Live: Handing Out Superlatives To Beirut, St. Vincent, And Other Stars Of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
Brooklyn Academy of Music
May 3 - May 5
Better than: NBC's Thursday-night comedy, a Friday night in NYC, and Cinco de Mayo, combined.
When covering a festival, you're bound to miss most of the festivities. It's a fact of life, and one that I had to accept when attempting to summarize the three-night Crossing Brooklyn Ferry festival, which took place this weekend at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. To get it out of the way early, I missed Sufjan Stevens showing up at one of the cinemas, as well as an apparent David Byrne cameo. My plan of attack was to hit up the Howard Gillman Opera House for the "big-name acts," whatever that means. I won't say I regret my choice; after all, the seven acts that I saw in their entirety were all wonderful in their own ways. So much so, in fact, that the best way to write this review came to me sometime Friday night: Let's take this back to high school and dole out some superlatives to the performers.
Thursday, May 3
Best Dancer: Twin Shadow
Playing the first big set of a three-day festival is a heavy responsibility, one that can set the mood for the entire weekend (at least for those brave concertgoers who will be there for the duration). One of the better ways to do it is to bust out a full-on dance party. Twin Shadow, George Lewis Jr.'s '80s-soaked group, was down to get down, to say the least. Playing a mixture of songs from their debut album Forget and the new album coming out this year (Confess), Lewis and co. succeeded in getting the crowd to move, especially during the appropriately named "When We're Dancing" and the duo of songs that had a drumline accompaniment. Yep, Lewis brought out a drumline just because he could. Needless to say, it was very well-received, a theme throughout the tight 45-minute set. If someone had walked in during without knowing who Twin Shadow was, they may have thought that they teleported to a new wave show sponsored by Prince, and isn't that just the best praise you can get?
Class Clown: Sharon Van Etten
You wouldn't think to call Sharon Van Etten funny, given the subject matter of most of her songs. As a singer, Van Etten deals with heartbreak, abusive relationships, and leaving it all behind to start anew. However, as a performer, she is swiftly mastering the art of engagement by using a classic tool: self-deprecating humor. Her easygoing nature on stage puts the crowd in a comfortable place, one where they know they'll return to after the barrage of emotions that comes from songs like the gorgeous "Give Out" or the debut album cut "I Fold" (which Van Etten prefaced with a honest shoutout to her in-attendance parents).
Perhaps, however, the fans got a bit too comfortable, as a certain subset started almost heckling Van Etten. While annoying, the heckling was mostly good-natured, although that didn't stop Van Etten from sassing back: "Stop talking shit, man. Seriously. It's annoying as hell!" She laughed right after, showing that she was in on the joke as well, that she knows that her music allows her these moments of levity. This moment showed her dichotomy best, because after the crowd stopped laughing, she launched into Tramp's lead single "Serpents"the singer's hardest-edged composition, which rages against a previous abusive boyfriend. It's heavy, but it was made more manageable because of the laughs shared beforehand.
Most Photogenic: The Walkmen
Looking dapper should not have an effect on how a band's set is perceived; after all, even the homeliest of acts can put on shows that blow minds and rock faces. However, it sure doesn't hurt to look the part, as The Walkmen proved during their set. The gentlemen who walk came out dressed in their Thursday best, led by lead singer Hamilton Leithauser in a sharp suit and bright smile. Throughout the hour-long set, it just seemed like the guys were thrilled to be playing, with no regard for whether they were changing lives. To put it another way, sometimes it's guys that just wanna have fun. The loud songs were rocking, with special props reserved for the drummer's rhythmic spasms. The band's love of classical instruments paid off with the piano on stage being used to max effect throughout.
The Walkmen's catalog is huge&30151;so huge that they were able to play a successful set without even so much as hinting at playing what has become their most popular song, "The Rat." Indeed, the band seemed to shy away from that in order to play other, more obscure tunes, and some new ones as well. All of these, as you can expect, were well-received. The crowd was particularly lively during the second half of the set, perhaps sensing that it was almost over and that would do no one any good. One particularly... enthusiastic gentleman toppled over into a row of people who surely were not as amused as he was.
The encore was a peculiar choice for the lads, as they came out and played the first song they ever wrote as a band: "We've Been Had." A stellar cut, surely, and one that really benefits from a live performance. It was simply alarming because, once again, most people were expecting "The Rat." Oh well; no use crying over a great set.