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Aly and AJ @ Governors Ball (Festival Review by Ciaran C.)

With the 2022 Governors Ball celebrating an overall spirit of change – with its relocation to Citi Field and return to its original date for the first time in two years – Aly and AJ’s set perfectly embodied this by taking a significant departure from their norms. From their outfits to their setlist, their performance was heavily reminiscent of the hippie era and its famous Summer of Love: balancing comedically large glasses of Aperol Spritzes between acoustic and electric guitars, they mainly performed songs from their 2021 album a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun. Paying homage to the sounds of early ‘70s soft rock (such as Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young), a touch of the beat toed the line between contemporary indie and vintage rock, with Aly and AJ’s stories of personal vulnerability and journeys of self-discovery seeping through their background band’s melange of synth sounds and electric guitar riffs.

If the lyrics couldn’t hint you to the noticeable changes for Aly and AJ’s musical and personal lives, then their attitude on set definitely did: they seemed far more comfortable and authentic, being more open with the crowd and allowing themselves to experiment in real-time. Especially at the end of a 10-year hiatus and a subsequent tour for a touch of the beat, their presence reflected significant maturity and growth, both in their sounds and their stage presence. No longer are they under the tight grip that holds all Disney child star musicians, instead, they are free to reinvent themselves and their sounds. Indeed, this set embodied change.

Though I found myself greatly appreciative of this, I don’t know if the entire crowd did as well: the audience seemed to know Aly and AJ as the early-2000s Girl Duo of their childhood. I frequently saw audience members confusedly bobbing around to the music, descending into quick murmurs after the start of every song. Between these murmurs, I realized that it seemed that much of the crowd wanted to hear a live rendition of Potential Breakup Song, their 2007 hit that recently rose to become a viral TikTok song. As their set went further on, more and more people left as they realized that this Aly and AJ wasn’t the one they knew: by the encore, it was incredibly obvious that they weren’t going to play Potential Breakup Song, triggering a semi-exodus of the crowd from the pit. People seemed disappointed, with a few people remarking that they’d wasted their time. This crowd reaction and their desire for older sounds contrasted strangely with Aly and AJ’s desire to reinvent themselves, which left a peculiar damper on the overall experience of this otherwise revolutionary set for the duo.

Review by Ciaran C., Photo by Laura T.

Scott Hamilton and Duke Robillard: Swingin’ Again (album review by Christa V.)

Hamilton and Robillard had worked together before, on the 1987 album Swing which was a combination of jazz and jump blues. Here they recreate that same magic, the connection and dynamics between Hamilton and Robillard’s playing is for sure a highlight of the album. With Robillard on guitar and Hamilton on tenor saxophone, plus a collection of other friends including the rest of a rhythm section and some vocalists, this group is hard to beat! Most of the songs have a very New Orleans jazz feel to them that make you want to dance while appreciating the accuracy of the playing as well. The opening number, “I Never Knew,” showcases the ensemble really well, and contains a number of killer solos. That continues into “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket,” which adds a vocalist to the mix and demonstrates that even the ensemble’s backing licks are tight. This track also has some of the clearest New Orleans style jazz influences. Definitely not an album to overlook, it’ll leave you impressed and dancing! Favorite tracks: 1, 2, 7

Samia @ Governors Ball (festival review by Laura T.)

Indie-rock artist Samia quickly won over wcbn’s hearts for favorite set of the first day of Governors Ball in New York. We stood in a crowd, getting handed packets of emergency water (expires in 5 years), as Samia opened with a slow, melancholic song. Dancing on stage barefoot, she reminded me of the young girls who “dance like a ballerina”: twirling her skirt, extending her arms to the sky with elongated fingers. Then, she transitioned into “Take It Off,” a quite danceable rock song, describing her set, “it’s going to be sad for a very long time, then moments of joy, then sad again.” This quote well encapsulates Samia’s energy, bouncing in between calm moments of sadness and uncontainable joy.

