Be on the lookout for new editions to the live section.
As the Summer begins, we are counting down what we thought were the top shows of the year thus far so that you may indulge in the right pleasures during the upcoming Summer months. Enjoy with the most unabashed, free-wheeling decadence as possible for best results. Three cheers for summer and live music!
(Realize that our current tastes in music are not for the posers or for those worried with tight corners and loud noises and adrenaline. While we do enjoy the finest of the singer/songwriter genre, we do give the benefit of the doubt to shows that make us move, shout and indulge in possibly unsafe practices. As Jim Farber recently wrote in the Daily News: "Over the last few years, just about every band that's earned the hipster's stamp of approval has been sensitive, smart, literate, skilled and fired by about as much testosterone as a neutered poodle." While we love the crooners and melodians and the intellectuals, we understand that live music should be interactive and let loose the tensions of evil urges. We are, after all, in a recession and times are tight).
#1 Screaming Females and JEFF the Brotherhood @ Santos Party House – March 31
This show was an absolute ripsnorter of a marathon. If rock shows are allowed to be compared to hurricanes, all forgiveness aside, The Santos Party House on the 31st of March would have been like a shrimp boat adrift in the heat of Katrina. From start to finish, it was a super charge of brute force guitar solos from the Females and southern-sparked, Ramones-esq energy from JEFF. I was actually physically sick, drained and spent – out from work for the three weeks following the show. Coincidence? I think not: clearly an affirmation that my bones were not ready for such holy goodness; an affirmation that without rock and roll of such caliber and ferocity and wildness, our society is dull and depraved, eating away at our joy organs. It was one of those shows were you feel the need to desperately fight for your way towards the stage, just to be closer to the band, closer to the music: small children and screaming shaven head freaks be damned. And as a result, flesh was spilled, elbows thrown, exhaustion spreading like the fever where the only prescription was more guitar, more drum, more, more, more JEFF the Brotherhood!!! It blew my mind that I could be so phsycally beat mid-way through the set, yet as soon as a power chord was struck, again I was in the air, on the ground, yelling with the beat.
Both these bands hark back to the early indie hardcore days, the good old days when bands lived out of their vans as the life of the rock n roller. Back when they believed in the power of sincerity, shock, and three chords (guitarist, Jake Orwell of JEFF, uses only three strings). As the headliner to this show, I am forced to conclude that JEFF the Brotherhood are well on their way to becoming a perfect band. They took the Black Keys song writing and turned it loose with a southern inspired punk energy. Best show of the year!
#2 Japanther for Japan Relief Benefit @ The Fire Proof – April 30
Japanther rallied all night for this one – out in the badlands of Bushwick, in their home court – like a pair of heavyweight prizefighters in a title bought.
As a drum and bass two-piece, there was some melody and some harmonizing in the same sense that there was some harmonizing and melody in Black Flag, but it was the steady and hammering rhythms that pushed the night to such bodacious limits: pure, mad-hell rhythms, consistently rattling off the skins of Ian Vanek and romping out from Matt Reilly’s steady and speedy bass. Their tag team of rhythm grabs you right by the vitals and pulls you into the show, loosening the body of the normal bad angst that comes with such local and intimate settings. With no stage, countless bands would be overcome with the fear, but Japanther took advantage of what they were given, and the place turned into a den of mayhem. All pre-conceived notions of etiquette and responsibility were flung outdoors leaving the small audience, wedged right up next to the band, completely mindless and fully fueled to jump and shout and twist. I found myself pounding Vanek’s crash more than he was.
