walked on stage wearing a neon tie-dye shirt while sporting his 12-string hollow body guitar. The night’s opener, “Is It Alright,” from Cronin’s first solo album, marked the venue with fervent doo-wop upbeats, as if Shannon & The Clams had left a tasty hangover in the room. The difference? Cronin and Ubovich’s sludged guitars. These are pop songs that translate exceptionally well to the live stage, especially given Cronin’s tendency to mark pop nuance with rock intensity. At this point, early on in the show, the soft-singing troubadour still had all twelve strings and mostly all of his wits.
As the evening progressed, and hair began to whip with greater frequency and intensity, the psychedelic-tinged songs took on a more monstrous air. The track that brought the crowd out of its kind-hearted haze was, ironically, “Apathy,” which provided the night’s first true Cronin singalong, From that point forward, each song barreled past like a teenager late for class. The garage-y, syncopated “You Gotta Have Someone,” with its pleasant ooos and nasally whistle, also moved the crowd, who shimmied around to the minor chord changes. When Cronin moved into playing a handful of songs from MCII, the transition was away from up-and-down pop and on toward darker, more crowded alt-rock, mostly punctuated by metallish shredding and slushy, wailing solos, all handsomely provided by Ubovich and his hair.
Cronin was flirtatious and gentle on stage; his soft voice reached through to the audience like Garth Algar nervously stuck in front of a camera. The band’s encore, after a breathless, airtight set, was a cover of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World,” and given the lengths both Cronin’s songwriting and hair are able to reach, it went without saying that the audience would go the whole wide world for him, and probably then some.
Critical Bias: Long hair don’t care.
Random Notebook Dump: Mac DeMarco was there, which makes perfect sense.
Overheard: “Do you know what ratchet means? Like, ‘I’m going to get totally ratchet’?”
Is It Alright
Am I Wrong
You Gotta Have Someone
See It My Way
Shout It Out
Again and Again
Green and Blue
Wreckless Eric – Whole Wide World