The concert booking agency Ground Control Touring has reached its 15th Anniversary. They decided to put on an epic show in celebration of their bountiful pubescence with so many of the music stars of the alternative scene that they have supported over the last decade and a half and threw it all in at one of Manhattan’s oldest event halls by the name of Webster Hall, who, for the first time in my time in NYC, has opened all of it’s doors and utilized all three of their quality stages for one singular marathon music event. It was a huge sell-out for the venue, so the crowds were heavy and navigation between floors and stages was tight, and with so many bands the sets were short (still a standard 20-30 minute long festival set time), but according to security it went surprisingly smoothly and for a real rock obsessive it was well worth the squeeze and sweat.
First, on the main Grand Ballroom stage, we caught the last part of the set by the Philly outfit Hop Along, who did just release of the better albums of 2015 called Painted Shut with a distinctive sound that ironically feels like a time-warp back to the late 90’s somewhere between Sleater-Kinney and Camera Obscura. Next up was fellow Philly-mates (via Alabama) Waxahatchee, and their sound comes from a much more earthy and natural flow as Katie Crutchfield astounds as an fascinating frontwoman and their set proved to me as one of my major fresh live exposures of the night. Then, down in the basement spot of the Studio stage, was the band Frankie Cosmos, who is the folksy long-time project of Greta Kline, the now 21-year old daughter of the actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. Her softly eerie deadpan voice can certainly take a little-girl-lost kind of song and make it quite weirdly enchanting. Following that, one floor up in the Marlin Room, was a far more matured ethereal vocal presence in the form of former Sonic Youth guitarist and vocalist Lee Ranaldo, who, while seated on a simple stool in the middle of the stage with a bare acoustic guitar, played a number of new solo tracks (some yet to be recorded apparently) with sadly no SY songs, but he did surprise Joni Mitchell cover of “Circle Game” at the end of a rather soothing folksy mid-show desert to a massive meal of nocturnal rock gorging.
Then, it was back up to the Grand Ballroom for the always-weird and wild Kurt Vile, who started super late as he fussed over the stage setup and seemed generally discombobulated and disoriented even after he started playing. Even though he didn’t sound at the top of his game at first, the crowd was flabbergasted when after a brief somber solo acoustic number, he brought out his full band as well as another Sonic Youth alumni Kim Gordon as well as Steven Gunn (who was also playing this night) for a lengthy version of the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” that took up almost all of the rest of the set. Meanwhile, down in the Marlin Room the sweetness and moodiness was ripening even further with a newer obsession of mine by the name, whose new album Sprinter should have been on my years’ top ten list (writer kicks himself). Frontwoman Mackenzie Scott has been blending deeply scarred lyrics and haunting melodies for several years now, but for me it recently started clicking after having seen her and her band play a couple times, and she really feels to me like an eerie mix of PJ Harvey and Neko Case, which is definitely a recipe for me melting into a blissful puddle. Then, the crowd in a now extremely packed and baking hot Studio room were being mesmerized by an extremely raw and stripped down set by Titus Andronicus and the distinctively wailing and warbling voice and guitar of Patrick Stickles.
It was the fantastic modern shoegazing gurus Beach Fossils in the Marlin room that got things really cooking again for me though. With their distinctively dreamy spin and echoing harmony, they cranked out one of the best sets I saw all night. Longtime indie rock heavyweights Superchunk did not disappoint me either on the main stage either, cranking a high-volume and adrenaline-packed set that went at least as far back as “Skip Steps 1 & 3” from their second 1991 album and even had their own greying stage-crasher for the closer of “Precision Auto” that had to be pulled off the stage by security. There was noticeable absence from the stage though, and it was their super-cute bassist Laura Balance, who I didn’t know at the time, had developed some serious health problems recently and couldn’t come out on the road this time. I did recognize the replacement however, and it was veteran bassist Jason Narducy , best known for his charging work with the Bob Mould Band, Verboten, and the Robert Pollard band.
Keeping with the cresting adrenaline wave of the night, I next got to catch one of my all-time favorite stage-decimating bands, the NJ rock trio Screaming Females, who never have disappointed to melt the faces of everyone at every show I’ve seen them play. Frontwoman and guitarist Marissa Paternoster should be immortalized as one of today’s most amazing female rock figures hands down with her distinctive booming voice, shredding guitar solos, and off-the-hook stage presences in music today. Finishing up the night, we went back up to the Marlin room to experience some more big surprises as Brooklyn’s own expansive psychedelic popsters called Woods had Kurt Vile guesting in on guitar and were killin’ an epic Neil Young cover of “Barstool Blues.” We hunkered down for an ensuing set from another Brooklyn fav by the name of Parquet Courts, whose sprawling and trippy sound is always worth catching live, but we were all in for one of the biggest surprise treats of the night. I somehow knew that I’d hear some Sonic Youth sometime in the night, although with Kim and Lee both showing up separately through the night, I thought there may be some mini SY reunion, but instead, Lee Ranaldo actually hijacked Parquet Courts set, and together they blazed through a couple Lee-fronted Sonic Youth classics, “Mute” and “Eric’s Trip,” both of which went into very heavy Sonic jams that unsurprisingly took up the entire set, although they may have actually been able to fit in even more if Parquet’s frontman/guitarist Andrew Savage hadn’t broken a string mid-song, but his speed in changing it was impressive, and it felt like the song would have jammed out just as long regardless. There were some bands I would have liked to have seen like Speedy Ortiz and Perfect Pussy, but with a stacked mind-blowing line-up like this, you can never see it all, and the night’s surprises made it all even more worth the while and entirely EPIC!
Article: Dean Keim