Her stage presence was captivating, interacting with her band and the crowd, thanking people for singing along. She had an air of gratefulness and glee, as she encouraged her bassist to put on a hat that the crowd threw to him. Her lyrics, which she describes as Bob-Dylan-esque, were incredibly personal. She told the crowd of “Waverly,” that the song was written about a waiter at Mud in the East Village that she wanted to become friends with. She performed a new song from her upcoming album “Mad at Me,” as she swayed and performed a charming-ly awkward dance break straight out of an Intro to Modern Dance class. Bringing even more unbridled joy to the stage, her bandmates had amazingly intimate interactions on stage the whole set. From creating a freeze frame of their last movement to finish out a song (and letting the joke run almost too long), to randomly pointing and laughing at each other, her ensemble wonderfully matched her energy.

To my surprise and luck, Samia closed out the set with a cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps.” Her vocals fit the song incredibly well, and her vulnerable and candid energy kept up with the sheer rawness Karen O usually brings to the song. It certainly brought me out of the pits of dehydration and sunburn that often occur at festivals. 

 

Check out Samia’s most recent release here.

Review and Photo by Laura T.

 

BMG @ the Blind Pig (concert review by Zach N.)

Seeing BMG perform at the Blind Pig last Friday night was one of the most quintessentially “Ann Arbor” musical experiences I have had. BMG has been a part of the Ann Arbor and Detroit electronic scenes for decades. Once a student at the University, he was deeply involved in WCBN, serving as program director for years and transforming our Crush Collision show into what it is today. He is also the founder of local electronic label Interdimensional Transmissions, which has been releasing techno and electro records for decades and puts on a number of shows in Detroit, including the Return to the Source series of parties at Tangent Gallery surrounding the Movement festival weekend.

 

The set was a part of the weekend-long festival around Ann Arbor highlighting the work of photographer Doug Coombe, and it included multiple other musical events around town. It was initially billed to be a performance by Ectomorph, the long-running project now comprised of BMG and Erika, but was changed at last minute to be a solo BMG performance.

 

The show was incredibly intimate. There was a very small crowd, which included native Ann Arbor DJ and electronic musician Shigeto; the whole crowd could not have been more than a couple dozen people. There was a wealth of awareness and intention in the small crowd: it was clear that the audience members were all deeply cognizant of the significance of the show and its context. 

 

The 90 minute set was entirely DJed, as opposed to the live sets BMG sometimes performs. It was made up mostly of his brand of somewhat minimal and very rhythmically complex electro and techno. There was a bit of 80’s alt rock type stuff mixed in towards the beginning and end of the set (I think I heard a Bowie track in there at some point if I’m remembering correctly), perhaps a choice made to reflect the venue; the Blind Pig not being a particularly orthodox venue for techno or electronic music of any sort. I caught a bit of the opener, which was a band playing something along the lines of soft post punk, making for a funny transition of moods in the room.

 

BMG was wearing a sort of futuristic outfit, black pants and jacket with black gloves and an angular, techy looking mask. The stage was mostly undecorated except for a string of led lights which would each strobe randomly with the music, presumably made by Amber Gillen who often does art and installations for the Interdimensional Transmission shows. 

 

The sense of community was very powerful in the space. BMG came right off stage after the show to meet the audience members, which included a number of current WCBN and local artists and DJs. There was a deep sense that this show and the presence around it was an important reflection of Ann Arbor’s musical history, as well as its future.

 

Review by Zach N.

 

999999999 @ Movement (Festival Review by Zach N.)

Last Sunday, deep under the concrete expanse of Hart Plaza, 999999999 delivered one of the hardest hitting electronic music performances I have ever witnessed. They played at the Underground stage at the festival, which was located, just as the name suggests, in a large concrete hall underneath the rest of the festival. It was a deeply industrial setting, with concrete floor and walls and a low concrete ceiling supported by concrete pillars. Their set went from 7:30-9:00pm, and so the dim sunlight filtering in from the stairs down the stage dwindled and faded throughout the set. The only other lighting was from a few blue and red strobes, which barely illuminated the sweaty, pulsating mass that was the crowd. This all contributed to a perfect environment for a set optimized to push you far out of your comfort zone.

