New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: indie rock

Enigmatic, Psychedelic Postpunk from Supergroup Heroes of Toolik

Heroes of Toolik are as close to a supergroup as NYC has right now. Frontman/guitarist Arad Evans plays in avant garde legend Glenn Branca‘s ensemble. Bassist Ernie Brooks was in the Modern Lovers, and Billy Ficca held down the drum chair in Television. Violinist/singer Jennifer Coates rounds out the lineup with trombonists Peter Zummo (ex-Lounge Lizards) and John Speck. Together, they offer potently tuneful reinforcement to the argument that cerebral music can be just as catchy.

Their sound blends riff-driven postpunk, psychedelia and minimalism, with the occasional jazzy flourish. They’re playing a rare stripped-down duo show at around 9 at Troost in Greenpoint on Sept 28. Then they’re back in Greenpoint on Oct 12 at St. Vitus at around 11, playing the album release show for their new one, Like Night.  Cover is $10. The album hasn’t hit Spotify yet, but there are some tracks up at the band’s soundcloud page.

The opening track, Perfect builds quickly out of a pensively jangly guitar hook with a looming brass chart: “Pay your respects to the great unraveled…between the flash and lightning’s echo, that moment waiting is where you live,” Evans intones. Coates’ violin joins the intricate weave between the horns as the song winds out.

It’s good to hear her assertive, crystalline voice front and center on several of these tracks, beginning with Miles, which builds into an ominous march with alternating, minimalist clang and squall. Coates’ disembodied vocals add to the sepulchral ambience, the long psychedelic outro echoing the Branca symphonies that Evans is used to playing.

The surreal, distantly mambo-tinged Something Like Night sways along, terse trombone contrasting with spiky koto and a circular, pulsing guitar hook. The epic instrumental Warm follows the same pattern, guitar and violin exchanging loopy phrases, gradually building momentum as the drums and trombone add polyrhythms – it’s the closest thing to jazz here.

The briskly strolling Blind Man builds a vividly nocturnal tableau – it sounds like the kind of obscure, jangly 80s indie bands that influenced Sonic Youth, bluesy violin and spare trombone adding melody and texture. Say Virginia bounces along with a wry rondo of individual instrumental voices, a gruff trombone solo taking the tune out. The enigmatic, allusively phantasmagorical waltz Again sets Coates’ crystalline vocals over an increasingly ornate backdrop.

The band keeps the distant menace going through the noirish stroll Crazy Doll, a slowly unwinding, allusive northern New England mystery tale. Coates sings the album’s closing cut, You Will Not Follow, a creepily inscrutable nursery rhyme-inflected number that suddenly hits a growling, unhinged guitar-fueled sway, shades of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. It’s an aptly ambitious way to wind up this strange and compelling mix of songs.

The Grasping Straws Bring Their Feral Intensity to Bushwick Friday Night

With her dynamic, sometimes feral wail that often recalls Grace Slick or Ann Wilson, guitarist Mallory Feuer fronts the Grasping Straws, one of the most riveting bands in New York right now. Last month at Mercury Lounge, they headlined one of this year’s best shows, a mighty triplebill with Gold and A Deer A Horse opening with equally captivating sets. This Friday night, Sept 23 at 10 PM, Feuer is bringing her fiery four-piece, two-guitar group to Gold Sounds in Bushwick; cover is $10.

The Grasping Straws have been through some lineup changes, but they’ve really solidified their uneasily catchy sound with the addition of lead guitarist Marcus Kitchen (who also plays in the similarly dark if slightly less ferocious trio Mischief Night, wihere Feuer switches to drums). At the Mercury show, they opened with what could have been the great missing track from Patti Smith’s Radio Ethiopia, the tense clang of the two guitars over Sam Goldfine’s catchy bass hook on the turnaround. The band’s first detour into lingering, rhythmically tricky, enigmatic rainy-day Britpop suddenly took a savage leap into the post-grunge era on the chorus, and then back, on the wings of Jim Bloom’s elegantly shuffling drumss

