Wow, a musician using synthesizers, samples, keys and other electronica actually shows up for a concert with instruments and performers and then proceeds to play music!! I suppose I should avoid beating the dead horse that is the Sleigh Bells live show, but I must say that I find their approach disturbing (similar to how I felt when Ashlee Simpson was busted for lip synching on SNL), and I hope that it’s a trend that soon fizzles – in other words, Get A Band! A couple of weeks ago, I stopped by the Bowery Ballroom to see an intriguing electronic synth pop artist nicely demonstrate how to translate studio gadgetry into a compelling live performance. But first, I must make note of the weirdness that occurred that evening before the headliner took the stage.
The opening act consisted of a young female guitarist named Sophia Knapp (who was definitely not weird) and her band. Knapp’s set featured bluesy, nostalgic sounding guitar rock reminiscent of Anna Calvi, but her songs evoked more of a discoey/funky/jazzy late night north of 110th Street (how about a mash up of Donald Byrd and Giorgio Moroder? – okay, a stretch), whereas Calvi’s mood and arrangements recall Ennio Morricone and other 1960s spaghetti western composers.
The second portion of the show featured an unfortunate performance from a band named after their singer, Mac DeMarco (here’s where the night took a turn toward the unpleasantly bizarre). Evidently somewhat intoxicated, DeMarco constantly mocked the audience during and between songs, and his band wasn’t prepared to fill the entire set. About three-quarters into it, he asked the sound mixer how much time they had left. When informed he still had twenty five minutes to fill, he responded, “holy [expletive], what are we gonna do now?” The band then proceeded to execute a series of lame stunts to presumably kill time. They began this digression with a stupid, boring jam session featuring the lamest drum solo I’ve heard since I hung up the sticks, during which they invited a random audience member to come on stage and play a bass solo. DeMarco jumped into the crowd in the middle of the final number and forced a random female audience member to dance with him, sending the bouncer into a near panic attack as he manically waved around his flashlight. After the set, the band stayed on the floor and continued to rollick around near the front of the stage during Nite Jewel’s set. Nite Jewel, whose real name is Ramona Gonzalez, actually kicked DeMarco in the head during her encore, but later claimed they are old friends.
The evening was ultimately saved by a great performance by the headliner. Gonzalez takes a creative approach to bringing out her electronic blips and bleeps into a live performance using a full live band. The touring version of Nite Jewel consists of the short but adorable Gonzalez who sang and played keys, a guitarist who alternated between electric guitar and bass, a synth player, and an attention-grabbing drummer – a large and technically proficient black woman alternating between both an acoustic and an electronic kit, producing a spectrum of interesting sounds. Most of the songs in the set consisted of synthy dance pop tunes, especially at the outset. To my surprise, Gonzalez was already on to what I consider her best song, and first single from the new album, “One Second of Love” by the second number. Most of the songs from her new album are pretty good though, and those combined with a cache of great tunes from her first album and EPs provided plenty of cool stuff to keep the evening interesting.
After “One Second of Love,” Nite Jewel slowed the tempo down a little and wove some slower pieces in with her more synth poppy dance music. Her encore consisted of three songs – a ballad called “Clive” accompanied only by the keyboard, a cover of a rare Roxy Music B-side (Lover), and a slow-tempo synth poppy tune, “We Want Our Things.” I knew there was a reason beyond her tunes that I liked Nite Jewel – even the slightest mention of the 70s forerunners of British punk and new wave, Roxy Music, is enough to melt me like butter – so the cover was a nice reference to a probable major influence on her music. My only complaint with the show was that Gonzalez divided up the playlist evenly pulling from her full length albums and EPs, where I was hoping for more from her new disc. All in all, however, Nite Jewel’s performance allowed me to forgive her for any shortcomings (including inviting the hot mess Mac DeMarco to the bill), and the show greatly raised my esteem of her recording efforts – her new album is top ten material so far in my book, baby.