Dark Was The Night at Radio City Music Hall – 3 May 2009

I’ve decided to forgo my usual chronological scrupulousness. Last night was the Dark Was The Night charity concert bonanza, and, due to extraordinary pressure from certain acquaintances of mine, I shall do some writing on the subject. Some writing off the subject may also appear in this post; I will not attempt to deny my propensity to digress.

All right, let me just get this out of the way. My two companions — fear not, gentle reader, the Good King was one of them — and I were in row GG of the orchestra, which was fantastic in and of itself, but made even more so by virtue of who was sitting near us — none other than Kyp Malone, the eminently bearded vocalist/guitarist of TV on the Radio. My seat was on the aisle, and he was one seat in, directly across said aisle. The story becomes more magical in the second half of the evening, when David Byrne stopped by old row GG to catch the end of the show. At one point he was standing literally right next to me, and I stopped breathing for a while.

Anyway.

I was not expecting Dirty Projectors to open this show by themselves, with a song that’s not even the single off an album that has not yet been released. But they did! So that was pretty exciting. The song was Useful Chamber, and it’s actually pretty great. The next song, Stillness Is The Move, is also off the new record (Bitte Orca), and also quite a good song, but did not sound quite as good as Useful Chamber. On Stillness, Amber Coffman’s voice can turn into a bit of a mewl. I’m not saying she can’t sing, just that, live, she can get a bit grating. I don’t know if it was the venue, but she definitely sounds better on record. She still sounds like the same singer, but I guess their producer has a knack for making her vocal idiosyncrasies fit well into the rest of the song. At Radio City, the mewling stood out a bit. This was only a few moments, though, and, on the whole, I enjoyed the performance. Ms Coffman got her dance on a bit, and some of her more spot-on vocals sounded a bit like Mariah Carey, so that was exciting.

Whoa, am I going to talk about every song? That seems excessive. We’ll see how this goes.

David Byrne came out for the next song, Ambulance Man, which was apparently recorded for the Dark Was The Night album but didn’t make the cut, ceding to the Byrne/Projectors collaboration Knotty Pine, which finished the DPs set last night. I like Knotty Pine better, but maybe that’s only because I’ve heard it a lot more. All in all, I’m not sure Dirty Projectors are exactly ready for such a big place but I enjoyed their set since I was in the seventh row.

After Dirty Projectors, Red Hot head guy John Carlin came onstage to discuss briefly the evening’s format. He learned me a little something about the history of Red Hot. Aight, Carlin. Word.

My Brightest Diamond (Shara Worden) was next, with her cover of Feeling Good, made famous by Nina Simone. Ms Worden absolutely handled the song, and the backing band — which included members of the National along with a violinist, bass clarinetist, maybe a couple of horns, who knows what else — performed admirably as well. Unfortunately, Ms Worden did not play any more of her songs. A little disappointing, that.

The National were next, with singer Matt Berninger joining the members who were already onstage playing with Ms Worden. Since Bryce and Aaron Dessner were big parts of putting together the album and the show, I was hoping that the National would play a bit longer than the standard three or four songs. Alas, it was not to be. They started with Boxer cut Slow Show, then played what I think was a new song, called England. Next was DWTN standout So Far Around The Bend, followed by another new song, called something like Vanderlyle Crybaby. Justin Vernon ripped a sweet guitar solo on that one, boy oh boy. Let ’em know, Vernon. That actually may have been the highlight of their set for me. The National were perhaps the band I was most looking forward to seeing, since I had never before seen them live, but they disappointed me — not the band so much as Matt Berninger, the singer. I had read that his stage presence was less than engaging, but I didn’t think too much of that criticism, since much of the National’s music (especially on Boxer) is melancholy and even-tempered. However, I did expect his voice to sound at least as rich and mellifluous live as it does on record. It does, sort of, but he doesn’t seem to have great control over it. The timbre is the same, but he’s not precisely in tune on a lot of the notes. It may just be because I’ve heard him hit each note perfectly on the albums so much. The vocals were a bit low in the mix, too.

A sharply besuited Dave Sitek was next, singing the Troggs’s With A Girl Like You over the fuzzed out guitar and horns and a veritable choir behind him. I like the song, but Mr Sitek is not really a frontman, and it was also once again a bit wack that there was a set change into a one-song set, and then another set change. Not ideal for the pacing of the show. Good thing our noble hero, David Byrne, came on next.

I knew he wasn’t going to do any Talking Heads songs, since Mr Carlin had told us as much earlier in the evening. I was resigned to this fact, and looked forward to hearing the songs Mr Byrne had done for previous Red Hot efforts. And they were swell! His cover of Cole Porter’s Don’t Fence Me In was enlivened by a drumline of sorts (come on, Firefox, how can you not recognize ‘drumline‘ as a word? And how do IMDB users have that at just a 5.2? Travesty). He finished with a couple other of his old Red Hot tunes, which Mr Carlin said he had never before performed live. Justin Vernon came out to fill Caetano Veloso’s shoes on Dreamworld: Marco De Canavezes and Leslie Feist dueted with Mr Byrne on Waters Of March. Lovely, lovely, indeed.

Intermission followed. I stretched. I watered the plants. I prepared the feast.

