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

Review of Maya Vik @ Pianos NYC

[Originally published on Virgin.com, April 2013]

A mop of illuminated blonde curls bobbed around on the stage, visible through the grimy door of Piano’s back bar. The Lower East Side venue is small, to be sure, and the perfect trial run for breaking artists like Norwegian pop vixen Maya Vik. But the movement-inducing music pulsing from Vik and her two bandmates could have found a cozier home at Webster Hall or the Bowery Ballroom that night, and, one day, probably will.

Here’s the pitch: Scandinavian-dance-pop-chick-bassist. Or: the lovechild of Prince and Debbie Harry. Either fits. Vik moves like the The Artist and plays like someone who’s done her homework, lusting after that A in Rock Star 101. To the relief of the onlookers, her performance was bereft of the awkward posturing or self-conscious eye contact characteristic of other budding artists, freshly impressed to navigate the concept of good stage presence. But this makes sense, because Vik, in truth, is no stranger to the stage.

Voted Norway’s most beautiful woman by Norwegian ELLE Magazine (ELLE Mann) in 2007, Vik has been a sight for sore eyes on bass since the mid 2000’s, playing with bands Montée, Furia and Savoy (lead by Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, of equally Norwegian band a-ha). Only recently has she taken the fore, lending her airy vocals to distinctly 80’s synthy pop-funk tracks. That night, we were celebrating the release of her new EP ‘On It’.

At Pianos, Vik’s dance partner was a white Fender, which she plucked and slapped so effortlessly that at times we wondered whether she might be the stealthiest bass player we’d ever seen. She slinked through Prince’s ‘G-Spot’ into her own chill ‘Oslo Knows’ off first album ‘Chateau Faux-Coupe’, and then to an even more laid-back, R&B-flavored ‘Daydreaming’. Whereas some artists deliver her brand of new wave funk in a predictable package, Vik and her mates kept it fresh; the upbeat ‘Nuts At The Wedding’ unraveled into a minutes-long prog session, drawing a round of hoots from the crowd, and served to better showcase the musicianship beneath Vik’s easy-pleasing pop performance.

While Vik’s stage show and catalog aren’t exactly pushing any musical envelopes, her delivery was professional-grade, her band mates wove a buoyant, dynamic soundscape, and, dare we say, we had fun. A survey of the crowd told us our intuition wasn’t far off, here. We have a feeling Vik’s foray through the New York club scene this week won’t be her last.