Tag Archives: Central Park SummerStage

She and Him and A Packed House at Central Park Summerstage

9 Jul
Photo: Dana Yavin

Photo: Dana Yavin

A quick glance at the sold-out crowd at Central Park Summerstage during last Saturday’s scorcher might have suggested something ranging from slightly eerie to downright strange – there was a sea of smiling Zooey Deschanel’s baking in the New York City sun. Draped in diaphanous sun dresses, hair adornments, and soft makeup, a quirky army of fans sat on the faux green lawn of Summerstage and dined on Asiadogs and craft beer through Camera Obscura’s upbeat opening set. And then, as the sun started setting over the skyscrapers in the distance, the one and only new girl fluttered out on stage with her rock partner in crime, M. Ward, and sang “I Was Made for You” to the true sold out crowd of cute impersonators.

Let’s back up a second to answer the immediate question sparked by this opening passage. Zooey Deschanel sings? Most know the rising star from “500 Days of Summer,” “Elf,” or the hit Fox show “New Girl,” but she is also an accomplished Jazz singer with a penchant for keyboards, percussion, banjo and ukulele.

After meeting on the set of the 2007 movie “The Go-Getter,” Deschanel and M. Ward, an accomplished Indie/Folk/Rock singer-songwriter, formed a collaboration that has since released four studio albums, the most recent released in May of this year.

The skill of both musicians was apparent during the sweltering show at Summerstage. Why am I belaboring the heat? It was HOT. Hot, humid, sticky, sweaty, and sunny. But, despite the heat – both generated from the sun and by the close grouping of attendees – the 28-song set captured the ears of the concert goers, and the vast majority of listeners were hanging on every note played by She & Him’s talented band.

I was most stricken with two elements of the show. It is no surprise that Deschanel can attract an audience – she is an actress – so the large crowd of wild-eyed lookalikes was expected, but her proficiency with the vast instrumentation on stage was intriguing. M. Ward and she swapped instruments and bounced around the stage effervescently. The extensive set list mixed She & Him originals with classics like “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Stars Fell on Alabama.” Deschanel and her backup singer duo The Chapin Sisters also performed an airy cover of “Unchained Melody.” During the encore M. Ward rocked a cover of “Roll Over Beethoven” and Deschanel and M. Ward closed the show with a sultry version of “I Put a Spell on You.”

Overall, despite the grueling heat, She & Him and Camera Obscura were pretty darn cool. I was impressed by the talent that oozed from She & Him, and considering the engagement of the audience, I think a full crowd at Summerstage agreed with that sentiment.

An Airborne Toxic Orchestra Event – Summerstage 2013

22 Jun

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It was around halfway through the show when Airborne Toxic Event lead singer Mikel Jollett joked with the crowd that he may mess up “Dublin,” a new song he had only played a few times live. But as he plucked the first few acoustic notes of the piece, the sky painted on the horizon transformed from a dense gray to a palette of pink that penetrated the skyscrapers and accentuated the rich music. The halcyon scene demonstrated the model of an outdoor concert. But, the weather doesn’t always respond.

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As the above picture suggests, when we arrived to Central Park Summerstage, the weather was less than ideal. A persistent sprinkle fell on umbrellas and Summerstage ponchos. The Calder Quartet, a LA-based string quartet that has become an Airborne Toxic Event staple, opened, and, for the most part, drove the rain away.

Ensemble LPR, an assemblage of the finest New York-based concert musicians, joined The Calder Quartet on stage after the Quartet’s opening act. If one stumbled into Summerstage – which was quite possible considering that the concert was free (thanks to the generous City Parks Foundation), he/she might have assumed the crowd had gathered for a classical orchestra. And that was one of the most gripping parts of the show. It was just not your typical rock show.

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But, to be honest, I don’t believe anyone in the audience was expecting a typical rock show, because Airborne Toxic Event does not put on a typical rock show. The energy and skill demonstrated by the band is striking. It is not just music; it is art. Instead of simply creating catchy alt/rock pieces, Airborne Toxic Event prefers to script a scene (much like the inspiration for the band’s name, Don DeLillo), and this ability sets the band apart from others.

Perhaps the greatest indication of this individuality was the crowd at the show. Lining the front row barrier behind the photo pit was a wide array of ages, and, most surprisingly, everyone knew the words to each song. These were Airborne Toxic Event diehards, and, unlike with most bands, I couldn’t typify the standard Airborne Toxic Event fan. This evinces the diversity of the band and explains its growing audience.

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The crowded stage of talented musicians produced a full orchestra sound that elevated the show. It is clear that Airborne Toxic Event is not a band; it’s a symphony, a full on powerhouse that combines the potency of a full orchestra with a traditional genre and bends it. The resulting amalgamation is music that could only have been created by the mind of true artists!

This was best portrayed by the performance of “Sometime Around Midnight,” one of my favorite Airborne Toxic Event songs because of its sheer ardor. Not only did the orchestra carry the crescendo, but also most individuals in the audience knew the lyrics and emphatically sang along. It was electric.

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Airborne Toxic Event concluded the encore with a jam-packed version of “Missy” that featured teasers from American classics, “Ring of Fire,” “Born in the USA,” and “American Girl.”

