What It Was Like: The Wheel, The Donkeys, Bishop Allen, Hymns, Daniel Johnston, The Wrens, Avett Brothers, Passion Pit

passionppitlive.jpg
Pete Freedman
Passion Pit takes to the tent at the Radio Room's patio.


Spent the whole day camped out at the Radio Room for the great lineup booked to play the Brooklyn Vegan/Paste party there. Well worth it, too. 

Act: The Wheel, a bare-bones folk duo from Denver.
Where: Radio Room
What It Was Like: Pretty interesting, actually. And relatively compelling, too. Just two guys on stage, vocally harmonizing with one another, and one with an acoustic guitar that he'd pick or strum relatively sparingly. But it wasn't the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, one of the bigger buzz bands at this year's SXSW--not to mention of the best band names. They'd double-booked themselves today. So, instead, we got these guys.
Verdict: As I said before, pretty interesting stuff. Very simple, but nice nonetheless. Somewhat boring, though. It was kinda like the type of thing you might awkwardly become subjected to at a pretty lame party--like these two guys found a guitar and started performing even though no one asked them to. You have mixed feelings about it--it's good enough not for you to tell them to stop, but it's not really what you came to this party expecting to do. That pretty much sums it up, I think. Maybe if you're in the mood for super bare folk with heavy vocal harmonies. But I never get in that mood.

Act: The Donkeys, a summery little garage pop band from San Diego. Also: Not Wavves.
Where: Radio Room
What It Was Like: Very much like I'd imagine San Diego to sound. Never been, though. It his all the summery notes: '70s soft rock, beach pop, garage pop. At one point they even busted out a sitar--but hell if I heard it in the mix. Even weirder was that the drummer--who is also the lead vocalist, which was pretty cool, since he was able to really sing back there--brought it up, specifically pointing it out: "You know, a sitar is really difficult to travel with." Ain't that a bitch.
Verdict: It was pretty catchy stuff--at times comparable to Vampire Weekend, at other times reminiscent of The Acorn. But, honestly, the fact that it jumped around so much was kinda distracting. Would like to see if it's that drastic on record, though.

Act: Bishop Allen, the best snobby, cheery, Ivy League pop band not named Vampire Weekend.
Where: Radio Room 
What It Was Like: Like watching Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which actually isn't a knock--these guys were featured heavily on that movie's soundtrack. Far as I know, that's how people know of them. But, yeah, it sounds a ton like Vampire Weekend--without the afro pop.
Verdict: A year late, couple scarves short. These guys aren't completely like VW--but the similarities are pretty obvious. Has more backing chorus cheers than VW. Which isn't a bad thing. Not a great thing either, though. Still: Pretty fun as a live shsow.

Act: Hymns, a jangly, Stones-y blues rock band from Brooklyn. Two of its members are from the Dallas area, though. And they're signed to Blackland Records, whcih is also Dallas-based, apparently.
Where: Radio Room
What It Was Like: Like watching a bunch of leather-clad Brooklyn hipsters do their best to revise '70s jingo-jangle.
Verdict: Really liked what I heard--although it was only two songs. The band was doubling as Daniel Johnston's backing band and just warmed up the crowd a bit.

Act: Legendary Austin weirdo/pop savant, Daniel Johnston, backed by the Hymns.
Where: Radio Room
What It Was Like: At moments, like understanding the man's talents. At others, like watching a pretty sloppy performer. Johnston opened his set with Hymns backing him, played two songs solo, then another couple with an acoustic guitarist behind him and then one or two more with Hymns back behind.
Verdict: Well, first and foremost, having never seen Johnston live before, I really wanted to catch him--and I'm glad I did. But I liked him best when backed by other musicians. When Johnston was alone on stage, his neuroses and his unpracticed playing were all too evident. Backed by Hymns and the other musician, his talents for writing extremely charming pop melodies are able to shine through. Truly great stuff.

Act: The Wrens, a piano-based, bombastic rock band of unassuming 30-somethings from New Jersey
Where: Radio Room
What It Was Like: OK, I'll be honest: The heat and the sun was starting to get to me at this point, so I stepped back a bit from this performance. But the crowd was really into it--and quite the crowd it was. Wrens fans showed up big at this day party. I'd barely heard of them before this.
Verdict: I really didn't get the big deal. It was straight-ahead rock, at times subdued, at other pretty raucous. The crowd being into it made it pretty cool--but as a sound goes, I just didn't get it today.

Act: Avett Brothers, bluegrass-based rockers from North Carolina--with maybe a little punk influence.
Where: Radio Room
What It Was Like: Well, a juxtaposition, for one thing. The Avett Brothers' music is rooted in the bluegras, country and folk realsm. But I'll be damned if the hipster-filled audience wasn't singing along to the lyrics...
Verdict: I'd never seen the Avett Brothers before. I own their last record, and I like it--but now I appreciate it more. It's much more gritty and party-like live, more shouted than sung, and just as catchy in its bluegrass arrangements of cowpunk-meets-traditional folk. But that might change in the near future, if the song the band played from it's upcoming record is any indication; "And It Spread" featured a much more prominent cello, a far more baroque sound and a little more bombacity. But it too was great.

Act: Passion Pit, a Boston-based, kinda-childish, falsetto-fronted electro-dance crew. And one of the bands on my SXSW must-see list.
Where: Radio Room
What It Was Like: Like a dance party, even with its subpar sound and technical difficulties. The audience didn't seem to mind, clapping and dancing along to the band's old and brand-new tracks, and laughing at frontman Michael Angelakos' quips and tales.
Verdict: Incredible. Granted, I went into this show expecting to come away impressed. I've been listening to Passion Pit's debut EP, Chunk of Change, pretty much on repeat for the past two months. The only question I had was if it would translate live. And although the band had some problem with the computer that piped in some of its sped-up samples and synth lines, the crowd didn't mind. Neither did I. The band's debut full-lenght, Manners, is on the most-anticipated records of '09 list in my mind.

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