What Steve See's & Hears - Week of Nov. 15, 2021
Updated: Dec 9, 2021
In this series of posts, I review the concerts I am seeing and working, and what music I am obsessing over in a given week.
What Steve See's
This week was an exciting one for me, with two concerts to shoot.
Kate Bollinger/Real Estate
The first one was in my home state of Connecticut at The Space Ballroom in Hamden. The venue is run by Manic Presents, who also run College Street Music Hall in New Haven, CT. I reached out to Manic several weeks ago as I saw that one of my favorite bands, Real Estate, was due to stop there with a favorite up-and-coming artist of mine, Kate Bollinger. After correspondence with the Manic team and artist management approval, I happily acquired a photo pass to shoot the show for Real Estate.
The Space Ballroom is a small and simple club tucked away in the woods just outside the city of New Haven. When I entered the facility, I was shocked by how small the stage seemed for Real Estate to play. With a two-foot raise and spanning roughly 15 average-sized humans shoulder-to-shoulder in length, the stage appeared more apt to host a band with 10,000 monthly streams on Spotify - not over 1 million! Regardless, I picked up a craft beer at a reasonable price (got to love CT), and waited up front for Kate to open.
I saw Kate perform a month earlier at Mercury Lounge in New York City, where she
performed solo. It was stripped back with just her, a classical guitar, and a chair - it was fantastic. Her voice is so pure and "sweet as candy", as she croons in her song Candy. I melted that night. Similar to then, she casually scurries on stage from amongst the crowd, but unlike last time she had a backing band to play the jazzy upbeat melodies of her songs. Band or no band, her voice is still sweet as candy, just now submerged in the smooth syrup of bright chorus jazz licks. The band sounded tight, but lacked personality. I know they are supporting a shoegaze band, but that does not mean that they too have to stare at their shoes - they do not even have enough pedals or effect changes to call for it either! Kate was shy, yet excited in her interactions with audience. However, I wish there was more interaction and acknowledgement of their presence as a band. The poor spot lighting did not help that either, with their instruments lit up more than their faces - especially the most important and cutest face up there, Kate's (sorry guys). All in all the performance felt rushed and nonchalant, but sounded good. I still prefer Kate solo and acoustic. By herself, even the mice gaze attentively at her and her lush lullabies.
After a short break for set up and sound check, Real Estate was ready to play. The band appeared from the cold outdoors through a door behind the make-shift and see-through fabric that made the wing of the stage. Lead singer, Martin Courtney, grabbed a guitar from the tri-stand of guitars in front of me, clicked various pedals, looked at his band mates, and strummed that reverb-rich melodic tone fans know to be quintessential Courtney. The band stood relatively still to start as I snapped a few shots, but thankfully presented more interested in what they were playing than Kate's band. Martin at times shuffled side-to-side as if he were transported in a teleport three feet to the right and then the left. His voice was strong and to the point. While this was my first time seeing them live, earlier in the day I had watched a few YouTube videos of their older live performances and noticed his voice to be lacking, if not slightly off, so I was pleasantly surprised. From these same videos I also noted that the bassist is the funny one and tends to pull the social weight - this remained the same. The engagement with the audience was good with responses to audience pleas and humorous banter with the sound engineer over their monitor levels. As the band got into some hit tunes, the audience began to bop more, which the band reciprocated.
Long after my first-three song limit was up, I moved from the front of the stage to the side along a wall to get some full stage and audience shots, while not disturbing the audience or band. I tilted the LCD screen of my Sony A7iii down as I held it above my head, but then noticed a six inch deep ledge about five feet up the wall. At 5'9", but of athletic build, I was fairly confident I could get myself up there. I set my cameras on the ledge and surveyed the tall dudes next to me that nervously watched as I scampered up the wall. I used a tall trash bin against the wall for foot leverage, careful not to fall in - success. As I caught my breath with my left butt cheek clutching the ledge, I noticed the great panoramic view of the stage and crowd. Best seat in the house! I snapped a few more shots of film and digital, while also absorbing as much of the moment personally as possible. I jumped down to snap a few more angles just as staff gave me the punishing flashlight strobe to get down. I was now house-right adjacent to the stage as the band finished up their encore. Martin walked off stage, but their keyboardist stopped by Martin's microphone before leaving and called for Martin, stating, "I think they want one more song". The less populated crowd of purely dedicated fans cheered incessantly and Martin re-appeared humored and hesitant. After deciding on a song, the band let loose and jammed out. It was the best energy of the night - everyone was elated. I eagerly snapped several more frames to capture the moment's essence. Now that is the way to end a show. What a night!
Two days later I would be back in New York City and seeing Fleece play at Mercury Lounge. I was excited enough to see Fleece play, but to my delight I discovered that an even smaller indie band I like was opening for them - fanclubwallet.
