Archive for the ‘Summer Music Series’ Category

MJR & BWANK! Volume 3 – Bumbershoot

Published by MJR on January 17th, 2009 in Essay, Events, Photos, Summer Music Series | 5 Comments »

 [slidepress gallery='bumbershoot']

Photography by Matthew Craig and Julius Metoyer of MJR

The common misconception with regards to the Northwest is that the rain never ceases. And it’s not just any old rain—we’re talking wondrous deluges of biblical proportions.

Still, every year, on what is considered to be the last legitimate weekend of the summer the sun decides to irradiate one last time. It’s as though a prime-mover wiped the bleariness straight from your eyes. People of all colors, shapes and sizes surface from the sinkholes with high hopes of seizing the moment. Everyone drops whatever it is they are doing to soak up that singular concession of sunshine.

Yet whether it be the benign climate or the bustling synergy amidst the multifarious masses, the music is the one magical thread that truly ties the whole experience together.

Performers like Bay Area funk and soul singer Darondo—the man, the myth, the legend—artfully thread the needle. His remarkable journey, albeit tumultuous and murky, is conveyed succinctly in a sermonic slew. And his commanding performance of such relatively neglected hits, particularly the Isley-esque “Didn’t I,” evinces an overwhelming sense of triumph.

The mere mental picture is a delight in many respects, for it has been over thirty years since the release of three stand-out 45s. But perhaps even more satisfying to uninformed onlookers is Darondo’s sexually-driven tone, which tends to be tackled with an innate physical fervor. An excess of groping amidst songs like “Legs” really left nothing to the imagination. Possessing an insatiable sense of prurient curiosity—cherries, whipped cream and all—he is, arguably, as ribald now as he was then.

Between doing the splits and crooning the intense, archetypally woeful tune “How I Got Over,” his salacious grin never faltered. But when all was said and done, it was the voluminous trousers, which billow out around his meager body like a well-worn umbrella, that seemed to encompass a lifetime of staggering disappointments—his seemingly unrequited musical career. Sadly but surely, everything was as it would have appeared in decades past apart from one staggering element: the resounding affirmation of his brilliance. Even so, because the true mark of success does not require recognition from others, Darondo will be regarded as a victor forevermore.

More contemporary acts, like Tel Aviv’s shock-rock troupe Monotonix and Baltimore’s experimental electronic whiz Dan Deacon, clearly flourish on Bumbershoot’s bleeding edge. They do cater to the youthful and rather brazen demographic. But the irrepressible synergy between fringe artist and audience truly befit the moment—as if they had somehow hand-sewn the festival’s very seams.

The scantily clad Israeli rockers of Monotonix, who performed off the stage for less than a quarter of an hour, could only be deterred by forcible appeals. That is to say, their set was cut short by security for safety reasons. A literal pancake of people folding like pleats is, by definition, a rock concert. But the notion of playing an entire set virtually mid-air, atop a sea of open palms, certainly drives the point home. The rollicking foundation of rock and roll is very much alive and kicking—just on the opposite side of the world.

And for however short their set may have been, it seemed like an eternity. Every second stretches out and slows down in a euphoric free-for-all. In the maelstrom of activity, a leg, a guitar, or even a human being in a trash can whip past you. The whole experience—a relatively woozy entanglement—is comparable to a swift yet perpetual rush of blood to the head.

Like most performers that weekend, Dan Deacon fed off of the crowd’s energy; unlike the almost riotous ones though, as he demonstrated in Seattle, he cannot fully supply that energy himself. The Baltimore-bred behemoth of a man relies heavily upon the responsiveness of a crowd. And, much like Monotonix, Deacon shuns the stage, performing literally within the audience. He pounces around like a predator, pummeling toy-like gadgets and singing with one claw-shaped fist in the air.

But no less than measured conduct and orderliness are physical necessities; to perform amidst a brimming crowd, face-to-face and arm-in-arm with fresh-faced fans, utterly drives him. Deacon successfully employs wild games en masse during his zany dance-infused songs. His playful disposition nudges, almost galvanizes, the crowd into action.

And thus it is this sort of unedited, unbearably close interaction that distinguishes the Bumbershoot Festival from the rest. Surely, it is an annual congregation of the arts that draws summer to an idyllic and salubrious close. But it expresses movingly the profound nature of music. No other festival properly conveys the interconnective concepts on which the edifice of music was built.

Like figurative loose stitching, music not only bands people together, but also provides a structural sense of closure. It is an exoskeleton of humanity, so to speak.

