Live Review: Friction, Mercury Lounge 2/21

review by Sheryl Witlen
photos by Nghia@Friction

Friction NYC is a New York City based music and culture site that curates and highlights NYC’s indie music scene, visiting acts, and DJs. Every month, the Friction showcase features new, upcoming or just really good bands. On February 21, Friction featured The Big Sleep with Sian Alice Group, Priestbird, and Heavy Creatures at Mercury Lounge.

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Heavy Creatures are sure to cause quite a stir and hopefully sometime soon. Borrowing from the 60’s female rock artists that they so admire, and yet making it their own in a way that is both fun and infectious, lead singers Kelley Vaughn (vocals and guitar) and Sarah Blust (keyboard, vocals and percussion) made those who had arrived early swoon and sway to their sultry collaborative whispers. These two have a cunning ability to maintain their sensual and strong female presence while playing their instruments with finesse and grace. Unlike many female artists who display their music makers as cumbersome companions, Kelley and Sarah connect to their instruments as an extension of themselves and their voices. Patrick Kauffman on drums and Christopher Peifer might seem to slip into the shadows behind such a strong female showing if it weren’t for the overwhelming collective family feeling these four create. Through frequent tempo changes, they challenge their audience while insistently commanding their attention at the same time. Fans can look forward to seeing them as more of a presence on the music scene this year.
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I was curious to check out Priestbird, the newly revamped and recharged version of their former band, Tarantula A.D.. Saunder Jurriaans (double neck guitar and bass, sarod, vocals), Gregory Rogove (drums, piano, flute, organ, vocals) and Danny Bensi (violin, cello, piano, guitar, bass, organ, banjo, vocals) spent the better part of the last year recording in Mexico. The hot air and dry conditions left a lasting impression on their music and their performance. They play gritty rock and roll that is harsh, fast, and forcefully ambitious. Their lyrics, sparse and direct, loop around the melodies creating a steamy and deafening atmosphere. Sweating and wailing, Saunder, Danny, and Gregory hurl their collective energies upon their instruments with such force it would cause even the most doubtful of rock and roll fans to blush with excitement. Priestbird brilliantly embodies true rock while knocking down any doubts people might have had regarding the band’s new project. Channeling their inner guitar gods, these three know how to kick aside any pretension or fatigue and rock a room as loud as our city ordinances allow them to go. Everyone in attendance seemed happy to join in for the ride.
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On stage, the eight members of Sian Alice Group must have felt a bit at home even while they were far from London that night. Following a local band is never easy for any young band, but the tidy lot were welcomed immediately by an audience peppered with British speaking kin. Those hip to their sound happily chattered in the minutes before the young band’s set and passed along stories of past shows from across the Pond and key songs to listen for. Within seconds of Sian Alice Groups’ five song-set, it was easy to understand the pre-show electric buzz. Sian Alice Group is not your normal eight-piece indie band ensemble. While channeling Mazzy Star and The Doors, they meld trance-like electronic themes with sparse, brazen percussion that supports the tender vocals from Sian Ahern. The showcase for Ahern’s talented lilt and my favorite song of the evening was “Way Down To Heaven.” Sian coos delicately and thrashes about with delight as the song quickly gathers speed and churns with angst and violence. Rupert Clervaux, Ben Crook, Sasha Vine, Douglas Hart, Andy Ingle, Eben Bull and John Webster Johns converge around the tiny songstress forcing their collective sound out into the evening and accosting the audience with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. Bewitching is the term that comes to mind as you listen to their frosty set. Nary a look was cast in the audiences’ direction as they unveiled each song, flowing seamlessly into the next number on their set list. As they were the third band of the night, it was easy to conclude that this months’ Friction showcase was crafted perfectly, with each band building upon the obscure emotional elements before them all leading up to the most austere of them all, The Big Sleep.
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This was my tenth time seeing The Big Sleep from their support performances at various venues throughout the city, all of which have created buzz behind their sophomore release. But this performance — the whole evening was their billed as their record release show, by the way — was their strongest to date. Their new material is crisp and innovative. These three band members — Sonya Balchandani (bass, vocals), Danny Barria (guitar, keyboards), and Gabe Rhodes (drums) — have melded together to create such a succinct unit on stage, as though they could play together with their eyes closed. Each song was blasted to perfection with looped riffs and fuzzy electronic clips and clicks all flirting in time with Sonya’s ethereal voice. The most enjoyable aspect of their live show is Sonya’s stage presence: teetering on the edge of the stage, she quickly casts aside any inhibitions and thrusts herself into her music and performance. Her voice and the serene expression she maintains convey enough depth and emotion to stun the audience on impact. It is has been quite the treat to watch this band from the beginning since they seem destined to push their performances and sound to the extreme. Attacking their pulsating instruments in turn producing bruised bluesy rock, the band remains sultry and loud in all the right places. Take note, The Big Sleep have arrived.
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FRICTION is back at the Mercury Lounge on March 26th with Crystal Castles, HEALTH, Team Robespierre, and Apache Beat.

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 16, 2008 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    What an incredible inclusion of different instruments re Saunder Jurriaans especially the Sarod, traditionally used in Indian classical music.

    More power to to Priestbird.

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