The Northside Music and Innovation Festival kicked off its music schedule on Thursday night. June 7th. It may have seemed like any early Thursday evening in Williamsburg, with residents and outsiders pouring out of the subway, filling up the seemingly ever-increasing collection of restaurants and bars, and the streets filled with New Yorkers ready to start the weekend a bit early. But walking down Wythe Street at 7:30 pm, a long line had formed in front of and around the corner of National Sawdust (in preparation for what might be called the night’s headliners – Soccer Mommy and Liz Phair), and there were more than a few lost souls wandering around trying to figure it all out. Reasonable given that 94 bands in 25 different venues were about to hit local stages that night.
The first scheduled band was NIXON MASK at Wonders of Nature, a sweet little fringe arts storefront nestled on Grand Street. A dozen or so people were in the audience, mostly friends of NIXON MASK or the bands that followed. Anchored by strummy guitars and the deep voice of Brendan Smith, this quartet delivered a fine 40-minute set. A few songs in, a guitar string broke, and a guy in the audience and member of an upcoming band, jumped to the back room and offered up his own guitar. When Smith asked if they could play a new song, the bartender responded “You gotta get signed!” They ended with a long psychedelic intro to their final song and then jumped off the stage saying “we have to go play another show in 45 minutes.” And indeed they did, being one of four bands playing Muchmore’s a dozen blocks away. The crowd had doubled by the time Alex Rose hit the stage. Playing solo, this singer-songwriter looped to bring in a fuller sound, and her clear voice whispered or sang out her personal lyrics. It was interesting to watch her build her songs, but I would have preferred some backing musicians.
Next up were three bands at The Knitting Factory; the diversity of this line up gives you an idea of the Northside offerings that range from all strains of rock to pop, hip-hop, electronica, R&B, and DJs. Australian indie pop The Goon Sax were first and well received. Following them was dreamy pop-rock Shana Falana on guitar and vocals with a full set of pedals and a drummer. With just two members, they produced a big sound through reverb, live looping and pedals, that often had some edge to it. But the incongruence of the music to Falana’s strumming hands was a bit much, I had to just watch the back drop images; I’d be content to listen to their recordings. She must have read my mind, because her final song was just her on stage with her strong voice and guitar. The closer of the night, Lou Barlow, was more my speed and clearly who the crowd had come to see, with a full house of men singing along to most songs and yelling out requests. Barlow, formerly of Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh, performed acoustically on guitar and ukulele. He started with “Set Me Free” (Tammy Wynette) to “warm up” and continued with a mix from his past bands and solo career including “Soul and Fire”, “Love Is”, “Magnet’s Coil” and “Anniversary Song”.
Gone this year were the large outdoor concerts in McCarren Park, but the mainstay of the Festival – the music showcases preceded by three days of panels on innovation – is Brooklyn’s take on SxSW. For two more afternoons and evenings and into the wee hours of Sunday morning, thirty-four venues rocked with a total of over 360 bands, a few playing multiple sets.
Photos by Nancy Lasher
Sunday brought a stripped down (due presumably to the L train reconstruction) Northside Block Party along north Williamsburg’s commercial corridor, Bedford Avenue, with a few sculptures, some participatory art, vendors and a small stage featuring BODEGA, Casey Benjamin, Samia and WESLEE. 5 member post punk BODEGA hit the stage first with a great set ending with a 10 minute drum-heavy version of “Truth is Not Punishment” from their upcoming debut CD Endless Scroll. Northside exists to discover new bands and to be discovered. BODEGA was my find.
The Festival closed this year with an East River concert cruise featuring the Ethiopian jazz-funk of Hailu Mergia and indie rockers Parquet Courts (the sea portion of their 3-night land-sea-air NYC stand), quite suitable given New York City expanded relationship with its waterways. (A ferry system running along the East River connecting Williamsburg with Manhattan as well as Brooklyn neighborhoods south, and Queens neighborhoods north is rapidly expanding.) And while this intrepid reporter will jump in the mosh pit, camera and all, she doesn’t do boats.