A Report: Northside Festival 2009

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This past weekend, the Northside Festival descended upon Brooklyn, NY, providing a full weekend of music showcases. As one should expect, Consequence of Sound was on site to take in the sites and sounds. First up, is a report from our own Carlos Detres…

Thursday, June 11: Day One

What felt like a world away from Manhattan began with a little swarm of clouds hanging in the sky, intermittently drizzling some rain on the sidewalks of Williamsburg. Nevertheless, across two towns, revelers descended upon the north side of Brooklyn to attend the manifold shows that stretched from Williamsburg to Greenpoint. On these sidewalks, stray musicians grabbed guitars and played for an audience who wandered around from venue to venue for what was to be the revelation of the first L Magazine’s Northside Festival.

Marie Sioux:
Studio B

Studio B is a large building, most likely converted from a warehouse in the industrial section of Greenpoint on Banker Street. Once inside the large club, a serene sound whispered from the halls that came from Marie Sioux, who was sitting on a stool on the center of the stage. This dark-haired folk singer sang softly and strummed an acoustic guitar, while her guitarist stood offstage amongst the audience.

Sioux’s songs had a tinge of aching in them, which was accented by her guitarist’s slow and rhythmic strumming. The sound of the guitar warbled throughout the room, issuing a calm vibe that sank the audience into her lyrics. But then came along the last song. After a lengthy applause, Sioux mentioned that she had just written a new song but it seemed as if her guitarist wasn’t notified. She began to sing off key a bit and the error leaked into rhythm guitarist’s playing. It must also be suggested that the sound issues she had experienced throughout the set finally took affect, and unfortunately the gaffe was jarring.

Brightblack Morning Light:
Studio B

The headliner of the night was Brightblack Morning Light, a band from New Mexico with a mystical, freak folk sound that bled heavily into the realm of psychedelia. Strangely, their brew of sonic mysticism fit into this hole of Brooklyn. The crowd, which had dispersed immediately after Marie Sioux, had returned to watch one of Matador’s finest offerings. The five-piece band wrought a hefty amount of hypnotic peace that was built from rich instrumentation with singer, Naybob Shineywater breathing words into the mic.
Just because they’re psychedelic, doesn’t mean that they can’t funk either. The loping beats from the drummer added to the intensity of Brightblack’s performance, revealing a depth to their music that most bands in this genre miss. A very passionate keyboardist, Rachel Hughes, worked her keyboard, swaying and pounding her feet onto the stage. When they finished, the whole room was ready to discuss transcendentalism. Good times.

brightblack morning light 2 A Report: Northside Festival 2009

Friday, June 12: Day Two

Well, it was back to Brooklyn…and back to Studio B for Ghostly International’s Ten Year Anniversary Bash. A little splatter of rain didn’t take away from the draw of this night’s evening of musical performances.

Studio B

Ranolph Chabot, the 22-year-old behind Deastro, was back on stage in New York for the second time in a week (the first was at Mercury Lounge on 6/10). Having just released his latest album, Moondagger, he was ready to throw down a fresh set of tunes and deliver what many had been waiting to hear as a live performance. And guess what? He threw down hard.

Deastro’s set was draped with a sheet festooned with little cartoon images of Batman but once it was removed, Chabot walked onto stage wearing a Daisy Duck hat. At first, he was focused on a laptop, singing into the mic as if his hands were unoccupied by his stabs at the keyboard or clicks on a mouse. Electronic-pop music swirled through the room and the band played a flawless set that consisted mostly of songs from the new album, like “Vermillion Plaza” and “Biophelia”. There was one exception, however – an ambitious effort of covering “I Would Die For You” by Prince. But he can be forgiven. It’s Prince, you know?

deastro A Report: Northside Festival 2009

Studio B

A common occurrence during Northside Festival was the appearance of genre-busting artists and Michna was evidence of this trend. So, what do you get when a saxophone and a trumpet is introduced to bass-driven electro beats? A rich and heavy sound exuding a slight touch of jazz and a lot of dance generating music. Michna walked that fine line, pumping the room with energy; however it still was a difficult task following up Deastro’s near perfect performance.