The big crowd-pleaser Sad State of Affairs came across as a messy yet wickedly tight post-Silver Rocket SY hit. Rolling toms propelled the more brooding. rainswept number after that, rising toward resolution on the chorus as Feuer’s voice dipped and slashed – then they took it toward sludgy metal terrain as the frontwoman’s wail rose over the thump

A pointillistic pulse anchored by Goldfine’s bass incisions kicked off an anthemic, period-perfect 1982-style new wave-flavored song with echoes of dub reggae, the Slits, and a sunbaked guitar solo. After that, the band made a returm to overcast midtempo janglepop punctuated by anotther rise into fury, then a ridiculously catchy, midtempo anthem where Feuer rose to another all-too-brief, blues-infused wail on the chorus

Lulls juxtaposed with jangly peaks at the end of a phrase throughout a skittish downstroke rocker, followed by a slithery mashup of Hendrixian pastoral psychedelia and doublespeed intensity. They encored with a lickety-split new one, stampeding Murder City proto-punk taken into the 21st century. There will be a lot of this kind of s moldering fire at the Bushwick show Friday night.

And the opening acts were fantastic as well. With just bass, drums and vocals, the all-female quintet Gold sound like no other band on the planet. And while you might not think that the sound would hold up alongside a couple of loud rock bands, it did, due to the women’s three-part harmonies and the catchiness of the bassist’s punchy, trebly lines. While their sound has the same kind of outside-the-box creativity of the early punk movement, it’s also in the here and now. And A Deer A Horse adrenalized the crowd with their theatrical, intense mashup of catchy, anthemic postpunk, glamrock and the occasional triumphant descent into stomping, doomy metal. They’re at Elvis Guesthouse on October 8 at around 8 for a ridiculously cheap $5.

Elegant, Serpentine Chamber Pop with the String Orchestra of Brooklyn

It’s hard to imagine that the String Orchestra of Brooklyn is ten years old this year. From the looks of some of the group’s members this past evening at le Poisson Rouge, if they’d been around since day one, they would have been in grade school then. This time out, the irrepressible ensemble backed a series of soloists straddling the worlds of indie classical and rock in a program that was more verdantly fresh and vivid than it was awash in the kind of lushly enveloping, dreamy sonics that strings orchestras are typically known for. A celebration of singles rather than an album of them, the program bookended often unpredictably knotty material around violinist Michi Wiancko‘s warmly minimal, poignant canon of a centerpiece, That Knock Is For Me (her first composition, she said), her cellist brother Paul adding a stark precision as he played standing up, as one would a kamancheh or erhu fiddle.

The New York premiere of William Brittelle‘s labyrinthine, surprise-packed, intricately dynamic mini-suite Canyons Curved Burgundy, was sung with moody resonance by Wye Oak guitarist Jenn Wasner, a frequent Brittelle collaborator. At the end, she went to her knees to elegantly tremolo-pick upper-register chords that were more raindroplets than dreampop washes. Her fellow guitarist Aaron Roche sang falsetto, off mic most of the time, so his harmonies often weren’t very present in the mix. Of his works on the bill, the most memorable was the slowly swaying, pensively 70s Britfolk-tinged Wooden Knife.

Wasner’s Everything Is Happening Today – scheduled for release on Flock of Dimes‘ debut album, due out next month – followed a more vigorous series of tangents, similar to Brittelle’s first piece. The group closed with his new single, Dream Has No Sacrifice, its central mantra within what by now had become an expectedly shapeshifting string arrangement replete with peek-a-boo voicings. Brittelle’s music in general is very translucent, so hearing him explain that the trials of fatherhood had sent him into a tailspin of jumping through some unnecessarily complicated hoops was quite a surprise. This, obviously, was a return to form, and despite its outward simplicity – “My Brightest Diamond on valium,” one wag observed – hardly easy to play.