After forty years of punk, it’s hard to come across originality, but Japanther has somehow found a sort of medium between the Clash, hardcore 80s punk and the new girl-group, garage-pop bands like the Vivian Girls. It is unique, but what makes Japanther rise above the competition, and especially for their live set, is that they capture a strong sense of a Brooklyn community. Sitting behind his drum set, Vanek gives these little speeches/raps before a song about coming together, overcoming this and that, and love. He talks about Bushwick and how its time is now. Usually it would sound horribly corny, from the mouths of your typical indie poser, but because of his incredible stage presence, Vanek comes off as an Otis Redding type performer, begging with the crowd. He gives the impression that he actually loves the crowd. Consistently through the show, he'll yell at photographers to get out of the way of the fans trying to enjoy the show. That's real. It’s similar to the passion Ian MacKaye had in the Washington and Fugazi, or least Vanek makes you believe it. And his audience reacts. They love it – makes them feel loved and apart of something meaningful. That and they make you sweat hard are the reasons why they're number 2.
#3 Black Taxi @ Bowery Ballroom - Jan. 29
It is something when a local New York band can sell out any space in Manhattan, never mind the Bowery Ballroom… not that the Ballroom is difficult to fill because of lofty proportions, but there’s some added mystery or history to that place that makes things seem more majestic than they are. And the crowd at this show seemed to get swept up in that sway and became suddenly eager, desperate even, for the big funk beat from the men of Black Taxi. There is a certain shared ownership with Black Taxi fans, like the band is their diamond in the rough, or obscure du jour if you will, the band you will name drop at work five years down the line: “Oh yeah, Bowery Ballroom. January 29th. I was there,” you will say with a cool and confident air. And when Black Taxi finally came on the 29th, the energy levels in the building – while Ezra did his debauchery: Mick Jagger spins, leaps and tongue curls – made it seem as if Black Taxi were the first band since the Strokes to brandish the Lower East Side with such brave music. We all thought Rock ‘n Roll was dead in the finer, cleaner, big city borough that is Manhattan, but Black Taxi is bringing it all back home. The show went on to the wee hours with signature classics like “Up Here For Thinking, Down There for Dancing” and “Shoeshine.” They rocked this house with Deadbeat Darling coming in on the encore for a rousing Beatles cover.
#4 The Press @ Bruar Falls - April 8th
Prior to their set, frontman Billy Gray of Ben Franklin posed the question to the audience: “How do you follow The Press?” To the laymen this may seem strange as the two are neither The Who nor Jimi Hendrix at Montery, but to those in the know, or to those at Bruar Falls that night, you might sympathize with Mr. Grey. The Press crushed through their set with vengeance; you could feel the electricity rolling off the unorthodox realm that is Bruar Falls. Essentially, a good live act holds the attention of the audience; like any drug or teacher or video game: the more pure and the more intense the degree of focus stimulated, the greater the trip. Naturally, if there were an explosion behind the bar, your attention would still be full throttle on The Press. And it’s not because of any thrilling gimmicks like screaming or smashing guitars; it’s how they slam through their riffs and fills; it’s how they confidently jump around within their grooves. While I am only one man, there is not a tighter band in this city. Enough said. “The Kindly Woodcutter” is a hell of a jam.