The mostly electronic set was backed by a hard-hitting drummer who often sped up the tempo, blasting drum and bass beats. The camaraderie of the band was apparent as they often smiled at one another and breaking out into short bursts of laughter. After a while, the music gained a hypnotic momentum, so much that by the end, its effect was awash. Unfortunately, the tweaky sounds and rumbling bass lines eventually left the audience kinda sleepy.

Studio B

Those who stuck around for Lusine’s set were treated to some fantastic techno. This was one of the few instances in which the live performance sounded better than the original recordings. Geared with nothing but a laptop, Lusine, tweaked his grooves and beats with knobs and clicks. The crowd gathered onto the dance floor, looking for action and were swept up in the techno vet’s minimal bass lines. It was the style of music that has burrowed under the streets of Brooklyn and it was all familiar ground for Lusine’s music.

Saturday, June 13: Day Three

So, not only was everyone celebrating music inside these venues but they were also out in the street, drunkenly passing each other high fives and smiles. Book sellers, designers, food vendors parked out in a closed section of Bedford Avenue and suddenly we had Shakedown Street right in the middle of Williamsburg’s bloodline.  And all of this would be fine and good except for the goddamn rain, again. Nevertheless, the people were out, even if they had to duck under awnings to enjoy their “coffee” and “smoothies.”

Dave Paisley:
Union Pool

Ernest Jenning Record Company presented an event at Union Pool that was abundant with folk artists but unfortunately for this writer, due to a previously scheduled event, only Dave Paisley’s performance was attended – but what a performance. It’s not often that you get to see a large crowd of people in a tiny room, ecstatic about traditional American folk music but there they were, rocking their bodies along Paisley’s pained rhythm and heartbreak lyrics.

The man stood alone, framed by a string of yellow lights to illustrate pictures of his life in the words of a talented songwriter. Paisley weaved stories about isolation and despair into his handy guitar craftwork, singing about all those sad, terrible things you expect out of a folk song. Folk music has that timelessness to it and it was interesting to note that all of the music heard at Northside Festival had its beginnings rooted in this genre. Bob Dylan said, in response to accusations about copying much of Woody Guthrie’s style, that folk music is storytelling. You continue telling it. So, Dave Paisley told his version of the human experience.

Katie Eastburn:
Glasslands Gallery

Walking into Glasslands Gallery was like walking into an artists loft, complete with a homemade looking bar, large planks of different colored wood assembled in an abstract pattern on the wall, and a second floor balcony built into the wall – and at times the PA sounded like something from an artist loft too. It’s difficult to say how much of Katie Eastburn’s electronic performance was affected by this. The bass clipped above a level of comfort, often shooting out static instead of a clear sound. Her vocals were rendered indecipherable at times but the effect of an electro lounge singer was still realized. Sitting coolly at her keyboard, she chanted words and sang.

audience A Report: Northside Festival 2009

The presence of a live drummer may have enhanced her otherwise monotonous set; however she still produced some interesting sounds. The highlight of her playlist was a Kris Kristofferson cover that goes without a title since the lyrics could hardly be identified. Perhaps a better mix on the soundboard would have changed the whole sound as it seemed to be geared for an analog set rather than an electronic one.

Glasslands Gallery

If you’ve ever come across an astounding surprise then you’ll relate with the image of a lone woman on a stage with a tom drum, a snare on either of her side, while holding a ukulele. This is Merril Garbus, the woman behind the Tune-Yards, and the performance she gave was not only riveting but downright dancing madness. Yes. Tune-Yards was out of control in a very good way.

The audience gathered close to the stage, as Garbus delivered a yodeling intro, and then the beats began. Here’s what she does: She beats the drums, cycles them through the mic and into a pedal to loop the sound, then she sings, or hums, or chants, into the mic and loops that as well. When that’s ready to go, she gives a good, harsh strum on her ukulele and away she goes.

After the first song, Garbus enticed the crowd to dance by saying, “I heard that Brooklyn doesn’t like to dance anymore.” Of course, she was totally wrong and this was evident by a girl who danced around her boyfriend in child-like enthusiasm. Her performance was often greeted with, “Yeahs,” and “Ohs” all around. By the time she finished, she had many new fans and diehards buying her latest album, Bird Brains.

