The Bowery Ballroom


Eleanor Friedberger, Hospitality

Tue, October 18, 2011

Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:30 pm

The Bowery Ballroom

New York, NY


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This event is 18 and over

Wild Flag is a Portland, Oregon- and Washington, DC-based quartet consisting of Carrie Brownstein, Rebecca Cole, Mary Timony, and Janet Weiss. The members of Wild Flag have played in numerous and notable bands including Sleater-Kinney, Helium, Quasi, The Minders, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, and others.
The four musicians who make up Wild Flag have known one another for well over a decade. Brownstein and Weiss were in Sleater-Kinney and toured with Timony’s band Helium on numerous occasions. Brownstein and Timony played in a side project called The Spells. Rebecca Cole’s Portland-based band The Minders was a frequent opener for Sleater-Kinney. Weiss and Cole play together in the 1960’s garage-rock cover band The Shadow Mortons. If someone drew a visual representation illustrating the ways in which all indie bands are interconnected, Brownstein, Cole, Timony, and Weiss would be in the same tiny sphere, so playing together felt almost inevitable. After collaborating on a score for a documentary, the ease with which they worked together proved infectious and promising. Future practices were scheduled, songs were written, Wild Flag was formed.
Yet even after the members of Wild Flag became intentional about playing together—and Mary was flying from DC to practice in Portland—the band was hesitant about naming this endeavor. Yes, they knew how to be in bands, but not in this band. Wild Flag wanted to figure out dynamics, hear how the songs breathed in a live context, build cohesion and unity, and emerge as a singular force prior to putting those sounds onto tape. Wild Flag always intended to grow organically, never wanting to take for granted that an audience existed based on previous endeavors. So, instead of recording an album and then playing shows, they went on various tours, playing tiny club shows in the US and building up a fervent audience of their own.
In April of 2011, they went to Sacramento, California, where they recorded their self-titled album with engineer Chris Woodhouse at the Hangar. All tracks were recorded live except for the vocals
Eleanor Friedberger
Eleanor Friedberger

New View, the third solo album by Eleanor Friedberger, was rehearsed in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park and recorded in upstate New York. The former is a place where characters in Warren Zevon songs get clingy with their old lady while toughing out heroin withdrawal; the latter is where Bob Dylan got clingy with Robbie Robertson after flying off his motorcycle and revisiting the highway with his face. Fittingly, there’s a fair amount of recovery in the songs of New View (though you won’t find much in the way of smack or motorcycles). “Today I’m frozen but tomorrow I’ll write about you,” Friedberger sings, and much of the album seems set in that post-traumatic tomorrow, when stuff’s calmed down, the figurative road rash has healed, the metaphorical junkie sweating up your mattress has finally packed his bags.

Counting the albums she made with her brother Matthew as the Fiery Furnaces, this is Friedbergers twelfth full-length. I’ve been listening since the beginning, and to me New View seems like just that — a vista that’s opened up when I thought I’d seen everything Friedberger had to offer. (Then again, I believed her last album Personal Record was indeed her best to date, so maybe I’m just susceptible to album titles.) Before she entered the studio with New View producer Clemens Knieper, Friedberger made a playlist of reference songs. A live version of “Warm Love” by Van Morrison was on there, as was 80s-era Dylan, Neil Young at his most bummed out, a scattering of Robert Wyatt-era Soft Machine, and the odd gem by Slapp Happy, Fleetwood Mac, Funkadelic, et al. There are ghost notes of all of those influences on New View, but mostly you hear Eleanor Friedberger. She’s never lacked confidence — this is someone who once took a fractured nine-minute ballad about the international blueberry trade and put it across like it was “Thunder Road” — but there’s a new kind of confidence on this record. You can hear it on the warm, stately “Your Word,” which holds a special place for Friedberger. She says:

“It was the last song I wrote for the album. I finished the lyrics with lines taken from a dream that Jonathan Rosen had about me. I stayed at a friend’s house in LA who had a bunch of later George Harrison CDs– already a huge fan, I thought I knew it all. But I heard ‘Love Comes To Everyone’ and it kind of blew me away. Everything I love about Harrison– beautiful slide guitar and vocals and vaguely spiritual lyrics– plus a weird disco thing. That was the big influence for the sound.”

The songs on New View were recorded live to tape with simple instrumentation: drums, bass, Wurlitzer and 12-string acoustic guitar on almost every track, courtesy of the band Icewater (Malcolm Perkins, Jonathan Rosen, Michael Rosen, Noah Hecht), with Dorian DeAngelo contributing a handful of well-placed guitar solos. Producer Knieper (son of Jurgen Knieper, the German composer whose credits include the score to Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire) gives the album a classic sound, like something that’s existed forever on a record collector’s shelf, wedged in with Dylan’s New Morning and John Cale’s Vintage Violence.

