The Kills, Black Bananas and Viva Viva: City Carnage Live at the Chelsea Pier NYC

August 18, 2012

While I take no credit, I would just like to begin by saying I had thought up this lineup in my mind about 5 years now. Though nothing and no one outside of my sonic daydreams would have ever imagined it taking place, on this day, Viva Viva, Boston’s greatest and grittiest rock band, shared a bill with the two greatest femme fatales of the past two decades. Jennifer Herrema (of the Royal Trux, RTX and currently Black Bananas), and Alison Mosshart (of the Kills), each representing rock n roll to the fullest, sexiest and most dangerous extent, joined Viva Viva, as Black Bananas and the Kills shared a billing on the Chelsea Pier– outdoors and on the Hudson River– nothing could be better.

The Royal Trux were, and still are, my idea of rock music in its most volatile form. And that could very well be why they broke up so long ago. The Kills followed closely in their footsteps once the Royal Trux had retired, and satiated the void in many ways. An art-rock two-piece, the two had a chemistry and mystique that couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the previously mentioned. If I listened to three bands five years ago, it was these three. And while they played a mixtape playlist in my foggy mind, no one could have ever imagined that a show featuring all three of these acts could or would possibly ever happen.

But thanks to a shoe company and an image founded by Chuck Taylor (whoever that is), a bunch of in-house promoters with good and edgy taste found a way. The concert of my daydreams was about to take place. Known as City Carnage, Converse came through with the perfect billing.

Converse had learned about Viva Viva down in Austin and gave them the opportunity to record at the company’s Rubber Tracks studio in NYC. After documenting the experience, photos of the band’s studio time appeared in Filter Magazine, only adding to the excitement of the endeavor. Though Converse probably didn’t know it at the time, the shoe company ranks right up there with Marlboro and Jack Daniels as one of the three most important and patronized companies in the life of singer/guitarist Chris Warren. I’m pretty sure the only sneakers he’s worn in the past 20 years have been Chucks. Another special and random unacknowledged link to the personnel in this show is the fact that Dave Vicini (Viva Viva frontman) and Alison Mosshart (of the Kills) have crossed paths before when their teenage punk bands, Boxer and Discount, played shows together in the early 1990’s.

Viva Viva started off the show, and took the stage shortly after 6pm. The weather forecast had called for rain, and lots of it, but the unexpected blue skies provided a perfect backdrop for the outdoor show on the Hudson.

Focusing on some of their newer material from their upcoming EP, Dead in Your Tracks, the band also touched on key points of their previous work and made the most of their 30 minute set. Ending with “Sympathy for the Devil’s Little Helper”, Viva Viva paid a loose tribute to their heroes with allusions to the rock n roll’s past.

Next up was Black Bananas. Led by Jennifer Herrema, the infamous front woman of the now defunct Royal Trux, Herrema’s new band is very similar to her first post-Trux band, RTX, and even enlists much of the same personnel.

Today they performed as a truncated 3-piece with Herrema on vocals, a guitarist, and an effects player to make up for the absence of a drummer– and to distort just about everything to the point of mental and decibel overload.

Looking around it seemed not many recognized the rock n roll royalty on stage and the band’s bombastic futuristic stoner beach metal sound seemed to perplex and overwhelm more than it stunned and amazed.

While the recent release of the boldly and strangely titled, Rad Times Xpress IV, is a headphone and drug masterpiece, it seems like the album would be almost impossible to replicate in this park-like setting… and so was the case. Nevertheless, the set was rock n roll in every way. Jennifer has thrown her lo-fi junk punk away and replaced it with a vocoder overload, resulting in a heavy, sexy merger of drugs and technology.

Still the pinnacle of rock frontwomen, Herrema’s mixture of disenchanted cool and commanding stage presence still presents a powerful prowess that has only gotten better with time. And when it comes to style, I can only say it seems she’s still wearing the pants she wore 15 years ago, and together with a huge furry tail and scarecrow flophat, her demeanor wasn’t even close to being trumped by the seemingly unironic dollar bill print pants of the long-haired effects player.

After an extended lull, the skies grew dark as the place tripled in capacity to await the Kills—and every second that passed in anticipation was surely worth it. Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart took stage with a small army of anonymous standup drummers wearing stick-up style bandanas. Well choreographed and unexpected, they provided an added depth to the duo’s usual drum machine backing, without taking away from their amazing onstage chemistry. The live percussion army tonight marked the first time I’d seen additional members play with the Kills in the many, many times I’ve seen them.

The band began with a great and welcomed version of “No Wow” from their sophomore record and followed by working their way through several tracks on their newest record, Blood Pressures. Thankfully, no era of their catalogue was ignored. They played “URA Fever”, “Kissy Kissy”,  “Satellite”, “Tape Song”, and touched upon several other highpoints of their 4 album and EP discography.

Retaking stage for their encore, they began with “The Last Goodbye”, and though it seemed like a proper finale, the Kills continued by dedicating “Fuck the People” to the recently imprisoned Pussy Riot– and for an extra special treat the two went straight into “Monkey 23”, a true deep cut, a rarity in their live set, and perfect execution of two back-to-back tracks on their debut record.