A quiet, determined triumph for the soloists, who also included Robert Fleitz on electric piano and keyboards and Owen Weaver on syndrums – and the orchestra, whose members this time out also comprised violinists Gina Dyches, Quyen Le, Eric Shieh, Allison Dubinski, Shawn Barnett and Matthew Lau; violists Emily Bookwalter, Joseph Dermody and Brian Thompson; cellists Ken Hashimoto and Aya Terki; and bassists Luiz Bacchi, Valerie Whitney and Morton Cahn

The String Orchestra of Brooklyn’s next performance is at Bargemusic on Sept. 11 at 4 PM as part of a memorial concert, where they’ll be playing Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The concert is free, but early arrival is a must.

Pat Irwin and Daria Grace Bring Their Brilliantly Eclectic Sounds to an Laid-Back Outdoor Show in Queens

The theory that Sunday or Monday are the new Saturday cuts both ways. On one hand, the transformation of hallowed downtown New York and Brooklyn neighborhoods into Jersey tourist trashpits on the weekend has driven some of the best New York talent to gigs and venues that might seen off the beaten path. On the other hand, for the permanent-tourist class whose parent guarantors have driven rents in Bushwick and elsewhere sky-high, every day is Saturday because nobody works for a living. OK, some of them are interns. But that’s a story for another time. For an afternoon that perfectly reflects the state of the city, 2016 and also features some of the city’s most eclectic talent, brilliant singer Daria Grace has put together a triplebill starting at around 4 PM on July 31 in the backyard at LIC Bar, with ex-B-52’s guitarist Pat Irwin playing his often hauntingly cinematic instrumentals, then a set by Norah Jones collaborator Sasha Dobson and finally a set by Grace’s charming uke swing band the Pre-War Ponies at around 6.. The venue is about a three-minute walk from the 21st St. station on the 7 train.

Last month’s installment of this same lineup was a treat. Grace did triple duty, first joining Irwin on keys (who knew that she was a more than competent organist?), then adding her signature counterintuitive, swinging, slinky basslines to a set by Dobson, then switching to uke and leading her own band. Irwin opened the afternoon with a set that touched on Bill Frisell pastoral jazz, Brian Eno ambience and most significantly, Angelo Badalamenti noir. He mixed slowly crescendoing, shifting instrumentals from his film work across the years with a couple of new numbers, one more minimalist and atmospheric, the other far darker and distantly menacing. By the time his roughly forty-five minutes onstage was over, he’d gone from solo to having a whole band behind him. Dobson followed with a set that drew on roughhewn 80s indie rock, switching from harmonium to Strat as she led her trio – Grace on a gorgeous vintage 1966 hollowbody Vox bass – through a mix of her solo material and a couple of jaunty Americana-flavored numbers from her Puss & Boots album with Norah Jones and bassist Catherine Popper.

It’s hard to find a window of time for sets by three bands; the last time this blog caught Grace leading the Pre-War Ponies was on a twisted but actually fantastic twinbill back in May at Barbes, opening for psychedelic Middle Eastern metal band Greek Judas (who are back at Barbes tomorrow night, the 28th, at 10). Grace’s not-so-secret weapon, J. Walter Hawkes is an incorrigible extrovert and a charismatic showman, but he really was on his game this time out, whether firing off lickety-split cascades on his uke or on his trombone, which he typically employs for both low-register amusement and purist oldschool swing and blues. A real force of nature up there, he spent the set blasting out droll vaudevillian licks, foghorn riffs and serioso latin lines.

Lately Grace has been doing a lot of gigs with iconic latin jazz drummer Willie Martinez, but this time out she had Russ Meissner behind the kit, who had a ball adding counterintuitive hits and accents to cha-cha jazz numbers like Amapola, from the band’s latest album Get Out Under the Moon. As expected, the big audience hit was Moon Over Brooklyn, which Grace delivered with so much genuine, unselfconscious affection for her adopted hometown that it was easy to forget that you could change the lyrics just a smidge and it would make a romantic anthem for any city, anywhere. Romantic songs are usually cheesy and rote and this was anything but. You can get some romance and some sun on the 31st in Long Island City.