Dragons of Zynth:
Glasslands Gallery

dragons of zynth 1 A Report: Northside Festival 2009

Dragons of Zynth came out swinging something nasty at the beginning of this quintet’s set. The drummer had machine gun staccato, flavoring the beat with powerful energy. The keyboardist/vocalist, Aku Orraca-Teteh’s charisma was exhibited with colorful attire and an ability to engage the audience in a personal way – including grabbing a drunken guy’s shirt and singing into his face.

The band often switched instruments and roles. The guitarist/vocalist Akwetey Orraca-Teteh played keyboards while his brother, Aku jumped into the audience and ran back onto the stage like a madman. The biggest issue for the band was the exchange of instruments, which eventually became distracting, leaving one to wonder what the purpose was. All-in-all, the audience gave Dragons of Zynth a warm reception, applauding the band with zeal.

Sunday, June 14: Day 4

Those who managed to jump back on their hungover feet, returned to the streets of Brooklyn/Williamsburg to catch the last day of Northside Festival. They waited in parks, drank more “coffee” and “smoothies” and listened to meringue from leftover attendees of the Puerto Rican Day festivities. The momentum was clear – time for more so let’s move on to day four .

Bamboo Shoots:
Public Assembly (back room)

Bamboo Shoots approached the stage with a handicap – the lead singer was off somewhere in Turkey, while his band managed without him. This quirky quintet played their asses off and at times, the whole missing lead singer thing was forgotten. Although similarities can be drawn to Radio 4, the band has its own pop-indie sound that put the audience in a good mood.

bamboo shoots 2 A Report: Northside Festival 2009

During one song, the synth player grabbed up a drum and banged on it furtively to pick up a tribal element for an already energetic tune. The force of Bamboo Shoots’ music was received with dance and smiles but this is nothing new to them. The word on the streets about this band is getting around, which is what got them signed to Epic Records in the first place.

Wakey Wakey:
Public Assembly (back room)

Before Wakey Wakey’s set, the keyboardist/vocalist had to deal with a flopping mic stand so after he was handed some duct tape and a can of beer, the band was ready to roll out their playlist, including “War Sweater”, which was featured on the show, One Tree Hill.

The band’s sound was bold and beautiful, and at times, inspiring. The two vocalists, Mike Grubbs (also on keyboards) and Tanya Buziak harmonized like two opposite Gemini twins, contrasting the masculine and feminine sound of their voices to entwine soulful harmonies. Now throw in the violinist, Patrick Doane and you’ve got some serious orchestration.

La Strada:
Public Assembly (front room)

Then came the surprises – one was La Strada and the other will be soon mentioned. La Strada was an army of musicians, who trotted onto stage with a brass section, a string section, and of course, the rhythm section. The singer toted an accordion and then they began to play. It was a mix of old world sound and good ol’ fashion Americana. The large crowd was captivated by the band’s music and all of the warm, fuzzy feelings were enhanced by the red and yellow hue of the stage lights that shone on La Strada.

Singer/accordionist, James Craft, was a charismatic host, happily singing to his audience as if he was telling a good story from the past. They cleared through their set in what felt like minutes, with a head full of tales swirling in their fans’ heads.

Wild Yaks:
Public Assembly (front room)

…Then, there are those WTF moments, like when you just finished hearing La Strada’s sets, then someone yells for you to turn around and there’s a circle surrounding a man with a guitar who could have passed for a younger Slash. Wild Yaks didn’t just play, they exploded. Seriously…they did. It was the most stumbling, crazy, loud rock n’ roll heard during the entire festival – and it was so good to change it up finally, just in time for the closing of Public Assembly.

Wild Yaks have this thing about them…the guitarist is there amongst a bevy with you and then he’s back on the stage. The singer wildly sings into the mic and they have such a, “I don’t give a fuck” sound that it’s intoxicating. There is perhaps no other band that has a name that more appropriately suits them than this one.

So, instead of Public Assembly slowly prodding the folks who attended out of the venue, they gave them something to think about for a few hours after and you have to appreciate that kind of gesture.