Between the first and second date of Italians Do It Live we went to see, of course, some concerts. Taking advantage of a free Northside pass, we explored some of the festival, aware of the fact that it would have been tough, as it was for SXSW, to select a handful of bands among the hundreds that were going to play during those 4 packed days. On the first day of the Festival (Thursday 24th June) we gave up the chance to see Thao and Mirah playing together at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in favor of the smaller bands Blood Warrior, Takka Takka and La Strada, presented by Ernest Jenning Record Co. I won’t spend many words on Blood Warrior, who is a promising alter ego of Iron and Wine, and Takka Takka, which I found to be, at least in their live performance, a rather average-sounding indie band.
Instead, the one I was mostly looking forward to see, La Strada, happened to be for me also the more convincing one. A strange mix between Vampire Weekend, Beirut and Fanfarlo, despite being a bit cramped on the artsy-looking stage of the Cameo Gallery of Williamsburg, La Strada managed to pull together a quite energetic and enjoyable live show. With some small flaws and a little more work to do on their overall performance, they have for sure the potential of becoming much bigger (if they’re not already while I’m writing this).
La Strada on the funky Cameo Gallery stage
The second day of the Festival (Friday 25th June) for me was much more about the company and the setting rather than the music. The nice and big Brooklyn Bowl of Williamsburg was packed with people by the time The Fiery Furnaces came on stage. I’d only heard their album briefly but really loved the version of Single Again I found in one of the Modular compilations; and the lyrics were simply spectacular. However, their live show simply didn’t do it for me. Their frontwoman Eleanor Friedberger just looked bored and badly dressed and still did as much as possible to look just like Patty Smith (and she does indeed look like a younger version of her!). This wouldn’t have bothered me that much if their songs also didn’t sounded so similar to each other and just, well, very plain and 90s (ok that 90s are back, but still a little creativity wouldn’t hurt!). This really felt like a overrated and overly hyped band. Or perhaps they just sound better on record.
The Fiery Furnaces posing as Patty Smith
After them, I was curious to hear the DJ set by gossip girl Samantha Ronson, just to find out if her fame was only due to the fact that she was dating Lindsay Lohan. Something that I managed to confirm pretty quickly, as soon as I asked someone when she was gonna start her set and discovered that she had, indeed, already started. It was not only that I didn’t like the music she was playing (a mix between R&B, rap and soul), which perhaps is personal taste, it was just that she’s not a very good DJ at all (do I sound too pretentious in saying that I could do better than that?).
DJ Ronson checking her emails…er…playing some tunes
The third day of the festival (Saturday 26th June), just after our wonderful, modesty aside of course, late afternoon showcase, we still had the energy to go party til’ morning, and that included seeing a couple of bands from the Northside Festival at the Knitting Factory. And there were some nice surprises. We caught half the Reading Rainbow‘s act, a duo with a girl on the drum, yes singular, and a guy on the guitar, a la White Stripes, but dirtier, fresher, and a bit more psychedelic. The closing show was by the slightly hyped The Beets (more than one person had already told me about them), a very entertaining surf band with a frantic frontman perhaps on drugs, or acting like it, who kept jumping around with surprising balance and grace (he did still manage to break part of their drum kit) that slightly reminded me of how Maja Ivarsson of The Sounds acts on stage.
The Beets taking a break in between jumps
IDIL crew posing @ Knitting Factory
The best thing to do to relax after a week spent between organizing and attending concerts is for sure to…see more live music! At least that’s how we roll. So the day after Italians Do It Live was over (Sunday 27th June), after the last crazy night together wandering around Manhattan and the goodbye lunch a few hours later, our bands left NYC and left us with a bittersweet sense of emptiness.
And then all that was left to do was to fight against a phenomenal lack of sleep, resist the tropical heat that makes you sweat every time you breath, and head toward the Living Room in the Lower East Side to see the show of Valerio Piccolo. On the first floor, hidden behind a thick curtain in a typical LA style, is Googie’s Lounge, a cozy environment with a few tables and a small stage. Valerio Piccolo is an Italian musician we met a few days ago through NUOK, a rather new and fresh blog/magazine targeted for Italians who live in NYC which was founded by our friend Alice Avallone and where I had the pleasure to be interviewed, as Valerio did also, not so long ago. Valerio is a full-time translator and a part-time, talented singer/songwriter, who had the brilliant idea to combine his work with his passion and start a project where he translates and arranges into songs poems by his favourite contemporary writers. The small world theory, of course, dictates that he actually lives in Rome and often plays in San Lorenzo, just a few steps away from us. As he was currently touring the US, we got this chance to see him perform, with a bunch of local musicians, in NYC instead (Monday 28th June). Never try to do things the straight-forward way, is our motto.
Despite the fact that Googie’s Lounge turned out to be heavily disturbed by the music played by the bar downstairs, we enjoyed very much Valerio’s music, which reminded our roxy of some east-coast musicians form her high school days such as Rane. I’ll be looking forward to Valerio’s completed project when it comes out. In the meantime, he’ll be busy doing things like being the supporting act for his friend Susanne Vega in Italy. Way to go!