#5 The Beets @ 285 Kent – February 16
It was the cover of “Street Fighting Man” that got me excited about The Beets and this show. “What else can a poor boy do/ But sing for a rock and roll band.” It wasn’t cliché when they did it: they just nailed it, like they understood it. And that really is what music for a young generation is about: bustling around the city with no direction or hope besides your band of brothers taking on the man. Their live show makes you feel apart of that. As a band, The Beets’ recordings are shoddy at best, their sound a pugnacious, witty and disrespect to any and all music within and without the New York scene; their cocky, sneer attitude’s offensive to most, but it is the spirit and drive and maybe even the attitude, much like The Ramones, that is so attractive and alluring. They tour recklessly; they have no doubts about their ambition to lead the next social happening (in an interview with Knocks, Jaun Wauters shared that he hoped to be the next Nirvana); they play with gumption, and they don’t take no guff. While their recordings might seem like cheep hooks through old tape machines, The Beets comprehend that music, or rock, is all in the riff. It is their riffs – extracting and embodying their spirit and drive – that have most of hip Brooklyn running back for more. Wauters’ guitar sound is straight from the gut: just tearing at the vitals and screaming off of his home built acoustic. This band embodies DIY to a T, without all the pretentious bull shit. This show, at the home built, eroding 285 Kent as a perfect background, was pure balls to walls New York punk delivered by what has now been commonly referred to, and rightfully so, as the coolest band in the city. Here's a sample of their new music:
#6 The Strange Boys @ The Knitting Factory – June 18
Still kicking in the bleak garage rock genre, these four young Texans from Austin, with their twangy, jangly blues, whipped a tired crowd into shape at the Northside festivities a couple of weeks ago. Due to tight quarters, I was stationed right up front at the stage, about five clicks from the lead guitarist’s amp, which was pushing the limits of my inner ear responsibilities – just stinging and roaring guitar licks straight from the threads of highway 61… which was all I could hear for a majority of the show: a real in-depth analysis on the capabilities of Fender amps. Raw power. Expanses of voltage. This dude, Greg Enlow, calmly came out shredding on this sexy and sleek, big, black six-stringer. But he seemed too innocent for the power and size of such a fine machine, like a child sneaking into B. B. King’s closet and fooling around with Lucile. And with his cool shades and snakeskin boots, his music came off as just that: a Tom-foolery version of the blues. Tom Sawyer would be jealous… or enthralled… either way, he’d be there at a Strange Boy’s concert, dangling from the rafters and shaking his tail. On vocals, front man Ryan Sambol, was squawking out his usual lyrics in his trademark howl. His voice, when there was a break from the amp, was strikingly unique: flirting with strange and annoying; in the same aspect that Dylan’s voice is rancid yet profound, Sambol’s makes you cringe yet indulge in it hours on end with pleasure. Judging from their records, Sambol is the true inspiration behind the band’s relative success – he strums acoustics, blows on harps, and throws in occasional nasty slide parts. His demeanor is that of a musician. If he sticks with it, he’d fit into good company over in Austin. But that’s another story. What’s important is that the Strange Boys’ attitude is what pulls them apart from the garage rock, obscurity doldrums. This show made you want to swill beers and pop uppers with the band until the wee-hours. The show packed the raw emotion of Jackass with the soul of the old blues.
#7 The Courtesy Tier @ Pianos - May 26
If Omer Leibovitz started using heroin, he would be the next Link Wray: a mysterious guru lost in the six strings, lost in obscurity, but opening up floodgates for future disciples. Unfortunately for us, the past has happened and heroin is so passé. However, Omer’s playing is a full-throttle electrified jazz, structured with the straights of the blues. It kills. If Brooklyn were into guitar solos, he would be king. Ad the walloping and pounding and immaculate drums of Layton Weedeman and you have yourself The Courtesy Tier, the Brooklyn locals dancing a dark line of a grunge laden, Black Keys rock. And unfortunately for The Courtesy Tier, Brooklyn is into the soft-core, crooning, spaced-out heartthrobs. The Tier in Brooklyn is like Townes Van Zandt opening for The Beach Boys; it’s like the Sex Pistols playing for the Queen. But on one of those special nights when the right people celebrate the right thing (like the second full-length release from The Courtesy Tier, Resolution), and the right energy collides with the right electrons and a wonderful display of affection and camaraderie and bold declarations for the future of music happens, people leave with a new and inspired appreciation for live sets. People down in front sweat and jive hard. And that’s exactly what happened at Pianos. They burned through intense versions of oldies like “Friend” and “Cold.” While in the past, The Tier might have just sped through their set, with their new album, Resolution, they are stacked with newer and slower, almost country songs to give their live acts more diversity. This show proved the Tier could shake it up throughout and keep the crowd on their toes. Here's a taste of what the more heated numbers sounded like.
