Eight years into its existence, Northside Festival is determinedly future-minded. Dividing itself into thirds, the NYC festival has two- and three-day stretches dedicated to “innovation” and “content”. The other third — four days worth of music between the East River and Bushwick, pulls in choice marquee names and established artists each year, but a large percentage of the bands and musicians that come to play are young, hungry, under-heralded, or some combination of the three. In this way, the festival has a sense of expanding on CMJ’s tradition — though hopefully it won’t be left to carry it on alone.

Reviews by Ian King and Judy NelsonNorthside Festival 2015

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Land of Talk

Being the opener on the first night of the music portion of Northside festival, at the big “headliner” show at McCarren Park, is no small feat. Montreal-based Land of Talk handled it with ease and enthusiasm, clearly excited to play to a crowd as excited to see them as they were to see the headliner themselves. Despite the fact that Land of Talk hasn’t released an album in almost 6 years! Band leader Elizabeth Powell was joined onstage by her usual squad, which includes her drummer, members of Besnard Lakes, and the french horn player from Tomgat/Bell Orchestre/Luyas (and occasionally Arcade Fire). Despite some issues with the sound due to the wind, Powell and her crew sounded great, playing a range of songs from her discography. Here’s hoping this is a preview for more shows (and another album to come?). JUDY NELSON


Wolf Parade

Fresh off of a five night run at Bowery Ballroom, Wolf Parade was greeted by a raucous crowd who seemed barely old enough to remember when their first record came out. Even though there has been a significant lapse in their live presence for the past 5 years, they sounded as good as they did 11 years ago when their debut Apologies to Queen Mary was released. They played a setlist with many songs from that album, including favorites such as “You are a Runner and I am My Father’s Son” and “Shine a Light.” They also played a few new songs from their upcoming album, as well as some from their sophomore album At Mount Zoomer. The show was clearly full of long-time fans who were thrilled to see some of their favorites performed live for the first time in a long time. JUDY NELSON


Pure Bathing Culture

After a few years of minor obsession with this band, my expectations for their live show were high. Happy to say that they did not disappoint. Lead singer Sarah Vesprille has an ethereal onstage presence, with dreamy dance moves in a white sheath dress. The Portland-based band flexed their live performing muscles, while playing highlights from both their debut Moon Tides and their newest, Pray For Rain. This set was definitely one of my favorites from the whole festival – the band had such a mastery over the crowd and kept the energy up the entire time. There was a sense of romance and a dream-like quality to the whole experience. The set list included the title track from the new album, as well as “Pendulum” “Scotty” from their debut. JUDY NELSON

 

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Kid Millions & Jim Sauter

Curiously, fans of avant-garde saxophone bands had a lot to be excited about on Friday evening in Williamsburg. The Monofonus Press night at Union Pool began with the controlled jazz noise demolition of Kid Millions and Jim Sauter. In addition to being the drummer for Oneida and the leader of experimental percussion project Man Forever, Kid Millions is no stranger to collaborative duos (see J. Spaceman & Kid Millions’ Live at Le Poisson Rouge). Jim Sauter has been making improvised noise since the late ’70s with Borbetomagus. Together, the two go for everything at once, and seem to push one another further and further while remaining in their own individual spaces. Sauter used distortion on his saxophone at times so that it approximated a heavy, fuzzed-out guitar tone. After their two extended pieces, they both must have been spent. IAN KING


Battle Trance

Five minutes away, on the other side of the BQE, Battle Trance and Zs played a Northern Spy Records showcase at the Knitting Factory. Upping the sax ante considerably, Battle Trance are a band where all four members play tenor saxophone. Travis Laplante (also of Little Women and other projects) lead Patrick Breiner, Matt Nelson and Jeremy Viner through a set that was at times as minimal as Kid Millions and Jim Sauter was maximal. Their songs, though not beholden to structure, also felt much more pre-meditated and organized into a narrative. There were passages both turbulent and lulling, which ultimately trickled down to the two or three minutes of complete silence they ended their set with, wherein the audience was so invested in the moment that all you could hear was the bar on the other side of the wall. IAN KING


Zs

“See you in about fifty minutes,” deadpanned Sam Hillmer as he dropped the microphone down into the bell of his saxophone. (It might be worth noting that both he and Jim Sauter played with the mic in their instrument, while the Battle Trance fellas all played with their mics on stands.) After some lineup changes over fifteen or so years, Zs have hardened into trio that also includes Patrick Higgins on guitar and Greg Fox on drums, and they received a lot of due praise last year for their latest album, Xe. Though the three played sitting down, they exuded a cerebral energy as they traversed the shifting terrain of their extended instrumental pieces with nonchalant precision. IAN KING


