July 7, 2017: It’s dusk on a Friday night and the streets of New York’s Lower East Side are full of people dressed to the nines heading to the numerous destinations for entertainment there for the taking. Graffiti lines brick walls of smoke-filled clubs. I was on my way to an indie rock concert at the Bowery Ballroom. The Bowery Ballroom is a hole in the wall on Bowery Street; I walked right by it before finally locating it. On the ground level, there’s a bulletin board with half-ripped flyers advertising a slew of events. You look up to see a window with “Bowery Ballroom” printed in mosaic tiles and a window lined with bottles.
To get to the show, you walk downstairs, beneath the sidewalk, and have your ticket scanned. The downstairs area was dimly lit, featuring deep golden walls and large mirrors, a crowded bar, and friends seated on brown leather couches waiting for the music to begin. The concert itself was upstairs, in a room large enough to fit hundreds of people without it being so crowded you can’t breathe, yet it still managed to feel intimate. The stage is small and adorned with Victorian golden curtains. The lights are off and there’s a mysterious deep blue emanating from the stage as Cende begins playing.
Cende brought energy to the stage. The music was loud and fun, with the classic “indie rock” sound we all know and love. It’s the kind of music you jump around to, and the performance brought that hype to it. The lead singer joked with us between songs, and howled into the microphone with true catharsis. The concert opened with a bang. I bought my merch in between this act and the next to avoid lines. (Pro-Tip: always avoid merch lines.)
The next act was what inspired and transported me to another world, the world where you’re surrounded by only music and that music creates an atmosphere that inspires you and enlightens you. The set opened with a new song, the vibe was mysterious and quiet, but Japanese Breakfast’s signature mystical sound was there. And the “In Heaven” began, and the stage lit up with that deep blue light, enveloping us and the band into our own little world. The incredible feat of this performance was that the band was able to practically flawlessly recreate their album live on stage. This has so often been the fatal flaw of bands whose music involves many layers of sound and many electronic techniques.
The only difference was the raw energy Michelle Zauner brings in person that you cannot necessarily hear from a recording. One of the most special moments on Psychopomp, Japanese Breakfast’s 2016 album, is the seamless transition between the title track, “In Heaven” and “The Woman That Loves You.” The band launched into these two songs, transitioning between them flawlessly, and the sound live was ethereal. Zauner jumped and seethed, screaming catharsis into “Jane Cum” and head bopping to the new track “Road Head.” We were transported.
(Sandy) Alex G was the headliner, an artist many people had clearly come for because the room began to fill to a breaking point. A playlist of rock and rap classics bumped in the background as the stage crew set up for the next band. Instead of blue, the venue became an eerie shade of bright red for a few minutes, until the band walked out and began with a song off their new album Rocket. This album has an indie-folk vibe, but still features Alex G’s gritty voice. The album is a departure from their past bedroom-pop and DIY sound, and the live experience was different than what it had felt like in the past. They’re well seasoned, and it seemed that they had their routine down perfectly. They now have a violinist, who rocked out with her electric plug-in with some classic fiddling tunes. It was a cross between what you might imagine at a campfire and what you might imagine at a basement venue. The band threw in some old hits, like the classic “Bug” off of 2015’s Beach Music. The audience swayed side-to-side for the new stuff and head banged for the old. It didn’t transport me like Japanese Breakfast, but it was pleasant nonetheless.
I left the concert, hugged my friend goodbye, and descended into the Subway station for what would inevitably be a long journey home. But I felt alive. Because good music is magic, and experiencing music is the closest thing we’ll ever get to pure happiness.
Cende’s album, #1 Hit Single, came out in May on Double Double Whammy. (Sandy) Alex G’s Rocket was released in May as well on Domino. Japanese Breakfast’s new album Soft Sounds From Another Planet is out on this coming Friday, July 14, on Dead Oceans. They’re all worth checking out and on all the usual streaming services! Enjoy!