Thursday, June 19, 2008

Love Is All--Bowery Ballroom, New York City

About two weeks ago, I walked by the Bowery Ballroom and shamefully realized that I’ve lived four blocks from it for two years and have never been there. As I passed, I told myself, “Self, enough of that shit”. I went home, checked the venue’s calendar, saw that Love Is All was playing on the 16th, smiled, and bought a ticket. Then two weeks happened.

I got to the Bowery about halfway into Crystal Stilts’ set. A little post-show research reveals that they’ve recently released a pretty well received self-titled album and that they are from, obviously, Brooklyn. Allow me to address the Crystal Stilts for a second:

Get your fucking act together. It sounds like you might have some very good songs buried somewhere in that mess of a sound. First, learn how to set up your live show so that your vocals don’t sound like humming mixed with a garbage disposal. I know there were distinct words in there because I saw your singer’s lips move. What I heard was “ummmKKnnuuhh mmm sssnnnnuuGGGmm”. I hope this isn’t an artistic choice. If it is a choice, it’s wrong. Fix it. Second, your lead guitarist should not ever be seated unless absolutely necessary (i.e. he has no legs). You guys are in serious need of some stage presence and it doesn’t help that your lead guitarist, universal source of band charisma, looks like he’s on the toilet. The only person on stage who looks like they give a shit is the drummer, who looks like Christian from Project Runway. I know I’m being hard on you, but your sound is good and it’s being wasted. You have a nice little surf rock guitar thing going on and a tight rhythm section. I’m even going to try to track down your album. I might even pay for it if my $10 will go towards guitarist-stool disposal.

The second opener was Versus, who I had never heard of before, but who apparently had a loyal New York following in the ‘90s. A group of people were definitely at the show specifically to see this band. These guys (well, two guys and a girl - no pizza place) have been around for a while and clearly know what they’re doing. The dude singer/guitarist played a Rickenbacker, which I always think is awesome, and the non-dude singer/bassist reminded me a lot of Kim Deal, probably because she has dark hair and is the singer/bassist for an alternative band that had a following in the ‘90s. It was a tight set if not a little bland. I can see why people like Versus, even though their straightforward alterna-rock isn’t really my style.

Love is All (or, as Swedes apparently pronounce it, “lava-sule”) is more my style. I’ve wanted to see them play since I started listening to the consistently excellent Nine Times That Same Song on heavy rotation about a year and a half ago - it’s one of my favorite albums. I realized before Love is All walked on stage that I don’t think I’ve even seen a picture of them before. It’s strange when you have no idea what a band that made one of your favorite albums looks like. I think I expected a pigtailed pixie in lederhosen jumping around the stage like a possessed Swedish pogo stick surrounded by Peter Forsberg, Jesper Parnevik, Roger Federer (I get very confused by the whole Swiss / Swede thing), and Tiger Woods’ hot wife. What I got was pretty close.

Lead singer/keyboardist Josephine is just adorable. She’s small and cute and her talking voice sounds exactly like her singing voice. The first time she spoke to say how she didn’t expect so many people to be at the show, the audience exuded a collective “Awww”. The rest of the band (guitarist, bassist, saxophonist, and drummer) are all named Markus and looked very Swedish. Actually, I’m not sure all of them are named Markus. I know the drummer is named Markus. Maybe the other ones have different names but probably not. Maybe one of them was a Niklas. Or maybe Sven. Those are the three Swedish dude-names.

They opened with a couple new songs, which were all very good and similar in sound to those on Nine Times, maybe a little harder. The guitarist broke a string during the first song. Then he broke a string on his backup during the second song. Then he asked the audience if anyone brought a spare guitar to the show. I’m pretty sure he was serious because he looked terrified. After a good minute of confusion, a guitar magically appeared and the band tore into Nine Times' opener “Talk Talk Talk Talk”. From then on, the rest of the show was a blast - the band sounded great and looked like they were having a lot of fun. They played through most of Nine Times, adding in a few new songs and some covers from their new EP. The only cover I recognized was A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran,” which sounded fresh while still being very recognizable, even without the preposterous haircuts. They closed with a fist-pumping rendition of “Make Out Fall Out Make Up” and then left the stage and a very satisfied crowd.

It was only after the first encore song, “Felt Tip”, that I realized they hadn’t yet played my favorite Nine Times track, “Spinning and Scratching.” Josephine said that the next song would be their last and asked the crowd what we wanted to hear. Luckily, practically everyone else must have realized the same thing I did because I don’t think there was a single person there (including me) who didn’t shout “SPINNING AND SCRATCHING” at the top of their lungs - less of a request, more a demand. The band seemed a little taken aback by the fervor and unanimity of the audience’s wish, acted like they didn’t really hear what we said for a second, jokesters, and then ended everyone’s night in the perfect way: with the song I wanted to hear the most.

--Jim Powers


jean baptiste said...

hey Jim,

Its probably a good thing that you didn't get us. I'm sure your taste is questionable. Do me a favor and DON'T BUY OUR RECORDS. I'll do whatever the fuck i want on stage. If we're present on stage then there is stage presence. Should we dance around like Aerosmith? Nasty. I guess you got so critical cause you liked us? I see no need for insults but since you went ahead - i wonder what you look like? I bet you look like a prize square clown. You should have seen us 3 years ago - your hack head would've exploded. Next time I take a shit it'll be in your mouth and ears...and I crap standing up.


ewf said...


