RECAP: Superhuman Happiness’ Album Release Party @ Le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY 3/29/13

NYC has long been a city known as a melting pot of musical influences and collaboration. For decades, countless forward-thinking musicians and innovative sounds have come out of this hotbed of musical activity, and now there’s a new group that demands to be added to the list: Superhuman Happiness.

The staff at LMB have been big fans of the band for a while now; their unique blend of funk, afrobeat polyrhythms, call and response indie pop, and lots and lots of handclaps create a truly joyful sound. The enthusiasm of the group is infectious in their studio recordings, but as I found out a few weeks ago, their live show is where the group really excels.

Superhuman Happiness with Topu Leo and Yuka Honda 3/29/13. Photo by Pete Merriman
Superhuman Happiness with Topu Leo and Yuka Honda 3/29/13. Photo by Pete Merriman

The Brooklyn supergroup formed in 2008 by Stuart Bogie just released Hands — their debut LP, 5 years later — on the Royal Potato Family label. Why did it take so long? Well, for one, the band members have a ton of other commitments. Their resumes and collaborations read like a hipster’s wet dream: TV on the Radio, The Budos Band, Antibalas, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Sway Machinery, Questlove & The Roots, Mary J. Blige, Colin Stetson and The Dapkings, to name a lot. With a network like that, it’s no surprise that the band played their album release party two weeks ago at Le Poisson Rouge in Lower Manhattan to a packed house of fans, friends, and family.

From the onset, the show had a communal and uplifting vibe to it, and you could tell that a lot of thought and rehearsals had gone into the evening. The show started with guitarist Ryan Ferreira leading the group in some improv while special guests of all kinds came streaming through the clubs’ doors and hopped up on stage. I immediately recognized Alex Toth of Rubblebucket, and some members of the opening afrobeat band, but was soon distracted by Luke O’Malley, the other guitarist, asking the audience if anyone else wanted to join them onstage. Sure enough, five vocalists were planted throughout the crowd and they also took their places next to the band.

With a seven piece brass section, five vocalists, and two percussionists now backing them up, the band moved into the meat of the set, starting with album standout “See Me On My Way”. In all honesty, this reviewer was dancing too hard to take any notes, but I was impressed at how flawlessly the band translated their songs live and stretched them out. “Super happy” feelings filled the air as the horns swirled around the deep grooves laid down by the rhythm section. Amidst all this madness, ringleader Stuart Bogie held court in the center of the stage, leading the audience in hand claps, countdowns, and call and response between his mesmerizing sax solos.
Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda and Topu Leo of Live Footage were also on hand to join in for a number — Topu on his cello, and Yuka on some electronic gizmo she called “OB 1”. I’m not sure if the Star Wars reference is intentional, but it certainly produced some otherworldly flourishes. Note: at this point there were 21 musicians on stage, and the energy created was truly something to see. Stuart and Luke in particular just kept bouncing up and down and taking it all in with s***-eating grins on their faces. By the time the band reached the set closer “I Can Hear You Calling”, everyone had been worked into an ecstatic frenzy, and no one wanted the show to end, so the last section of the song got quite the workout. All in all, it was a fitting set celebrating the release of an album that’s sure to make my Best Of list.

Superhuman Happiness are playing three shows in New England starting tonight, so if you’re within striking distance, definitely make the trek as they don’t have any other gigs scheduled in the near future. Of course we’re hoping a few festivals add them to their roster because it’s a no-brainer once you catch their live show. There may not be 21 people on stage everytime, but I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

3/29/13 New York, NY Setlist :

Ryan Ferreira Solo
Group Improvisation
See Me On My Way
Sentimental Pieces
Needles and Pins
First/Second Heart
Elevator Elation
Half Step Grind
Our Favorite Part
I Can Hear You Calling

Superhuman Happiness are:

Nikhil Yerawadekar – bass
Jared Samuel – keys
Miles Arntzen – drums
Ryan Ferreira – guitar
Eric Biondo – trumpet
Luke O’Malley – guitar
Stuart Bogie – saxophone

Special Guests on 3/29:

Vocalists: Abena Koomson, Afi McLendon, Dan and Giselle Huron, Annakalmia Traver
Tenor Sax: Jas Walton
Trumpets: Leif Arntzen, Alex Toth, Michael Fatum
Bari Sax: Christian Anderson, Zach Mayer
Trombone: Raymond Mason
Percussionists: Jim Bertini, Javier Ramos
Cello: Topu Leo
OB 1 Electronics: Yuka Honda

Upcoming Tour Dates:

April 11 | The Gilded Brick | Holyoke, MA (w/ Bella’s Bartok)

April 12 | Radio Bean | Burlington, VT

April 13 | The Press Room | Portsmouth, NH

August 2-4 | The Wassaic Project | Wassaic, NY

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the show’s openers, who got things started off right: first up was Live Footage, an experimental improv duo consisting of Mike Thies on drums and keyboards, and Topu Leo on electric cello and effects/loops. True to their name, their sound was cinematic in scope and enthralling in its density. They were followed by Superhuman Happiness’ drummer Miles Amtzen’s afrobeat group EMEFE. Considering how young and baby faced this 10-piece band is (I think I pegged the average age of the band at 22), I was impressed with how tight they were, and they really set the mood for the rest of the night. On more than one occasion, Miles would jump off his drum stool and bound around the stage, jazzing up his bandmates and the audience. They closed their set with a crowd pleasing “Give It to Me Baby”, which I thought was pretty much heresy for an afrobeat band to cover, but I was clearly in the minority as the room started grooving harder than they had all night. That was, of course, until Superhuman Happiness got up there.