Family is the new crystal. Wednesday was Family Portrait. Last night, 12/2, was Family Band. It's hard to put your finger on the vibe projected by Family Band. (They sound nothing like Family Portrait, for the record.) Their performance is characterized by a strange kind of understated intensity, which makes sense for a Brooklyn-based band that retreats to the Catskills to write songs.
Family Band kicked off the evening with a slow, melodic song, but as their set progressed and the room began to fill up, they gradually incoporated heavier, attention-grabbing arrangements to the atmospheric mix. Flanked by her three band mates, each dressed in white from head-to-toe, vocalist/guitarist Kim Krans stood out in her flowing, solid black outfit. Krans has the kind of soul-satisfying, world-weary voice characteristic of fabled singer/songwriters of fading generations. As the energy both on stage and in the room picked up, Krans' voice began to get overshadowed by the moans of the lap steel, but she quickly pulled the mic in closer, cooling retaining complete control over the situation. During the quieter portions of the songs, Jonny Ollsin (also on guitar) periodically walked over to the side of the stage, perched on top of a speaker, and sang along - off mic - in the shadows.
Though their interactions with the crowd were limited, their reservation increased the intensity of the performance and helped shroud them in an alluring air of mystery. Going into the show, I knew very little about Family Band, but their performance was deeply satisfying. At least there was one reward for arriving early.
Next up was the ironically titled artist, Rewards. Rewards is the relatively new project of Aaron Pfenning (formerly of Chairlift), but on stage he has help from three other musicians, including Lightspeed Champion's Dev Hynes. Rewards got off to a rough start. In the first song, there was a technical problem with the vocals. Pfenning quickly dashed over to the sound guy mid song, leaving his backing band to filibuster. After some difficulties, Pfenning's vocals temporarily came through speakers in unnaturally high octaves thanks to the fix.
Throughout the set, Pfenning made feeble (but humorous) attempts to engage the audience. "Hey did you just wink at me?" He asked one lucky audience member as he swaggered to the front of the stage. Family Band may have kept to themselves, but Pfenning seemed to be looking for any and every excuse to engage the crowd, often responding to random comments or even gestures.
Of course, there were also more promising moments - like when the Hynes and Pfenning traded off vocal duties. But for the most part, Pfenning's overwrought fervor threatened to turn the performance into performance art. In one final plea for attention during the last song, Pfenning walked to the front of the stage and leaned in inches from BV photographer Jessica Amaya's camera. (Is this the part where she's supposed to swoon?)
When Warpaint finally came to the stage to deliver us, it was nearly 11:30, and the crowd was eager. "How are you all doing?" guitarist/vocalist Emily Kokal asked the crowd. With the small talk covered, drummer Stella Mozgawa enthusiastically counted off for their opening song, "Bees." Though not particularly dance-y, many audience members greeted the band with surprisingly enthusiastic dancing from the opening bars. Kokal joined in on the action any time she could part with her guitar, and her frenzied movements were just as compelling as her vocals. Warpaint is fortunate enough to have two talented singers with distinct but complimentary voices.
Though the line-up of the band has changed some over the past few years, they seem to have struck the right balance with their most recent addition - Stella Mozgawa on drums. Warpaint's set-up on stage may be a bit unconventional - its two chief vocalists stand on opposite sides of the stage, leaving bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg to constantly roam around in the middle. But if the band lacks a central focal point, it's only because each of its members is positively magnetic.
After powering through much of their set (including the moody and mesmerizing "Undertow," which is more than vaguely reminiscent of Nirvana's "Polly"), Warpaint momentarily slowed things slowed down with "Majesty," but soon the kids were dancing once again. After hearing just seven songs, it was kind of a shock to get the last-song warning, but the band rewarded those who stayed with a two-song encore.
Warpaint and Rewards also played The Studio at Webster Hall one night earlier. More pictures from the MHOW show, with Warpaint's setlist, below...
Set Your Arms Down