VHS or Beta and Tigercity Shake Up Rochester

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VHS Or Beta
Bug Jar, Rochester, NY – 04.05.08
Filter Grade: 82%
It was time to dance and shake off the winter doldrums. Finally, the mounds of snow have melted away with spring encroaching upon us and VHS or Beta brought their touring mates, Tigercity, to shake up Rochester’s Bug Jar with some sweaty, pop, hooked-filled, dance-rock beats…at least that was supposed to happen. After two lackluster openers, Tigercity got the small club dancing and ready for the headliners, VHS or Beta. Yet, through miscommunications, the quintet was without instruments, so what is an electronic, rock band to do…go acoustic of course.

Tigercity proved to be sanctified as they resurrected the evening with their electro-rock, disco influenced tunes. The Brooklyn four piece, touring with VHS to promote their 6 track EP, Pretend Not to Love, unleashed their full EP as well as unreleased songs. Joel Ford (bass/vocals), Aynsley Powell (drums), and Andrew Brady (guitar) put on a flawless performance as Bill Gillim (lead singer) could not contain himself as he hypnotically moved about the stage while hitting those high notes. The tall, scruffy faced Gillim caught audience members by surprise when he managed his Gibbsian (as in Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb) high pitched, falsetto voice. The band shelled out the perfect compliment: catchy bass, spacey keyboards, drum loops and funky guitar; the spectators delightfully danced.

Gillim beckoned for the audience to move closer as he wanted to “crowd surf” of course, the quick one liner was indeed ironic as there were not enough bodies in the audience to carry a mid sized dog across the room. Nonetheless, the guys put on a great show for us few and chatted up the thickening crowd they were drawing from the bar. Tigercity managed to get the modest crowd moving with the fast favorite “Are You Sensation;” the quartet revved the crowd up for more dance tunes from VHS or Beta. Members of VHS were scattered about the venue, equally enjoying the tunes; yet, when it came time to perform, only lead singer Craig Pfunder and guitarist Mike McGill approached.

When one of the opening acts stated, “and later you’ll have a special acoustic performance by VHS or Beta,” I thought it was a harmless joke. Yet, as Pfunder stepped up on the platform and began setting up chairs, the harsh reality was now comprehended …VHS or Beta was indeed about to churn out an acoustic performance. However, worries were abated as Pfunder and McGill pulled off a sound performance, though quieter than preferred. Pfunder and McGill filled the void of missing instruments and band members by chatting with the crowd between each song. With guitars borrowed from other bands, it took the guys a few minutes to get the sound and mic just right, Pfunder modestly asked the crowd, “we’re VHS or Beta…so do you know who we are,” the crowd cheered a resounding yes.

As the lead singer again apologized for their missing equipment, which did not find its way to Rochester though they did, Pfunder looked at McGill, confirmed which song they were going to perform and began “Burn it All Down.” Mark Palgy (Bass) jumped on stage to film VHS’ first time ever, “and last” Pfunder added, acoustic show while Mark Guidry (drums) and Chea Beckley (keyboards) joined the audience. Pfunder still sounded flawless and sang fan favorites from their new release Bring on the Comets and their 2004 release Night on Fire. After finishing a song Pfunder asked for the time as someone shouted 1:36, he shared “we just have a time for a song or two,” to which the crowd lamented. “Unless you want us to go on,” Pfunder teased as an audience member responded “I can listen to you guys all night!”

Regardless of “technical” difficulties, VHS of Beta entertained the delighted and appreciative crowd who did not want Pfunder and McGill to leave the stage. They did pull off an excellent show regardless of their missing gear. I am still secretly pouting and kicking dirt like a school girl since I did not get to see the rocking show I anticipated, ‘tis the curse of living in a semi-small town, bet that wouldn’t have happened at Bowery Ballroom!

 

Ra Ra Riot in Rochester

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Bug Jar
Rochester, NY USA
March 3, 2008
Syracuse band Ra Ra Riot faced a tumultuous 2007 upon the unexpected death of their drummer John Pike (whom Riot refers to as their “lifelong inspiration”). Yet the sextet plowed forward, and within the same year released their self titled EP which proved to be an excellent mixture of well crafted songs balancing violin, cello, lighting fast drums, rhythmic guitar and punchy bass. Touring in support of the EP, Wesley Miles (keyboards, vocals), Milo Bonacci (guitar), Alexandra Lawn (cello, vocals), Mathieu Santos (bass), Rebecca Zeller (violin), and Cameron Wisch (drums) invaded Rochester for a night and stirred the crowd up to a riotous form (pun intended).