Valerio Piccolo playing LA-style in NYC
As I remember correctly, it was in a random compilation of late 2008 that I found the song “Sleepyhead” by Passion Pit. It was good; it was addictive. And it was quickly spreading around the net. Together with stories of how this guy made an EP to give to his girlfriend for Xmas and how she convinced him that it was so good that he should try to properly produce it. A few months later I got the EP from Other Music in NYC, and that s*** was not that easy to find. It was good stuff. So that I was actually a bit disappointed when the full album came out; it seemed rushed, like Passion Pit hurried the album as they were carried away by their Internet success. It was like they put together in a short time the bare minimum number of songs to fit a LP with the drawback that they all sounded pretty much the same. The album, to me, was a bit repetitive and boring.
Still, when I discovered that they were playing in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, while I was in NYC (Tuesday 29th June) and I had the chance to get VIP access to the gig (thanks Officer Pat!), I was still pretty excited and curious to see their live show. What really shocked me, was the amount of people attending the concert; it was sold out and it was not even their only date in town. I guess that’s how music phenomena turn out these days: a year ago this guy had a song written for his girlfriend that became an online hit and a year later he gets a sold out gig in NYC with thousands of screaming fans. What made me feel it was, unlike other cases, all well deserved as well, was that Passion Pit delivered a very good live show. I imagined that there would be just one guy playing music from a laptop, but instead I found a very good and energetic band on stage, and the songs, even if quite similar to each other, created a nice flow one after the other. These guys had been playing (a lot in Williamsburg apparently), and they were ready for this size of concert. That was, indeed, a nice surprise.
Passion Pit can’t stop thanking everyone for their success
Brunori Sas vs Dente
I was a bit skeptical about going to Circolo degli Artisti, in Rome, for one their “Sunset Sessions” featuring Brunori Sas and Dente (Sunday 18th July), if only just because I’d already seen them both playing live, at MI AMI in Milan. Dente played last year on the main stage as one of the headliners, a bad decision from the organizers’ side as the audience was expecting something more energetic and both the audience and the singer ended up being angry and disappointed at each other. On the other hand, Brunori Sas played this year on the smaller stage, and the show was definitely better received, also thanks to the singer’s entertaining abilities. Indeed, I much preferred his live show than his recorded album, interesting but a bit too mellow and repetitive, especially compared to the faster paced and rich show he manages to pull off.
In any case, the idea of aperitif, friends, you-decide-the-price entrance and curiosity made me go and I was not disappointed. First of all I discovered that there were indeed still people in Rome, something that during the day, with this torrid and humid heat, didn’t really come across. Second, it was a pleasant surprise to see what a good match Brunori and Dente ended up being. It shouldn’t have been really, though, a surprise. Brunori’s album reminded me already of Dente’s style, and after all they’re both good and hyped (in the typical Italian independent music style) examples of contemporary Italian songwriters who attempt with a minimalistic and retro style (at least according to Italy’s music tradition) to bring out the values of the contemporary Italian youth. And they manage quite well to do so, as their shows are usually packed and most people in the audience know pretty much all the lyrics by heart. According to me they’re good but a little too hyped and overrated. Perhaps we don’t have much better to offer when it comes to that music style, or perhaps I’m weird and harsh myself…
Nonetheless, singing each other’s songs and interacting in between sets, Brunori and Dente delivered a very enjoyable show, which combined their very different sense of humor, different backgrounds (one is from the South and one from the North, and it’s not so hard to understand which is which if you know what I mean) and yet quite similar music styles. Even though, let’s face it, Dente sings his own songs better. Oh, and they both have the “R moscia” – is it required for contemporary Italian songwriters?
Brunori Sas vs Dente covering Lucio Dalla
I really wanted to see Shantel live. I knew he was a DJ who at some stage found out that there was still a spot in the market for revisited Balkan music, so I didn’t know if it would have been a good show or more of live mix of pre-recorded sounds. But I did enjoy his album (Disko Partizani) and my gut feeling, combined with some friends’ reviews, made me think that it would have been an entertaining show. The setting was ideal at Villa Ada, in Rome, where again the few locals left in the city on the 19th of July (and this was, again, an impression of mine) had gathered to not only watch the gig but also eat some good “ethnic” food in occasion of the series “Roma incontra il mondo” (“Rome meets the world”, how nice of us). Then, around 10:30, Shantel and his band took the stage and made us dance uninterruptedly for at least an hour and a half. And it was, indeed, a good show.
Shantel might not even be gypsy or know how to properly play an instrument, he might have stolen (er…rearranged) a few traditional tunes like Bregovic did (at least according to Kustirica) but he’s unquestionably a great, unstoppable entertainer, a decent singer, he can write funny dance songs such as Disko Partizani, Disko Boy or the newer Citizen of Planet Paprika, and he can choose terrific musicians to support his live show. Let the magic keep going, as long as it lasts.