Live: Anamanaguchi, Bitchin' Bajas, and Angel Olsen

Despite a recurring and subtly bothersome perirectal abscess, I was committed to making this a good weekend. My life had been devoid of concerts and bars due to my renewed vow to frugality, but an endless stream of incredible live music in NYC this weekend could not and would not be ignored.

Anamanaguchi, Irving Plaza Power by Klipsch, Friday, May 17th, 2013

Last Tuesday, May 14th, 2013, Nintendo-sound-chip hackers Anamanaguchi released their turbo-charged twenty-two track album Endless Fantasy. The following Friday, May 17th, I attended their record release show at Irving Plaza Powered by Klipsch.

Pictureplane, the third opener, radiated an aura somewhere between Die Antwoord and James Franco’s character Alien from Spring Breakers. Two ghostly go-go dancers in dirty white underwear swung their bodies languidly as he rapped to a mix of hip-hop and electronica.

Anamanaguchi’s devoted fan base constituted of tight little girls dressed like kittens, overweight computer dorks, and teenagers on molly. These Anamanamaniacs packed the room to three-fourths capacity.

Anamanaguchi’s set design was as colorful as the Technicolor hair dyes and glitchy sweaters of their passionate fans. Glittery gold fabric draped the bass amp and kick drum. On stage, tall fluorescent poles illuminated in red, blue, and green and activated throughout the songs like video game checkpoints. The band emerged to a Chiptune mashup of Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” and the Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out” wearing the oblong and playfully colored fashions of Ruffeo Hearts Lil’ Snotty.

Fans moshed and meowed to the set opener “Meow”. Frontman Peter Berkman was adorably uncomfortable with the raging appreciation. The band recently raised over $190,000 from their Kickstarter thanks to help from supporters around the world. It’s easy to imagine how this much endorsement could go to their heads, but the shocked Berkman expressed his gratitude all night long.

Berkman’s Gibson SG running through a multitude of guitar effects replicated many of the vibrant lead melodies heard on Endless Fantasy. Second guitarist Ary Warnaar bashed through power chords on his highlighter yellow Ibanez. Bass player and lighting designer James DeVito played a neon-stringed fretless bass that allowed for long bass slides between sections. Drummer Luke Silas rocked the kit hard while also triggering backing tracks from his Macbook.

Playing along with pre-sequenced backing tracks turned the performance into a real life version of Guitar Hero. Would the band stay on the beat? The brilliance of Endless Fantasy comes from the band’s ability to make rich, organic textures from inorganic 8-bit sources. Strangely, playing along with these backing tracks brought these sounds back into virtual reality. Fortunately, Silas added much needed live intensity with his powerful snare smacks and energizing kick drum patterns.

Two-thirds through the set, Warnaar turned up his guitar. This brought out more punk energy and enlivened the mix. “Canal Paradise” meshed prog-metal with Donkey Kong Adventure flutes and airy guitar bursts. With the right mix, Anamanaguchi was back to making the listener feel empowered like their favorite video game character rather than just watching one.

Bitchin’ Bajas, Body Actualized, Saturday, May 18th, 2013

As I entered Body Actualized, full-time Cosmic Yoga studio and New Age spiritual exploration center located in the heart of Buswhick, a man with a palm-leaf patterned Hawaiian shirt and circular quartz-tinged eyeglasses waited at the front desk. Crystal pyramids and books on meditation lined the Body Actualized lobby.

“Welcome!” he said with a stoney grin.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Chillin,” he responded, “Feel free to take of your shoes.”

I placed my tennis shoes in a cubby and proceeded to the performance area. Projections of crystals sprouting swirled on the right wall. Celestial laser lights starred the ceiling. Beanbags and pillows spread across the floor for listener’s leisure.

As I sipped my Chai Tea, I laid back on a beanbag and stared up. Edges of cracked plaster faded into a purple mist.

Opening act Messages started the performance by pouring water into a bowl which simulated the sound of Tablas. Taketo Shimada kneeled in front of a home-made mic stand and blew a Shehnai. Shimada looped the Shehnai signal through a warm guitar amp and, with the help of Tres Warren on guitar, slowly contorted drones into different dimensions.

Bitchin’ Bajas followed. Their setup included a stack of speakers, two massive keyboards, electric guitar, flute, and sax. My mind drifted into the warm tones of the analog synthesizers and simple ostinatos—each chord alteration gently unfolded with a new revelation. Their music sprouted like acres of golden wheat, floated like a solitary cloud, and burnt like the hot-red sun. It was beautiful, raw, and overflowing. It didn’t come from anywhere else. It just happened—like cells dividing, amethyst crystallizing, or stars exploding in the sky.

I stumbled into talking with the Bajas afterwards, and they were really nice guys. Their music is really nice too. Bitchin Bajas newest album Bitchitronics will be released by Drag City on July 16th.

Angel Olsen, Glasslands, Sunday, May 19th, 2013

A few months back, Angel Olsen released the psychedelic single “Sweet Dreams” featured here on Stereophile.com. The song highlighted her linear melodic drive and Roy Orbison-like vocal stretches. I had to check her out at Glasslands in Brooklyn to verify that she could pull off her vocal acrobatics live.

Angel Olsen played to a sold-out crowd of generic Brooklynites at the venue which VICE so aptly described as, “not expressly a shithole”, unlike a few other venues on that same block. The billowy clouds overhanging the stage had been replaced by bouquets of dangling plastic tubes projecting different colors from each circular end.

Opener Steve Gunn finger-picked a gorgeous and slightly twangy Guild acoustic guitar followed by an artisanal telecaster-shaped electric guitar. He combined the gruffness of Kelly Joe Phelps and Mark Knopfler with an Appalachian upbeat. Though his version of laid-back blues was underdeveloped in terms of songcraft, his guitar-work was intricate, and his name is amazing.

The climate inside Glasslands was balmy and only grew stickier as more people arrived for Olsen’s set.

Upon the first note sung, Olsen captivated the room with her confident stare and powerful projection. The audience went silent. She looked like an elfin princess—diminutive in stature and natural blonde hair drawn back over her ears. Despite her small size, her voice contained not a bit of frailty.

She unashamedly revealed her love for country music opening with her original “Miranda”, with forlorn cries and broken hearts, and she confirmed her passion with the next number, a cover of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams.

Her slim-line electric guitar with lipstick pickups had splashes of reverb accenting her terse attacks. An accompanying cellist provided bellowing bows on eighth notes during “Sweet Dreams” and orchestral runs in other songs. The set was generally mid-tempo and highlighted the strength and ease in Olsen’s voice as she barely opened her mouth to let out a lot of song.

Olsen seemed like she was toying with the audience's rapt emotions by demonstrating her immense vocals and her pitch accuracy. A new friend I made at the show chimed, "She makes me feel so bad about my voice!" Though she never went too over the top with her runs, Olsen is aware of her talent and pushes it to the limit enjoyably. When I caught her eye-line and looked into her icy Nordic stare, I saw someone in total and complete control. It was scary. Olsen is a rising professional.

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