Monday night shows at the Bug Jar usually warrant a nearly empty venue that slowly fills to capacity by the time the headlining band takes the stage. However, Ra Ra Riot drew a thick crowd and the small club was teaming with Riot fans. Monday night is dance night at the Bug Jar, so the performing bands were on a tight schedule and had to move quickly through their set. After the opening acts were done, Riot weaved their way through the crowd, quickly set up their instruments, Miles greeted the audience and they leapt into the music.

Riot’s music is a mixture of fast, pulsating beats complemented by strings and Miles’ delicate, soft voice; think Sea Wolf meshed with Tokyo Police Club. Riot sounded amazing live, and they put on a loud and kinetic performance to yield an excited audience that sang and danced along to every song. Every song seemed to be the crowd’s favorites — fast tracks like “Each Year,” “Can You Tell,” “Everest,” and “A Manner to Act” in particular. Yet slower, quieter melodies such as “Suspended in Gaffa” were equally celebrated as the track beautifully allowed the cello and violin to reign.

Yet, when it was time to dance, Miles could barely stand still as he sang and jumped about to the music, and bassist Santos was equally energetic as he moved about. He and Miles often collided on the small stage, resulting in the bassist resting his head on the singer, who embraced his fellow band member. It’s difficult to tell who is having the most enjoyment at a Riot show, the audience or the band, as everyone on stage was beaming. Drummer Wisch had a smile on his face for most of the evening as he pounded away on his set and at times sent his cymbals flying away from him. One male audience member shouted, “I love the drummer,” which made Wisch momentarily raise an eyebrow as he waved to his unknown supporter. With time restraints working against the band, they thanked the audience for the warm reception after each track but immediately began their next song.

To the crowd’s delight, Riot played their entire EP and quite a few unreleased tracks yet the audience still hadn’t gotten enough. People cheered and shouted, “One more!” as some members were setting down their instruments and beginning to leave the stage. Miles shared a few words with Santos, turned to the mic and agreed to do one last song. Then Riot were officially done for the night. Ra Ra Riot proved to be a great live band where the EP does not do their music complete justice: the place to enjoy Riot’s music is… in concert!

Lo Fi Say Hi In Action

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With a recent modification to the original band name, Say Hi To Your Mom, Eric Elbogen bid farewell to the latter portion of his moniker and started 2008 anew. Since his last release, 2006’s Impeccable Blahs, Elbogen left the fair state of New York for Seattle, took a promo picture in a bunny suit, sung about the lovely girls in the Northwest and brewed a toasty new album, The Wishes and the Glitch. This recent fifth self released album (all of Elbogen’s releases have been released on his own label Euphobia) is garnering Say Hi praise for its more upbeat sounds and is capturing the ears of critics and fans alike. Out to promote Wishes, Elbogen has hit the road with drummer Westin Glass to invade a new state each night with his lo-fi sounds and quirky lyrics.

Primarily a one man band, the accompanying musicians change with each release and sometimes Elbogen travels solo, so it’s a mystery what the setup will be when you catch Say Hi on tour. Yet Elbogen was far from alone as he waited for his time to command the stage in the quite dank Soundlab. Bundled in sweatshirt and coat Elbogen relaxed while Glass occasionally stood and danced to some bad dance music (possibly to get the blood flowing to his legs, as no heat was circulating in the basement venue).

The opening act was a noise band who was not impressive for their sounds but for their choice to run clips of Twilight Zone as they played. However, the awe quickly abated when the clip proved to be approximately 6 minutes long and the same images looped for their full 30 minute set. Finally it was Say Hi’s turn and the crowd was also eager for the band to work their magic as they quickly gathered before the stage.

With Twilight Zone still screening in the background, Eric Elbogen set up his drum machine and looper, greeted the crowd, queued up the first track of the evening, “Zero to Love” from Wishes, and the rhythmic bass began pouring into the club. Performing mostly tracks from Wishes, Say Hi put on a solid performance, and after each song, Elbogen thanked the crowd then proceeded with the next song. He did not chat too often with the crowd but when he did, the mellow singer provided some laughs and the audience proved just as entertaining. When Elbogen asked how the music “tasted,” someone shouted “caliente,” to which he laughed and in a monotone voice responded, “Caliente indeed!”