Hard-Hitting, Edgy, Tuneful Postrock Band Sunwatchers Opens for Smog’s Bill Callahan in South Williamsburg

Sunwatchers play hard-charging, psychedelic postrock instrumentals with Middle Eastern, Balkan and occasional African touches. Their sound blends the searing guitar and electric phin of Jim McHugh with Jeff Tobias’ atmospheric, resonant alto sax over the driving rhythm section of bassist Peter Kerlin and drummer Jason Robira. They’ve got a new, self-titled full-length album (sort of streaming online if you connect the dots – follow the individual links below) out from Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer’s Castle Face label, and they’re opening a kind of weird twinbill at Baby’s All Right starting the night of June 26, which happens to be sold out. As of today the two following shows, at 9 PM on the 27th and 28th, with Smog’s Bill Callahan headlining, are not. Cover is $25. On one hand, as loud, and catchy, and adrenalizing as these guys can be, putting Callahan – Mr. Mist – on after them is anticlimactic. On the other hand, it’s good to see a deserving band get to play to a captive audience. ***UPDATE – all three nights are sold out.

The suite – much of which has been released previously on cassette a couple of years ago – opens with Herd of Creeps, a pounding series of variations on a wickedly catchy minor-key hook, sax and guitar blasting together as a toxic swirl builds in the background over a punk stomp. It reminds of the kind of long, ska-flavored jams Tuatara would take back around the turn of the century. They vary it with more complex guitar on the second track, For Sonny (a Rollins dedication? It isn’t as far as out as the jazz sax icon could go with it) and then hit a hardcore drive as the guitar buzzes and oscillates and the sax swirls on track three, White Woman.

Eusubius moves toward the looseness of free jazz, but Robira’s decisive, spacious hits hold it together as the guitar flutters and bursts into flame and the sax does the same, but more warmly and low-key. It’s like an electric wacko jazz take on circular, spiky yet balmy West African kora music. The band goes back to the original theme for the most epic cut, Ape Phases, sort of a cross between the insistent aggression the album opens with, and the more varied second part. They finally hit a peak in a machete-thicket of tremolo-picked guitar and frenetically melismatic sax.

Moroner shifts from a (relatively, for these guys) easygoing, ultraviolet-lit Velvets/Black Angels style jam toward more haphazardly intense territory. Likewise, the final cut, Moonchanges rises out of spiky blues guitar phrasing over atmospherics, to a steady, surprisingly four-on-the-floor drive with amiable sax/guitar interplay.There are some good special guests here – Dave Harrington on guitar and keys, Hubble’s Ben Greenberg on guitar, Cory Bracken on vibraphone, Dave Kadden on keys and Jonah Rapino on fiddle, but it’s not apparent where any of these guys are exactly within the squall. Bite the bullet, go to the Baby’s All Right show and find out for yourself.

Have You Hugged a Casket Girl Today?

If you’ve been to a Casket Girls show on their current tour, you have. Or at least you should have: hugs should be reciprocal, right? Last night at the Mercury, toward the end of their set, sisters Elsa and Phaedra Greene came down off the stage as the bass and drums buzzed and thumped behind them and one by one, gave every single person in the audience a hug. Not a halfhearted, let’s-get-this-over-with hug, but a long, blissed-out, forceful one, making good on Elsa’s gnomic comment as she took the stage that the show would be about “the intentionality of peace and love.” Not what you might expect from a band who work the mystery angle for all it’s worth. .

Hanging in the back and watching it all happen didn’t make any difference. Phaedra saved her last embrace for a black-clad guy who’d just given her band’s new album The Night Machines a glowing review – who knew? She certainly didn’t. Karma isn’t always a bitch. That seems to be the band’s ultimate message.

