I’m a surly bastard, and among the things I hate most are large crowds and what I call “festy cunts ” (terrible people who attend festivals like they’re following Van Halen on tour). If you also hate music festivals for their attraction to white people who think it’s appropriate to wear Native American head dress, long lines, extortionately priced food and drink and general douchebaggery, but still love live music, then Brooklyn’s Northside Festival was designed exactly for you. With its music portion (there’s also an innovation and film program, similar to SXSW but with less Hollywood red carpet posturing) spread out over four days, there’s over 400 bands to choose from, playing at a number of venues around Williamsburg, many shows taking place in the comfort of bars you probably already frequent. Headliners take over the Smorgasburg lot at 50 Kent and play out to a sunset that drops over the Manhattan skyline, and if you’re lucky the TGI Fridays food truck will be handing out free sliders. With acts like Talib Kweli, Beirut, The War On Drugs, Fuck Buttons, Sharon Van Etten, Titus Andronicus, and Beach Fossils playing alongside local acts, Northside is as impressive and diverse in it’s lineups as it is in it’s laid back atmosphere and easy to navigate schedule. That, and you’ll have enough room to swing a cat, if that’s your jam.
Day 1 – Thursday, June 12
I started off my Northside festival slowly, with Mac DeMarco’s sound check, which was impressive enough even without the full production. Mac DeMarco’s music is his natural laid back charm personified, and between his tongue-in-cheek attitude, and the romance of his rolling, leisurely melodies and sentimental lyrics, it’s difficult not to enjoy a Mac DeMarco show.
Day 2 – Friday, June 13
In a somewhat fortuitous turn of events, The War On Drugs show was a wash out on Friday night. I say fortuitous because if I had’ve been at The War On Drugs, I wouldn’t have gone to see Motion Studies playing at Baby’s All Right. Motion Studies are a seven piece (sometimes eight) dance-rock outfit from Brooklyn, and might immediately remind you of LCD Soundsystem, or a “Suicide Blonde” era INXS. So I danced — a lot. There’s always something so compelling to me about a dance act that forgoes the synthesized pew-pew of laser noises to actually play their instruments, and Motion Studies’ band is so multi-talented they even threw in a surprise saxophone solo for their last song.
Day 3 – Saturday, June 14
It was a triumphant return to Brooklyn for Beirut who played out Saturday night at 50 Kent Ave as the sun set over the city. Heavy on the wind instruments, Beirut delivered as expected, opening with “East Harlem” and playing both deep cuts and new songs to an adoring atmosphere. As far as shows go, Beirut is probably one of the most pleasant I’ve ever been to — the crowd, mostly couples, could only really be described as lovely, while the band retained their sweet humility, sounding at least 17 times better live than recorded, promoting a reverent, rhythmic swaying amongst their hypnotized fans. Day 4 – Sunday, June 15
My boyfriend convinced me to go to Steel Phantoms, and other than making me a cream cheese bagel that morning, it was the best thing he did all day. A local two piece, Steel Phantoms could be the love child of the Mystery Jets and Artic Monkeys, raised by American parents. There’s a British sensibility to their sound which I love — it reminds me of dancing around London at 22, drinking in Hoxton Square and going to see The Big Pink or The XX perform to 20 people at The MacBeth. The only criticism I have of the show is the venue — Steel Phantoms are far too good to be stuck in the airconditioner-less, squatter’s conditions of Bushwick’s Silent Barn with a small crowd that barely even sways. Put these guys on a proper stage, with a proper crowd, and let the dancing commence.
The War On Drugs
I capped the weekend off with the War On Drugs, who were previously washed out by Friday’s night’s Lost style heavy rain. Thanks to all those who worked to re-organize such a big show in 2 days — you wouldn’t have even known it was a slap dash effort to put together the show at 50 Kent on Sunday night, save for the absence of the TGI Fridays food truck. The War On Drugs were spectacular, and as they played out new tracks from Lost In A Dream to a clearly impressed crowd, it was an epic way to end the weekend. If you didn’t jump on the War On Drugs with the release of their latest album, then you probably want to get started. Mellow and beachy on record, the band’s melting guitar and saxophone solos translate to danceable ’80s pop (the good kind) when they’re playing live.