For everything new about New View, it still fits comfortably in the continuity of Friedberger’s work. By coincidence, Knieper’s studio in Germantown, NY where the album was recorded is in a barn that was once rented by Matthew Friedberger and stored the furniture of their grandmother — the same grandmother whose spoken word reminiscences were the basis of the Fiery Furnaces LP Rehearsing My Choir. You won’t hear much of that album here, but songs like “Open Season” recall the Furnaces at their most magisterial. The wry, plainspoken “Because I Asked You” builds on the style Friedberger first polished on her solo debut Last Summer. And then there’s “A Long Walk,” the sun-striped finale that lends a memorable afterglow to New View. It’s a sweet, aching goodbye from an album that seems full of them.

The first thing you might notice about Hospitality’s sophomore album Trouble is what you don’t hear. The process of completing Trouble was, for the band, one of learning to accept silence, to let that empty space exist no matter what it might awaken or evoke. You could catch glimpses of these dark and unexplored places in the margins of Hospitality’s 2012 self-titled debut, but they are at the very heart of Trouble. If you listen closely, you can hear a band pushing against their own boundaries and limitations until they find the very air around them subtly but perceptibly changed.

The trio of Amber Papini (guitar, vocals), Brian Betancourt (bass), and Nathan Michel (drums) approach Trouble with the force and unity of a well-rehearsed touring rock band. They supplement their performances with strategically placed strings, synthesizers, and drum machines. But silence is an inescapable force on Trouble, an invisible fourth player that draws you into the unexplored corners of familiar sounds: the full, ghostly decay of a reverb tail, the round pluck of a bass string, the exact syllables where a doubled vocal line diverges.

In its lyrics and its musical construction, Trouble is an album that wonders about the mysteries that lurk just beyond our field of vision. Slyly and sympathetically, Papini ponders a Saturday afternoon fishing trip as a wrenching interplay of life and death, the perfect blue sky at an air show as a setting for a soured romance. Papini elaborates: “Most of the songs are about everyday environments that arouse anxiety or unease. The ocean isn’t meant for people; we aren’t supposed to be there, and some of the animals that live there are much bigger and faster than we are in the water. I think a lot of the songs deal with this ‘out of place’ kind of theme, feelings of unease and the questions of what is under you or what surrounds you.”

Trouble creates a space where conflicting sentiments and experiences are given room to coexist, where small and seemingly mundane observations pose big questions that hang in the air, unanswered and unanswerable. With a title referencing the artist’s endless struggle in the battle between creativity and outside forces, Trouble also explores the universal themes of loss, love, and loneliness with Papini’s trademark wit. Lines like “And if I’m lost and low / And need you / I’ll disconnect the line” from “Inauguration” somehow make the ultimate kiss-off seem charming, while nature makes clear the loneliness felt when leaving someone you love behind in these lines from “I Miss Your Bones”: “And all the stars will / Twinkle in the midst of a sea / Of black and lonely /An everlasting loss lack abyss.”

It’s fitting that the album was hashed out in band practices that blurred the boundaries between work and leisure, darkness and light, creative collaboration and friendship. Foregoing the usual nighttime hours kept by musicians, the band chose to work on these songs during daily morning rehearsals that proved in many ways more demanding than characteristically relaxed nighttime gatherings. Through these sessions, the band sought to take their music as far as they possibly could as a three-piece, to make sure that every small gesture fell into place and played a vital role in constructing the shape and feel of the songs.

The band carried this daylight-infused clearheadedness with them into the studio with chief arranger Nathan Michel and engineer Matt Boynton acting as co-producers. Nathan describes the process: “We really wanted to avoid the ornamental, but I always like to add more sounds. Matt was helpful in keeping the arrangements as simple and direct as possible. We all wanted the record to have a warm and open sound.” When put to tape, some of the songs for Trouble worked better than expected as fierce and focused trio performances, while others called for more substantial reimaginings. “I Miss Your Bones” emerged almost entirely from a live performance, while “Inauguration” found the band ripping apart their live arrangement and reconstructing the song with drum machines and synthesizers.

The album unfolds like a walk on the beach or a journey to a place you didn’t know you were going. Perhaps a darker sound overall, but Trouble begins with the trademark Hospitality pop then unfurls to reward the listener with the more expansive stripped-down instrumentation of side B. And here, again, is that distinctively present silence, creating a space where an undulating synthesizer feels as alive and mysterious as a single voice in a room.
Venue Information:
The Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey St
New York, NY, 10002