The words “MAXIMUM CAPACITY” sent a cold shot down my spine on an otherwise pleasantly warm afternoon. You see, my year has led up to this day–starting late last year when someone had recommended Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1, the block-rocking mixtape from the suddenly iconic M.I.A. and her deejay Diplo. While initially unimpressed, Piracy eventually won me over. By the time Arular was released in March, I was salivating. And both albums have dominated the iPod since.
It only seemed natural that Maya Arulpragasam would perform a free show to wind down the 20th anniversary of the Central Park SummerStage series–she has become the face of the most revolutionary form of music since punk, and quite possibly the future of pop music as we know it. So what better way to conclude one of the more diverse musical series in the country than to begin to look forward to the next era?
The Shins are bigger than Jesus. At least, that’s what it seemed as a packed collective of eager devotees cheered Kevin Spac–James Mercer as he and his merry bunch of Shins anti-climactically took the stage, picking up their instruments as if in an empty rehearsal room, nothing but egg-crated walls around them. We all know the story–inclusion in little-film-that-couldn’t-but-does and its accompanying soundtrack, placing the band’s sharp vintage-Brit melodies on the minds of its viewers.
That The Shins had to add a third show at New York’s Wester Hall because of two quick sell-outs when only a year or two ago they were playing to a much smaller but devoted following at the tinier Irving Plaza is a testament to just how far they’ve come. The fans the band have acquired with their larger awareness proved to be just as zealous about their band, however, and why not? After two brilliant albums that displayed a modernity of sound but classic integrity of songwriting, it’s no surprise people are clamoring to hear James Mercer’s hooks over and over.
Ahh, the Bowery Ballroom. Sure, it’s tough to find–buried wwayyy downtown, in the only spot of New York that can be considered even slightly remote. But the sound is remarkable, by far the best in the city. This was evident by the strains of accordion flooding my ears from the sidewalk in front of the theater, a crystal-clear Eastern European shuffle that, as I climbed the stairs to the main floor, were identified as Devotchka, the first of two openers for M. Ward.
A dazzling quartet from Colorado who don’t focus on folk, or indie, or jazz but melds each equally in fascinating fashion, Devotchka owned the crowd from the start. The group’s singer, Nick Urata, sipping a bottle of wine as romantically as he propelled his starry voice across the spring night sky, spear-headed his group’s collection of urgent and lovelorn anthems as the collective shifted instrumentation all night. Pulling songs from their latest album, How it Ends (mp3), Devotchka had us all from the beginning. The theater’s perfect sound ensuring the beautiful transluscentry that Devotchka’s music deserves, it was all too tragic that the group had to depart, removing all the twinkly piano, starlit melody, and plaintive beauty from the air as quickly as they’d devoured our hearts.
“The Internet is dead. It’s over,” a gray-haired writer for New York’s Daily News informed me as we sat on the Knitting Factory floor waiting for Hayden to start playing. “It was great for five years, but then it imploded. Now it’s just spoiled 23-year-olds talking to each other.”
I disagreed. “I think there’s still some good writing on the web. Blogs are an interesting world.”
“I don’t like the new ‘punk’ bands you see on MTV now. I don’t think it’s fair to even consider them punk because punk has just as much to do with an attitude as it does about music,” I assert to the man behind me on line waiting to get into the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash at Irving Plaza. I have learned within the last 10 minutes that this man is 40, from the center of England; and has flown to New York for two days only, just enough time to catch the tribute to one of his heroes. He had to coerce Ticketmaster into selling him a ticket to an already sold-out show. He is only one of many fans so dedicated to the legacy of the Ramones that to make such a sacrifice for a small concert isn’t a question. I’ll learn that in less then an hour.