Musicians and Artists Affected by East Village Explosion Persevere Past the Rubble

Categories: New Yorkers

Photo by Parker Fitzgerald
Laura Gibson
The explosion and subsequent fires in the East Village that occurred on March 26 destroyed three apartment buildings and a handful of businesses and, in one afternoon, displaced hundreds of New Yorkers. This one corner tucked between East 7th Street and Second Avenue served as a home and studio space for various artists and musicians, including singer-songwriter Laura Gibson, who was in her fifth-floor apartment at 119 Second Avenue at the time of the explosion.

"I was sitting and reading, about to get into the shower — you know, a few minutes later and it would have been a different situation," she says with a slightly uneasy laugh. "It was very apparent that something was wrong. The feeling of the explosion in my body was really violent; it's hard for me to describe."

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Binky Griptite Slides His Way Back to the Blues

Robert Menzer for the Village Voice
Binky Griptite at home in Bed-Stuy
It's strange to watch Binky Griptite sit still, and stranger still for him to be still.

Griptite is a kinetic, time-keeping force, and easily recognizable to fans of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings as the guitarist in the band's front line whose step is as sure as the click of a metronome. While Griptite isn't on the percussion side of things for the Dap-Kings, he, along with the full ensemble of brass-blowing, bass-thumping, string-snapping soul purveyors onstage with Jones at any given moment, is very much a constant in motion, shifting side to side with the beat rolling in behind him, just as James Brown's guys did back in the day. Griptite can play his guitar behind his back — the swiftness with which he can hoist the sleek, ebony body of the Gibson up and over his shoulders is practically feline — and he can riff while nearly tap-dancing in a buttoned-up suit, in double-time, without breaking a sweat. After a year of exhaustive touring behind Give the People What They Want and with another trek on the horizon, it's a rare moment to catch him without the company of the Dap-Kings and at home in Bed-Stuy on the couch, the Gibson nearby in its case as he fixates on a weathered acoustic he picked up on the street in New Orleans while on tour.

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Twin Shadow's Midnight Ride Brings Him Back Home on Eclipse

Photo by Milan Zrnic
George Lewis, a/k/a Twin Shadow
Ambition is a hell of a drug. Sometimes, you have to get on a bike and chase it.

George Lewis had a dilemma heading into Eclipse, his third album under the Twin Shadow moniker. He was hungry for the big leagues, so he switched up his scenery, rode to Los Angeles, and went in a new direction. Making the major move to Warner Bros. sets up his loftier visions, inching him one step closer to teenage dreams. Twin Shadow is a man of particular principles.

While serious about his music, Lewis keeps a balance with a healthy sense of humor. His "dumpster show," a collaboration with Funny or Die that pokes fun at a typical South by Southwest shindig abuzz with selfie-snapping hipsters, is Exhibit A that he doesn't take himself too seriously. In the video, he performs in a trash receptacle, his band accompanying on toylike Casio keyboards.

"It wasn't even filmed at SXSW! It was filmed almost a month before in a parking lot in Los Angeles, which made it even funnier," he says. "We wanted to do something together, and the Funny or Die guys [and I] all sat down and had a writing session. We had a lot of really weird ideas."

Lewis's send-up of "exclusive" pop-up shows is pitch-perfect. It's also indicative of an artistic maturation: He can laugh at himself, since he's the one writing the jokes. Plus, he could do it from the comfort of his new home turf.

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Lower Dens' Jana Hunter Makes an Escape Worth Celebrating

Photo by Frank Hamilton
Jana Hunter of Lower Dens
Jana Hunter finally decided to release the small anxieties so she may truly fill the stage.

Hunter, leader of Baltimore-based post-rock band Lower Dens, made a conscious effort to untangle her neck muscles and embrace a new definition of performer. This change is evident on the group's third full-length, Escape From Evil, out on Ribbon Music. Her raw, bold candor investigates less savory human urges and insecurities through a thick fog of upbeat synth. Escape keeps a quicker pace than the past two records. It's more warm, lain bare — and Hunter's lyrics seep out glittering but neatly contained in a clear cadence.