#8 Spring Standards @ Momo's, Austin, TX. SxSW - March 20
This show is unique for the countdown. There was no head banging or stage dives at this show – no police escorts; perhaps because it was nearing noon when The Standards took the stage, and perhaps because it was Bloody Mary time, re-coop and get saddled up time for the rest of SxSW. But most importantly, their music has a country quality. It wasn’t about loud noises and insane feedback: The Spring Standards’ set was all about the melodies and harmonies. And they nailed it, wailing out a big beat and crooning lyrics to the warming audience. Their set, as a Fleet Foxes or Grizzly Bear set would be like, was all about hitting the right note at the exact right moment: A country slide filling in on a bridge here, a bopping banjo filling in the quiet there… And as the set continued, the Standards increased the intensity, still keeping it country, but giving it more of a two step with a fast kicking acoustic on rhythm. They turned a yawning crowd into an eager crowd. While there were only a handful of intense listeners at this show, The Standards just kept the music coming strong, belting it out on those high notes and stomping their boots with the beats. And as an impressive gimmick, the four piece band would be switching instruments throughout the set: drums, guitars, keys, banjos and on down the line. Great band to kick of SxSW for Brooklyn.
#9. Sic Alps w/ Ty Segall @ Death By Audio – June 24
A San Fran and Brooklyn connection has been in operation at Death By Audio and other indie rock underground meccas spread thick around the borough of Kings. The Sic Alps are in cahoots with bands like Thee Oh Sees and The Fresh and Onlys, bands out on the West Coast creating an original, surfy and grungy sort of pop – light enough to dance too, yet mean enough for the punks to tolerate. The songs are quick but poignant, less spacey and more prompt than a certain Panda Bear, and concerned mostly with songwriting. It is something close to what many a young ‘un yearn to call a musical movement: something that is underground; nearly – but not quite – inbred; and less delusional yet more inspiring than the mass fed weirdness like Gaga and friends. It is a “cool” scene. But despite your sneering reservations, the music that night was solid. Special guest, Ty Segull, another heavy hitter out west, filled in on drums, an occasional guitar riff when technology was willing, and melodic Lil’ John/surfer dude type vocal fillers. From behind the curtains an older gentleman looking like he were pulled off the acid test bus, either that or a tormented warped tour stage tech wailed on a distorted and feedback laden guitar. His efforts gave the often harsh and piercing Death By Audio soundscape a full and layered sound, much more tactful than many trigger happy guitarists in the area. And frontman, Mike Donovan, played an acoustic with added effects while singing through dual mikes, giving off the Sic Alps’ classic, echoey sound. The crowd was not the involved type, but more of a watchful and inquisitive type – like a judge. Perhaps it is the wafts of a fresh rivalry heating up, the old East Coast/West Coast love/hate affair. But despite the critics, there was an air of excitement in the eroded basement, like things could be on the up swing for tasteful rock ‘n’ roll.
words by Sam Houghton
Combined with the shoddy sound over at Bruar Falls and the lo-fi purges coming out of the German Measles, this show is likely to get out of hand. It’s going to be loud so if that isn’t your thing, you might want to check out those soft, Florida punks Surfer Blood over at The Knitting Factory. But if you are into real, from the streets, arty punk, you’ll find some nasty/Lou Reed melodies hidden beneath the heavy reverb of the Measles. The numbers are all marching anthems that should lead to some serious moshing. Think of a more dragging Mission of Burma (“Reach for my Revolver”): sloppy rock with a sweeping and dipping bass, layers of noisy guitars and a sort of off kilter, mumbling yet resilient singing.
