The Bowery Ballroom was always my Statue of Liberty- the quintessential New York fixture that I, while born and bred in Brooklyn, acknowledged in passing but never actually made a point of visiting. Last Friday, though, I had the enormous pleasure of seeing three different bands there, with the opening acts complementing the headliner so as to form a collective final picture of what new music is all about. For a venue with a reputation like the Bowery’s, the atmosphere at the sold out ballroom was as laid- back as any converted dive in Bushwick on a Friday night. Past the bar and waiting area, a staircase takes you to the second floor, which opens up to a spacious standing area, complete with balconies if you want to enjoy the show at a table. It’s sexy, intimate, and subtly regal, upholding and validating the notion that the space is just as important as the music.
FRIDAY 06/10/16 – NEW YORK, NEW YORK
The first group up, Petal, took the stage with a refreshing punctuality and vocalist Kiley Lotz introduced the act as something she does “with her friends.” (While Kiley is a permanent member, her bandmates alternate on a changing basis). And the performance felt just as she described it- the band’s chemistry ran like it does between people who genuinely enjoy each other and what each individual brings to the table. The set was interspersed with slower songs featuring Kiley solo with her Beyonce t-shirt and guitar, among longer tracks charged with volume and spontaneous bursts of power. Petal’s unorthodox structuring as well as the way they present themselves live started off a night of high spirits and an even higher spike in energy levels.
PWR BTTM followed right on schedule, and the duo (Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins, along with a guest bassist at this show) have since settled comfortably into the gaping hole in my 2016 punk playlist. Above all, the queer rockers radiated a rare mixture of comfort and confidence, in themselves as performers, their abilities as musicians, and their right to the stage. Glittering and poised, Ben led the audience into the first few songs, almost breathing in time with his guitar and heaving himself forward in bouts of complete, utter harmony. Liv, starting off behind the drum set, was living their own bliss, and not as sidekick but as other half. Halfway through the set, the two teased the crowd, discussed the contents of Martha Stewart’s stool, and switched positions, further proving their expertise on a number of improbable topics and immense versatility as a dynamic act. Seeing them live, it’s clear that it’s not about entertainment at all, it’s about them and the way they take what’s theirs and give it all back
however they see fit.
Pity Sex came on stage in backlit blue spotlights and slow- moving smoke, creating a sort of cavernous rock pit on the stage that looked too good to come from a couple of smoke machines. Launching into their first few tracks, they played it cool to match the colors, with Britty Drake and Brennan Greaves on vocals/ guitar, Brandan Pierce on bass, and Sean St. Charles on drums. The Michigan band brings us an alternative rock sound that’s lyrically rooted in a hard-to-define romanticism, and the fact that it’s real, tangible, and coming right at you makes it all the more absorbing. Their instrumental capacity ranges from heavy, almost viscous like honey, to fast and fuzzy, reliant on Britty and Brennan’s back and forth vocal patterns. Their voices become dialogue and the music a wordless bridge filling in the spaces. Onstage, they’re just as real, and manage to construct the same unchained but carefully nuanced wave of sound they do while in the studio. The band played songs from throughout their young discography, including tracks from their recent album, “White Hot Moon”.
Friday’s show brought out the best from all three bands that performed; it was in their faces, the way they carried themselves on the famous stage and the solidity of their music. The performances were easy to respond to, and as an audience member, I didn’t feel like a spectator, and I didn’t feel like a customer. The venue, the idiosyncratic nature of what I was hearing and seeing, the visual element; it was an experience instead of a product and a reminder of the fact that New York’s soul might be waning by day but still has a place to slither into when the lights go down, paying no mind to the distant prospect of tomorrow.