by Sunny Eckerle
Real Estate, Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors, Devendra Banhart, Cass McCombs and The Walkmen
The setting in St. Ann's church on Saturday was one that I doubt I'll have the chance to ever experience again. I arrived in Brooklyn Heights just before noon and joined the line that already wrapped down and around the block. I knew only that I was about to partake in a marathon show featuring Real Estate, Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors, Devendra Banhart, Cass McCombs, and The Walkmen, all in one afternoon.
As the line filtered out of the cold and into the church, we fell into a hushed silence. I was completely in awe of the space. The size of the church was overwhelming. Defined by swooping arches and lofty, vaulted ceilings, it seemed a massive space to fill, sound-wise. The many intricate stained glass windows filtered the cool winter light into something more warm and cozy, more readily enveloping.
With surprisingly little delay, Real Estate kicked off the day. Their easy, steady rhythms continued the warm relaxed mood of the room. Stripped down and raw, they sounded like winter. Without the normal drench of reverb though, Martin Courtney's voice suffered at times. The highlight of the short set was the cover of Little Wing's "Look at What the Light Did Now" which segued into an impromptu "Municipality" that, unfortunately, sounded unpracticed and felt a weak note to end on.
Directly following was Vampire Weekend. Employing more cutting and direct drums than Real Estate, Vampire Weekend rang out through the massive room sharp and defined. Ezra Koenig boasts a wide range of yowls and hollers, which I can't deny reverberated across the stone walls and ceilings very nicely. They ended on Contra, providing a jaunty upswing to the crowd's demeanor.
Now while I value seeing talented musicians play live, I put a lot of weight on the performance of an artist. How do they interact with the crowd? Do they interact with the crowd? Do they make the viewers care about their music and catch their interest, or do they just play songs at people in their default mode, not taking the nuances of different groups and spaces into consideration?
Devendra Banhart is without a doubt, a performer. His set was enthralling and entertaining, as much for his beautiful voice as his stage presence. He playfully uses his voice, appreciating the fine-spun choices in volume and rhythm. With only an upright bass accompanying him, Devendra had the shortest and simplest set, but arguably the most unique and memorable. Seeing him dance and writhe on stage was nothing short of lovable.
That may be why The Walkmen, who followed him, paled in comparison. With four extra people who stood off to the side of the stage playing trumpets and various other percussion pieces, the set felt overproduced and disingenuous. The Walkmen broke the honest and raw vibe of the day, charging instead into generic and wholly forgettable territory.
Cass McCombs followed, setting a much more appropriate tone with the clear, clean plucking of guitars that rang out strong, breaking the trance for the monotonous strumming The Walkmen had just provided.
When only one band was left to play, the light had changed as well as the disposition of those gathered in the pews. Four hours is a very long time to be seated in a church, no matter how lovely the sounds or visuals are. There was a tired restlessness that was creeping through the audience, in need of a resolution to this elongated event.
Dirty Projectors went on last, and the perfect harmonies they brought with them triggered the final wave of excitement and enjoyment of the afternoon. They were extremely loud, but the room accommodated and echoed them, amplifying their already prominent and commanding vocals. Fittingly, they ended their set, and the day, with "Rise Above". The blending, rhythmic, repetitious chant of "rise above, rise above" filled the lofty church, encasing the crowd on final, unwavering note of calm optimism, a purposefully subdued grand finale, knowing the power that comes of holding a little something back. As they left the stage, a pleasant fatigue and a content exhaustion came over me.
It felt a fitting end to a long, beautiful day.