Rarely does my camera bag get checked at any of the smaller venues, but understandably it was done out of caution. There were feelings of uneasiness and grief in the city, hours after the tragic events unfolded in Paris, France. It definitely hits home, especially mass killings at the Bataclan, where people just wanted to enjoy a night of music. We could only hope horrifying things like this never happen again.
Julien Baker had been raking in nothing but praise the past few weeks for her gorgeous debut Sprained Ankle, which was a few weeks ago. This was the first of her two-night New York City run, as she would play a late set the next night at the Mercury Lounge, in addition to opening for El Vy again for their MHOW show. Opening with the delicate “Sprained Ankle,” it felt like the Memphis, TN native effortlessly stole the breaths of everyone in attendance the first few notes in. Sublime from the first to last song, it was a bit of a bummer that Baker’s set was only about six songs long. I’m sure we’ll be hearing her name a lot more sooner than later.
Wye Oak has been touring a lot in 2015, supporting last year’s Shriek, and they were coming off a huge hometown show at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore a few days before. The band joined in on a few of El Vy’s East Coast dates since Andy Stack of Wye Oak is serving as the touring drummer for El Vy. As usual, Jenn Wasner and Stack put on a fantastic set, playing a lot of songs from Shriek and a few from Civilian like it’s title track, “Holy Holy” and “Plains.” Despite having seen the band a handful of times, Stack’s ability to play drums with one hand and bass on the other still manages to mesmerize me.
As a superfan of The National, I admit, its still a bit jarring hearing Matt Berninger’s soothing baritone slapped with anything other than the sad soundscapes of the Dessner twins. El Vy is a collaboration between Berninger and Brent Knopf of Ramona Falls (and formerly Menomena) with Return To The Moon being the side-project’s debut. While the Dessner twins are busy at work producing or commissioning baroque pieces, and the brothers Devendorf are working (or not?) on Lanzendorf, Berninger work with Knopf during The National’s recent downtime. Berninger stated that these were his most autobiographical lyrics to date, as most of the songs deal with his time growing up in Cincinnati. With the usual Berninger stage antics of alcohol flinging and mic stand slamming, El Vy’s set was upbeat, from the sprightly “Return To The Moon,” to the band’s faithful rendition of the Fine Young Cannibals’ “You Drive Me Crazy.” On paper, it would seem like a collaboration that wouldn’t make sense, combining Knopf’s musical oddities with Berninger’s biting verses, but results sound organic and the two feel right at home.