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Tag: vampire weekend

A Balcony View of the Incredibly Popular Oh Hellos at Bowery Ballroom

In an era in New York when nobody leaves their neighborhood anymore, that the Oh Hellos sold out Bowery Ballroom on a rainy Monday night is a major achievement by any standard. Has anyone ever sold out Bowery Ballroom on a Monday? Maybe Patti Smith, if New Year’s Eve happened to fall on that day of the week. Of course, a cynic might argue that the rich southern white kids who packed the house are the neighborhood now, more or less. As was clear from the ecstatic pitch of the applause as the band hit the stage, this was date night: lots of fresh-faced guys and girls, college juniors and seniors and recent grads, from the looks of them.

How do you report on a show if you spend most of it shooting pics of random gaggles of girls who’ve wordlessly handed you their phones, beaming and breathless? You try to get a grip on what brought those girls out – other than some mad dash for fifteen seconds on Instagram, maybe. What the Oh Hellos did to clinch this blog’s interest was to record an aptly creepy, enigmatic newgrass-tinged version of Camille Saint-Saens’ famous late 1800s classical piece, Danse Macabre, on their brand-new album Dear Wormwood. Interestingly, frontman/acoustic guitarist Tyler Heath apologized in advance for a setlist that would take a dip into darker material, although, he hastened to add, it would emerge triumphant shortly thereafter and pretty much stayed that way for the rest of the show.

Which is what got the girls swaying and singing along. A lot of times it seemed that everybody in the band was singing, even if they didn’t have a mic in front of them, adding considerable lushness and bulk to what was often already a towering, anthemic sound, the Polyphonic Spree with more of an ecumenical feel and some real tunes for once. Something you get growing up in the church in Flyover America, maybe? With two drummers – one on a full rock kit, the other on a more stripped-down but heavier standup kit – a total of three guitars, bass, viola, banjo and Heath’s sister Maggie adding her soaring, occasionally operatically-tinged vocals, the peaks and valleys were about even,, but the former made the latter seem hours away. A couple of cheerily circling numbers early on seemed to reference Vampire Weekend;; by the end, they’d risen closer to cloudy Coldplay bluster. The banjo and viola grounded much of the material in a folk vernacular, but one that was closer to the Punch Brothers than, say, Doc Watson. In between, symphonic swells and lustrous washes of sound sat side by side with both pensively fingerpicked folk-rock interludes and rousing, stomping, Celtic-flavored choruses.

One of Tyler’s lines that seemed to go over particularly well with the audience was, “We are not all alone in the dark with our demons.” Those who might need that kind of assurance can get it tonight, Nov 11 at Terminal 5 on an eclectic triplebill, starting at 8 PM with fiery female-fronted psychedelic/garage/honkytonk hellraisers Those Darlins, the Oh Hellos afterward and then fire-and-brimstone Americana dude Shakey Graves. Hopefully you have $27.50 advance tix if you’re going; it’s more at the door.

Catchy, Jangly, Propulsive, Afrobeat-Inspired Tunes from the Letter Yellow

Do you like the idea of Vampire Weekend but find the real thing impossibly insipid? If so, the Letter Yellow are for you. Frontman/guitarist Randy Bergida writes lithely dancing, catchy major-key tunes anchored by the rhythm section of bassist Abe Pollack and drummer Mike Thies. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Watercolor Overcast at the Cameo Gallery tonight, June 18 at 10 PM; cover is $8.

Pollack’s trebly bass plays an Afrobeat groove underneath Bergida’s balmy but tensely anticipatory vocals on the opening track, Anytime of Day, a lush, dynamically shifting, artfully orchestrated anthem. Road to the Mountain has a loping Afropop groove with an unselfconsciously joyous flute flourish on the turnaround, hitched to a gospel-inspired vamp. Summer in the City isn’t the 60s pop hit but an enigmatically sunny, soul-splashed, strummy original that in another era would have been a monster radio hit.

Pain in the World blends an edgy minor bossa groove and biting roots reggae lyricism over an echoey minor-key melody with hints of that tune that every busker from Sydney to South Carolina knows. The album’s strongest track, The Light We Shed sets pulsar guitar multitracks to a steady marching beat, echoey jangle giving way to clang and resonance. Slow Down works a slowly swaying, hypnotically summery soul vamp lit up with some sparkly keygboard flourishes.

Cold Cold Night builds a fiery, galloping nocturnal ambience, far from the wintriness the title suggests. Likewise, the soul strut Downtown has a nighttime vibe, with a long, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking-style latin psychedelic outro.

Drifter shifts toward Americana, while the final track, Can I Get It Girl goes in a more straightforward hard-funk direction, with more than a hint that it’s the style of music where the band got their start. Maybe the coolest thing about the album is that it’s available on vinyl: if the band remembers to bring a box of records to their shows, it’s a sure bet that they’ll sell out. So far, it hasn’t hit Bandcamp or the usual sites, but the band’s previous output is streaming at their  audio page.