Overall, while wet at times, Airborne Toxic Event put together a tremendous show, packed with oodles of impressive sound, and much credit to the Calder Quartet and Ensemble LPR who helped carry the show with precision and fervor. Throughout the show lead singer Mikel Jollett effusively thanked the crowd for joining the band at Summerstage, and the band’s humility was refreshing, but considering the tremendous entertainment that the band provided, it was the crowd that thanked the band for one of best free concerts I’ve been a part of – rain or no rain. As Jollett said in his introduction, “f*ck it, it’s Central Park!”

Check out the Summerstage schedule.

Airborne Toxic Event – Summerstage Preview

10 Jun

Airborne Toxic Event

There are many reasons to like Airborne Toxic Event. As I have written in the past, the band plays an infectious alt/rock style that pulls influences from the 80s and mixes these influences with theatrical vocals and riffs. This amalgamation creates an intriguing aura of orchestral sound that echoes and pulses.

The music is also “smart” rock. It’s a neoteric genre. Let’s be honest; a lot of music today is, well, nescient – intellectually dumbed down for an audience that just wants to hear a consistent beat. That is not to say that the producers and creators of the music are unintelligent – they are simply playing to what will make money. But Airborne Toxic Event is different. The band is made up of uber-talented musicians who understand how to mix “smart” rock with infectious rhythms.

I initially became interested in the band because of lead vocalist Mikel Jollett. Jollett, a fiction and freelance writer, began seriously writing songs after a string of moribund events in his life. He named the band after a tremendous section of my favorite Don DeLillo book “White Noise.” The life-altering events that engendered the band’s creation are similar to “The Airborne Toxic Event” portrayed in DeLillo’s masterpiece. Thus, as a writer, Jollett’s lyrics are laden with symbolism and passion.

The Airborne Toxic Event, fresh off the release of its new album Such Hot Blood, will join a large Summerstage crowd in Central Park (5th Avenue and 72nd Street entrance) on June 18. Best of all – the concert is FREE. Yes, free as in no money. The band will be joined by The Calder Quartet, a LA-based string quartet, who have been called “outstanding” and “superb” by the New York Times. So, yeah, free Airborne Toxic Event show with The Calder Quartet in Central Park – you should probably come.

“The Fifth Day” is one of my favorite songs off of the new album. The song features one of my favorite Airborne Toxic Event elements. The music is almost subtle. While you can drown in the elaborate instrumentals and production, the music progressively rises and falls like waves before ultimately crescendoing. In this case, the music perfectly matches the melancholic lyric.

Check out more about the Airborne Toxic Event and don’t forget to keep track of the diverse Summerstage schedule!

The Top 3 Concerts at Summerstage 2013

22 Apr

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While the cold air continues to linger over New York, one of the first signs of summer presented itself in the form of an e-mail this afternoon. The 2013 Summerstage calendar has been released. Summerstage, a product of the NYC City Parks Foundation, is a uniquely New York. From June 4 – August 29, Summerstage provides over 100 free music, dance, film, comedy, family and theater programs in 17 parks across all five boroughs of NYC. It is an ubiquitous city-wide arts fest and all are invited. The schedule, like in year’s past, is packed with several savory events, including a few premier cost events – like the ones I will discuss in today’s post.

While I urge you to check out the Schedule when you have an opportunity, I am going to preview three events I am most excited about, all occurring at the 69th St. & 5th Ave, Central Park location.

3.) Bobby McFerrin – Tuesday, August 20th at 7:00pm EDT

No, this famous song of sincere contentment was not created by Bob Marley. The song was released seven years after Marley’s death, and, last time I checked, Marley is not 2Pac. “Don’t Worry Be Happy” is the wise advice of Bobby McFerrin, and, in some form of twisted irony, this simple ditty of humorous happiness that is clearly his most known work suffers from authorship mistakes and does not do McFerrin justice. McFerrin is a tremendously talented musicians with a perspicacious musicality that shines through everything he creates. Although I am still trying to figure out the “Don’t Worry Be Happy” video that truly marks the song as one of the weirdest pieces to ever hit the top spot on the charts, I’m sure McFerrin will put on a very “happy” show in August.

2.) The Zombies/Django Django/Adam Green and Binki Shapiro/DJ Modest P – Saturday, June 15th at 3:00pm EDT

Wow. This is an eclectic mix of old/new musicians. The Zombies released Odessey and Oracle in 1968, and those who have listened to it can attest to it being one of the better rock albums of the 1960s. The band combined pop/rock with prog/psych to establish an intriguing blend of 60s genres. I saw them at a previous Hippiefest, and they were quite good.

Django Django released their self-titled debut in 2012, and it’s combination of electronic rock and indie influences is upbeat and poppy with Franz Ferdinand influences. Heck, there is even some embedded 60s pop in the music. Take a listen to “Hail Bop” below. Enjoy the odd video.

Of what I know about the other two performers, Adam Green and Binki Shapiro are folk/pop artists with a pull towards the 60s and DJ Modest P is a skilled New York spinner known for his long time Saturday night residency at the legendary East Village club Nublu. I’m interested to hear what kind of show this will be.

1.) Airborne Toxic Event – Tuesday, June 18th at 7:00pm EDT

I have had an itch to see the Airborne Toxic Event for quite a while. The Californian Indie Rock band – with a name alluding to my favorite Don DeLillo novel – saw well-deserved success with the release of their sophomore album, All At Once, and, by the time this concert rolls around, will be supporting their third release, Such Hot Blood, set for release in late April. Quite simply, this will be an awesome show. Perfect band for the Summerstage.

Those are my top three. Feel free to check out the schedule (above), and you can follow Summerstage on Facebook or Twitter

 

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