Archive for biltmore

Y△CHT, Light Asylum at the Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, May 13 2011

Posted in electronic music, music journalism, writing with tags , , , , on May 14, 2011 by bex0r

Light Asylum brought a sound highly suitable for Friday the 13th to the Biltmore Cabaret this past weekend. Black-light neon and strobing metronome lights enhanced this aesthetic, with the Brooklyn-based duo’s goth-tinged, dark-wave electronica taking center stage.

Lead singer/percussionist Shannon Funchess dared the crowd not to dance, her aggressive laser-beam stare penetrating the darkness and making full eye contact with the pogo-ing fans in the front row. Punctuating her manic dance moves and furious beating on an electronic percussion pad was her art-house-punk style vocal delivery, sliding from guttural growls to high-octane raps to bittersweet soulful runs. Taking care of synth lines and backing drum loops was partner Bruno Coviello, a self-proclaimed NYC club kid raised on a diet of underground electronica and art rock.

Funchess, who is often described as the Seattle-born lovechild of Ian Curtis and Grace Jones, considers the duo part performance art, part musical powerhouse. And while Light Asylum did deliver a set that was theatrical at times, it was also extremely rich in texture, harmonically complex and highly focused in its precise rhythmic timing. No wonder their music has caught the attention of producer James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, who is rumored to be producing Light Asylum’s next album. (Last month Light Asylum, who self-released their EP In Tension in 2010, signed to Brooklyn label Mexican Summer, which also boasts Best Coast, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Black Moth Super Rainbow on its roster). Definitely keep this group on your radar in the upcoming months.

Next up was headliner Y△CHT, a Portland-based duo who made good use of visual aides to both educate and titillate audience members (see Western American Utopian Triangle). Their name, which stems from a Portland Oregon alternative school called “Young Americans Challenging High Technology”, is a moniker highly suitable for a band that utilizes laser pointers, PowerPoint presentations and vintage synthesizers to support their highly theatrical brand of post-disco electropop. The official Yacht website describes the project as a “cross-disciplinary experiment… using technology to extend physical boundaries of communication, performance, and music.”

But don’t hasten to label them geek chic, as their sound Friday night broached as many genres imaginable in an hour-long set and featured more humor than pretentious posturing. Frontman Jona Bechtolt supplies the electronic production and shares lead vocals with fellow Portland, OR performance artist/vocalist Claire L. Evans, who was stunning in a platinum pixie cut and white Grecian-inspired dress.

Touring members Rob “Bobby Birdman” Kieswetter and Jeffrey Brodsky provided support on bass, drums, and backup vocals respectively. Y△CHT’s live show, which is impressive enough to be featured in performance projects for NYC’s Museum of Modern Art and the Rhizome forum, as well as the Media Archeology Festival in Houston, ranges from down-and-dirty disco to blazing funk to weirdo art-rock.

One unifying theme throughout the show was the band’s motivation to make as many people dance as wildly and unrestrainedly as possible, which I would say, without a doubt, they succeeded in doing. Light Asylum’s Shannon Funchess’ earlier warning to “get ready to sweat” did not fall on deaf ears, as the entire Biltmore erupted into a mad frenzy for the manic disco-punk electro of Y△CHT. Especially notable was their disco-fied version of Judas Priest’s “Breakin’ the Law” and new tracks from their upcoming release. Those lucky enough to have been at this show will no doubt be talking about it for years.