"I feel a lot more comfortable with myself as a performer than I used to," Hunter explains. "So I settled into performing... That's the ultimate test of your ability as a performer: being onstage and being able to connect with the music, but not be overly self-conscious or self-aware. To be uninhibited. I don't think you're really giving much to people if you're just worried about how you look or you're presenting."

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Tracing Sufjan Stevens's Intricate Ties to the Music of New York City

Sufjan Stevens
In some ways, Sufjan Stevens typifies the public caricature of a musician from Brooklyn: weird, borderline unpronounceable name; pretty boy good looks; a level of fame and success in the indie world that borders on Beatlemania while remaining relatively unknown to mainstream audiences. On the other hand, he thwarts the stereotype at every opportunity. He made his name on two decisively uncool, epically twee masterpieces about the history of Michigan and Illinois. His music is unapologetically spiritual, anchored in a Christian ethos decisively unfashionable in indie rock's anti-establishment roots. He's more likely to show up to a show wearing a Tron outfit or giant angel wings than a leather jacket and Ray-Bans.

Whatever the case, Stevens is one of New York's most prominent musical ambassadors (apologies to Taylor Swift) in the indie world and beyond, and his music's relationship with the city is at once elusive and evocative. Unlike our rock icons from Lou Reed to the Strokes down to recent fixtures like the National, Stevens doesn't typically address New York in his music, with some notable exceptions. To understand the role the city plays in his compositions, we have to dig a little deeper.

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It's a 'Pleasure to Meet' Dead Sara's Merciless Rock 'n' Roll Attitude

Courtesy of High Rise PR
Dead Sara
Though the events of the last year — which started with getting dropped by Epic Records following the completion of their second album — made for a harsh lesson in the business component of the music biz, the Dead Sara's motto remains "friends first."

"We started out as great friends, so that's the underlying thing. Music is secondary," attests singer and Dead Sara co-founder Emily Armstrong. Guitarist Siouxsie Medley adds, "We're like sisters, and we couldn't be in this band without each other. Our relationship is intense. We've grown up together, grown apart, and grown back. We've been best friends and we've been strangers, but we've always had something, a connection, a bond, I don't know...a passion or love that's kept us together. We've been through so much the twelve years we've been playing music together. We've seen numerous rhythm sections come and go, labels and managers come and go, friends and allies come and basically our entire adultish life we've spent side by side. It's not always easy, but it's nearly impossible to break."

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The Ten Best Concerts in New York This Week, 3/30/15

Categories: Listings, Live

Photo by Marcus Haney
For more shows throughout the weekend, check out our New York Concert Calendar, which we update daily.

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Yes, America, His Voice Sounds Like That: George Ezra Surprises on SNL

George Ezra
I know it's crazy hard to believe, but yes: it's completely and totally possible for a scrawny white kid with a cowlick from across the pond to listen to, love and make music that rips from the more treasured refrains of American soul, blues and R&B without offending its very existence.

For some reason, the fact that that voice was coming out of that kid last night on Saturday Night Live seemed to garner the most attention, and with that George Ezra went from providing the soundtrack to people killing time to conversation topic and hitmonger in one fell swoop.

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Seventeen Years in the Making, Swervedriver's Return Strikes a 'Beautiful/Nasty' Balance

Categories: Interviews

Photo by Giles Borg
It's been a long time coming — seventeen years long, to be precise — but on March 6, Swervedriver released a brand new album, I Wasn't Born To Lose You, marking the shoegaze vets' first full-length record since 1998's 99th Dream.

The question isn't so much why the wait, after all, as the band was broken up and had been silent for almost ten years before reconvening around 2007. Reunion tours do strange things to bands: they either revive old battles or, as in this case, remind them of great musical bonds. Still, a new album was a subject Swervedriver approached cautiously.

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The Ten Best Concerts in New York This Weekend, 3/27/15

Categories: Weekend

Photo by Chuck Grant
See Nikki Lane on Friday at Warsaw in Greenpoint.
For more shows throughout the weekend, check out our New York Concert Calendar, which we update daily.

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