Live Review: LVL UP are the boyband America needs in the 21st Century

Originally published on Vanyaland


LVL UP are the great American boyband.

Or, at least, that’s how they jokingly described themselves at the start of their set at the Middle East Upstairs on Thursday (October 5). After a few doses of their distinctive brand of fuzz rock, not one member of the spirited crowd would disagree.

Bolstered by a pair of phenomenal sets from openers Littlefoot and Loone, LVL UP kicked things off at the Cambridge club with “Hidden Driver,” the breakout hit from their most recent album that recalls the frantic strums and vocals of Neutral Milk Hotel. The band started the song with a slow, deliberate build-up, exchanging cheeky glances and withholding any melodies that could reveal which song they were about to play. When they finally exploded into the verse and guitarist Dave Benton started singing, all four members broke out into uncontrollable grins, as if they had reached the punchline of a joke that only they were in on.

Even after more than six years as a band, it makes sense that LVL UP would be this excited to play. After all, they have had a pretty fortunate run since their formation while attending college at SUNY Purchase. Exhausted from years spent grinding away in New York’s DIY scene, LVL UP was on the verge of calling it quits when representatives of the indie giant Sub Pop caught a few tour dates following their beloved 2014 album Hoodwink’d. Charmed, the Seattle label offered to release their follow-up, the critically-acclaimed 2016 full-length Return to Love.

Now when LVL UP perform, it’s as if they’ve been given a hall pass, a second chance to keep going and just have fun with it. This translates to a looseness on stage that energizes the crowd and lends a fun, imaginative flair to established hits like “I Feel Extra-Natural” and the all-out freneticism of “Blur.” But even at their most boisterous, the band’s underlying musicianship comes through to bring everything back together. This became especially evident on Return to Love standout “Pain,” when vocalist Mike Caridi stealthily replaced the bridge with a few lines from Elliott Smith’s “Roman Candle” before descending into a cacophony of pounding drums and squealing guitars.

When the four members of LVL UP looked up from their instruments to proclaim that the next song would be the last of the night, they seemed to share in the groan that rose from the audience, wishing they could keep playing forever. LVL UP have found themselves part of a long tradition of American guitar bands trying to forge a place for themselves among their ’90s heroes while they wait for their big break. But when they finally launched into “The Closing Door” and the crowd began to move again, it was easy to believe that they could be the band to carry that torch to great new heights.

You’re My Favorite Customer: the Coolidge Grapples with Midnight Screenings of The Room

Originally published on Vanyaland


The lights go off, the crowd roars, and the Wiseau Films logo appears on the screen. What follows is a 90 minute onslaught of gratuitous sex scenes, intoxicated 20-somethings yelling their favorite quotes in unison, and the offbeat delivery of eccentric star and director Tommy Wiseau. This is what happens when you attend a midnight showing of The Room, the 2003 cult classic that has been called “the best worst movie ever made.”

Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre has been hosting these screenings since 2007. In those 10 years, the screenings have grown from tiny audiences to sold-out theaters packed with rowdy diehards. These days they seem to be more about the experience of viewing the film in a packed room than the actual film itself, with the most rabid followers often drowning out the dialogue with their call-and-response references and inside jokes. Audiences have also started a tradition of throwing hundreds of plastic spoons at the screen whenever a particular framed picture of a spoon appears in the background.

“The rowdiness is part of the charm. That’s why you go to The Room, for the craziness of it,” says Brookline resident Garrett Stevens, who attended the most recent screening of The Room last month. “It’s a communal thing I think more than any other moviegoing experience.”

But that fun, communal environment often causes problems for the Coolidge staff.

“I’ve always had to do introductions to let people know they’re watching a bad film, and also to set up our expectations for the audience’s behavior,” Coolidge After Midnite curator Mark Anastasio says.

According to Anastasio, it is not uncommon for the staff to be picking up plastic spoons and popcorn until 3:30 a.m. They have also had problems with people throwing footballs in the crowd, yelling inappropriate or sexist things during the film, and bringing drugs and alcohol into the theater.

“As a film programmer I shouldn’t be complaining about a film that reliably brings sold-out audiences,” Anastasio adds. “One sold-out screening of The Room can fund two or three weeks of films that only bring in 30 to 50 people.”

However, almost 10 years of increasingly raucous screenings combined with a deteriorating relationship with Wiseau led the Coolidge to stop showing the film last year. But the film suddenly began making headlines again when it was announced that James Franco and Seth Rogen would be releasing a screen adaptation of The Disaster Artist in December, based on a novel written by Room co-star Greg Sestero about the making of the film and his friendship with Wiseau.

Sestero is a longtime patron of the Coolidge and even witnessed his first midnight screening of the film at the Brookline cinema many years ago, so the theater decided to support him by resuming monthly screenings of The Room this summer. They also hope to host a full script read through of The Room with Sestero in December and have members of the audience read characters’ parts.