Dessa, Sims & Lazerbeak @ the Biltmore

Posted in music journalism, reviews, writing with tags , , , , , on May 1, 2011 by bex0r

Wednesday evening the Biltmore Cabaret hosted three acts from the Doomtree hip-hop crew of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their lone female MC, Dessa, is headlining her first solo international tour with support from MC Sims and DJ/producer Lazerbeak. Lazerbeak opened with a DJ set of downtempo and hip hop inspired tracks, providing a chill opening to the night. Second up was Sims, who got the crowd hyped with his high-energy vocal-based hip hop tunes and rowdy crowd-pleasing stage antics.Around 11:30 pm Dessa took the stage looking casual in a white button-down shirt, jeans and sneakers. Her relaxed demeanor stood in stark contrast to the screaming drunk girls in the front row, who had perhaps gotten lost on their way home from the Lil Wayne show happening earlier that night. Dessa took the borderline inappropriate fangrrls in stride and commenced to give what is probably one of the best performances by a female MC the Biltmore has even witnessed.

Although the crowd was small, (about 70 folks all told) those present were engaged, enthusiastic and obviously knowledgeable Doomtree fans, singing Dessa’s lyrics along with her and shouting out the hooks at all the drops. Lazerbeak provided deadly beats live from his drum machine, which he played more like a real drumset than a preprogrammed computer, and provided a lively counterpart for Dessa’s onstage banter. She jokingly elbowed her way in and repeatedly pushed what she defiantly proclaimed was “her button” on the drum machine.

Dessa’s vocal skills are akin to a cross between the hip hop flavor of Lauryn Hill, the smooth smoky soul of Eryka Badu, and the slick slam poet style of Ursula Rucker. She brought all this, plus her inimitably cheeky sense of humor and humble sense of self. While the women in the audience kept remarking on her stunning looks, I heard many of the men talking about her skill as an MC and performer. While she is definitely beautiful, what is really most striking about Dessa is her ability, both as a performer, MC and songwriter.

dessa – “children’s work”

Review: Akron/Family

Posted in reviews, rock & roll, writing with tags , , on March 28, 2011 by bex0r

If there’s one thing I love, it’s big cinematic openings and Akron/Family nailed it on Friday when they played to a near capacity crowd at the Biltmore Cabaret. Touring in support of their album S/T II:The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT (now internet famous for the multiple different “teaser” versions surreptitiously leaked by the band,) this post-rock/experimental/indie outfit blew us away with strong instrumentals, engaging stage presence and one of the strongest indie cult followings I’ve ever seen in Vancouver. For a band that claims they sound like “Village People meet Carlos Castaneda on a Vision Quest,” this is not so surprising.

Akron/Family are a perfect example of the chemistry that only comes to musicians who have played long and hard together. This is a success story forged by time on top of existing talent and maybe even a bit of luck? Coming of age in the indie music/hipster mecca of Williamsburg, Brooklyn couldn’t have hurt. While it’s tempting to describe the band as three guys who play drums, guitar and bass, they really are so much more. Each uses his instrument and voice as well as assorted synthesizers, loop stations, and percussion items to layer, blend, distort and/or sooth each sonic layer within the song.


Their songs come across more like compositions, in spite of the fact that more than half of each one was almost completely improvised. The intention and manner in which they compose and present seems very thought-out, sometimes even formulaic at times, but not to the detriment of the creative process. In fact, they seem to have established a structure to their songs that in itself creates the boundaries for truly magical improvised moments to happen.  Some songs were jammed out longer than others, and perhaps one or two moments they squeaked over the line into self-indulgence, but this is easily forgiven.


The band mostly stuck to material from the new album, but did graciously play old favorite “River,” which featured a distinctly 80’s dreamy synth-pop feel and incited much crowd participation. “Island” was prefaced by what I can only describe as a guided meditation led by Seth Olinsky, who had everyone standing on one foot, pointing at the sky and swaying side to side, all while imagining themselves on a tropical beach somewhere. This metaphysical moment was carried through the rest of the set, which had most of the audience clapping rhythms, returning vocal call and response themes, as well as carrying an amazing extended bridge on “Another Sky” acapella for two solid minutes before the band joined back in. There were many beautiful moments when the band meandered into distinctly tribal territory, only to come blazing back in with psychedelic guitars or a heavy rock riff. I found myself comparing them to Canadian outfit Do Make Say Think, and was not surprised to learn that they actually did guest vocals on two DMST albums previously.


