Monday, October 03, 2005

Across the Narrows Festival

I just got back from the epic concert event, Across the Narrows, a festival featuring The Raveonettes, Belle and Sebastian, The Polyphonic Spree and Beck, and some other bands who I did not go early enough to see. It took two hours via Metro North and Subway to get to Coney Island. The concert was held at Keyspan Park, where the minor league baseball team, the Brooklyn Cyclones, play, and it worked great for the concert. The stage was in the center of the field, so you could see from the stands, but there was also a general area where you could go as far front as you could get. I watched the first three bands I saw from very close to the stage, in a whole mess of people.

One note on the setlists below, I just put down all the songs I remembered them playing, roughly in order, but it's by no means exact. Still, it'll give you an idea of what was played.

The Raveonettes
You Say, You Lie//Attack of the Ghost Riders//Red Tan//Sleepwalking//Ode to L.A.//My Boyfriend's Back//Do You Believe Her?//Somewhere in Texas//Love in a Trashcan

So, the first band I saw was The Raveonettes. I actually started listening to them because they were going to be at this show and I figured I might as well know as many bands as I could to get my money's worth, and I ended up loving their stuff. They've got a dark 50s rock feel, like something that belongs in a David Lynch film. Their first album picks up on the simple driving elements of 50s rock, the same stuff that provided the foundations for punk. But with their most recent they branch out into 50s pop, and create some fantastic songs.

They opened with a nasty version of "You Say, You Lie," and I mean the good nasty. The song's three minutes on the album, but must have been at least five there, with some great extended instrumental stuff. That's my favorite element of seeing a band live, watching the ways they can transform the song through the medium of live performance, and this song was probably the highlight of their set, despite not being that remarkable on the album.

The most notable thing about their live show was how the lighter. poppy songs from "Pretty in Black" are turned into hard rockers like the stuff off the first album. Everything was heavier, more bass driven, and it worked really well. I don't think the crowd was that into them, but that's more because people were likely there to see Belle or Beck, and The Raveonettes were just a bonus along the way.

The other highlight of the set was "Sleepwalking," which is perfect for live playing, with its drastic changes in tone and tempo. It's always good to make people really want to her the rocking out part of the song again by interrupting it with something slower. Unfortunately they were cut off with one song to go, which I'd guess was "Uncertain Times," or at least that's the one track I really wish they'd played but didn't.

So, on the whole The Raveonettes were awesome. I was near a guitarist who either Indian or really tan and he was totally rocking out. And their singer is beautiful and has great stage presence. This is a band I definitely want to see again, I'd go to their NYC show next week, except I've got to be at school.

The Polyphonic Spree
Have a Day//It's the Sun//Hold Me Now//New Song//We Sound Amazed//Move Away and Shine (In a Dream)//What Would You Let Go//Everything Starts at the Seams//When the Fool Becomes a King

The Polyphonic Spree were my main reason for going to this show. It's a 45 minute bus ride and hour and a half train ride to my house from school. Then another two hours on trains to get to the show, then reverse all that, plus $55 for the ticket. But it's all worth it if it means getting a chance to see The Polyphonic Spree perform again. I saw them back in August of 2004 and it was the best concert I've ever been to, completely overwhelming.

I was a bit disappointed when they opened with 'Have a Day,' probably their weakest song, and choosing to open rather than the perfect opener "We Sound Amazed," made it even tougher. But they rebounded with a great rendition of 'It's the Sun,' and their set gradually kept building and building in quality.

I was able to get much closer to the band, and they were more spread out than at Irving Plaza, so I was able to observe a lot more of the instruments in use. They had an awesome electronic clarinet played by the floutist that produced some great noises. And there was also a really cool moog, an instrument played by waving you hands near it to make strange noises. Together these two and the keyboard were used to great effect during instrumental breakdown type sequences.

They played a new song which sounded pretty good, but it's tough to evaluate on one listen, especially in a live context. It was cool to hear Move Away and Shine, which is their most recent release and top notch stuff. The one misstep was a long version of "What Would You Let Go" which just died on the crowd, it's not a bad song, but it should be used more as a bridge between their bigger stuff, rather than as such a long piece in and of itself.

However, in the final couple of songs they did, they were the best I've ever seen them. "We Sound Amazed" was awesome, and was soon followed by what must have been a fifteen minute version of "When the Fool Becomes King." The Spree's songs are perfect for a live venue because they're so big and anthemic, and "Fool" is perfect because of its many stops and starts, letting them play with the audience. During the song there was an odd bit where the whole band froze and Tim wandered around looking at them. And after going through this whole song, they returned to the refrain from "It's the Sun," and just took it beyond, one of their drummers was just throwing stuff over, it was amazing. To do such a long buildup and then have this astonishing payoff, I was totally caught up in it, and the audience was thoroughly 'converted' by the end of the performance.

I would say this was even better than the first time I saw them. The sound quality was much better, as much as I loved the first show, I could barely hear during the second half of the performance, being outside worked better. And I can't wait for them to come around again.