Joshua Pressman |

MJR & Bwank! Volume 2 – MGMT at McCarren Pool 07/27/08

Published by MJR on July 28th, 2008 in Events, Photos, Summer Music Series | 4 Comments »

Last Sunday afternoon marked the culmination of an emblematic Brooklyn-based band’s career. Whether or not you’ve witnessed one of their performances in a dingy club, like behind the Domino Sugar Factory in South Williamsburg just four months prior, any Brooklynite could supply a lengthy dissertation on MGMT’s short road to success. For it is generally regarded as the product of happenstance and epoch-making psychedelic pop music.

Yet on stage Vanwyngarden and Goldwasser, the true visionaries at the helm of the project, make it perfectly clear that they hadn’t simply succeeded with the aid of some providential wind. Initially, the aim may have been playful, seemingly tongue in cheek. But with McCarren Pool filled to capacity—literally brimming with five thousand some-odd vibrantly clad fans—they were expected to own up to it all.

Notwithstanding a slight line-up change, which finds their previous drummer manning guitar duties, MGMT rocked out steadily and patiently. Now, unlike before, the band seems to will their set into motion with pitch-perfect wailing solos and tight percussive direction. Surefire hits from 2007′s Oracular Spectacular, like “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters,” “The Youth,” “Weekend Wars,” “Time To Pretend” and even the fifteen-minute-long b-side “Metanoia,” are meticulously reconstructed with a contemplative spirit. They are brought to a degree of perfection which fans, both old and new, scarcely see.

Moreover, the band’s unprecedented precision is as rousing as it is surreal. They are now the demigods that they had once, albeit half-jokingly, regarded themselves to be. So perhaps what fans witnessed this past weekend was the Second Coming of MGMT. The very moment in which Vanwyngarden and Goldwasser reinvent themselves.

However, to assert that this magnificent sonic evolution, which extends far beyond their conceptual range, was likely to have happened would be downright fallacious. It was entirely unforeseen. And the lack of any obvious principle is still integral to their allure. But the collective ardor of their disciples will be tempered by conscious volition forevermore. Sunday’s performance revealed a distinctively different MGMT, distinguished by far more mastery and maturity than ever before.

Photography by Matthew Craig of MJR

Joshua Pressman is a Brooklyn based writer and the publisher of

Many thanks to JELLYNYC and MGMT.

MJR & Bwank! Vol. 1 – The Rabbit Factory Soul Revue

Published by MJR on July 8th, 2008 in Events, Photos, Summer Music Series | 5 Comments »

What results when a Chicago-based label invests in a six-piece house band and four of the most undervalued soul singers the South has never seen? The Rabbit Factory Soul Revue.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon at McCarren Pool, four tremendously talented Southern soul singers exuded an over zealous nature through neglected masterpieces of the golden age. These stars lost their luster long ago yet, collectively, they embody the very spirit of the genre. And for that reason they are the unsung heroes of their era.

Clad in rather rakish, debonair looks, Herbert Wiley, Herman Hitson, Roscoe Robinson and Ralph “Soul” Jackson took turns preaching the good word like a rector. Each one was as authoritative and thoroughly convincing as the next, belting out notes as if they were still in their heyday. Everything, from Wiley’s striking cheshire cat-like grin to Roscoe Robinson’s dalmatian print suit to Ralph “Soul” Jackson’s gratuitous weave, seemed genuine in its way.

But the caliber of these heavily overlooked gospel-infused soul tunes merely magnified the absurdities at hand. These men had shared time with legendary acts, like Jimi Hendrix, the Isley Brothers, Spooner Oldham and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Each man had as much talent, if not more, than their hallowed predecessors and yet they had struggled to make it here even.

And, perhaps even more disconcerting, the majority, if not all, of the attendees had very little conception of who these skillful singers were. Channeling the soulful spirit of James Brown and Ronald Isley is one thing, but actually having been a part of that movement in its glory days is an entirely different story. Still, Wiley, Hitson, Robinson and Jackson took to the stage as if they had never been lost in the shuffle to begin with.

While most musicians’ prowess atrophies from lack of use, these fine Southern gentlemen seemed to be suspended in time and virtually unaffected by time passing them up. The fervency with which they sang forced onlookers to believe that they were classics unto themselves. And nothing could be closer to the truth.

Joshua Pressman for MJR, Photography by Matthew Craig


This is the first of many crossovers with bloggers we love.

Josh is a Brooklyn based music writer.

Many thanks to JELLYNYC for the access, and Dewars for the free booze.