Sunday, May 6, 2012

Photos/Review: Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Festival @ BAM (Caveman, My Brightest Diamond, Atlas Sound, Beirut)

Atlas Sound
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry (Day Three) @ BAM - May 5, 2012
Photos/Review: Chris

Aaron & Bryce Dessner's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry festival wrapped up on Saturday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for its third and final day, featuring performances by some of indie's most prominent and promising figures. The festival was organized in such a way that reminded my very much of ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror festival in Asbury Park last year, in that you could very easily find a great spot to watch acts within minutes of them taking the stage. Not to mention accessible food and drink stations throughout, and a very fan-friendly vibe.

The first act we caught was Brooklyn's Caveman, a band that I've heard a lot about recently but have heard very little of. Luckily, seeing them in BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House for the first time was probably the greatest introduction I could have had to the band. Featuring highly infectious beats, and lots and lots (and lots) of reverb, Caveman remind me of the best aspects of peers Bear in Heaven and Animal Collective, all the while having a very original, and most importantly, very live sound to them. It was difficult to not get caught in a trance watching them, with frontman Matthew Iwanusa pounding on a tom drum and bass player Jeff Berrall holding down some truly memorable bass lines. You can listen to Caveman's 2011 album Coco Beware on Spotify (we embedded it below as well).

Caveman @ Crossing Brooklyn Ferry 5/5/12
Next up was My Brightest Diamond, the project of Sufjan Stevens-collaborater Shara Worden. Walking into the theater and witnessing Worden dressed in her colorful over-the-top outfit, along with a huge set of orange balloons and a full band, you could've expected a performance similar to the celebratory nature of a Flaming Lips concert. Such was not the case for My Brightest Diamond. Without a doubt an emmensely talented performer, Worden's music is shrouded in dark themes -- not exactly the feel-good-time her stage might have suggested. But for whatever reason, I just had a hard time getting into the music, as intricately written and performed as it was. Her set was certainly something to be seen, but in the end, it didn't exactly make me want to run out and listen to more.

My Brightest Diamond @ Crossing Brooklyn Ferry 5/5/12
My Brightest Diamond
What I was really looking forward to was Atlas Sound's set, which was up next. Bradford Cox has for years been one of my favorite performers, and his solo albums as Atlas Sound along with his work with Deerhunter, are among some of the best records of the past decade. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect formation wise, but once we got down to the general admission area, just inches from the stage, we could see that the only objects were on there an acoustic guitar, an assortment of pedals, and a microphone. As soon as Cox appeared on stage and the lights dimmed, it became clear that the immersive nature of an Atlas Sound show in a massive opera house would be a very beautiful sight to behold.

Atlas Sound @ Crossing Brooklyn Ferry 5/5/12
Atlas Sound
I've seen Deerhunter at least three times live, and I caught an Atlas Sound performance at SXSW last year, but that was outside and during the day which is not the best way to experience his music. How one person can create such an atmospheric layer of sounds, and keep it startlingly cohesive, is something of a mystery. Cox played the first four songs of his set seamlessly without stopping or saying a word. He took his time building up familiar songs such as "Walkabout," "Sheila," and "Te Amo," looping his guitar riffs and knocking the body of his acoustic guitar to replicate a repetitious kick-drum. He would then loop his vocals to build up this airy dense layer of noise. Songs would ring out and then get sucked into a deafening silence, only to build up again, creating these intense moments where it felt like the universe would just about collapse. Luckily it didn't, but I might have been just as happy if it did after witnessing it. Atlas Sound was without a doubt the highlight of the evening.

After that, it was sort of hard to watch anything without comparing it to Bradford's set. I've also never been the hugest fan of Beirut--not that I'm not a fan, I've just never listened to a lot of them. So I won't even bother getting into a description of the set because I'm not exactly one to judge.

Beirut @ Crossing Brooklyn Ferry 5/5/12
What I will get into was how none of us were too happy at the "very special" guest appearance of Phi Slamma Jamma (aka members of Arcade Fire), which essentially killed the entire vibe Pat Mahoney and Nancy Whang had going up until 1am. After waiting in line for twenty minutes to make it up to the BAM Cafe, we arrived to an awesome dance party courtesy of the aforementioned DFA DJ's. Assuming this was supposed to have lasted until 3am (as advertised), it would have been a great way to end the night. But at 12:50am, Pat Mahoney announced that a special guest from Canada would be playing a surprise set, and that we should stick around afterwards because they would be back to DJ some more. Then, the music was abruptly shut off.

Pat Mahoney & Nancy Whang @ Crossing Brooklyn Ferry 5/5/12
Pat Mahoney & Nancy Whang
For the next half hour we stood around in silence as Phi Slamma Jamma setup and sound checked. We stuck around in confusion. I actually would have been totally fine with this had Arcade Fire(!!!) played a surprise set, but this wasn't Arcade Fire. This was Phi Slamma Jamma - a band made up of Arcade Fire members, who play cover songs, like "I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement" by The Ramones and "Run For Your Life" by The Beatles. They weren't bad, but is this really something that should have ended the night? An entire evening of original music played by overwhelmingly talented musicians, and then what amounted to a wedding band is what we're left to part with? According to Twitter, this was apparently the greatest thing on Earth -- back in reality at the BAM Cafe, people were leaving with sour looks on their faces.

Poor ending aside, the Crossing Brooklyn Ferry festival really was a well-executed concert, and I do hope to see it return next year. Maybe the surprise appearances can be scheduled a littler earlier in the evening?

Check out our coverage of the first day of the festival, albums from all the artists we saw play, and a set of photos of day three below...

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