That was that. Three bands playing together, bound beautifully by the bonds of decadence in the city where anything is possible… even the unsuspecting show of your dreams.


Hopscotch Music Festival 2012: Year Three

Raleigh, North Carolina, September 6-8, 2012


For the third straight year, the Hopscotch Festival took over Raleigh, North Carolina for three long nights of non-stop rock. A testament to the city’s rebirth, 175+ regional, national and international bands took over 15 venues, proving the city has reached a new height of artistic growth. Sure, the city has always had great bands, and a few venues that have come and gone, but right now, Raleigh is witnessing its heyday.

The Hopscotch Festival seems like SXSW in its infancy. There were hangover day shows, unofficial shows, corresponding art exhibits, and every attendee must plan ahead if they want to make it through the day. When it came to the official night shows, you had to pick favorites and let other simultaneous shows fall by the wayside. But unlike South by Southwest, being shutout of a show is a rarity.

Day 1: Thursday, September 6

We started off our festival taking a shot in the dark, going to see a local band called Wood Ear. Though we found the set a weak kickoff and uninspired set by a mismatched group of players, it did serve as a meeting place for a few unexpected friends.

From there it was off to see Deerhoof. While their manic performance seemed drowned out by the epic size and relaxing seats of the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, those who knew were there and ready to shake. The drummer continued to prove he is one of the best and hardest hitters in the game, and with singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s high kicks and “la, la” vocals, it felt right. And then we got restless. With so much going on, it’s hard to sit still. So we didn’t.

Unfortunately we passed up going to see Hacienda for a rare appearance by Alvarius B, a solo project by Alan Bishop, formerly of the Sun City Girls. I’m pretty sure I heard him  sing about some crazy ass shit, but since we couldn’t even catch a glimpse of him on stage, we ducked out and headed to the Fletcher Opera House to see Matthew E. White.

While his recent solo record continues to garner critical acclaim, his performance tonight, billed under “One Incantation Under God” would be the largest ensemble assemblage of the festival. Playing one time only with 31 people on stage, he wanted to prove the diversity of styles in the unified scene of an increasingly artistic community in Richmond, Virginia.

From there we hurried over to the Contemporary Art Museum, a somewhat new building and new enough that it was their first time as a Hopscotch venue. The Oh Sees had already taken stage and proved to be the day, and perhaps even the festival’s, greatest show.

Playing a diverse set of driving psychedelic party music, the fans put in as much as the band offered up through their enthusiastic set. People were crowd surfing, moshing, and even crowd surfing into the mosh pit. These are things you can’t do many places anymore, let alone in an art museum.

Day Two: Friday, September 7

Day two started early as we took in some day shows, most notably the Naked Gods at the Tir Na Nog. The Boone, NC band are purveyors of southern rock with a mountain mellowness. We’ve long been fans and have even created a sort of exchange program of friendship, respect and touring between Boston and Boone bands.

Today’s early set was a toned down, chilled-out set of selections from their two records. The real rock-out would come later. Just about now we realized that a nap was probably the best and most strategious thing to do with a full night ahead and we executed accordingly.

Returning to view festival artwork, we hurried to see Built to Spill take over City Plaza as the first of the big outdoor headlining shows. Taking place on the Promenade that spans all the way to the state house, the show was great, sprawling, but seems to have been done before and done often.

The Jesus and Mary Chain, the most unexpected band of the festival followed Idaho’s finest on the same stage. Unfortunately the band didn’t seem fit for an outdoor setting.

The sound was off—and not off like their records with walls of abrasive distortion. Maybe it sounded too… NORMAL.

From there it was back to see the Naked Gods. At this time slot, it was the best option. And why not? They are THAT good. And at night they took their slow set of the early hours and revved it up with different, heavier jams.

Since we were in proximity, we ran next door to the Pour House where those “heavy” jams” were trumped by Pallbearer. We’d seen just about every other type of music. Now it was time for dirge metal.


The strange thing about Friday’s shows is that much of the time one had to pick between heavy metal or heavy emotions (or both). We missed Papa M and Corrosion of Conformity for the Hoboken indie stalwarts, Yo La Tengo. Though they have been known to get crazy, their recent years have slowed down to more atmospheric sets, and tonight’s set was sleepier than ever. While it was extremely delicate and beautiful, it had been a long day and people were tired. People were actually sleeping at the show. But with a lovely soundtrack and plush red seats, it must have been a good nap.

We missed the Mountain Goats who played their one-time only acoustic metal covers set. And we missed Valient Thorr whose name suggests exactly what to expect. We missed all of that to see Damien Jurado.


Although we dipped further into the depression hour, Jurado is always quiet, perfect and extremely evocative. The man does not disappoint, but he does depress. That’s his intention. One of the best, most tragic troubadours, he performed solo this time around, and he got his due attention from an attentive audience.

Promising to make up the dismal hours of magical music to my girlfriend, I took her to the Pour House so we could spend the close of our night dancing our asses off to Dan Deacon. But, for the first time we were shut out. With a line around the block and the room at capacity, we had no chance to dance away the sadness. And we headed home as such.