[NHM] New Haven Music

Show Review: Apse, Matt Wilga, Roman Wolfe @ Popeye’s Garage, Oct. 2nd

(Originally published on October 5, 2010 on CTIndie.com)

Saturday night I made my way down to Popeye’s Garage, an ad-hoc performance, rehearsal and gallery space located in downtown New Haven to catch a three band bill of New Haven’s Roman Wolfe, Matt Wilga of NY’s the Stoned Ambassadors and Northampton, MA’s Apse. This was to be the first of the venue’s final three shows.

Despite its semi-obvious location (it really is located right behind Popeye’s Chicken), I initially missed the venue because of its unassuming street facade which made it look more like a storage space than a music venue. Upon closer inspection I found my way to the side of the building and was greeted by an arrangement of lawn chairs and a table occupied by some friendly regulars, as well as the door inside. The venue itself was a stage-less, no-frills cinder block room light by a few light bulbs that, true to its name, looked like a garage. A secondary room with sheet rock walls expanded the venue further back into what looked like a former car bay. Aside from a large pom-pom-esque art installation hanging from the ceiling, little else, save a large wall-mounted calendar, decorated the space. Overall it was a bit smaller than I was anticipating given the size of the building as a whole but served its function (a room with a PA) well.

The show itself, which was scheduled to begin around 7pm, got off to a rocky start primarily due to the revelation that all of the venues mic stands had gone missing since the last show (“that’s the fifth mic stand we’ve lost!”). While show co-organizer Ross Menze went off to retrieve more, I made good on the extra time by talking briefly with another of Popeye’s organizers, Stefan Christensen (of Estrogen Highs, Iron Hand, Medication) about the impending closure of the space. According to Christensen, shows are being ceased primarily because of a change of ownership between the current owner and New Haven’s own property Pac-Man, Yale University. Although he remained optimistic about the possibility of one-off shows in the future, Popeye’s Garage as the much-needed weekly venue and downtown multi-purpose space it has become the last 6 months will be ceasing October 9th.

Roman Wolfe (photo by Bob Rock)

At about 8pm the microphone stands had arrived and the night’s first band, New Haven synth-driven Roman Wolfe (who, funnily enough, didn’t need use microphones or mic stands) began their performance. As the band glided into their set amidst a psychedelic wash of synths and tribal drums it quickly became apparent that Roman Wolfe was something different. Songs flowed together and became more like journeys in sound rather than the standard poptastic verse chorus verse. The lack of vocals, especially, placed their sound firmly outside of mainstream convention. Although I would anticipate that the synths (I spotted a microkorg and some yamaha equipment amongst the tabletop of wires) sounded great on record, in a live setting, the drums took center stage. Oscillating between tribal and jazz influences, a consistent rhythm was there but hard to pin down at times. As the show went on drummer Mike Birnbaum became more adventurous and complex in his playing. While keyboardist/synther Donovan Fazzino was locked into texture and high-end frequencies, Birnbaum used his rack, floor and snareless snare drum (basically just another hi-tom) to create drum patterns that slowly morphed in form and intensity. At times a subtle percussive melody began to develop that carried the songs along, giving definition to what would otherwise be pure linear texture. As a drummer myself I really appreciated everything he was accomplishing with only four drums and a ride cymbal. Although none of the ‘songs’ particularly stood out above the rest, the band’s unique sound and free-form arrangements and performance were certainly memorable, especially live. For anyone into instrumental synth-based psychedelica or great percussion, I’d highly recommend checking out Roman Wolfe.

