My summer of jetting across the country for concerts came to an end last Friday. [I suppose since it started in April with The Whip and is ending in late October, "summer" is perhaps not the best word to use.] Anyways, of all the shows I went to this year, as it approached I realized that the School of Seven Bells show was the one I was anticipating the most.
First, though, there were three other bands to get through. As part of the CMJ festival, the bill was pretty loaded with two bigger names and two lesser known acts. First: the Depreciation Guild. As far as opening acts go, they were quite good and I rather enjoyed their set. They made sense sharing a bill with SVIIB - the trio created an impressive 2 guitar / 1 drum kit wall of sound with a simple but captivating back drop of solid color squares that constantly changed shapes and sizes. [As my friend James pointed out, think the PSB 'Yes' theme and you're there.] Definitely one to investigate - and look, there are tracks streaming on last.fm.]
Next up was Phantogram, a boy/girl duo with he on guitar and her on bank of keyboards. [It was interesting to notice that of the four bands, only The Depreciation Guild employed a drum kit. Fantastic.] I wasn't quite as taken with Phantogram, though I can't say exactly why. Perhaps further investigation is needed, I'm not sure. Regardless, I found them to be the weak link of the evening, though on their own merits not bad. [Side note: they told us they were from Saratoga Springs. I didn't think anything was from Saratoga Springs. Interesting.]
Third, The xx. I quite enjoy their album and was excited to hear that they had joined the bill after I bought tickets as I now got to see two acts I wanted to see in one go. However, I was skeptical as to how they could carry off a live show - and my concerns were valid. Taking the stage with all four members lined up across the front, they went through the album pretty much note for note, changing only the order of a few songs and throwing in a cover of Womack & Womack's "Teardrops" for good measure. [I totally had to look it up.] It was very enjoyable, don't get me wrong, but you might as well have stayed home and blasted the album on shuffle. That said, they came across as very nice and genuinely appreciative and good for them for being the unofficial stars of CMJ. [Apparently they played every night and even had another set in Tribeca after their set at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. It's also a safe bet that they were the reason the show ended up selling out as the place was packed to the rafters when they took the stage yet was less than half full for School of Seven Bells.] One thing that both James and I got a kick out of was watching the...well, here's where you'd usually say "drummer", but he wasn't actually drumming. The electronic percussionist, I suppose. It would have been very easy to pre-program all the beats for the show, however he was playing them live and keeping impressively solid time even in some of the more intricate passages. So I guess you couldn't have gotten the whole experience at home, though I don't think I'll be rushing out to see them again any time soon.
Finally, 11:45 rolls around and School of Seven Bells take the stage. [Maybe I'm getting old, but christ that was late.] Full disclosure - over the course of the year, 'Alpinisms' has grown from an album that I quite enjoy to one of my absolute favorite albums of the decade. Such a gorgeous, wonderful piece of music. I had heard nothing but absolute raves about their live show from friends who, admittedly, are just as obsessed as I if not more, so my expectations were high. Outside of a pair of setlist misses - no "Prince of Peace" [not surprising] or "Face to Face on High Places" [kind of shocking, actually] - they delivered on every level. My friend Joe put it - the songs come across as a little more aggressive in the live show, and that is spot on. They opened the set with a stunning version of "My Cabal" and then led us through most of the rest of 'Alpinisms' with a trio of new songs mixed in. The new material is amazing - on one listen, I'd say the aggressive tag applies to them most of all but still very much keeping true to their sound. "Chain" was an absolute monster live, as was the usually pretty-but-perhaps-a-bit-long "Sempiternal/Amaranth", which closed the night. [I suppose technically it was the encore, however they only left stage for maybe a minute, returning before the feedback squall ending of "Half Asleep" had fully faded out so I don't think it really counts.] The biggest surprise of the night for me was "White Elephant Coat", which on the album that seems to be missing something but truly came alive in the live setting.
I hope they're not gone too long, as I need new material and the opportunity to see them live again ASAP.
The xx -
Heart Skipped A Beat
School of Seven Bells -
White Elephant Coat
Wired For Light
Some YouTube videos from the night [not mine]:
The xx - Shelter:
[You can also find I believe their full set at the Tribeca Grand from later in the evening on YouTube.]
School of Seven Bells - My Cabal: