The Neighbourhood (NBHD) Live in NYC

[Originally published on Virgin.com, July 2013]

Bowery Ballroom, New York City
June 29, 2013

Los Angeles band The Neighbourhood first caught my attention earlier this year, when ‘Female Robbery’ wafted into the air from an alternative radio playlist. The song had elements of everything I loved about recent obsession Lana Del Rey: it was nearly overproduced in every way, the gravity of the track almost laughable, but the lyrics were sultry and earnest enough that it was impossible to stop listening.

And with The Neighbourhood, the vocalist is a dude, so when he sings things like “Let me hold both your hands in the holes of my sweater”, the tension feels a little spicier. At least for the ladies.

In reality, the crowd at the Bowery Ballroom was a fairly even mix of genders. Apparently, not all Neighbourhood fans are lured by amorphous sexual frustrations.

I Love You’ is indeed an intriguing debut album, with relatable angsty undertones and catchy choruses to which many sang along that night. The Neighbourhood know a thing or two about branding, as well; everything about them, their album art, their videos, their photos, are composed in black and white. They’ve nailed the whole noire LA bad boy thing, for sure, and they’ll even let you call them NBHD if it makes you feel cooler.

Frontman Jesse Rutherford clearly knows how to play frontman. He’s also only 22, a fact far more apparent in real life than in the band’s colorless promo shots.

He delivered each song’s vocals with the proper bravado, keeping the audience entertained without any cheese, and the whole band rallied behind the effort. Anyone who fell in love with ‘I Love You’ would’ve been delighted that The Neighbourhood could deliver the same drama from records ‘Flawless’ and ‘Afraid’, for example, in real life.

But where the music reached us, the colorless flashing lights, despite being a signature aesthetic of the band’s, made the whole experience feel slightly impersonal. The sleek visual production, which is more than forgivable in audible form on ‘I Love You’, fairly obscured the rest of the band, getting in the way of what should have been an intimate experience all around.

And, so, the only real trouble with the performance was that The Neighbourhood were playing to a sold-out room of established fans.

Pleasing us was easy; most of us had never seen the band live before, so merely sharing the venue with them was a thrill. It was our plus-ones who needed convincing. If they didn’t know ‘I Love You’, they stood in a strange black-and-white purgatory, unsure of whether this was actually a good show or not. A push in showmanship and relatability probably could have dissolved their ambiguity.

Clocking in at just over an hour with only twelve songs, The Neighbourhood packed all their wares into a tight package. For fans, nothing was left wanting. Hopefully as the Neighbourhood grow, they learn to connect as well with strangers as they do with lovers.

Setlist:

1. How

2. Female Robbery

3. Everybody’s Watching Me (Uh Oh)

4. Wires

5. Flawless

6. Let It Go

7. W.D.Y.W.F.M.?

8. Alleyways

9. A Little Death

10. Afraid

11. Sweater Weather

12. Float

Andrew W.K. and Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg

[Originally published on Virgin.com, May 2013]

[Santos Party House – May 3, 2013] It was the first night of Andrew WK’s stint as frontman to drummer Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg. The pair, along with Ramone’s bandmates, are about to tour the world, performing songs from The Ramones’ catalog. Yes, those Ramones. Marky is one of two surviving members of the legendary punk band, whose ubiquitous hits, including ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ and ‘Hey Ho, Let’s Go’ still continue to inject rock adrenaline into public consciousness.

There was no mistaking this show as anything but a rock fest from one look at the patrons milling outside Santos Party House, a dark club in Chinatown owned by none other than the night’s lead singer. An overwhelmingly male crowd of black-clad fans sandwiched into the venue, beers clutched and necks craned. We shuffled our Chucks and waited for the synergy of awesome.

Indeed, the collaboration of Ramone and WK seems fated. Both are paragons of New York City’s music scenes, past and present. Ramone honed his chops in the late 1970’s at local haunts like CBGB, where his band helped craft the punk genre as we know it alongside the likes of Richard Hell, Blondie and Talking Heads.

But these days, the city’s rock scene is more about an attitude than a sound. If this attitude doesn’t bellow “Party!” then perhaps it mumbles “Let’s get weird”, but either way, Andrew WK is without a doubt the spokesman. In addition to his own high-octane shows, his party-hard-and-often mantra finds him at some of New York’s strangest, and very rock-n-roll, events. For example, we once met WK in a Masonic temple at a masquerade party after having eaten bugs (long story). That he would be tapped to bring to life the soundtrack of a rock scene past just makes perfect sense.

“I’m serving the gods via this incredible sound Marky and his band created”, WK says. “There’s never been better rock ‘n’ roll music made than this, and I will give everything I have to do it justice”.

To equally reverent applause, Ramone, in a muscle tank and mop of black hair, manned his kit. WK stood before us in his dirtied white painter’s get-up. The night promised a tall order of 30 songs, but recalling the superhuman pace at which WK rips through his own material, the figure felt about right.

Without hesitation or fanfare, things got loud. ‘Rockaway Beach’ and ‘Teenage Lobotomy’ whizzed by us, and ‘Psycho Therapy’ brought the first eager crowdsurfer onstage – the first of many to come. While WK lent the lyrics a gruffer edge than Joey Ramone might have, the delivery was decidedly less intense than WK’s solo performances. WK seemed determined to nail the lyrics, serve up Ramones-level energy and, as he mentioned earlier, do the music justice.

The effort was successful. The crowd, at first soberly absorbed in the novelty of the performance, quickly devolved into a moving mass of bobbing heads and perspiring bodies. Limbs flailed. Alcohol sloshed to the floor. At times, as many as four or five fans joined WK on stage, throwing arms around him and shouting into his mic – some welcome, some less welcome, but all gestures borne of the best intentions. Several turned to Ramone to bow in deference.

He and WK churned out track after track without a lag in force, rolling through ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’  and ‘I Can’t Make It On Time’ with equal muscle. We shouted along to favorites ‘Beat on the Brat’ and ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll High School’, which, clearly, was where we were getting schooled.

A sweaty behemoth of a man who’d just been onstage dumped beer all over my leather jacket as he drunkenly barreled through. If this were any regular show, I’d spew choice words at him, but in the spirit of punk past and present, I chose to wipe off the beer and keep rocking.