They play at 10 PM Friday night at Bruar Falls
words by Sam Houghton
In case you were wondering, the exclamation point isn’t some cheap, cliché gimmick in the title Gunfight! Back in the beginning, punk bands survived solely on their spirit and drive – an idealistic ethos. To make the argument that Patti Smith was a talented singer or that Greg Ginn was a technically gifted guitarist sounds like a couple of young stoners arguing in a middle school bathroom. We’ve all been there. But we’ve also all grown up and realized that instead of sheer talent, punk rock is about gumption. It’s about lighting off M80s in toilets. It’s about sticking your finger up to the man. And if you’ve been lucky enough to have witnessed Gunfight! you’d know that about half way through “Empties,” you’re neck would be soar and your head a sweaty mess and your tongue wagging loose because the band is kicking it so fast and so hard. If you’re smart enough to have listened to their debut EP opener “All You Need” you’d hear that unique sound of someone burping into a mic before ripping into a wild number. Gunfight! is a band of mischievous bandits with enough punk spirit to keep the dream alive. The exclamation point represents that punk attitude, like a salute and a warning in one!
They Play the Trash Bar on Saturday at 10:00 PM
Check out an unabashed interview we did with them about a year ago
The Wicked Tomorrow
Words By Sam Houghton
I think of slow-mo motorcycle races when I hear The Wicked Tomorrow. “Frenemy,” their heavily promoted single, could easily be plugged as the soundtrack for some ESPN special on NASCAR, not for any hick political motivations, but because The Wicked Tomorrow is particularly bad ass and could very well be incorporated beneficially with burning rubber. Their style is classic New York City: tight leather; hard heel-kicking boots; shrill guitars; and a lo-fi punk/traditional rock and roll vibe. Singer and guitarist, Ian Jacobs, gets his chops from New York’s Jon Spencer (Heavy Trash, The Jon Spencer Blues Expelsion), crooning like an especially nasally and drawling Elvis. But his guitar is what gives Tomorrow their signature swaggerific raunch. Live, he powers away with a few tuned-in bass strings low on his guitar, while at the same time ripping into riffs on the higher, regular guitar strings. With Michelle Feliciano’s heavy bumping on the skins, the results are very Black Keys esq: loaded on rhythm and an occasional quick, high note filler at the breaks. And while it is traditional rock with very simple chord progressions, the music bleeds with reverb and power. You can hear the tubes chugging with electricity with Jacobs’ riffs.
They kick off the Northside Festival early on Thursday evening, 5:30 ish, at Spike Hill. It’s Free. Knocks' favorites The Courtesy Tier and The Yesway will also be performing later in the evening.
True Gonzo Improvisation… Dark Alleys and Bearded Strangers… a Surprise Visit With a First Class Knock from the Underground
words by William Lea
It was around midnight when I walked into The Drink at 228 Manhattan Avenue over by Grand street in Williamsburg. I was late. In back of the bar I saw Emile Blondel at the piano in the corner. Jon Pratt was on the congas. Lathan Hardy was playing sax. The bar was neither full nor empty.“What’ll you have?” the bar tender, some hairy, young guy, asked me. I got some sort of Black Ale and turned to listen to the tunes.
Blondel has played with symphonies in concert halls across the United States and France. He’s also established himself as a jazz and collaborative pianist. Beyond that though, Blondel has an ear for innovative music that defies genre. When I heard that Blondel was playing with Jon Pratt and Lathan Hardy, I was curious which direction the trio would lean. The band seemed to have formed in response to Hardy’s ongoing invitation to bring music to the bar.
There was something Egyptian about the way Hardy was playing and the drums were right in with it. The piano was hard to hear as Blondel played quietly. Hardy’s sax line was like a lonely traveler with a long way to go across a windstorm tattered desert. The sax spilled the tears while the drums picked the feet up and dropped them slowly. Blondel was the tiny grains of sand, dusty, blowing over everything. The music grew quieter and then was over.
Pratt is a multi-talented composer, producer and instrumentalist. He told me he had just recently returned from a musical residency in Brazil. Asked how he liked it: “Great, man! Amazing! Drums for miles…
A few moments later I ran into the piano player, Blondel. He explained that they were in fact done with their set but were starting a monthly gig here at the drink.
“Man, I guess I missed it pretty much. The end sounded great though.” My beer was just about gone. I’d shown up too late and blown the article. I hadn’t seen enough to write about. “I’m probably gonna take off in a sec,” I said.