 

The Italian duo is known for their relentless, hard-hitting, entirely live shows, which they certainly delivered on. The set was full of their characteristically heavy, industrial take on acid techno, and sat around 150bpm throughout. The live-synth nature of the show, as opposed to DJing previously created tracks, gave the set a very personal and immediate feeling. As opposed to some other live sets, their show featured samples relatively prominently throughout the performance, and had a well defined bridge -> build -> drop -> repeat structure; whereas other live techno sets of the weekend took a more atmospheric and meandering approach. The show was a commanding testament to the shear force techno can exert.

 Review by Zach N, photo: Valentin Lecaille

Grouper @ The ArtsCenter (Concert Review by Thejas V.)

Being at a Liz Harris show can almost seem like an imaginary experience. The singer/songwriter and ambient artist has been making music under her Grouper project for nearly two decades, yet she generally maintains a low profile—looking her up, you’d be hard-pressed to find any internet presence besides her infrequently-updated Instagram account and Bandcamp page. In a way, it feels complementary to the ‘distant’ soundscapes across much of her music, a recent example being the reverb-heavy, distorted vocals found across a few songs on her 2021 album Shade. 

So when I had the opportunity to see her live last Tuesday, it felt a bit like being in the presence of a celestial being. As I made my way to a seat inside The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC, despite being unfamiliar with the venue there was an immediate coziness in its dimly lit, intimate auditorium setting. Grouper was preceded by local multi-instrumentalist Nathan Bowles, whose performance seemed to be a mix of drone and Americana, playing a repetitive but subtly shifting piece on his banjo over a droning note, feeling almost ominous but enthralling nonetheless. It was an incredibly minimal presentation, an unfamiliar sight as someone who has only been to pop and hip-hop shows, yet one that prepared the audience for the slow-paced nature of the rest of the show.    

At around 9:00 PM, Harris  came out to the sound of applause and loud cheers, which was somewhat startling given the relative silence of the college-aged audience up till then. For the next hour, she put on a wonderfully hypnotic show, performing a seamless mix of songs across her discography. Like Bowles, her stage setup was fairly limited, only switching between a guitar, keyboard, or a tape loop machine that played sounds from natural settings. Her vocals and instruments all had a heavy reverb effect, something characteristic of her music, but I never thought that I’d enjoy it so much in a live setting. Her vocals felt even more hauntingly beautiful than their studio versions, especially when she was performing classic songs like ‘Alien Observer,’ as her vocals, reverb-heavy to the point of indiscernibility, sounded like she was lulling us into a trance, immersing me and the rest of the audience into her world,. It also definitely did not help change my assumption that I was dreaming. 

    Accompanying her performance were films from Japanese experimental filmmaker Takashi Makino. The visuals ranged from grainy, zoomed-in shots of plants and rivers, as well as one scene of different hands continually hand painting a circle. There was something strangely mesmerizing about these loops which complemented the soft melancholy of her mellow guitar-playing and lush vocal harmonies. The grainy shots reminded me of my childhood pictures, which was perfect because Grouper’s music often evokes nostalgic feelings for me. 

    Towards the end of the concert, Harris delivered a moving performance of ‘Headache,’ with her vocals reaching their loudest of the whole night. She ended the show on an abrupt note, playing a drone-like piece filled with spoken word and natural samples that ended in a high pitched noise. While she did not speak during the show, she delivered a gesture of thanks as everyone was clapping and quickly made her way backstage. There’s an interview with Pitchfork where she states that while she likes that people enjoy her music, she isn’t making her music with an audience in mind. While other shows I’ve been to usually had a solid level of artist-fan interaction, Harris’ show felt like an art piece of its own, as her music paired with the visuals felt like they could be interpreted in different ways. In my opinion, Grouper’s show wonderfully explored themes of distance and nostalgia, and I would definitely recommend going to anyone who is remotely a fan of her music. 

 

Listen to Daughter by Raum (Liz Harris and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma) at https://grouper.bandcamp.com/album/daughter

 

Listen to her 2021 album Shade at https://grouper.bandcamp.com/album/shade

 

Review and Photo by Thejas V.

