The South St Sea port in downtown Manhattan is a supremely scenic, if somewhat incongruous setting for an indie-rock gig. What with the unsuspecting tourists milling around and the after-work suits starting their weekend libations, the thrift-shop clad rock crowd are almost in a minority .
Nonetheless, the River-to-River series returns to the area for another year, with a promising schedule of events. One of the first of which is this varied psych-fest with Brooklyn's Bear In Heaven, supported by Wisconsinites Zola Jesus.
As a surprise bonus, we also get a few songs from YellowFever. Scheduled to play the previous week but detained due to a knife incident less dramatic than it sounds, they warm the crowd up with some minimal, stuttering numbers that both intrigue and confuse in equal measure. A full set would be required to comprehend exactly what they're shooting for but it's interesting to take in as a little extra.
The scheduled programming resumes as Zola Jesus - essentially the project of singer Roza Danilova and her powerful backing guitarist - take the stage. On a greying night belying the oppressive sun and heat that preceded it all week, their introspective no-wave revival strains to fit the atmosphere but is always at odds with the mixed crowd and undeniably summer feel. Danilova's voice fluctuates in tone and timbre, a powerful hook as the music floats around the large open space, and the guitar swirls underneath it. At her best, she's every inch the captivating and enigmatic indie diva, emotional and on edge. At times the songs fall flat though and attention begins to wander. In a dark and moody club room, however, one has to feel Zola Jesus would own our souls.
With more of an accessible side to their particular take on psychedelia, Bear In Heaven fare much better in winning over the masses. Their songs have the intricate instrumental meanderings familiar to the style but, crucially, they anchor their sound in passages that can best be described as 'huge', in a not dissimilar manner to Muse. Singer Jon Philpot's high-pitched tones set off the more moody, low end guitar work going on behind him, with his synthesized effects adding pleasingly to the electronic maelstrom.
The biggest cheer of the set is reserved for the familiar understated charm of Lovesick Teenagers, a great track but trumped for this listener by the moments when this often restrained band simply slip the shackles and let their sound run free. At those points, these Brooklyn chaps sound ready for the arenas and have the varied audience eating out of their collective hands.
The band now heads out on an extensive tour that covers much of the USA and takes in Europe too, so do head out and catch them at your very first opportunity, dear friends.
Next up at the Seaport this Friday is Thee Oh Sees, who have a renowned live reputation if I recall correctly, alongside the less enthusing Golden Triangle and the unknown-to-me-as-yet So Cow. Love these summer freebies.
For some striking photographic memories of the evening, take a butchers at Brooklyn Vegan's coverage too.