“You wanta join me in the backyard for a minute before you go?” He pulled a lighter out of a breast pocket and shook it at me.
We went through the back door into a small dark hallway. Two guys were standing there with large old whiskey bottles full of water. It was unclear what they were doing with them. They also had a bowl of water, two strips of sheet metal, some chunks of Styrofoam and metal poles about five feet long and an inch thick.
We tried to go by them but the door that lead to the back yard was locked. “Backyard’s closed now,” one of the guys said to us. He was a sturdy, bearded fellow. His companion was taller and bearded. He was shaking the bottle of water to his ear. The taller gentleman held a bowl full of water, his fingers gliding along the edge, around and around.
“What are you guys doing with that stuff?” Emile asked.
“You just gotta listen and hear for yourself,” the guy with the bowl of water said.
“I’m trying to have a sort of- objects-jam back here on an ongoing basis,” the guy with the bottle said as Lathan Hardy appeared at the door. “I want it to be like… there might be just one person back here scratching away at something, there might be five people back here groovin’, there might be 20 and it’s okay. Just use whatever you got and make some different sounds!"
Emile took two small objects out of his hoody pockets and began to tap a beat. My friend, Amos, began to stomp to it and clap. The guy with the bowl started tapping on it with something. The bottles were put down and the two strips of sheet metal were picked up and wobbled. Styrofoam was dragged against the wall. Fisher began to sing, just long notes, in a falsetto. Hardy started rapping and soon changed to a mumbling scat. I’d taken out my handful of pocket change and begun shaking it in my palms. The shorter bearded fellow took some metal poles closer to the door that lead to the bar and began rubbing Styrofoam against them on the ground. I began to help Fisher with the singing, throwing out little phrases and melodies. Hardy was working himself up on the scat. We had a nice sound going. The door from the bar opened and a short man with a black beard and glasses entered with a tall, leggy brunette. He looked at the man with the Styrofoam and the metal pole on the ground. His eyebrows shot up above his glasses rims.
“Jesus, Jim, what are you doing?” he said, looking down. The brunette’s lip curled like Elvis’, her eyes wide as they took in the bizarre scene.
“What are you doing?” the bearded fellow replied over his Styrofoam rubbings.
“Are you high?” Black Beard asked. “How high are you?” The music was the reply and soon Black Beard and his girl disappeared back through the door. Someone started blowing over the top of a bottle, making that sound like a tugboat. Hardy was still mumble-rapping passionately. The volume seemed to be growing. The door from the bar opened again and I glimpsed a man and a woman coming in to the shadowy, dark hall of cacophony. Many of us were knocking on the wall at that point. Jon Pratt came in and started tapping out a great syncopation. Hardy peaked just as I put my change away and started clanging two bottles and a bowl together. I knocked the bowl off of the small box it was on. Water spilled and the bowl landed flat on the top edge, unbroken. The bearded fellow who had introduced the jam’s concept picked it up and poured some water from one of the bottles into it. Then he took a chunk of Styrofoam and began making a noise like a turntable being scratched. I started freestyle rapping in a nonsensical way for a bit before going back to singing long, falsetto notes with Fisher. Hardy danced and clapped, gesticulated and shouted out.
I stopped singing as we worked it up into a fever pitch. Pratt was able to do things on the wall with his rhythm that made my beat seem more expressive than I intended. I kept doing the same thing but it seemed to change in a good way. Then I started changing it. I began to sing, more, long, falsetto notes. They seemed to work well with the loud-for-quiet thing we had going on. Melody emerged over the beat with Pratt accenting. We went into a repetition of the musical line but all with our own variations. We all stopped at the same moment and laughed. The thing had just brought itself to a perfect close.
I’d come in search of live, improvised music and I’d found it. The true knocks from the underground often can’t be heard until you stop straining to hear them. They will always be there, though, lurking just behind some back door in a dingy hallway that never sees the light of day.