Jim P. said...


I think you missed my point. Through an admittedly pretty heavy layer of snark, I was trying to say that doing little things like sitting down and having a hard to listen to sound mix creates a wall between a band (not just you guys - any band) and the crowd. And I don't think that's ever a good thing. There's a space between being inaccessable and being Aerosmith. I'm not saying you should tie a scarf to your mic stand and bounce around like a bunch of idiots. I just think it would serve you well to try a little harder to connect with your audience.

And I completely disagree that being present on stage equals stage presence. Those are two entirely different things.

As for the favor you asked of me, it's too late. I already got your self-titled record. I think it's very good.


jean baptiste said...

I actually don't care as much as I may have let on about what people think about our live shows.

I got your point originally Jim. Plenty of artists sit down. Spacemen 3, most blues singers, the VU etc. I don't always sit down...You obviously don't know much about us.

As for the sound, maybe the sound guy at Bowery was to blame. Plus the fact that the other 2 bands had an hour long soundcheck but we only had 5 minutes because they where trying to fix the screen behind the stage for about 45 minutes.

My real points are that you (and all amateur music writers) should watch what the hell they say about bands that they "like" because chances are the only people that read into (or read period) this crap at all are the bands themselves. You should also do a little research before you become an authority on live music. Thirdly, there's no need to insult someones looks when you're trying to write about the music - don't throw stones out of a glass house and all that.

There's no hard feelings though Jim. Enjoy the damn record!

Brian said...

Dear JB,

You big baby. Sack up or don't read your criticism--however amateur or hackish or whatever. Choosing to be a public figure implies an acceptance of some people's disdain. You don't have to like it, but you have to accept it. You'd probably sleep a lot better if you just didn't care as much.

And how dare you, an artist, tell anyone--however amateur or hackish or whatever--to mind what he says, or that he can't make his opinion known. Did someone give you permission to become a musician? No. You just did it because you wanted to. Censorship is bad, period.

Your friend,

Brian Herrmann

p.s. If you're going to lob insults, make them better than "prize square clown." Good grief.

Alex said...

Brian, I completely agree that Jean is off base saying that people lacking degrees in "rock journalism" don't have the right to criticize. That's just silly, and opinions are like a-holes, and all that good stuff. But, I kind of disagree with you as well...being in a band and a (somewhat) public figure doesn't eliminate his right to stick up for himself or his band. He doesn't have to accept anything...he can express his own disdain as well Actually, strike that, he should accept that "prize square clown" should never be used in association with any sort of trash talk...but that said, I don't think either side ventured toward the cliff of any censorship.

Travis said...

Respectfully, I love 'prize square clown'.

Anonymous said...


My response was a bit more tongue in cheek than it seemed. No one got the Larry David/Marty Funkhouser reference?

I'd like to try and start to wrap this up if I can by saying that I/we definitely have a sense of humor about stuff like this and generally don't dabble in making a stink about someones review or whatever- even if its a little harsh. I accept any and all criticism. Obviously we ALL have the right to express our opinions. I don't even think I should be here defending myself against one poor review when tons of respected sources loved our show. I do however, albeit unconventional, think i have the right as an artist being criticized to talk back if i feel so inclined.

Rock critics have been getting off easy lately...condescending from below with anonymous confidence. I'm comin' to crap on all yall!



jean baptiste said...

ps...if you'd like to continue this discussion/debate you can email me at or better yet, talk to me in person at our next show.

Brian said...

Alex, a wiser man than me once said, "If you can't fix it, you gotta stand it." And that's what I meant by "accept." That's also what I meant by "sack up."

Also, censorship is the suppression of objectionable material. JB--who admittedly has absolutely zero authority--examined this piece, identified that which he deemed objectionable, and then told Jim not to use this objectionable language. This is the internet, dammit, and we have freedoms.


Brian said...

Hmmm...anonymous confidence? Didn't Jim Powers sign his name? Since we're on the subject, Jim Powers is really just a highly trained dolphin equipped with a device that translates his clicks and whistles and shit into human-readable format. All we do is proofread it.

jean baptiste said...

Exactly! He's basically anonymous to me is what i meant. I think you're criticizing my criticism of criticism now. not to sound too hypocritical but lets not read too deep. Everyones opinions tend to be more polar when your at home or at work looking at a blog or reading/writing a review. Especially when you're to discuss such things with people that you do not know. I respect the craft of music journalism quite a bit by the way.

anywho - thanks guys. keep up the good work!


Jim P. said...

Click click, whistle, click, whistle. Whistle, click, click, whistle, click. Shit.

Jim P. said...

Sorry - my dolphin-human translator device was busted. What that said was this:

JB, points taken. Making fun of someone's looks is a little unnecessary and a little mean. I was just trying to be funny. As for your sound, not being able to soundcheck is a very valid reason for not sounding good.

Also, just to clear this up, I absolutely do not hold myself out to be an authority on live music (or anything else, for that matter). I'm just a dude who was at a show, and I think The Internet understands that. I also agree with you that anyone has a right to respond to criticism and to disagree with it.

Anyway, good talk. I seriously wish you guys the best of luck because, a the risk of sounding condecending, I really do think you have tons of potential.


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