An Epic, Oceanic Album Release Show by Sky Picnic Followed by Some Surf Rock

by delarue

Wednesday night at Rock Shop in Gowanus, Sky Picnic played a mighty, majestic album release show for their new one, Her Dawn Wardrobe, streaming at Bandcamp and available on delicious colored vinyl in addition to the usual digital formats. The sweep of the band’s epic spacerock songs made it hard to believe that such a vast, oceanic sound was being created by just three people. Guitarist/frontman Chris Sherman played lingering, sustained lines awash in echo and reverb and took the same approach to his vocals, holding the notes, letting them sink in over the midtempo-to-slow dynamics driven by bassist Leah Cinnamon and drummer Pete Meriwether. Meriwether quickly turned out to be the band’s not-so-secret weapon, fueling most of the towering crescendos, the band building to mighty peaks where he’d fire off clusterbombs of tom-tom and kickdrum riffage. Cinnamon has a distinctive and very interesting style: she likes to slide up to a note, coloring her catchy, sometimes hypnotically circling phrases with hammer-ons and the occasional nimble, bluesy phrase.

They opened with a couple of big, swaying, uneasily echoing anthems driven by resonant guitar lines that reminded of Peter Koppes’ work with the Church  – who are coming to town in March, by the way – in their most straightforward moments. Likewise, the downwardly circling hook that opened the night’s third consecutive big-stadium number. From there the trio hit a tricky tempo (13/4?), a strutting, matter-of-factly rising mashup of dreampop and mathrock followed by a dissociative jam that Meriwether pulled together with another methodically explosive crescendo.

Interestingly, the album’s catchy, moody title track was mostly just guitar and vocals, Meriwether adding just a mist of cymbals against Cinnamon’s looming, mimimalist resonance. Then they picked up the pace with a galloping number where Cinnamon fired off big leaps on her bass against Meriwether’s animated attack as Sherman took his time, choosing his spots. The guy’s got a genius for simple, memorable hooks…then he makes them last with all that reverb and delay. The rest of the set featured Meriwether firing off endless, machinegunning volleys of sixteenth notes, then a bit later the band rose out of a a dizzyingly rhythmic instrumental intro into to a richly clanging, brooding minor-key anthem, Neil Young and Crazy Horse adrift in some other galaxy. They encored with a high-voltage, treble-toned, practically new wave cover of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine. Sky Picnic’s next gig is Feb 20 at 9 PM at Matchless.

After that, it was fun to watch New Jersey surf rock trio the Black Flamingos make their New York debut. They’re definitely a party band, and drew chuckles from the crowd with their half-baked, semi-choreographed stage antics, guitarist Robert Butkowski and bassist Declan O’Connell stalking each other, sparring and pushing each other to the edge of the stage. Butkowski is a walking encyclopedia of classic and obscure surf and twang licks: bits and pieces of Dick Dale, the Ventures, the Shadows, Buck Owens and Lee Hazlewood songs bobbed to the surface throughout the band’s roughly 45 minutes onstage. Butkowski’s most sizzling moments were when he went deepest toward the noir, with an ornate, richly chordal, jazz-tinged number early in the set. The musically most impressive moment of the entire night was a spot-on, pummeling cover of the Ventures’ version of Swan Lake. Playing Tschaikovsky on bass and guitar in perfect precision is not easy, but the two guys nailed it, drummer Vincent Minervino capping it off with a cool trick ending.

And it was too bad to miss seeing Sun Voyager open the night: their stoner garage assault is a lot of fun.