Elbogen and Glass effortlessly leapt from one track to the next, from new tracks to oldies, and played crowd favorites. Among the songs performed were “Northwestern Girls,” “These Fangs,” “Zero to Love,” “Blah Blah Blah,” “Toil and Trouble,” “Back Before We Were Brittle,” plus a closing solo performance of “Let’s Talk About Spaceships.” The banter between Elbogen and the audience continued, people cheering after each track and shouting requests or praise. At one point someone demanded, “Tell us a story,” and Elbogen had to oblige.

He began telling the story of a die hard Say Hi fan who was eager to receive her Say Hi tote, the new design with robots on one side. Well, one fair evening, after a night of partying she felt nauseous while in the back of a taxi and had to… well you can guess what—right in the tote bag. As Elbogen closed his story with, “My soul was in that tote bag,” someone shouted, “Your soul was in a tote bag, that’s a silly place to leave it!” Elbogen laughed as suddenly a girl in the back of the room yelled, “Sorry!” It turned out that Say Hi’s merchandise purveyor was the guilty party. After some more laughs Elbogen and Glass played the last songs of the evening and closed before a delighted audience.

Don’t let the mellow sounds of Say Hi fool you into thinking that an equally “mellow” live performance will be in store. The mixture of electro beats, simple yet catchy sequences and hypnotic drumming combined with Elbogen’s tongue in cheek lyrics (who else signs about meeting a girl in the Laundromat and commenting that her “soap technique is pretty ill”?) and

Yeasayer Made the Night!

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Yeasayer
Bug Jar – 09.13.07
Filter Grade: 89%

After hearing Yeasayer’s single “2080” on the radio I wondered if a trip to local venue would be a worthy one. Standing in front of the stage and witnessing the guys complete just one song, the Brooklyn quartet shattered any qualms I had, the guys put on a passionate filled show that left not only me desiring to hear more when their short set was over.

Their sound is a fusion of many influences: electronica, soul, rock, psychedelic, reggae, and world; even the word gospel has been used to describe Yeasayer’s music. Regardless of the fact that one may find it difficult to place a label upon their sound due to its uniqueness, a fact that I appreciate, Yeasayer’s songs are captivating as was their live performance. Brimming with heavy bass, sound effects, an ethereal guitar and choppy drums, it’s hard not to enjoy their tunes.

Touring to promote their unreleased self-titled debut (due in late October) guitarist Anand Wilder, lead singer/keyboardist Chris Keating, bassist Ira Wolf Tuton, and drummer Luke Fasano began their month long tour with this show at the Bug Jar. The opening act introduced Yeasayer as Yeah-sayer when a member from the audience corrected him. As he contemplated the name and praised its ingenuity Keating yelled from the back of the crowd, “the name sucks” which made his band members have a good laugh. Once on stage themselves, Keating joked with the crowd that since we were witnesses to their first show of this tour, we may hear them “screw up” songs, “by Rhode Island we’ll sound great.” “Come to that show” another member joked. With my untrained ears, I certainly did not hear any flaws, and was marveled by the intensity and enthusiasm with which they played every song.

Unfortunately, the venue had an event after the live music so each band was allotted a short set of five to six songs. “Final Path,” “Sunrise” and new songs made the cut when suddenly a deep voice came over the speakers and said, one more song. Definitely not the voice of God, the sound tech reminded Yeasayer of the time so the guys closed with “2080.” With the song’s great chant along moments, it is easily my favorite. Yet, the show came to an end a little too soon for several people and as Yeasayer began to put down their instruments the crowd that gathered from the bar began yelling “encore…one more song!” As much as they wanted to oblige the crowd, Yeasayer had to end their set and quickly remove their instruments. “I wish we could,” Keating apologetically said to the crowd, “you’re going to have to come to Alfred University.” “I bet you’d play more for Alfred,” a disheartened listener said under her breath…can’t please them all I guess.

A unique band with an equally distinctive name, Yeasayer stole the show. I hope Yeasayer plans on spending more time away from their day jobs and continue touring, I’ve got to see them again.