Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Live Review: Woods and The Fresh & Onlys | Woodsist/Captured Tracks Festival 7.4.09

The Fresh & Onlys perform at Day 2 of the Woodsist/Captured Tracks Festival in Brooklyn
photo by Flickr user the future of petes


Well damn. The new music scene is just like the new news world: we won't be seeing full stories and plot lines develop so much as we'll be bombarded with fresh threads to follow -- thrust forth by bloggers 1 through 6,000 -- and band after band will be paraded around in the name of novelty. Breakout sensation Woods have been thrown into the spotlight as unexpectedly as Mark Sanford--and, equally violently, they will be wrested from it in a few months' time. Too bad, since this exciting band is still stitching up its hems--its sound, its cohesion, its live performance are just coming together. And nowhere could that have been more eminently apparent than at last weekend's magnificent Woodsist/Captured Tracks Festival.

Among the leaders of the pack at Day 2 of this Brooklyn shitgaze bonanza, Woods had a lot of trouble unearthing the ethos and intrigue of their recent LP onstage. Lots of things about this band feel deliberate: singer Jeremy Earl's straining pursuit of a Neil Young register, and the pathos he picks up along the way; the lo-fi haze that lulls the band back in time and helps give it its identity (inasmuch as plaid with snaps gives any Brooklynite his); the band name and cover art that evoke today's ever-popular neo-naturalism; the aplomb imprecision of Earl's guitar solos.

But these aren't qualities to be scoffed at, they're just the elements of a keen artistry. And they make it all the more confusing that these guys failed to bring that deliberateness to the 979 Broadway Backyard on Saturday. Earl's nouveau-Neil Young vocal style -- denizen of a rare middle ground between earnest, distant, and mystifying -- blossoms when it's couched in the willful drive of an updated Crazy Horse. The most impressive pieces of Songs of Shame feel a lot like an experimental Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and that's a great thing.

So watching the group get lost in its own muted fuzz on Saturday was all the more disheartening given how quickly the whirlwind can expunge a promising band's flame nowadays. I only hope that this young band can begin to transpose its studio intensity to the live setting, or at the very least that the low investment of its performances doesn't seep into the lo-fi of its records and keep them from improving.

The Fresh & Onlys

The festival's Most Welcome Surprise Award goes to the Fresh & Onlys on a unanymous (one-person) ballot. This coed five-piece conjures equal shades of Times New Viking (their harmonic trio of guy, a girl, and some tin-garage distortion), Deerhunter (their cutting guitar and weaving bass over anthemic, little-as-possible drums), and the Kinks (their everything). Intrigued?

The bearded Tom Cohen turned a possessed eye toward the Saturday-evening sun, then downward to his keyboard, then back up as he sang lyrics a bit too loony to justify the long face in a tone too involved to qualify as indifferent.

Before bolting on Saturday, I headed across the craggy lawn to the merch table for a copy of the Fresh & Onlys' debut album. Not a mistake. On the record, the group's live subtleties are at once brought out and kept under a thin cover of clouds. I'm not trying to cut through them, it's too much fun studying their cottony gray.

  • To pick up the Fresh & Onlys' new record -- not an easy one to find -- click here.

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