Peanut Butter Wolf

Northside 2016 was full of “returns to glory” as one might say; some more overblown than others. Peanut Butter Wolf quietly headlined a Stones Throw showcase at Brooklyn Bowl this year, and it was at once both a joyous and a laid back experience. The crowd was there not only for PBW but for his labelmates J Rocc, Mndsgn, and Samiyam as well. They all played off of each other well, and when it was time for PBW to take the spotlight, J Rocc introduced him with admiration and joy. Accompanying a stream of curated videos that were projected on numerous screens throughout Brooklyn Bowl, PBW played tracks off of various Stones Throw compilations, mixing in some J.Dilla and Madvillian, much to the delight of the crowd. Despite being an LA-based label, this Brooklyn crowd truly welcomed the Stones Throw crew with open arms. JUDY NELSON

 

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

Fruit & Flowers, Weekender

Saturday afternoon was busy on Morgan Ave in Bushwick, where Fruit & Flowers went on at Gold Sounds right before halftime of the England vs. Russia match, and played an abbreviated set of punchy psych rock, which really came together when members Ana Becker, Elizabeth Wakefield and Caroline Yoder broke out the occasional three-part vocal harmonies. Later on up the avenue (after England gave up a last minute goal to Russia leaving it with a tie), Weekender opened PaperCup Music’s showcase at Our Wicked Lady, playing songs from their recent EP, Floaty Feeling, Blue. The Philadelphia band’s sound, a hippie dream pop take on Real Estate’s chillaxation, was a natural fit for a slowly fading summer afternoon on a rooftop. IAN KING


Grouper & Matchess

That night in Williamsburg, Grouper played two sets at National Sawdust. Opening the earlier of the two was Matchess, the solo project of Chicago musician Whitney Johnson, who is also a member of the groups Verma and E+. The reverent, hyper-modern venue bolstered Matchess’ hypnotic, classically informed ambience. Everyone being able to tune in and zone out cross-legged on the floor through her set was clutch. It’s too bad that the room was too full for Grouper for the audience to do the same again. With Liz Harris sitting down on the floor but everyone else around her standing up, those in the back were only able to watch the big screen above her playing grainy black and white footage of oceans and eyes and people looking out of windows – you know, Grouper stuff. Her music was as silver and tranquilizing as always, including versions of Ruins songs like “Clearing” played with thick opiate guitar instead of piano, but not being right up front was a reminder of how much the feeling of connection in live performance relies on actually seeing the person in the same room as you. IAN KING


She-Devils

A few doors down, She-Devils opened for Psychic Ills at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The Montreal duo of Kyle Jukka and Audrey Ann Boucher (apparently of no relation to Grimes, who is a She-Devils fan) didn’t take up much of the stage: Jukka sat down with a leg over the left lip of it hunched over samplers and effects, while Boucher lingered a bit back and to right, stepping with as much animation as a given song called for. Though record-wise they only have a short EP out, their style of exploded ’60s pop and surf rock loops is well honed. She-Devils’ songs are structurally simple but complexly layered. IAN KING


Weyes Blood

They ended their set with a track of theirs that made the rounds last winter, “Come”, which live sounded like “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” remixed by My Bloody Valentine. Following them was Weyes Blood, the solo project of Natalie Mering, who has played with Jackie-O Motherfucker and Nautical Almanac, and appeared on Ariel Pink’s Mature Themes. Weyes Blood played wandering folk while being even more still on stage than She-Devils, but sonically she was an outsized presence, with a summoning voice and an acoustic guitar that rang out at times like church bells. It was a birthday show for Mering, and her stark cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” was a gift. IAN KING


Stonefield

Australian band Stonefield played to a medium sized crowd at Baby’s All Right on Saturday night, one who seemed mostly familiar with the band’s brand of classic rock-influenced psych. Their set was energetic and fun, and the four sisters have a clear talent and mastery of the genre. Lead singer and drummer Amy Findley is the powerhouse of the group, which is touring in support of their sophomore release As Above, So Below. While they aren’t breaking any musical boundaries, the group plays solid rock music, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them on larger bills over the next few years. JUDY NELSON


Ava Luna (covering Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire De Melody)

Not being familiar with Ava Luna’s body of work initially was not a disadvantage at Saturday night’s cover show at Rough Trade; it actually helped me step into “Serge Gainsbourg mode” even more. The band paid appropriate homage to the legend and tailored their stage show accordingly. There was a lot of serious French stage drama, complete with black turtlenecks. The band played Gainsbourg’s songs with style, including “Valse de Melody” and “En Hotel.” After going back to listen to Ava Luna’s most current album, it’s clear that their quirky, art-house indie rock style is a perfect match for Serge’s. JUDY NELSON