Belle and Sebastian
Stars of Track and Field//The Wrong Girl//Electronic Renaissance//The Boy with the Arab Strap//Me and The Major//Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner//I'm a Cuckoo//If You Find Yourself Caught in Love//Judy and the Dream of Horses

Belle and Sebastian were the other major reason I went to the show. I only started listening to them earlier this year, but they've since become one of my favorite bands and I was psyched to see them live. Now, as they were getting ready to go on I saw a line of four people holding violins. This was the band's string section, and it was huge. With the four violins, there were twelve people in Belle, and only coming after The Polyphonic Spree could this seem like a managable number.

It seems like most of their fans are still most enamored of their early work, particularly "If You're Feeling Sinister." Now, I love that album, but I actually prefer their more recent stuff, "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" is their best work. But, whenever they broke out a vintage track, the crowd went wild, most notably with the opener, "Stars of Track and Field." This is one of their best songs, and it was cool to hear it live.

The band seemed a bit disorganized. With The Spree, all their songs flowed into one another, building momentum, but Belle would stop between songs to rearrange instrumentation, slowing things down. I was impressed by how many instruments everyone could play, Stuart shifted between guitars and keyboard, and the others bounced around as well. I loved when they broke out the string section, and the trumpet bits were a highlight too, though the best instrumental portion was the harmonica solo on "Me and the Major."

While their early work is great, it's less conducive to live performance. I liked hearing those songs, but you can't really get into them as an audience member. But that's part of the problem with transferring certain kinds of music to a live venue. Can you really 'rock out' to dark, slow songs? However, that wasn't a big problem, since most of the songs they played were more uptempo.

My favorite song they did "If You Find Yourself Caught in Love," a solid song on the record, but phenomenal live. I had the problem that I don't know their catalogue that well, so a lot of the time I'd be struggling to figure out which song it was until they got to the chorus. They closed with a great rendition of "Judy and the Dream of Horses," which went over big with the crowd.

After listening to them, I was contemplating leaving. I'd been standing for four hours wedged in between a whole bunch of people, and it was taking a toll. I know Beck's singles and a few other songs, but I haven't listened to too much of his stuff. However, I got some food, ate it and then saw that Stuart of Belle and Sebastian was over signing autographs, so I got my ticket signed and asked him about the upcoming Belle and Sebastian comic, which he doesn't seem to be too involved in, though I guess the fact that it's adaptations of his songs means he did play a role. So, it was cool to talk with him, and by the time that was done, Beck was on, and I figured I might as well stay.

Black Tambourine//Girl//Devil's Haircut//Guero//Loser//Minus//Emergency//Guess I'm Doing Fine//Lonesome//Hotwax//Where It's At//Get Paid//Broken Drum//Lost Cause//Do You Realize//Golden Age//Clap Hands//Sexx Laws//Mixed//Epro

I started out at the back, watching the set from a distance. They had a very cool video backdrop, which was being mixed by a video DJ. So that threw all sorts of strange colors onto the performers. It was cool to hear 'Girl' and 'Loser,' songs I knew. As the set passed, I gradually moved forward and was getting more and more drawn in. The dancy rock worked really well live and there was all kinds of odd dancing going on in the crowd. His stuff works great live and he had a surprisingly strong stage presence.

This was backed up by a guy who was described as being responsible for "percussion and body movements." He broke out the break dancing favorites, the robot, the pulling yourself up from the ground, etc, and he was wearing the obligatory 70s police sunglasses, which were widespread today.

So, I loved Beck's set. He did a really cool acoustic part in the middle, where his band sat down to eat dinner, and after a couple of songs they started to use the plates and glasses as percussion instruments, eventually performing 'Golden Age' with this dinner table backing. I'm really glad I stayed, his set was top notch.

After it was over, I was hit in the face by something. I thought that was nasty, but I looked up and there was a guy saying "Setlist," so I looked down and there was a crumpled up piece of paper with the setlist on it. So, that explains why the one setlist here that's actually correct is for the guy who's work I don't even know. So that was a nice bonus, and by this time I was so tired from standing for six hours that I was able to zone out on the ride home and it went by quickly.

All the artists were great, but I also have to respect this concert for running on time. Everyone went on pretty much when they were supposed to and the time between set changes was minimal. I'd love to see this become an annual thing. And one other note, I didn't take any of these pictures, I just linked them off people's flickrs.


Dejafu said...

Great writeup. Beck surprised me too.

Anonymous said...

A very nice report! You saved my day pretty much. Loved to hear about all the details especially Beck. YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO MORE BECK. Start with Odelay, and then listen to every album all the way to Guero.

He's got some of the best alternative rock albums of the 90s. I can send you some albums in mp3 if you don't want to buy them right away.

I googled up some info on the festival, and I was sorry to find out you missed The Pixies.

Patrick said...

I've actually got Odelay on my computer already, so I'm going to give that a listen very soon. The only album I've listened to was Sea Change, which seems to be quite different from his other stuff.

And The Pixies were the previous day, so I didn't get to see them. All four concerts had really solid artists, but strangely none of them had particularly large attendance.

girshwin said...

my uncle and i kick ourselfs for not going to this show, my uncle had seen this shirt at ocean state job lot that looked pretty cool, a shirt from the show, he looked at the back and saw a few goood bands he already knew, well from this shirt, he and i discovered built to spill, our favorite band, also, the spree, death from above 1979 ect. anyways, this was an interesting blog to read seeing as i love belle and sebastian.