Leslie Ken Chu

Nap Eyes live at the Media Club

Tendencies do dominate: Nap Eyes live at the Media Club

With Cian Nugent and Milk, 03/26/15

Review by: Leslie Ken Chu     Photographs by: Daniel W Young

Unplaceable déjà vu tugged at me throughout both of Nap Eyes‘ openers at the Media Club last Saturday night.

If the first band Milk looked or sounded familiar to anyone, it was because, as I learned after their set, they existed once upon a time under another food name: Watermelon. Milk’s flowing rock sounded equally sweet but, with less attention paid to pedals, slightly more distilled.

Dublin’s Cian Nugent also presented a familiar face and voice. I couldn’t help but feel I’d seen those wavy gold locks and heard that accent before, on that exact stage, under those exact lights. Google confirmed that I had seen him, opening for Angel Olsen there two years earlier.

Cian Nugent opening for Nap Eyes live at the Media Club March 26, 2016 review by Leslie Ken Chu and concert photographs by Daniel W Young for VIES Magazine www.VIESMag.com

But Nugent wiped away any memory I had of him as a solo acoustic performer along the lines of rambling, wayward souls like Bert Jansch and Jackson C. Frank. Nugent took the stage with a bassist and Nap Eyes’ Seamus Dalton on drums.

Dalton’s loose patterns evoked a take-things-as-they-come spirit but were quickly engulfed by Nugent’s guitar which was cranked high above everything else, Cian’s own voice included. But the main focus was his smooth note-picking that conjured panoramas of foggy rolling hills  as much as his heavy blues-riffs with notes bending out of and back into tune.

Nugent’s greatest highlights came when he switched from electric to an equally if not more amplified acoustic-electric guitar. I had to stop moving and just watch his fingers work. The band jammed on and on, gaining more and more speed, and if they allowed themselves more frills, the song wouldn’t have sounded out of place amongst Tortoise‘s winding, electronics-heavy post-rock compositions. Nugent and co. ended with another long jam, this one containing many false finishes, often in the form of choppy palm-mutes.

Nap Eyes frontperson Nigel Chapman has voiced his belief that artworks should aim to represent multiple sides and perspectives, although it’s reasonable if certain tendencies dominate. Fans at the Media Club who’d never seen Nap Eyes before learned that the laidback outfit also has more than one side.

Nap Eyes live at the Media Club March 26, 2016 with Cian Nugent review by Leslie Ken Chu and concert photographs by Daniel W Young for VIES Magazine www.VIESMag.com

Although Nap Eyes are mostly praised for their lyrical depth, at the Media Club, their guitars ran wild enough to send resident freak-rocker Johnny De Courcy dancing and rocking out in the front row. Set opener “Mixer” retained its overall aloofness and fragile sentimentality, but “Roll It” was written to rollick, and rollick it did. Chapman and Brad Loughead’s guitars periodically squealed through its sparse melody.

Subtlety is key to all facets of Nap Eyes, and even the addition of guitar slide to a new song they played added a palpable new dimension to their music.

“Stargazer” remained most faithful to the album version. It was so unhurried, I felt the room behind me stop swaying, stop boldly bobbing their heads, close their eyes, and hang onto the song’s every note and word, opening their dreamily glazed eyes once in a while just to make sure it was all real, that they hadn’t slip into a slumber. But, having been only a few feet in front of Chapman with nothing in between, I never looked back.

From there, Nap Eyes immediately picked the tempo back up, spiking  peaking, even  with “Tribal Thoughts”, possibly the most “rock ‘n’ roll” selection from their discography.

During the band’s closing number, Chapman knelt on both knees and picked his way through “No Fear of Hellfire”. Semblances of the original riff peaked through the roughage of Loughead’s far chunkier, far more frenetic playing while Chapman stared at a spot on the floor one foot in front of him.

For anyone who might not appreciate a louder, more up-jump, and less melodic Nap Eyes, take solace: the band’s most lauded tendencies do dominate.

Concert photography of Nap Eyes live at the Media Club by Daniel W Young

Chairlift at Biltmore

Chairlift – Like Moths to the Flame

Review by Leslie Ken Chu and Photographs by Daniel W Young

Smell, it’s said, is the strongest sense linked to memory. But when I think back to seeing Chairlift four years ago, it’s not the cocktail of typical bar aromas at the Electric Owl that I remember. I remember “Met Before” blowing in like a storm and becoming my new favourite Chairlift song. I remember singer Caroline Polachek’s hair and gown fluttering in the paths of wind machines, enforcing my blustering illusion as I too felt the gale against my own skin, hair, and clothes.

Chairlift at Biltmore live March 24, 2016 review by Leslie Ken Chu and Photographs by Daniel W Young for www.VIESMag.com with Lydia Ainsworth

It was a feeling I’d hoped would overtake me once again when Chairlift played the Biltmore last Thursday. And judging by the handful of people already owning the dance floor or hugging the front of the stage a whole hour before opener Lydia Ainsworth even began, I didn’t seem to be the only one chasing nostalgia.

The solo Ainsworth began by cooing and gently whooping on “White Shadows”. After that avian display, she went hands-free from her keyboard for the next song. Already, her strongest asset was clearly her voice (not to reduce her electronic melodies that were intentionally broken up by glitchy effects). Sometimes her performance amounted to little more than karaoke with her pre-recorded self, but her back-tracked vocal tricks did produce many pleasant choral harmonies.

Lydia Ainsworth at Biltmore with Chairlift live March 24, 2016 review by Leslie Ken Chu and Photographs by Daniel W Young for www.VIESMag.com

On Chairlift’s latest album Moth, the Brooklyn group is more focused on moving listeners with glamorous pop hooks than on sweeping them up and wrapping them in cozy blankets of electronics-powered melodies. Correspondingly, the mood at the Biltmore was PARTY.

Every song was a hit, whether it lodged fans in a groove (“Polymorphing”), had a morbid edge (“This song’s about running people over with a car,” she said while introducing “Sidewalk Safari”), provided a straight-up aerobic workout (“This next song [“Romeo”]’s about running.”), or was a pure blast of nostalgia (2008’s “Bruises”).

Predictably, other old (but not as old) favourites made the set including “Amanaemonesia” and “I Belong in Your Arms”. On the latter, the band alternated between plodding verses  as if they slowed the song down by several BPM  and full-energy choruses; fans responded literally by throwing their arms around each other.

Chairlift at Biltmore live March 24, 2016 review by Leslie Ken Chu and Photographs by Daniel W Young for www.VIESMag.com with Lydia Ainsworth

For Chairlift’s encore (of course there was an encore), they treated fans to an unreleased song called “Get Real” which seemed to combine most of the sounds and styles that had already existed in the band’s repertoire. Finally, they finished with Moth‘s first single, “Ch-Ching”.

With a packed house, hands pumping up and down the entire show, and the floor bouncing, maybe fewer people than I’d thought were chasing nostalgia. Or maybe their chase just took a different turn. And even though Chairlift didn’t play “Met Before”, and I was unable to recapture a feeling, they provided me with a different joy: of watching a platonic community of mostly strangers unfold before my eyes.

Chairlift were much more fun and inviting than they were four years ago at the Electric Owl. Polachek had no reservations about playing to or even with people’s cameras, sometimes grabbing hold and directing them with her own hand. She gave fans turns at the mic, caressed the cage at the side of the Biltmore behind which fans clung and pressed their faces. She encouraged everyone to say hi at the merch area after the show, and you can bet they flew over like moths to the flame.

Chairlift at Biltmore with Lydia Ainsworth photos by Daniel W Young