REVIEW: Northside Festival, Brooklyn, June 11-14, 2009
The L Magazine staged an ambitious four-day extravaganza of music and art in the venues, bars, and galleries of northern Brooklyn neighborhoods Williamsburg and Greenpoint, featuring showcases curated by local publications, record labels, and others.
“A music and arts festival has always been in the stars, but we’ve only just reached a point in Williamsburg & Greenpoint where there are enough great venues and galleries in the neighborhoods to support a festival of this scale,” said Scott Stedman, festival organizer and publisher of The L Magazine. “And with so many exciting bands and artists coming out of North Brooklyn, we thought it was a perfect time to bring all the elements together for a weekend, turning the area into one big stage for great music and art.”
Headliners Sunset Rubdown, The Hold Steady, Bill Callahan, Bishop Allen, The Dodos, and Brightblack Morning Light were joined by a stellar lineup of over 200 (mostly local) indie bands. For every band I put on my schedule, there were at least a couple of others I was sad to be missing. Not every band I saw made an impression, but the ones below did.
Day 1: Thursday, June 11
Hometown heroes The Hold Steady kicked off day 1 with the last of four sold-out shows in a row. Craig Finn thrashed and danced gleefully like a spastic 6-year-old girl, Tad Kubler shredded (including on a double neck guitar), countless cups of cheap beer were thrown across the room, and the multigenerational crowd danced and sang along with abandon to the career-spanning set of songs. The band has found a new perfect opener and closer in “Stay Positive” and “Slapped Actress,” both of which set the room on fire with positive energy and epic choruses of whoa-oh’s.
Led by charismatic singer Jezrael, Hold Steady openers Hype of the States were a pleasant surprise, playing spunky, punky pop with big choruses and a sense of humor.
Day 2: Friday, June 12
With only an hour to play, Spencer Krug promised that he would keep the talking to a minimum and the band would tear through a set of their favorites, but the set was plagued with technical difficulties, so he ended up spending a lot of it waiting for his mic to be fixed and making self-deprecating remarks (“It’s a new song, so you don’t even know what you missed–just some bullshit lyrics aboutÂ my feelings”). They had time to showcase some material from their upcoming album, Dragonslayer, and play crowd favorites like “The Mending of the Gown.”
New Jersey’s Real Estate impressed the packed crowd at the small DIY venue Death by Audio with their warm, reverb-drenched, and dreamy-but-rocking pop.
Fronted by two sassy, tambourine-wielding ladies, Brooklyn six-piece Golden Triangle delivered a delightful, high-energy set of fuzzed-out, girl-group garage pop.
Day 3: Saturday, June 13
Jacksonknife only has five members, but they manage to make their gorgeous pop songs sound orchestral. “Healthy Diets,” with its jaunty xylophone riff, mournful violin, and heartfelt chorus, is an instant classic. Definitely a band more people need to know about.
Seeing O’Death play is always an exhilarating affair, a wild-eyed spectacle where hoedown meets fight to the death. The stage was a blur of crazed country-punk fury, complete with shirtlessness and headbanging.
Instrumental bands usually can’t hold my attention live, but Anamanaguchi’s caffeinated Nintendocore was fully engaging. I expected to see all manner of fancy synthesizers on stage, but they’re actually a 2-guitars-bass-drums rock band that pipes in pre-recorded videogame style riffs and sound effects. And they rock. They even covered (Nintendo-ized?) the Go Go’s “Vacation.”
Emanuel and the Fear filled up the small stage at Spike Hill with eight people, but they normally have more members. Many of them are young and look like they graduated from high school band to indie rock band. They’re also all really good at their instruments, and provide mature arrangements for Emanuel Ayvas’ solid songwriting.
Bridges and Powerlines stood out from their often fashionably non-committal contemporaries thanks to their earnest, melodic, and catchy songs with excellent vocal harmonies.
Darlingsâ€¨â€¨ aimed to live up to their name with endearing, classic pop featuring chiming guitars, lovely female vocal harmonies, and sentiments like “I Don’t Really Want to Hang Out Tonight.”
The guys in Bishop Allen are the Brooklyn scene’s own movie stars, having been featured in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist on top of singer Justin Rice’s roles in movies like the mumblecore classic Mutual Appreciation. Their appeal is instantly clear; their songs have memorable hooks all over the place, infectious energy, and five vocalists.
Ghost Gamblers were on hand to repre
sent Brooklyn’s country scene with their sweeping, well-crafted and beautifully sung Americana.
The Van Pelt
Somewhat more obscure than the other ’90s indie-emo bands that have staged high-profile reunions in recent years, The Van Pelt (who broke up in 1997) played to a packed room of fans grateful to hear their songs resurrected.
Xylos ended my Saturday night on a high note with their cheery pop based around well-harmonized male and female vocals.
Day 4: Sunday, June 14
The Dodos’ set was a definite highlight of the festival. I was completely mesmerized by Meric Long’s deft acoustic guitar playing and Logan Kroeber’s wildly inventive drumming, which form the backbone of their innovative yet completely accessible sound.
Anyone who’s secretly a sucker for huge, gut-wrenching piano ballads will fall in love with the Wakey! Wakey! song “War Sweater.” They have a lot more up their sleeves, though; most notably, their diverse set included a surprising turn into classical territory with some impressive piano and violin interplay.
When you hear a band tuning and it sounds like you’re at the philharmonic, you know you’re in for a treat. La Strada’s virtuosic chamber pop features a three-piece string section and a (sometimes) accordion-playing frontman.