Before then, the group had run through a hypnotically oscillating, irresistibly catchy, ominously swirling mix of material that draws equally on ghoulish video game themes, film scores and vintage new wave, with more than a hint of hip-hop. Beneath his black fabric mask, polymath keyboardist Ryan Graveface sweated and worked an endlessly shifting series of organ and synth textures. What was most impressive was how much of the album he was able to recreate live: there was stuff in the can, and in Elsa’s guitar pedals, but not a lot. Her guitar chops were unexpectedly impressive, shifting her own textures from a steady clang to a furious roar on the night’s final number. Phaedra swooped and dove up and down the frets of her bass with a kinetic grace – she really likes to slide up to a note, a touch that enhances the songs’ distant menace.

This band is a lot of fun to watch. Decked out in more-or-less matching black dresses and shades, the sisters didn’t waste any time switching out their instruments for big black magic markers and blank canvases. Drawing furiously and singing without missing a note, by the four-minute mark, they each had either a self-portrait, or a sister portrait – they look so much alike, it was hard to tell. When the song was over, a couple of people in the crowd got to take home a signed piece of original Casket Girl art. A little later, the duo put down their instruments again for some playful choreography: a parody of Miley Cyrus and the like, or just some goofy relief from the songs’ underlying darkness?

The band – augmented by the hard-hitting rhythm of guitarist Chloe Pinnock – wound up the set with a resounding take of Tears of a Clown – the most politically relevant original on the new record – and then a more punk-oriented older number. Then the crowd scurried to the merch booth in the front to buy vinyl.

A Look Back at Last Year’s Vocal Summit With Amanda Thorpe and Her Siren Friends

More about that Amanda Thorpe show coming up on June 13 at 8 PM at Hifi Bar. She’s playing in the intimate space in the back, where the Britfolk and chamber pop songwriter – the closest thing to Linda Thompson that this generation has produced – will be joined by guitarists Don Piper and her longtime Bedsit Poets bandmate Edward Rogers.

Mary Lee Kortes was one of three other women who joined Thorpe late last year onstage at the Treehouse at 2A for a summit meeting of four of the most haunting voices in all of rock. It was one of the half-dozen most spellbinding shows of the year: vocally speaking, no other performance all year came close. The quartet of Thorpe, Kortes, Lianne Smith and Debby Schwartz each played guitar, singing in the round, trading songs, joining voices as duos and trios and once or twice in four-part harmony: pure, unaffected, spine-tingling intensity.

Thorpe has an ambered delivery that can be either coyly fun or woundedly resigned in the low registers, but when she cuts loose and soars way up, that’s when the firepower really kicks in. Likewise, Smith channels hushed nunace as much as poignancy, has a spun-steel upper register and has never written better than she’s doing now. With her metalcutter crystalline tone and ability to effortlessly leap octaves, Kortes is probably one of the half-dozen best singers in the world, never mind the rock world. Schwartz, the former Aquanettas frontwoman, might have the most distinctive voice of all four singers,  both plaintive and atmospheric with a tinge of grit. She and Smith – who also draws on rockabilly, Americana and psychedelia – share an indie rock background. Kortes draws on all sorts of Americana, and like Thorpe is equally adept at jazz.

Smith had her Strat with the reverb turned up as she usually does. A typically allusive new number parsed the understated ache and longing from eyes that are “bright, bright, bright” in circumstances that are hardly “right, right, right” – chilling, especially in contrast to the power she unleashed on the chorus. A spare, skeletal, southern soul-tinged new song gave her a platform for the kind of simmering vengeance that Dusty Springfield would have killed for.

Schwartz aired out the sardonic, understatedly brooding Dreaming New York City in the Middle of LA and also the evening’s high point among many, a viscerally  spine-tinglingtake of the otherwise enigmatic, minor-key anthem Hills of Violent Green. Kortes’s high points were the wickedly catchy, darkly chromatic, soaring Vegas noir-tinged Learn from What I Dream and the jaunty, uneasily defiant oldtimey swing tune Big Times, along with a swinging, embittered, coiled-cobra new song that might have been the evening’s single best number.

