Photos by Eliana Rowe
On Tuesday night, Bushwick’s grooviest party palace was packed with some of NYC’s most skilled music aficionados, both on stage and in the audience. It was a slightly unconventional event for House of Yes, as it lacked the usual aerial antics and “Love Room” shenanigans, but the regality of the space was a perfect match for the grandiose energy brought by Kalbells, The Westerlies, and Landlady, who headlined for their album release. The music was smart, the lights were bright, and the crowd was riveted.
Curated by the inimitable Adam Schatz, founder and leader of Landlady, each of the three acts presented a different display of virtuosic charm. Kalbells, who has been active around New York for several months, have yet to release any music online, making an exciting and fresh spectator experience. Fronted by Kalmia Traver (of Rubblebucket), the orange-clad, all-female quartet excelled at vocal harmonies, which oscillated between etherealism and discord quite seamlessly. Excluding the drummer who sat tight (especially on those beats), the three standing musicians played musical chairs with instruments, sometimes all three playing keys/synth, sometimes guitar or bass, and, as any Rubblebucket fan might expect, Ms. Traver whipped out her trusty saxophone for a striking change in color. Look out for Kalbells’ debut record in the spring.
Next up was The Westerlies, a band you might not expect to see on most indie-rock (or whatever label you prefer, or prefer to omit) lineups — unless, of course, that lineup was conceived by Adam Schatz. Two trumpets, two trombones: even for a jazz ensemble, very unique instrumentation. They played complex, winding melodies, enriched with an expansive dynamic range. Not just because of the quippy banter and song intros (i.e.: “This one is about a crazy old man riding a tricycle down the street”), The Westerlies played extremely narrative music, despite the absence of words. As their mouths were full of brass, all communication on stage was through body language — the impeccable musicianship shined most when the swell of dynamics manifested in sight as well as in sound. They proved to us that there absolutely is – and always should be – a place for any kind of nontraditional or instrumental group on any lineup.
Riding the fresh wave of their fourth LP release, The World Is A Loud Place, Landlady took the stage with gusto. As always, Mr. Schatz electrified center stage, joined by long-time bandmates Ian Chang and Booker Stardrum on double drum kit, Ian Davis on bass, and Will Graefe on guitar. They played a diverse set, at times reaching back in the band’s library to play old songs for the first time in years, but the bulk of the set featured songs off of The World Is A Loud Place, some of which are still new to the realm of performance. Landlady falls in the small center of a Venn diagram between “highly impressive” and “highly enjoyable” music — and the idiosyncratic songwriting and lush instrumental arrangements translates differently for every listener. The Juilliard alum may stand agape trying to figure out time signature and key changes, and right next to them, the House of Yes hula hooper can freely bask in the funk. But really, to me, the most impressive element of this band is that each member can individually possess such unparalleled technical skill, bring it together on stage with a studio-level crispness, and still be completely uninhibited performers. One minute, Mr. Schatz is crouching at the edge of the stage towards the audience, and the next, he is playing conductor to the petite orchestra that stands behind him. And they never miss a beat.
The whole evening shimmered in the light of inclusivity — from the blatant “YES!” attitude of the venue, to the diversity of the lineup, and especially in the final act of the night. The Westerlies and Ms. Traver made a few guest appearances throughout the Landlady set, but for the encore, Mr. Schatz brought everyone to the stage for an absolutely jubilant rendition of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness.” The Kalbells choraled, The Westerlies blasted their horns, with Mr. Schatz leading the whole ensemble and audience in a cathartic sing-along. Landlady will be touring the rest of the US through early March, so find them in a city near you. In this melancholy landscape we’re all trudging through, they’ll remind you that music really is the best medicine for the soul.