I’m going to recap the Underwater Sunshine Fest. But I understand, now, especially as I go through my pictures and my video, that it won’t be the same Fest you were at. Nor was it the same one Adam saw, or Barb, or even my husband Andy or our intern Charlie. It wouldn’t have matter if we’d be tethered to each other. This show meant something different to everyone, and the moments that stood out to me might not have to you— might not have even existed in your world. In fact, I took a risk by starting this article off by talking about Cinjun Tate because— if we’re being really honest— I was supposed to be down at the club helping set up (thanks to everyone who told me to go ahead and stay to watch). There were, maybe for the first time that weekend, fewer than ten people in the Garden. So one of the most important things that happened to me… happened to me.
Elizabeth & the Catapult is a trip featuring piano, drums, and guitar, though they often add some strings to the mix to flesh out a track. They have found a way to maintain pop sensibilities without it feeling like chamber pop— that’s to say, they know how to make it sound as contemporary as anything on the radio, just put together better and with more heavy-hitting writing.
Dave Godowsky is standing in the gap for us. There are so many things that are in short supply in this world, and he provides two of them with absolute stark nakedness: beautiful piano music, some of which is there simply for its beauty (and to quote Keats, perhaps a bit out of context, “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty”); and incredible vulnerability.
Something about trying to find ways to connect, ways to soothe souls, ways to honor the humanity we see in each other—but against a dark, minor key background with up-tempo and sometimes aggressive drums—is absolutely stunning. It takes it to a different level. It’s almost like the lyrics and the mood of the music are fighting to see which side is going to win—
Brick and I have a lot in common. He has a radio show on NPR called “The Song Show”, I’m often a guest on that show; I love Billy Joel and could talk about how much for 24 hours, he let me talk about how great Billy Joel was on his radio show (though it was couched as an “apologist” episode); we have both fought major medical issues in the last two years and are still re-learning how our bodies and minds operate in artistic mediums that had been natural to us. But Brick Briscoe finished making his record IV (you should ask him how to pronounce it) while he was receiving chemo in the hospital.
When I tell you that Underwater Sunshine Fest’s greatest strength is its diversity, I’m not kidding: and yes, this is the wind-up for the curve ball. This week’s spotlight artist is the phenomenal, Grammy-nominated Yellow House Orchestra. And if you think you will see anything else like them— maybe anywhere— you’re sadly mistaken. You’re going to have to come to the Bowery Electric and see them with us in October.
Last year, when he released the single “Fire on Bowery,” Andy and I were both in awe. Talk about levels. In the title track, the guitar is alternately driving and slowly moaning over his beautiful voice: “It’s no mystery what went wrong/ Our love was an atom bomb/ And the weight I hold is my own damn fault,” he sings. He doesn’t have to work hard to create a softness and a vulnerability: that’s just who Matt is, shining through.
Simply put, Stew— and his band, the Negro Problem— are unstoppable artistic machines. They take on bigotry effortlessly in a way that lulls you in (and thank God isn’t coming from a 24 hour news network). In songs like “The Dutch Naked Painter,” an entire world of characters, settings, small hurts, and large jealousies are teased out leisurely, with pointed, funny lines, delivered with the joy that can only come from a whole lifetime shrunk into five minutes…
Please believe me when I say, the first time I heard Erica Blinn’s clear Lucinda Williams-register voice burst out of my speaker, I felt the excitement and relief of discovery again. Better than Gold is one of the best records I’ve heard all year, and I’ll be shocked if she’s not part of the national music conversation soon.
I know. Now the question is, “What on earth could possibly be better than ‘Sex and Candy’?” I have an answer for you later. (This is not an invitation to try that combination out at the Festival, by the way…) Marcy Playground is one of those bands who was both lucky to have a song that came out right at a time when the cultural landscape was ready to hear it— and unlucky, in that almost every music fan I know knows their other albums as well. They’re a band who has made several good records, and now, coming off the road with Local H and Everclear for the Summerland tour, songwriter John Wozniak and crew are tighter and more ready to perform than ever.
Kellogg is an amazing persona writer, and he seems to enjoy delving into these different geographic regions and finding out what glues them together. The expanse in “The Open Heart” absolutely fits the bill. What’s most remarkable about the record, perhaps, is that it’s all glued together and united, like we all consider this country to be, though that’s a very difficult thing to do with music. The regions flow seamlessly together, and Kellogg’s voice, earnest and clear, excels in every area.
In a culture where identity can so easily be misappropriated, listening to him sing from the point of view of a drag queen or a woman is refreshing because it feels urgent and real. Barna describes his music as “slutty folk music,” and I laugh every time I see that. There are so many moments where you see a glimpse of that humor in the EP— not just in the lyrics, but in the joy and expressive quality of his voice.
I’ve been dying to write this review, not just because From A White Hotel is one of the best
records I’ve heard in years— which it is— and not just because Hawks and Doves, despite it
being their first record, is an incredibly intuitive band— but because songwriter and frontman
Kasey Anderson has been a friend of mine for a long time, and I’ve been wanting to do this
justice. So let me start here…
At its absolute best, live music plays a unique role in modern society. In a world of shrinking sacred spaces, concerts are one of the last places where groups of strangers can gather and experience, together, something transcendental, something other and beyond. In the spirit of this idea, I present to you Boom Forest.
Like molecules are made of different types of atoms (I know I’m writing a music blog, stick with me here), four disparate musicians have bounced together to create a band, and we are lucky enough to have them at Underwater Sunshine Festival. Drawing equal comparisons from melodic psychedelia bands like the Fairport Convention and heavier more progressive rock like King Crimson, the Monks of Doom is a side project composed of Camper Van Beethoven’s Victor Krummenacher, Greg Lisher, and Chris Pedersen, along with David Immerglück of Counting Crows.
Mikaela Davis isn’t what you expect her to be— no matter your expectations. The first time someone told me about her and said that she played a harp, I’ll be honest, I was not sure how that was going to fit in with a Festival— though, as someone who desperately appreciates different sounds and instruments when seeing bands back to back— hoped she would fit in with ours. To say I had nothing to worry about is an understatement. Davis doesn’t “fit in” with anyone. She is her own force to be reckoned with.
RYVOLI is made up of two women and two cities, and the duality shows in the music. Jenn Whiteman and Samantha Howard are a folk band, but they’ve found a way to take the delicacy of their art and make it slightly less like the product of some sewing attempt and more like the needle. Their music is overwhelmingly lovely at first listen, but don’t be fooled: they have taken the Lexington, KY grit and infused it with the Parisian colors and flavors that the band is named after, the street Rue de Rivoli, where they met…