Ave B Free Jam by Laurence Cook (Album Review by Nicolette L.)

In one word: oceanic(lest I fall into the trap of describing a free jazz record as ‘cacophonous’). A bit of a lost gem of the late ‘60’s New York free jazz scene finally released by Inky Dot, it is nevertheless very exciting to finally be able to listen to this record. The group here twists and writhes in a perpetual entanglement that creates a living, ever-evolving mesh over which an individual horn or drum fill will occasionally soar over. Each fragment of a solo tends to last a few seconds at a time, soon swallowed up into the musical current. The thunderous, erratic playing of bassist(slash-recording-engineer) Steve Tintweiss seems to mostly be following one of the trumpets here, and it provides the mix with a nice grounding. Laurence Cook on drums, who by this point had already played with the likes of Dixon and Paul Bley, isn’t overbearing on this jam in the slightest. He holds a dual-role here, both as the rhythmic backing of the group and an extension of the horns. His emphasis on particularly lyrical rolls on the snare and ride allow him to fit smoothly into the mesh created by the group’s tense conversations. 

There is barely a second of this record that doesn’t seem to be filled out with at least a couple players at a time, which is astounding considering that this is only a five-piece. And this constant swirl becomes defined by the rises and falls in the group’s dynamics and intensity, often guided by the blaring glissandos or four-note melody lines from the trumpets and clarinet. These almost serve the function of solos as previously mentioned, though it is hard not to view this group as one singular unit for much of the runtime; they just sound so very natural playing together. The record here is split into two separate improvisations, one on each side. The second improvisation is notably more intense than the first, with yelps and other vocal cries even being heard during the peaks of that track. I personally prefer the first improvisation, however, where more of the individual performers get a chance to shine, especially Perry Robinson on the bass clarinet, he’s great. He gets drowned out a little in the whitewater rapids of the two dueling trumpets on the second side of the album. Overall, a great record that every ESP-Disk-loving, free jazz nerd needs to hear, especially now that it’s (marginally more) widely available. 3/4

 Review by Nicolette L. 

Slaughter Beach Dog @ The Crofoot (Concert Review by Ciaran C.)

Tucked away in the small school-turned-concert-hall that is The Crofoot, Philadelphia-based post-emo folk band Slaughter Beach, Dog made their small corner of the venue even smaller with an intimate performance as part of their eponymous Spring 2022 tour. Occasionally interrupted by the guttural sounds and roars of The HU’s simultaneous concert happening only feet away, former Modern Baseball vocalist Jake Ewald commanded the attention and the hearts of the crowd with a retrospective setlist. With lyrics of relationship troubles, young existentialism, and a heaping amount of smoking references, the band celebrated their first tour in almost three years by encouraging the audience to participate – such as singing along to Your Cat’s famous line of “I’ll make it through this if it kills me / And if it kills me I’ll be back / Jesus will make me a disciple / Or maybe he’ll let me be your cat” – allowing the small crowd to transcend watcher status and instead become supporting acts: acts backed by the music of occasional shoe shuffling and murmurings between friends.

 

While celebratory in its nature, the sounds were still low-intensity and the crowd was laid back: the venue did not vibrate with the shredding of guitars or angsty wails akin to Slaughter Beach, Dog’s predecessor Modern Baseball. Rather, the acoustic nature and general cheerfulness of the band reflected a sort of maturity in sound and audience, with the shared experience of halfheartedly singing along serving as a joining bond allowing for the audience members to join together and reflect.

 

This generally laid-back and pensive tone persevered until the encore track of 104 Degrees. Seemingly building off of the crowd’s excitement and recognition of this song, they finished their show with an unusually more intense and exciting rendition of this otherwise wistful and moody song. On the long drive back to Ann Arbor, I couldn’t help but feel transported into the final verse of 104 Degrees, with its recollection of driving down a freeway prompting me to feel as if I was retrospectively living in a memory of barreling down I-275 from Pontiac.

 Review and Photo by Ciaran C.

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