I like what Olinsky and the rest of the band was trying to accomplish with their borderline cheesy incitement to crowd participation. I think Vancouver of any city can be guilty of the passive consumer of music experience mind frame, otherwise known as the “I’m too cool/awkward/uncomfortable to do anything but stand here with my arms crossed and squint at the stage” pretention. What Akron/Family proved was that we all need to let go a little—they do it on stage, so why can’t we do it in the audience? Or how about life in general? So loosen up, throw on some music and just groove a bit. Let go of your inhibitions and rest assured, no one is going to laugh at you.


Review: Kaki King Brings the Freaks Out to Biltmore Cabaret Saturday

Posted in music journalism, reviews, rock & roll with tags , , , on March 16, 2011 by bex0r

Credit: Ashley Tanasiychuk

Not often will a musician be so aware of crowd dynamics and sightlines that she asks the entire dance floor to asseyez-vous s’il vous plait; but a ballsy and admiringly brash Kaki King did just that on Saturday night at the Biltmore Cabaret during what she has branded her “Guitar Traveling Freak Show”. A truly mixed crowd, spanning the spectrum from hardcore guitar nerds to elderly easy-listening fans to late-night hipster DJ party kids willingly complied with Kaki’s wishes. All good-naturedly reposed to take in a 90 minute set chock full of virtuosic finger-style guitar and a vast array of exotic instruments, each freakier than the last.


A student of the acoustic heavy wood genre, Kaki is well versed in the history of the art form. For her solo acoustic set she borrowed songs from Michael Hedges and Andrew York, yet issued a humble disclaimer for her skill compared to these greats. She did not disappoint (well, unless you were one of the mislead indie rockers expecting a full band and a complete rundown of all the songs from Until We Felt Red). Despite suffering the tail end of what sounded like a pretty severe head cold, Kaki did manage to croon a couple numbers to the delight of her swooning fangrrls (and boys). Singing, she gladly confessed, is not her primary talent, which is more than excusable considering her goddess-like grasp of the guitar and all the range of acoustic sounds she’s capable of producing.

Credit: Ashley Tanasiychuk

For this tour Team Kaki consists of Kaki plus soundman and trumpet player Dan Brantigan, as well as one of the hardest working guitar techs I’ve ever seen, Anna Morsett. With a guitar change and/or tuning for pretty much every song of the night, Anna was kept busy tuning, running and presenting Kaki with a new guitar, each more exotic, beautiful or just straight-up weirder than the last. Guitar pr0n highlights of the night included a “prepared” guitar featuring an artificial bridge made out of a cabinet handle; a vintage Weisenborn; a “Dojo” or dobro-banjo; an Andrew White 7 string classical with fanned frets; and a “harp” guitar, described by Kaki as a “conjoined twin…tumorous and stupid”. This freakish Elephant Man of an instrument provoked gasps of disgust and admiration from all the guitar nerds in the house.


One note of disappointment was the trio of Canucks fans on a post-win high following Saturday’s game, who very vocally expressed their distaste for Kaki’s show. No, the Biltmore was not a logical choice for a raucous night out (What, was the Roxy not open yet?) In the future, hockey fans—please remember not everyone cares about how well grown men can chase a plastic puck around a frozen swimming pool and do not disrespect a serious musician and her audience with your boorish banter. Luckily these loud-mouthed jocks got bored and left halfway through Kaki’s set. Perhaps her immaculate cover of Fences’ “My Girl The Horse” was not to their liking?


Another aspect of note was Kaki taking a pre-show song request over Twitter from one of her 9,000 followers. She appears to be quite the social media vixen, which perhaps accounts for the packed house for this show. With one acrylic-nailed hand on the pulse of modern music and the other on her smart-phone, it’s safe to say Kaki King is primed to become one of this generation’s next independent music superwomen.