Joining voices with Treehouse impresario and guitar monster Tom Clark, Thorpe elevated a sad Everly Brothers song far above early 60s folk-revival stuff, to the level of something from the Skooshny catalog, maybe. She channeled the most nuance of anyone, especially in a handful of shadowy, noir-tinged reinventions of Great American Songbook jazz-pop from the Yip Harburg catalog, which she memorably recorded in 2014. A longtime staple of the Lower East Side scene back when it was about art far more than commerce, she rarely makes it back to town these days: if you missed her the first time around, now’s your chance not to miss out again.

The Casket Girls Bring Their Creepily Detached Twin Peaks Atmospherics to the Mercury Lounge

Disregard anything you may have heard from the Casket Girls prior to this year. Don’t dismiss sisters Phaedra and Elsa Greene’s collaboration with Ryan Graveface as a novelty act or a couple of Southern dilettantes faking their way through phony noir and even phonier wannabe-Beyonce corporate pop crap. Go out to the Mercury this Sunday, June 12 where they’re playing at 11 PM for $10 in advance. You’ll be enveloped in eerily surreal, swirling ambience and disembodied voices singing ominously fragmentary lyrics inescapably grounded in the here and now. Their strange, enigmatic yet unselfconsciously relevant new album The Night Machines – streaming at Bandcamp– will convince you. This is the real Twin Peaks – the band, not the tv show – Julee Cruise for the teens.

The woodcut on the album cover depicts a suitjacketed wolf surrounded by hands – a pair of them uplifted in prayer, a couple others all bandaged up, another couple of prosthetic ones and one in a trap. But look closely and you’ll see that they’re all part of a noose descending toward the wolf’s head. It perfectly capsulizes what the music is about. The opening track, 24 hours (an original, not the manic-depressed Joy Division classic) sets the stage, banks of keening lo-fi synths mingling over what will quickly become an omnipresent, muted ka-chunk beat. The stream-of-consciousness lyrics channel a similarly inescapable gloom.

Track two, Tears of a Clown (they like to nick classic titles, don’t they?) packs repeated references to the prison-industrial complex into its icy, fuzzily cinematic sweep, an anthem for millions of disenfranchised Bernie Sanders supporters. Sixteen Forever (as in “only the dead stay sixteen forever”) takes on more of a hip-hop feel, as the video game synths shift through the sonic frame. Beyond a… blends the womens’ otherworldly Slavic-style close harmonies over a late 70s/early 80s drum machine shuffle.

True Believers is a proto new wave take on a familiar Richard Hell theme – and also maybe a thinly veiled slap at Ted Cruz-era religious bigotry. Walk the Water is an artfully assaultive clinic in getting a synth to sound like a screaming electric guitar: “Truth is virtually virginal,” the duo echo cynically. Nightlife sounds suspiciously like an even more cynical spoof of chillwave.

Mermaid is bittersweet, and sort of this album’s Octopus’ Garden – except that Ringo is a better singer than anybody in this band. Virginia Beach quickly turns into the bizarre missing link between Julee Cruise and the Ramones. The Week Is Coming On is an even catchier hybrid of triphoppy teens synth-pop and vintage new wave, and it’s surprisingly optimistic. “Triangulate, my love, we are the night machines,” one of the sisters’ voices wafts, affectless and pillowy-flat over twinkling nocturnal cascades on the album’s Cure-influenced concluding title cut. It raises more questions than its answers, an apt way to end this charmingly unsettling bunch of songs.