Bon Iver opened the second part of the show with Brackett, WI, off the first disc of the compilation. Their next was Blood Bank, from the EP of the same name. The National then came out to join in on Big Red Machine (credited as Justin Vernon + Aaron Dessner on the album), with Mr Berninger and Mr Vernon sharing vocal duties. While these three songs were great, the next was absolutely phenomenal, and, to me, the high point of the evening. Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) came out to sing a verse on Flume, complementing Mr Vernon’s vocals beautifully. I didn’t realize it last night, but thinking back on it now, Flume is the only song of the night (besides Feeling Good, which I also loved) that I’ve been listening to for longer than three months. So after a year and a half of listening to it, seeing Flume in such a fantastic setting at such a fantastic event with such fantastic performers on stage really gave it new meaning and power.

Feist had the unenviable task of following that spectacle, and she boldly took the stage alone, with just an acoustic guitar. And, keeping with the evening’s trend of artists avoiding their more famous songs, she didn’t play 1-2-3-4! She didn’t play any of her own songs, actually, opening with the traditional The Wagoner’s Lad, which fit well with the short film that had segued the evening into her set, which featured women musicians discussing what it means to be a female in band. Next was the enjoyable Look What The Light Did Now, originally by the Bay Area’s Little Wings. Ben Gibbard did not show up to perform his part on Train Song, so Justin Vernon came on and filled in admirably. While I’ve not listened to much Death Cab lately, I actually rather enjoy Mr Gibbard’s contribution to the track, and I wondered how Mr Vernon would handle his role. He sounded fantastic, his distinctly low voice (no falsetto, here) offering a take on the song compellingly different from Mr Gibbard’s. Feist had also called the rest of Bon Iver to the stage with her, and they provided (you guessed it) some lovely harmonies. For her next and final song she strapped on an electric guitar for a cover of Someday Baby, off of Bob Dylan’s Modern Times. I’m not sure how I feel about her playing by herself for three out of four songs. I didn’t mind too much, since I was close enough that it didn’t matter to much to me, but I can’t imagine that it could have been great to be in the third mezzanine, watching a small woman on stage singing alone. There was also the issue with the copious reverb on her voice. It sounded lovely for held notes, but faster passages were bogged down a bit by the fog, especially on Look What The Light Did Now; it was difficult to distinguish lyrics. She does have a fantastic voice, though, and I’ll admit that the reverb often made it sound even better. I am rather a fan of reverb.

At this point, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings took over and funked everything up real crazy-like. Sharon Jones is a fantastic performer, and a great singer, too. I thought her breath control was as impressive as her James Brown impression. The lady can move, though, and that’s what sets her apart from other good singers who can’t win over an audience like she can. Even though there’s pretty much nothing original about their funk/soul revivalism, I wouldn’t exactly call that a problem. I never got a chance to see James Brown, so if this is the closest I’m going to get, I’ll take it.

For the finale, almost everyone came out with some acoustic guitars and one of the Dessner brothers announced that the last song was dedicated to Pete Seeger, who happened to have his own benefit going on simultaneously over at Madison Square Garden. The song was Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, and yeah, I sang along. Sure I did. What of it? But wait! Then Sharon Jones came out and said, easy, folkies — we’re gonna get funky funky funky. And, bam! soul version of This Land Is Your Land. In the words of Malkmus, We Dance.

So there it is, there’s the evening for you. Rest easy, gentle reader. I wish you well, and, as is my custom, leave you with a set list.

Dirty Projectors – Useful Chamber
Dirty Projectors – Stillness Is The Move
Dirty Projectors – Ambulance Man (with David Byrne)
Dirty Projectors – Knotty Pine (with David Byrne)
My Brightest Diamond – Feeling Good (with a couple guys from the National) [Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse cover, made famous by Nina Simone]
The National – Slow Show
The National – England
The National – So Far Around The Bend
The National – Vanderlyle (?) Crybaby (with Justin Vernon)
Dave Sitek – With A Girl Like You (with like a million people)
David Byrne – Don’t Fence Me In [Cole Porter cover]
David Byrne – Dreamworld: Marco de Canavezes (with Justin Vernon)
David Byrne – Waters Of March (with Leslie Feist)

Intermission

Bon Iver – Brackett, WI
Bon Iver – Blood Bank
Bon Iver – Big Red Machine (with Matt Berninger and the National)
Bon Iver – Flume (with My Brightest Diamond)
Feist – The Wagoner’s Lad [Traditional]
Feist – Look What The Light Did Now [Little Wings cover]
Feist – Train Song (with Justin Vernon in the Ben Gibbard part and the rest of Bon Iver on harmonies) [Alasdair Clayre cover, made famous (well, not famous, exactly…) by Vashti Bunyan]
Feist – Someday Baby [Bob Dylan cover]
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – Not Gonna Cry
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – When I Come Home
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – Inspiration Information
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights

Encore

Almost Everyone – This Land Is Your Land [Woody Guthrie cover (obvs!)]
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – This Land Is Your Land (funky version)

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3 Comments on “Dark Was The Night at Radio City Music Hall – 3 May 2009”


  1. […] Dark Was The Night at Radio City Music Hall – 3 May 2009 […]


  2. […] Vote Dark Was The Night at Radio City Music Hall – 3 May 2009 « The Tin … […]

  3. Kelly Brown Says:

    Hi, very nice post. I have been wonder’n bout this issue,so thanks for posting


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