Live: Ava Luna Shake Off Their Nerves At The Mercury Lounge
Ava Luna w/Sinkane
Saturday, August 11
Better than: Your run-of-the-mill, 4/4-time, block-chord buzz band.
Ava Luna seems like one of those bands whose goal is to straight-up astound its audience. Though they would probably deny it vehemently for the record, the Brooklyn sextet can't very well hide from that truth when a vacationing Tokyo man happens upon their set in Washington, D.C. and is so impressed that he books it up to New York less than a week later to catch the band again. (This happened on Saturday night.) Could a band with a lesser end than knocking socks clean off accomplish that feat?
Ava Luna has garnered comparisons to fellow Brooklynites Dirty Projectors that are not unfounded; the ensemble's impeccable timing, whip-smart vocal harmonics, and flirtations with both post-punk and R&B make them natural ascendants to that particular throne. During their hourlong homecoming set on Saturday night, as they tore through songs like "Wrenning Day," "Year of Mirth," "Clips," and "Water Duct" (the latter of which they speed-wrote and -recorded for Philadelphia-based nonprofit Weathervane Music's Shaking Through series), one got the impression that, snare thwack by snare thwack, Mercury Lounge had dropped in on their methodical crawl toward... something. (Speaking of those snare thwacks, drummer Julian Fader is quite literally the linchpin of the ensemble, flip-flopping between intimidating funk precision and spastic punk flail.)
Still, the group often seemed too nerve-wracked to take much pleasure in how good they sounded, at least at first; though their instrumentals were exact, their physical groove almost biological, not even half a smile was to be found on the members' faces for the majority of their time on-stage. Put on mute, a recording of the first half of the night, absurdly, might have looked more like an anxiety-ridden high school talent show performance rather than a set from six wickedly talented musicians making some of the most compelling, ensemble-based new music Brooklyn has seen in a while.
That tension lifted somewhat around mid-set, though, as frontman Carlos Hernandez and vocalists Felicia Douglass and Becca Kaufman began shuffling positions on stage; it was completely alleviated by the time Hernandez announced the band's final song—and confirmed that they, in fact, had been "apprehensive" about returning home. "It's weird, weird, weird to be back," he confessed, practically sighing with relief that the sizeable crowd hadn't up and left already. That relief carried over into the encore, when, at long last, perhaps finally accepting that, yes, the crowd wanted to hear this stuff, the three vocalists crowded together, vibed off each other's energies, and even grinned.
Critical bias: Growing up in a family of musicians makes this writer a sucker for near-militant musicianship.
Random notebook dump: Really thought we were gonna need a priest in here to exorcise the drummer at the end of this thing.