Doors to this show did not open until 9:30pm, which is why I thought there was no opener, but I was now interested in the opener and arrived as close to open as possible to get a good spot. Arriving 15 minutes after the official open, I walked in to find a decent crowd had already formed at the front of the stage. I eagerly excused my way through the casually spread crowd to an opening up front. fanclubwallet came up on the medium-sized stage and awkwardly introduced themselves. This would fit with their goofy, whacky, care-free, and somewhat dorky (in a good way) personas - as represented by the stuffed Garfield that sat on the bass drum. The band is a three-piece bedroom indie pop/rock group from Ottawa, Canada. It is lead by Hannah Judge who plays guitar and sings, and a bassist and drummer (who have their own project called chemical club). Their performance was nothing to write home about, if not a little sloppy, but their spirit left something to admire. As they ended their set, they reinforced how Fleece was going to melt our faces - I could tell this was going to be true.
The stage was already prepped for Fleece - donned with colorful fabric laced over everything and eyes on the bass drum. The band themselves kept with the theme, each with vibrant colored clothing. They seemed like a fun bunch right from the get-go, which is reflected in their newest music. The band clearly knows their image and own it.
Fleece may have started as a psychedelic indie rock band from Montreal, but in their third and latest album they have blossomed into an upbeat indie pop band with groovy melodies, layered harmonies, and cool synth sounds. Lead singer and pianist, Matt Rogers, greeted the audience as if we were long lost friends before stunning us with his vocal chords. Matt has incredible range and tone, which matches perfectly with tones of his synth. In person, Fleece's songs take on a much clearer and personal meaning to each of them. The songs come alive as the LGBTQ band sheds artistic light around topics of sexuality and heartbreak. Their energy and passion were persistent throughout the show, even as they played one or two of their older angst-filled tunes. The audience engagement was fantastic, with jokes and conversations being passed between songs. At the end of their set, the band hid behind the handmade backdrop (made by guitarist Megan Ennenburg) in transition to their encore, which would include an upbeat cover of Franki Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You". It rocked, and so did Fleece! They are absolutely a fun, down-to-earth group of people, and I would go see them again and again. In fact, an audience member I befriended had seen them twice already this year. Clearly, their performances do not get old.
What Steve Hears
Maybe not shockingly most of what I listened to was a lot of Kate Bollinger, Real Estate, and Fleece in prep for the shows. I will elaborate more and say that if do not know these artists - give them a listen.
As I mentioned above, Kate has a chill jazz and pop vibe that is easily digestible, and hard not to enjoy. She has two EP's "I Don't Wanna Lose" and "A word becomes a sound" - both are fantastic. I cannot get enough of them, and I think you will not either.
Real Estate is a staple in the Indie music community. They have been around since 2009, and are currently celebrating the tenth anniversary of their second album "Days". That album has some top tracks on it, such as "It's Real". However, their most popular album is "Atlas", which came out in 2014. If you were to start getting into them, I would start there. Each album has some sneaky stand-out tracks, so do not be afraid to poke around their discography. Word of warning though, Martin Courtney does have a quintessential sound, which I referenced above. You either take it or leave it. All the songs sound pretty much the same, and that either vibes with you, or it does not.
For Fleece, I first discovered them from a few hit tracks on their second album, Voyager, called "Under the Light" and "On My Mind". They still hold up. At first they were just one of those random indie bands that were suggested and added to a playlist - not thinking much of them.
I became more interested as they started releasing new singles for their upcoming album, which were each so catchy and enticing. The tracks, "Do U Mind?" and "Upside Down", also turned out to be their top songs on the album and entire repertoire. When they released their new album, "Stunning & Atrocious", I did not care much of the other tracks, but I listened again while editing Real Estate photos and found it more interesting end-to-end. Since seeing them live, the album has been on repeat for me. While other songs do not quite stand out as much as their singles, that is ok and provides for a balanced journey for the listener. It has a good flow, and I am glad I picked it up on vinyl from the band after the show.
Outside of listening to these artists in the context of their shows, I found myself listening to Courtney Barnett's new album over and over. I was never a big fan of Courtney. She has a specific sound that was at times too out there for me. I appreciated her hits, but never felt enticed to dive into her discography. Leading up to the album, I liked the single, "Before You Gotta Go". It is catchy, simple, and reminded me of Courtney's gritty charm from earlier hits. I was impressed to find that the album followed suit. "Things Take Time, Take Time" speaks its own truth. The album paints a simple yet complete motif from a soft palette of similar themes - appropriately represented by the album artwork of various blue colored paint blotches. It is an album that clearly took its time to develop since her previous album in 2018. If you do not know Courtney's music, "Before You Gotta Go" is a good representation and a safe gateway to her other tunes. Maybe you will feel the same way as I do about her other tracks, but this album gives me some pause to consider her older albums again.
This has been what I have seen & heard. Thanks for reading - now go listen.