Matt Wilga (photo by Bob Rock)

Following a brief interlude that saw the removal of synthesizers and drums and the addition of guitar amps and pedals, Matt Wilga of Brooklyn’s the Stoned Ambassadors began his set. Originally billed to be a full-on Stoned Ambassadors show, Wilga was forced to go it solo because “there was a wedding,” presumably attended by at least one of the members of the band. Wilga seemed to be fairly comfortable in solo form though, flying through a series of jangly guitar rock gems. At times their was a definite country waltz and/or swamp rock feel to his songs, which seemed to only be enhanced without a band to fill them out. Towards the middle of his set the guitarist for the Stone Ambassadors joined Wilga, adding some great pedal-laden blues guitar lines that added a whole new expanse to Wilga’s songs. Wilga seemed to only be gathering steam as his set moved to a close which made the audience only want more. After some coercion, Wilga performed one more strong number before proclaiming “I don’t play encores.” Encores or not, be sure to check out his single There I Go (available from Labor Of Love) which was a definite standout amongst his set.

Apse (photo by Bob Rock)

After another, slightly longer equipment changeover, Northampton, MA’s Apse growled to life. Regularly a six piece, the band’s lineup has dwindled throughout the course of 2010 to four, with Saturday night’s show being the first in such configuration. Perhaps driven by this fact, the band seemed hell-bent on proving they can still rock it no matter how many people were in the band and, by and large, were pretty successful in doing so. Although they were quite loud for the size of the room (at one point the bass levels made me dizzy but in an entirely awesome way), few in attendance backed away from the bands onslaught. Drummer Brandon Collins and bassist John Mordecai were at the center of the band’s attack as they ripped through one song after another. Although many genres have been used to described Apse through their 11 year existence, their current sound is best likened to a cross between Radiohead and Neurosis stuck at the bottom of a well. They’re simultaneously oppressed and energetic, grating yet melodically beautiful, seemingly forever stuck in a dark place trying to find a way out. Singer/songwriter and sole constant creative force behind the band Bobby Toher seemed particularly stricken, at varying points appearing crazed in his stage movement and yet completely in control with his vocal delivery and musicianship. As the band’s set lurched onwards, their volume and intensity level increased until Toher’s reverb-drenched vocals became just another brick amongst the band’s wall of sound. With one last sonic slice of intensity, capped by Toher dropping his guitar and mic stand to the ground, the band was finished, soaked in sweat but seemingly content in proving to themselves, and the audience, that Apse was still quite alive.

Be sure and check out the final two shows at Popeye’s Garage this Friday, October 8th (headlined by The Field Recordings) and Saturday, October 9th (headlined by Malcolm Tent).

Show Review: The Black Noise Scam, The Boardlords, Nasty Disaster @ Rudy’s (Last Show)

(Originally published on August 3, 2010 on CTIndie.com)

This past Saturday, July 31st, famed downtown bar and venue, Rudy’s, closed its Elm Street location forever with a blowout punk and metal show featuring The Black Noise Scam, The Boardlords and Nasty Disaster.

Part of the massive crowd in attendance for Rudy’s last night of operation at its Elm Street location. The bar/venue will be re-opening on Chapel Street by October. Photo by Bob Rock.

It was clear upon arrival at the bar, which had been located at 372 Elm Street since 1934, that this was not going to be just another of its regular Saturday night shows. At 9:30pm the crowd had already filled the sidewalk patio and the main bar area, an occurrence that usually does not happen until much later in the night. And aside from the crowds and beer signs in the windows, Rudy’s itself had already begun its physical transformation from favored townie/Yale bar to…something else. Gone were the multitude of framed photographs that filled every possible inch of the walls as well as pretty much every other piece of decor, save the black tile ceiling, that were Rudy’s signature. Even the bar’s wood paneling, carved up by the bars’ many patron of the years, was gone. In the main room this removal revealed a hidden painting (which looked like something straight out of the artwork for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness) while elsewhere all that was left was bare sheet rock (which had already been subject to extensive graffiti, a trend that continued most of the night). Outside of the stage area, the band room was the most transformed, its usual set up of tables and chairs removed in favor of a wide-open, standing-room-only space (a setup that would have worked well at past shows too). All in all, the venue looked a shell of its former self.

Nasty Disaster at Rudy’s last show. Photo by Jamie Arabolos.

