Rachael Yamagata/City Winery/February 13, 2019

Rachael Yamagata was two years old when her parents divorced. Although she says she is from Arlington, Virginia, she spent a lot of her youth shuffling between her mom’s apartment in New York City and her dad’s residence in the Washington, DC area. While attending university in Chicago, Yamagata had one year of piano lessons, a spiral notebook full of original songs, and an ambition to try the arts as a career. She briefly relocated to New York to become an Italian theater major but then returned to studies in Chicago, where she became the vocalist for the funk band Bumpus. Yamagata recorded and toured with the band for six years before launching a solo career in 2001. Since then, she has collaborated with Jason Mraz, Rhett Miller, Bright Eyes, Toots and the Maytals, and Ray Lamontagne. Her songs have been featured on numerous television shows and films, and she has performed at two of President Barack Obama’s special events. Yamagata’s fifth and most recent studio album is 2016’s Tightrope Walker. Yamagata is now based in Woodstock.

Yamagata headlined two nights at City Winery, where she performed backed by two fellow Woodstock residents. Like Yamagata, guitarist Conor Kennedy (Steely Dan, Amy Helm, Donald Fagen) and bassist Zach Djanikian (The Brakes, Amos Lee, Amy Helm, Donald Fagen) switched instruments as the songs necessitated. With a husky and booming voice, Yamagata sang sad ballads, poignant mid-tempo pop songs, and several light rockers, all with equal comfort and conviction. The mature and thoughtful lyrics matched with the stark arrangements made the songs feel intimate and captivating. That same simplicity, however, led to a generic softness where the dynamics fell short of their potential. This was fine for a small club gig but not the threshold that Yamagata will achieve on a larger platform.

Interpol/Madison Square Garden/February 16, 2019

Born in London, Daniel Kessler lived until the age of 11 in a village outside of Paris. The guitarist formed what would become Interpol as a university student in New York City in 1997. Paul Banks, whom Kessler had known from Paris, joined as vocalist. Sam Fogarino, who worked at a vintage clothing store and considered retiring from music, joined in 2000 when the band’s original drummer left. Interpol played local clubs along with the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the National, LCD Soundsystem, and similar bands, when suddenly New York’s indie scene exploded internationally. Interpol’s sixth and most recent studio album, Marauder, was released on August 24, 2018.

With the help of two touring musicians—keyboardist Brandon Curtis and bassist Brad Truax—Interpol performed a 20-song set that spotlighted key tracks from all of its albums, with an emphasis on the first two collections. On stage, Banks was rather stoic; he hardly moved, spoke little, and allowed minimum emotion to color his abstract lyrics. Kessler, on the other hand, danced and bounced incessantly with his strumming. Interpol’s signature Joy Division/Smiths/Cure groove was stamped on every song, even the newly released “Fine Mess.” Most of the songs were measured and succinct, but the band jammed a bit on “Flight of Fancy” and “The New.” Head-nodding rhythms often dominated over melody, so if the listener was not familiar with the newer songs, it was too easy to zone out for a bit. The very active light show, the frequent blasts of fog, and the lack of projection screens challenged the audience to stay tuned to the music rather than the spectacle. Nevertheless, the band’s robust, energetic presentation brought even the more droning songs to a soaring summit.

 

Roger Manning/Sidewalk/February 21, 2019

 In New York City in the mid-1980s, Roger Manning was among the originators of the anti-folk community that spawned Beck, Regina Spektor, Michelle Shocked, Langhorne Slim, and the Washington Squares. The movement, birthed by the first anti-folkie, a man who called himself Lach, was a reaction to the more traditional folk scene in Greenwich Village, and was started by musicians whose more radical performance style could not get booked in those classic folk clubs. Inspired by beat poetry and punk rock, Manning wrote and performed a wordy, aggressive, acoustic style of music (as aggressive as one can be with an acoustic guitar), and wound up recording for SST Records, the label started by Black Flag guitarist, Greg Ginn. An advocate for playing in alternate venues, Manning in 1985 challenged the legality of New York’s longstanding ban on music in the subway and overturned the law in favor of the musicians. Manning now works as a web designer, and sporadically records and performs. He released his fourth and most recent self-titled album in 2014.

Sidewalk became the long-time settlement of the anti-folk movement, but the owner sold the restaurant and bar in December 2018, and the new owner announced he would close the venue for renovations on February 23, 2019. Many of the anti-folk artists returned to pay final respects to the venue whose future is uncertain. Manning was among the early anti-folk artists who returned to perform one final time. Manning solicited requests but then played the songs he chose to play. Accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, his brief set showcased his verbose wit, as with lyrics like “People work hard and end up with nothing/I ain’t got nothing either, but at least I didn’t work hard for it,” from “Pearly Blues.” He performed a few more songs in his rambling, talky style, then closed with a duet with Michelle Shocked, who then continued with her own set. Manning’s set was pure modern folk; it just simply did not sound like what traditionalists expect of folk music.

 

Bronze Radio Return/Bowery Ballroom/February 21, 2019

Bronze Radio Return’s vocalist/guitarist Chris Henderson started his first band in elementary school in Belfast, Maine. While in high school, he toured New England on weekends in Ben Block’s Big Bad Blues Band. During his junior year of college, he was in a blues band that needed a singer, so he stepped forward. He formed the indie-roots band Bronze Radio Return in 2007 with fellow music school students in Hartford, Connecticut—recruiting lead guitarist Patrick “Packy” Fetkowitz, keyboardist Matt Warner, bassist Bob Tanen, and drummer Rob Griffith. The name Bronze Radio Return was inspired by an old bronze-colored radio Henderson enjoyed listening to as a child in his father’s art studio in Maine. Although the band’s name is not commonly recognized, the band’s music has been placed more than 100 times in commercials, sports campaigns, and television and film soundtracks, permitting the band to live off of licensing rather than album sales. Furthering its marketing potential, Bronze Radio Return released its fifth studio album, Entertain You, on February 22, 2019.

After a three-year absence, Bronze Radio Return returned to the Bowery Ballroom to introduce songs that would be available for purchase the following day. Perhaps enthused by this prospect, the musicians remained energized and cheerful throughout the set. Bronze Radio Return embraced roots rock but labeling the band as Americana would be a stretch. The throwback folk rock elements were still evident, but the band’s traditional backdrop bowed before a heaping load of polished pop sensibility. As such, many of the songs galloped to bombastic levels as choruses strutted into sing-along anthems, while the few softer songs in contrast were laced with rolling cinematic textures. The music’s upbeat rhythms and positive charisma turned the evening into a lively dance party somewhere between a country hoedown and an urban basement bash.

 

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