Live: Nite Jewel Stretches The Concept Of Pop At Glasslands
Nite Jewel w/Headless Horseman, Warm Ghost
Wednesday, November 2
Better than: Watching old Pointer Sisters videos on your laptop.
Last night at Glasslands, things were running a bit behind schedule, and Nite Jewel (aka Ramona Gonzalez) knew it. The band had already had to fully stop the show for once for five agonizing post-midnight minutes to work on some microphone problems, and now her mic had cut out again.
"Let's just switch microphones!" she chirped to someone in her band. "It's totally the easiest solution! These people have already been here so long, thinking about ghosts and horses or whatever," a sort-of-nod to openers Warm Ghost and Headless Horseman, "so... let's just go."
"Let's just go" could double as the motto for Gonzalez, who went from tape decks in the bedroom to movie soundtracks and international tours all in the same year. (She could have it stitched on her shirtdress.)
Nite Jewel makes smoothed-out, occasionally dissonant pop with simple keyboard sounds and layered wails that make it sound like a slightly friendlier version of the music made by her husband Cole M. Greif-Neill's band, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. (Greif-Neill plays guitar.) The best Nite Jewel songs, like this year's "It Goes Through Your Head," are absolute burners, and last night they had the crowd dancing un-self-consciously despite the late hour and stop-and-start set. Sometimes, especially on the faster songs, Gonzalez stretches her words and slips into a precisely pronounced falsetto that's easy to mistake for the voice of Swedish pop god Robyn, a thrilling transformation. Nite Jewel has more atmospheric tracks, too, and they can be almost romantic; they sound like they could have been crafted by a cut-rate-Sade imitator and used under the love scene in a Beverly Hills Cop sequel. (I mean this as a great compliment.) These tracks lost the crowd a bit, but they were usually followed with a more upbeat number to reel everyone back in.
Despite three years or so in the spotlight, Gonzalez is still somewhat nervous onstage. In a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, she described her early shows as "kind of karaoke," and last night she occasionally came across like someone worried about looking silly; all her hair shaking and finger-pointing felt already augmented by a sly wink. Then again, this is an issue even veterans wrestle withas a point of comparison, this summer at the Vans House, Glass Candy's Ida No never seemed quite sure what to do with herself, and ended up repeating the same two dance moves for an hour. And that band has been together since 1996.
Nite Jewel is well on its way to matching that band's longevity. Three years into their existence, they finally have a deal to record and release a full-length (it'll be out early next year on Secretly Canadian). The end of the set had a few of those newer tracks; paradoxically, they were some of the most polished of the night.
Not the "polished" is exactly the band's goal. "I spilled my whiskey!" Gonzalez complained near the show's end. A minute later, she was drinking two cups at once, (one from her guitarist and one from her drummer). "Isn't my band the best?" she asked the crowd. Maybe not the best, but they're getting there.
Critical bias: I'm a sucker for all things synthy.
Overheard: "I am ready to be in bed now."
Random notebook dump: The crowd featured not, one but two, concert characters: Art Student Girl Who Is Drawing All The Bands While Dancing; and Weird Slightly Older Girl Who Is Obviously On a Lot Of Drugs And Does Not Understand How Weirdly She Is Dancing.