Review: Brothers Past @ Bowery Ballroom, NYC 9/26/09
My buddy Jon and I made it in early enough to catch a few songs by the opening band, The Indobox, another live, electronic jamband from the Northeast. These days, I’m a bit pickier when it comes to dance-rock and electronic-oriented bands (i.e.the Disco Biscuits, the New Deal and STS9), but these guys honestly have a lot of potential. I liked that they were pretty song-oriented and unafraid to sing songs that were much more poppy than what you hear from other bands in this same genre.
They also seemed to have honed some solid improv chops, as they wrapped up their set with a super high-energy jam that garnered a nice-sized crowd of people bouncin’ up in front. I remarked to my buddy Jon that I hadn’t seen an opener get that kind of reception in a long time. We’ll definitely keep an eye out for more from these guys.
Brothers Past kicked things off with a killer segment that really set the tone for the evening: a one-two-three punch of “Celebrity” segueing into “Let’s Start a Gang,” followed by a raging “Bitches & Candy.” Starting a show with two powerhouse songs like “Celebrity” and “Gangs” was definitely a statement that the band was on a mission to beat the Bowery into submission. Although the improv took a while to fully coalesce — “Celebrity” clocked in at 20-plus minutes — they eventually found their groove and got the crowd amped up and rowdy. The refrain from “Let’s Start a Gang” sort of summed up the atmosphere that was beginning to take shape at the Bowery…”No rules! No rules! No rules!”
Although I really liked the two tunes that opened the show, I think “Bitches & Candy” may have been the highlight of the first set. It provided a prime example of what this band does best: play a well-crafted, electronic indie-rock tune and then follow it with a deep, dark jungle jam to work the crowd into a dance frenzy:
Next up was “The Ceiling,” a big “bust-out” tune for BP fans (I believe this was the first time it was played since the band re-united with their original lineup last Fall). After a long “Ceiling” middle section, they found their way into the moody, maybe even naughty “Can You Keep a Secret?” This tune continues to be a catchy, pop powerhouse from the band’s more recent song rotation. A fairly standard “Dead Clowns” came next, but I don’t mean standard in a bad way. They’ve consistently nailed this song for a while now, typically doing so with some high-energy drum’n'bass improv. This was no exception.
Towards the end of “Dead Clowns,” Hamilton toyed around a bit more on his laptop, helping create a glitchy swath of noise as the band gradually tapered down the sound. They then mellowed things out with a rare version of “Exhale,” an ambient, acoustic tune from their last album This Feeling’s Called Goodbye. For “Exhale” drummer Rick Lowenberg stepped out from behind the drum kit to join lead guitarist Tom Hamilton at center stage on acoustic guitars. It was a nice way to settle the crowd down at the end of the first set.
In retrospect, the first set was really just a primer for the rowdy & raucous party they brought in set two. Although they started off slowly, opening with “Inhale” — the more electronic, ambient counterpart to “Exhale” on the album — the energy then quickly picked up when the band dropped into an up-tempo cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.”
Apparently, they just started playing this cover song, but I’m not sure why they didn’t put this in the rotation years ago. In my opinion, it’s nearly a perfect cover for this band. There’s just something about the electro-pop instrumentation, minor key tone/mood, and the lead vocal timbre that nicely suits Tom Hamilton’s voice and the band’s overall sound:
While “Enjoy the Silence” was a great treat to open the second set, it was the segment that followed that really tore the roof off the Bowery: “State Police > Tired Sigh > Forget You Know Me > The Ceiling Pt. II.”
This four-song segment was my favorite of the night, and it really exemplified the band’s ability to combine great songwriting with intricate and energetic electronic improvisation. I especially liked the outro of “Tired Sigh,” when they headed into more of a major key jam. To my ears, it sounded almost like an instrumental version of U2, and definitely in a good way:
The final segue from “Forget You Know Me” into “The Ceiling, Pt 2″ was really a quintessential example of Brothers Past at the top of its game. The jam progressed from mid-tempo drum’n'bass to a slower kind of electro-dub, all before exploding into a techno throw-down bordering on the industrial. Rick Lowenberg started pounding out a relentless 4/4 beat on the kick-drum, while Tom Hamilton unleashed a guitar shred-fest, and then all hell broke loose. As Tom McKee started belting out the song’s ending vocals, crazed fans bounced up and down, pumping fists in a reckless frenzy. The song’s final lyrics “You’ve Reached the Ceiling” served as an apt metaphor for the energy level in the Bowery reaching a peak:
As the band came out for an encore, guitarist Tom Hamilton blurted out a simple “Fuck!” presumably as an exclamation about what they had just performed and the audience reaction they received. They asked for encore requests, gave a birthday shout-out, and then proceeded with a solid “Year of the Horse” encore. Although it couldn’t really compare to the pandemonium that preceded it, the tune created a fun dance-party vibe to end a stellar performance overall.
I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what a great experience I had with the Brothers Past crowd at the Bowery. I said “hi” to a few familiar faces and met a few nice folks up towards the front of the stage who were dancing but weren’t too rowdy. I even met some guys who knew and read Live Music Blog (hey Adam and co., if you’re out there, don’t be shy; come on in and drop a comment). I also had a nice conversation about the poster art scene with the dudes selling posters downstairs. I mentioned that I loved the color scheme in their poster for the show, and before I knew it, they had coaxed me into buying one….which I basically never do. It’s pretty nice piece, don’t ya think? By the way, my buddy Jon definitely enjoyed the show, though he may have put down a few too many drinks to come away with a vivid take on the show. I guess we’ll just have to take him back next time. I know I’ll be there.
Read on for a bit more media, including photos, audio, all the videos and a setlist:
Although I’ve just about had it with my camera, I managed to grab a few decent photos; my full photo set is available here. For a bit more professional quality, I’d recommend checking out Jeremy Gordon’s flick set as well.
Thanks to some quick work by taper Scott Schneider, I’ve already been listening to the audio from this show (which obviously helped me make this a pretty thorough review). The show is available on the Live Music Archive here.
Lastly, a big shout-out to dperls for all the stellar videos above. Great work. I went ahead and linked all of the videos in the setlist below, if you want to check out a couple more.
Full setlist (via bpradio forum):
1: Celebrity > Let’s Start A Gang > Bitches & Candy, The Ceiling Pt. I > Can You Keep A Secret?, Dead Clowns > Exhale
2: Inhale > Enjoy The Silence, State Police > Tired Sigh, Forget You Know Me > The Ceiling Pt. II
E: Year Of The Horse
WHITperson -- aka Marc Whitman or simply "Whit" -- is a long-time LMB contributor known for his in-depth posting style and his knack for crafting interesting podcasts. Whit currently resides in Brooklyn, where he's building up his web development chops and hoping to put his technical skills towards something interesting in the music world. Follow his updates over at whitperson.com and on twitter @whitperson.
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