While the newfound attention brought by The Disaster Artist will only expand the film’s audience, the future of The Room at Coolidge Corner Theatre is uncertain. According to Anastasio, they will continue the screenings for at least a few months after the new film is released, but beyond that, they will need to have a serious discussion about how they can continue to accommodate the crowds that it brings. One thing is certain though: As long as The Room is showing, there will be hundreds of eager fans lining up outside the theater to throw spoons during the best worst movie ever made.

Pixies shape the sound of alt-rock with “Come On Pilgrim”


They did not know it yet, but in 1987 a whole generation of soon-to-be disciples of the unnatural side of rock were awaiting their awakening. When the Pixies released their clamorous debut Come On Pilgrim late that year, legions of unsuspecting fans were introduced to a brand new world of jaggedly beautiful noise, demonic possession, and illicit sexual fervor.

The cult that was the Pixies began a year earlier, in 1986, when a man who called himself Black Francis and his college pal Joey Santiago placed an ad in the Boston Phoenix seeking a bassist who’s influences were equal parts Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul, and Mary. They received only one response, from a woman named Kim Deal, and the trio formed the Pixies along with drummer and part-time magician David Lovering. They were like nothing anyone had ever heard, switching seamlessly between smooth pop hooks and frantic noise, and as they developed their sound the cult that had surrounded them grew as well, eventually attracting such devotees as Kurt Cobain, Pavement, and Radiohead.

Come On Pilgrim was the staggering initiation to that cult. Clocking in at only 20 minutes of playtime, the Pixies’ debut served as both a fiercely distinctive statement and an indication of what was to come. Its eight tracks included some of the band’s most inventive work alongside its most accessible.

On “Holiday Song,” for example, the Pixies came about as close as they would ever come to a high-flying guitar-pop song, while just two tracks earlier they delivered a pair of high-octane punk songs in “Vamos” and “Isla de Encanta” that feature Black Francis barking in Spanish over Santiago’s frenzied guitar. These relatively straightforward cuts are contrasted by tracks like the thrashing “I’ve Been Tired,” which finds Francis growling about unrequited desire, or the roiling closer “Levitate Me” that spirals from murky depths into an undeniably poppy chorus without a second thought.

However, the true embodiment of the energy of Come On Pilgrim comes on the opener “Caribou.” In many ways, the first song that the public heard from the Pixies was their most representative and ambitious, reaching heights that were not often overcome on later albums. Employing the powerful dynamics that the Pixies would become known for, “Caribou” combines some of Black Francis’s sweetest singing with his most raw and explosive, making it sound right at home even among the band’s more refined later work like Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. For the band’s most fervent disciples, the squealing guitar line that announces the Pixies’ arrival to the world has become synonymous with everything new and exciting in rock music.

While it was followed up in just six months by the hugely influential Surfer RosaCome On Pilgrim remains one of the strongest and most unique inaugural statements in rock music. Providing a brief but potent teaser of what was to be a long and celebrated career, the Pixies’ first album set the standard from which they would develop their sound and become one of the most important bands of the pre-grunge era.

While some critics refer to the Boston band in somewhat reductionist terms for their contributions as the “quiet-loud band” of alternative rock, the unique sonic idea that the Pixies brought to the table went much deeper and spoke to a furious and yet somehow repressed energy in those who listened.

With Come On Pilgrim, the Pixies not only carved a place for themselves in the traditions that they were joining but also forged a new movement, one of self-discovery in gnarled and beautiful noise, of letting the world see and hear your own visceral and often unpleasant truths and feeling okay with it all.

Featured Pixies photo via 4AD. Listen to two vintage Pixies recordings from 1987 below, the first a full broadcast from Emerson College’s WERS Studios in January 1987 and the second a performance of “Nimrod’s Son” at Green Street Station in Jamaica Plain.

Originally published on Vanyaland

Crumb deliver woozy, jazz-inflected indie rock on standout Locket EP

Originally published on Vanyaland:

After two years of traveling back and forth between New York and Boston to meet up and record, Crumb will finally be settling in Brooklyn this summer. But not before the quartet, which met and formed at Tuft University in Somerville a few years back, delivers one excellent parting gift in a new EP titled Locket.

On the surface, Crumb craft woozy, jazz-inflected indie rock that defies simple genre categorization. And Locket — their second EP in under a year and follow-up to 2016’s Crumb EP — marks the band’s most refined and consistent work to date.

Opening track “Plants” opens Locket with a shimmering guitar line and singer Lila Ramani’s description of a flimsy and somewhat saccharine relationship. That’s followed by “Recently Played,” which recalls Crumb’s earlier work with syrupy synths and jazzy percussion courtesy of drummer Jonathan Gilad. The bulk of the progression that Crumb achieves on Locket can be found in the final two tracks, with “Thirty-Nine” channeling the melodic psychedelia of early Tame Impala and the constant shifts of the title track and closer demonstrating the band’s rare combination of inventiveness and cohesion.

With the move to Brooklyn comes the promise of more consistent output and national touring, making Crumb a band to watch not only for us in the Northeast, but the rest of the country as well. Listen to the Locket EP via Soundcloud below.