Frankie Cosmos (covering Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville)

It always gives me the warm-fuzzies when an audience can gather together in ’90s nostalgia, even if half of that audience can’t actually remember when that album was released. This would include the performer herself, songwriter Greta Kline, who goes by Frankie Cosmos. She has already released two sweet, whimsical albums that have achieved indie fame and moderate success. Frankie has been playing music in the NY scene for years but she was endearingly honest about being nervous to play Phair’s songs for the large crowd that gathered to see her headline. She comes across with an innocence that runs contrary to Phair’s brash lyrics, which made it all the more fun to hear her play songs like “Divorce Song” “Never Said” and “Fuck and Run.” Her drummer (and boyfriend!) came up and sang “Girls!Girls!Girls!” which equally sweet. Even as only a mild-Phair fan, I was charmed by the experience. Go see Frankie if she comes to your city! JUDY NELSON

 

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Skating Polly

Skating Polly do not come across like a band that has been around since 2009, but that is probably because Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse were both actual kids when they began playing music together. The Oklahoma City duo had a casual-edged riot grrrl presence, wearing socks instead of Docs on stage at Shea Stadium, and covered Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger” with grunge-y aplomb. Their most revolutionary aspects, however, were subtle. Equal partners, Mayo and Bighorse each spent half of their set behind the drums and the other half playing guitar and singing. Also, Mayo’s axe of choice is a dinged up three-stringed bass, which most bands probably wouldn’t rely on to carry the compositional weight, but it works for them. IAN KING


Madam West, No Honeymoon

Across the street, The Paper Box was hosting music outside in their back courtyard as well as on their stage, while the market stalls were trading in art and knickknacks in the main room. Sophie from Madam West played a solo set outside, creating songs on the spot out of samples of both her own voice, and the voices of the people in front of her that she got to volunteer. It might not have been as easy to do in any larger of a venue, but the casual setting made the crowd participation seem natural. Brooklyn’s No Honeymoon played inside right after her, loosening up with a round of shots after their first song. Their shoegaze is of the aggressive variety, like Swervedriver, but a bit kinder and gentler, and singer/guitarist Cait Smith doesn’t sing as much about cars. IAN KING


Horse Jumper of Love

Up north a ways at Aviv, slowcore was alive and well that afternoon, even if the air conditioning wasn’t. Boston trio Horse Jumper of Love may not have a name that naturally suits their sound like, say, Codeine, but it fits with their oddly enigmatic lyrics. “Funeral expense commercial/Kids cutting birthday cake/I am the jealous one” Dimitri Giannopolouos mumble-sang on “Ugly Brunette”, the slow gallop opener from their languidly alluring self-titled record released earlier this year. Drummer Jamie Vadala-Doran and bassist John Margaris give stability to Giannopolous’ fragility. “There is dirt and there is juice/And I am mixing up the two” he creaked on “DIRT”, having earlier even tried to muffle his vocals by putting a hat on his mic after asking for a sock, before deciding it was fine after all. IAN KING


Posse

It has been two years since Posse released their second album, Soft Opening, to many complimentary reviews, but singer/guitarist Paul Wittman-Todd still seemed genuinely surprised when someone at Aviv shouted for “Zone” as the trio were deciding on stage what song to finish on. “We have a fan in the audience?” Wittman-Tood, singer/bassist Sacha Maxim, and drummer Jon Salzman obliged with a fine version of the song. “Oh we’re from Seattle, so there will probably be a lot of Seattle-centric lyrics”, he noted before “Viaduct”, another one in their short-but-sweet set punctuated by Wittman-Todd’s righteous guitar squalls. Maybe they thought being from the opposite coast meant they wouldn’t be known here, but it wasn’t the case. IAN KING


Turnip King, Arc Waves

Around dinnertime, Sea Cliff, NY’s sons and daughters of Bardo Pond, Turnip King, played an early slot at the Fire Talk Records showcase at Baby’s All Right. For those who doubt that the flute has a place in psychedelic-bent math rock, their final song – presented to the audience as a choice between “a mathy song” or one that was represented by a “waaahhhh” sound and an enthusiastic representative hand gesture — was defiant rebuttal. While the McCarren Park crowd prepared to take in some Pet Sounds, Arc Waves were the first of five bands that night at Bar Matchless on the other end of the park. Elaine Lachica’s celestial crooning glided over bandmates Brandon Jaffe, William McCormack, and Mike Hodges’ swirl of space rock and Strokes-esque metronomic indie. In their short time they produced some interesting programming with their Roland keyboard, a caterpillar joke, and the news that one of the members was recently engaged. IAN KING

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