Flowers Bring Their Stellar-Voiced Rainy-Day Jangle and Clang to Two New York Shows

The last time this blog caught Flowers onstage, it was at one of those predictable, tantalizingly brief CMJ early afternoon gigs at Cake Shop in October of 2014. The British trio distinguish themselves with singalong melodies, late 80s Manchester after-the-rain guitars and frontwoman Rachel Kenedy’s pure, unadorned, almost crushingly direct chorister’s voice. She’s impossible to turn away from: you can get absolutely lost in her vocal flights, much in the same vein as another extraordinary British-born singer, Amanda Thorpe, who’s making a whirlwind trip through New York this month, with a stop at Hifi Bar on June 13 at 8 PM where she’s joined by fellow guitarists Steven Butler and Don Piper. Flowers are playing a couple of shows of their own on June 11: at 2 PM, they’re at Rough Trade for free, and if you can’t get away during the day and have a sawbuck to spare, you can catch them back at Cake Shop at around 10 that night.

Last time around, Kenedy’s voice lept and dove with an unselfconscious grace and a lock on perfect pitch while drummer Jordan Hockley and guitarist Sam Ayres kept close behind: the tunes in this band start with the voice and then the instruments fill in the blanks. They opened with Here with You, making their way methodically from plaintive jangle to buzzy guitar-and-drums lo-fi indie clang. From there, they followed a syncopated sway, their frontwoman moving counterintuitively back toward a summery, hazy delivery even while the music picked up. Hockley set down a jaunty shuffle groove for the soaring number after that, Ayres chopping at his chords with exacto-knife precision.

They hit an almost trip-hop groove afterward, then pounced through their most anthemic number of the afternoon, worked their way into an unexpectedly successful, funky drive and then gave Kenedy a platform for her most spectacular leaps and bounds of the evening. They closed with a stark, skeletal number, Kenedy playing bass. It’ll be interesting to see what other directions the band has branched out into since then.

Above the Moon Transcend an Awful Sound Mix to Play a Deliciously Catchy Friday Night Show

You would think that a sound guy would relish the opportunity to mix a set by twin-guitar rockers Above the Moon, considering how catchy, and interesting, and texturally delicious their songs are. And then there’s the matter of the lustre, and puwer, and nuance of frontwoman/guitarist Kate Griffin’s exquisite voice. What did the sound guy at Leftfied do last Friday night when somebody in the crowd asked for more vocals? Did he tweak a couple of inputs, maybe, lower the drums or the guitars a tad? Nope.

He took her vocals out of the mix. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, right? At least you’ll be able to hear her when the band plays an extremely rare acoustic set at 9:30 PM tomorrow night, May 25 at the Bitter End, where the Aquarian – sort of the across-the-Hudson counterpart to the Village Voice – has been staging nights of bands fron their home state. Cover is $10.

Last Friday, only in the quietest moments was that spun-crystal voice audible, and then only through the stage monitors. So for all intents and purposes, the band played an instrumental set. Although Griffin’s vocals are probably what everybody in the crowd came to hear, to the band’s credit, they held their own as an instrumental unit, testament to how memorable their tunesemithing is. The subtle upper-midrange distinctions between Griffin’s Telecaster – which she often ran through what sounded like an old analog chorus pedal for an expecially tasty, deep-space jangle – and lead guitarist James Harrison’s Strat, which he played using a wah for all sorts of subtle and dramatic oscillations – were front and center throughout the show. Bassist Shawn Murphy played bitingly tuneful, catchy lines high up the fretboard, Peter Hook style, often serving as a second lead guitar. Powerhouse drummer John Gramuglia built drama when he wasn’t swinging the midtempo stuff by the tail, or providing a punchy postpunk pulse.

Some of the material followed what would become a famiiar and very effective pattern, a tensely enigmatic verse into a big, clanging, triumphant payoff on the chorus. A couple of other numbers took that idea and flipped the script. On one hand, there were echoes of the jaggedly minimalistic insistence of 90s bands like Versus, and the occasional oblique swipe from Harrison back toward  vintage Sonic Youth or Shellac. On the other hand, there was always a hummable tune somewhere, whether in the big buildup to a chorus, or the melancholy twang of the midtempo number toward the end of the set that proved to be the night’s high point. On one hand, taking Griffin out of the mix was criminal, like hitting the mute during a Prince guitar solo. On the other, Above the Moon turned into a great instrumental band – for one show and one show only, let’s hope.