As 10pm closed in, the band room quickly filled in anticipation of Nasty Disaster, a New Haven metal band I heard a lot about but had never gotten the chance to see. From the beginning of their set, it was obvious that these guys did not take themselves seriously (I mean with a name like Nasty Disaster, who could?). 6 foot plus singer ‘Herman VonRuhl’ was dressed in a stringy blond wig and enough metal spikes to accidentally stab himself to death if he wasn’t careful. Most prominently displayed though was his shirt which read ‘Death to False Metal,’ an ideology that seemed central to the band’s schtick. The remainder of the quintet was decked out in array of cliche metal fatigues (leather, viking hat) that, coupled with their imposing physical presence, lent itself well to the over-the-top subject matter of their songs (this aspect of the band in particular reminded me of another local metal band, Garbage Barge, who couple metal with off-the-wall lyrics and stage costume). How over the top you ask? Well, I’m pretty sure that every song the band performed made a least some lyrical reference to ‘metal’ (a suspicion that I later confirmed after visiting the band’s website). Two of the more memorable tunes, ‘Sluts of Metal’ and ‘Play Some Fuckin’ Metal,’ contained the choruses “Sluts of metal (sluts!), whores of rock ‘n roll (whores!), sluts of metal (sluts!), come ride my iron pole (pole!)” and “play some fuckin’ metal, play it really loud, play some fuckin’ metal, rock you to the ground,” respectfully. Yeah, you get the idea. While a vast majority of the crowd were really into the band (fist pumping! stage diving!), others were less than enthused by the band’s vulgarity and/or lack of seriousness, heading for the outside patio instead. Regardless of what everyone thought of the band, their energy (and the crowd’s response) started off the evening well.

The Boardlords at Rudy’s last show. Photo by Jamie Arabolos.

After a brief interlude, New York-based punk quintet The Boardlords took the stage. By this point the band room crowd had dwindled slightly although this worked in the band’s favor as a member of the crowd (and later the Boardlords’ singer) had room to skateboard inside(!) Rudy’s during the band’s set (surely something I never thought I would see). The band itself was tight and possessed a better command of their instruments than most punk bands I’ve seen lately. What the band lacked in stage presence (at least in comparison to the other bands on the bill), they made up for in sheer musical attack. The rhythm section in particular was locked in throughout most of the set and really made the band’s songs come to life. The band’s twin guitar attack also helped give the band a heft that helped their live sound immensely. After a Suicidal Tendencies cover and a slew of originals, the band exited the stage amid the shards of a broken skateboard and the prominent smell of Sharpie markers, setting the stage for the final band of the night, the Black Noise Scam.

The Black Noise Scam at Rudy’s last show. Photo by Bob Rock.

By the time New Haven’s the Black Noise Scam took the stage sometime after midnight, the crowd size at Rudy’s was at critical mass. The band room in particular was the most crowded of the night, even eclipsing the attendance for Nasty Disaster. Seizing the opportunity, the quartet wasted no time in launching into their high-energy brand of hardcore punk (I mean, what other kind is there?). Singer Jeffrey Thunders in particular, with his seemingly endless amount of energy and stage presence, whipped the crowd into a fury. It seemed to me that, throughout the night, everyone had been waiting for the opportunity to let loose, and that the Black Noise Scam finally gave them that chance. One after another, the band air-punched their way through a series of blistering originals including one appropriately titled ‘Never Again.’ A full-on mosh developed at varying points throughout the band’s set, the crowd ebbing and flowing along to the band, and the band seemingly doing the same. The energy inside began to spill outside onto the patio as multiple drinks were thrown against the windows behind the stage (this after much chiding from Thunders for people to come inside). Following a Black Flag cover and more originals, the band ended their set in a mangle of drums and wires barreled over by drummer Chris Taylor. In that moment, Rudy’s last show came to a crashing end.

Rudy’s aftermath. Photo by Jamie Arabolos.

As the night wore on, the reality of Rudy’s pending closure and move to Chapel Street became increasingly clear on the faces of the people sticking it out to last call. Some seemed dazed, either from excess of alcohol or emotion or moshing while others let their tears flow freely, in a remembrance of a place and time never to be repeated again. Still more remained defiant, all the way until that final shout of last call, all the way until being forced out onto the sidewalk, all the way until being forced off of the sidewalk by NHPD, and ultimately all the way into being forced away from a place, and now a memory, held close by so many.

Elm City PopFest, Day One Review

(Originally published on May 25, 2010 on CTIndie.com)

On Friday, May 14th I made my way down to New Haven’s workhorse of a venue, Cafe Nine, to catch the first night of Elm City PopFest. Having attended the first Elm City PopFest this Fall I held high hopes for the evening.

(photo by Bob Rock)

After an initial difficulty finding parking nearby “the Nine” (a sure sign of solid attendance), I arrived just in time to miss the first song by openers, The Wee Bees. Although this was only their third show as a band, the quintet seemed to lock in relatively well on stage together; there were no obvious flubs or flaws that distracted the audience from the songs. While I wholeheartedly agree with some previous descriptions of the band’s music as “’80s- and ’90s-inspired shoegaze-meets-jangle pop,” I’d also argue that the Wee Bees also possessed a slight jazz influence, especially the singer/rhythm guitarist, who repeatedly changed guitar tunings throughout the set. Although the changes definitely helped vary the band’s sound, the tuning breaks themselves affected the overall flow of the set. During such interludes other Wee Bees began to tell jokes to fill in the time, which I feel initially worked well to break the ice a bit with the crowd. By the fourth tuning/joke break though it became more of a distraction than anything. Despite the interruptions, the Wee Bees even mix of mellow and upbeat indie pop was a decidedly good way to open the night and the festival.

(photo by Bob Rock)

Next up on the night’s billing was singer/songwriter Steven Deal. Deal’s brand of punky power pop has long been lauded in local press and I was excited that I finally got to catch one of his shows. In addition his backing band included some pretty accomplished local musicians in guitarist Chris Cretella (Goose Lane) and drummer Dave Parmelee (The Vultures, Atrina). From the get-go though, it seemed the crowd was not as excited as I was. Although each song and performance was solid through and through, Steven Deal & co. repeatedly failed to connect with the audience at large who at times seemed overwhelmed by the band’s volume and velocity. To me the lack of response by the crowd was unfortunate, as the band was putting a lot of energy into the performance especially Deal who, at one point, literally had to take a breather before diving into the next song. After a particularly energetic take on Deal’s “Caitlin’s Crying,” which he described as being written at the Cafe Nine bar “twenty years ago,” the band launched into a great cover of The Damned’s “New Rose,’ which also went over everyone’s head. It seems to me that on another night and another billing, Deal would have went over much better.

(photo by Bob Rock)

After a brief equipment change, the UK’s much anticipated Veronica Falls took the stage. Almost instantly, Cafe Nine was packed, with a significant crowd (for Cafe Nine) gathered near the stage to see the band’s first U.S. show. Where the Wee Bees were a bit mellow at times, and Steven Deal a bit hyper-charged, Veronica Falls relied heavily upon texture as well as a relentlessly driving beat. Somewhere in between the chords of non-stop guitar strumming and infinite floor tom, melody began to sneak out, usually led by a mix of male and female vocals from all four members.

(photo by Bob Rock)

(photo by Bob Rock)

Although they definitely weren’t hit-you-over-the-head power pop, with each chorus and melodic lift the songs slowly became hummable, working their way into your subconscious whether you liked it or not. Bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Velvet Underground and My Bloody Valentine immediately sprang to mind, although the band was a bit more thrashy than all three. There was a palpable energy throughout, especially in the drums which seemed to get louder and more driving with each song. In terms of stage presence, the band seemed slightly awkward, even nervous at times (which makes sense given it was their first show stateside) although this didn’t seem to impede upon their performance. By the end of their set, the band finally seemed to lock in, even managing a few smiles. The crowd reaction to the band was strong, with several audience members even requesting an encore, although to no success. Overall, Veronica Falls impressed me, so much so that I would highly recommend them to anyone wanting to check out some great new music from the British Isles.

(photo by Bob Rock)

Last but not least on Elm City PopFest’s opening night was NYC’s Boy Genius. Somewhat of an honorary New Haven band due to their frequent appearances in the Elm City as of late, Boy Genius did not disappoint. Even from the beginning, the band was on fire, ripping through their set of catchy melodic pop tunes with abandon. The band seemed particularly happy to have guitarist Mr. Ray Neal (formerly of Miracle Legion, a.k.a., one of the band’s biggest influences) joining Boy Genius for their set, which without a doubt directly impacted the band’s stage presence and energy. Even as the crowd dwindled slightly due to the late hour (the band didn’t hit the stage until after 12:30), the quintet (including Neal) only seemed to strengthen in intensity. After a series of rockers, the band ended their set with a particularly long but particularly awesome jam (dedicated to one Jason Devin), thus sealing the first night of Elm City PopFest with a bang.

(Originally published on May 25, 2010 on CTIndie.com)

(photo by Bob Rock)

Despite some initial ups and downs, Elm City PopFest’s first night ended strongly and, overall, was a resounding success.

Be sure and catch the Elm City PopFest follow up show tomorrow night (May 26th) at Cafe Nine!

Bands of GPSCY vs. The Sound Police
January 28, 2009, 5:00 pm
Filed under: 21+, Commentary, News, NHM, Show Reviews, Shows | Tags: , , , ,

Apart from the annual Ideat Village festival, live music at Yale’s GPSCY bar has been a rarity in recent years. That all changed though last night when the first full night of music in years occurred at the GPSCY…or almost did.

At the onset, the show seemed like a success story for the books: Safety Meeting Records‘ Carlos Wells convinces Yale’s GPSCY Bar officials that it would be a great idea to have live music again, booking two of New Haven’s better bands in the process, M.T. Bearington (quirky indie-classicism with beards) and The Simple Pleasure (rock n’ roll electro with lots of dancing and lots of beats). Show gets great buzz online and in local press. Lots of people show up. Aside from a few flabbergasted Yalies (“who ARE all these people????”), the old Bulldog vs. Townie divide is temporarily broken down. A great time is truly had by all. And then, not even halfway through the Simple Pleasure’s high energy performance comes the news: ‘sorry guys, but we’ve got to stop the music…’

Apparently the presence of the ‘Sound Police’ is nothing new at the GPSCY. According to sources in the know, the GPSCY had hosted shows every Saturday night for years, that is until an apartment complex was built in close proximity to the bar. Thereafter, the noise complaints swiftly came rolling in until GPSCY management was forced to ban live music altogether. End of story, or so it seemed.

Fast forward to New Haven 2009: participation in local music is on the rise however many venues throughout the course of the past decade have either closed (Tune Inn, The Blues Cafe, Elm City Java) or have shied away from booking bands (GPSCY, Hell, Alchemy). As a result, there are fewer and fewer places nowadays for local bands (or any sort of band for that matter) to play. With a venue like the GPSCY, which is both located on a university campus and seemingly built for shows, it would have been a great reversal of fortune for local music and the city of New Haven. The difficulties of making something like this happen though begs one to ask: When will the city and its people learn that stifling events like this only hurts everyone involved? Does New Haven not want to project an image of an arts friendly community built on a mix of local and non-local talent? Or is this more about appeasing those who pay the bills?

For now the answers to these questions and more will remain to be seen until the next Safety Meeting Records night at the GPSCY, scheduled for Feb. 10th. Let’s hope that between then and now we can all agree that punishing the local arts community is not in anyone’s best interest.