A pair of musical surprises: Jolie Holland at Bar LunÀtico & Dresden Dolls at Rough Trade

Part of the reason I’m such an enthusiast for live music is that the experience is always unique and, to some extent, unpredictable. Case in point: I’d had my concert calendar laid out for April since the first week of the month, but this week I ended up ditching my plans a couple of times for last-minute surprise concerts. One was announced just hours before the show, one was announced a few days in advance. Luckily, since I am a person who is relatively unattached to other people’s schedules, I was able to drop my plans and make it to both events. There was some kind of synchronicity at work, with two of my favorite female vocalists/songwriters announcing last-minute shows in Brooklyn two days apart; but the shows were pretty drastically different.

The first one was a Record Store Day concert kicking off the Dresden Dolls‘ release of the Virginia Monologues, a vinyl collection of their two albums Yes, Virginia and No, Virginia. They did a free concert at the Rough Trade record store in Williamsburg, which I think has a capacity around 250 in the venue attached to the store. It was the first time I’d been there when the balcony was open, so I took the opportunity to nab a spot up there – it was an unusually hot day and the GA floor area was unpleasant, temperature-wise, so I was hoping the balcony would have a bit more airflow (it didn’t, but I had a nice view, so that was OK).

The Dresden Dolls have been on hiatus for a while – I actually happened to catch their last performance, which was just a couple of songs at a benefit show in the Boston metro area in 2013. I’d enjoyed those two songs a lot so I figured it would be worth trekking out to Brooklyn early to check out a full set from them. Unfortunately the L train wasn’t running between Manhattan and Williamsburg on Record Store Day because the MTA hates us, so it took me close to two torturous hours to get there, including multiple trains, walking, and an illegal Uber street pick-up when I got desperate. I narrowly avoided taking the G train for the first time ever. But I got there, and I got in, and the awesome bartender gave me a free ice-cold non-alcoholic beverage, so it was all good.

They came out pretty darn close to on-time (which was impressive and greatly appreciated as I was dripping sweat before the show even started – damn, Rough Trade, do you not have air conditioning??) and as expected, the show was intense. I have a bit of a weakness for melodramatic/cabaret type rock music, and the Dresden Dolls are pretty much the epitome of that. The whole set was good, but most of my favorites were towards the end – “Half Jack,” a cover of “War Pigs,” “Sing” and the explosive encore, “Girl Anachronism.” When I wasn’t watching the stage, I was enjoying watching the crowd up front – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an audience enjoying themselves that much at a show! Dancing, singing, smiling. The joy on their faces was visible all the way up in the balcony.
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Early April Concert Highlights: Doug Wieselman; Jolie Holland; Nels Cline Singers w/Jeff Parker

As usual, I’ve been seeing too many concerts to review, but I thought I’d take a night off and cover a few highlights of the last couple of weeks – just pulling out my very favorite performances among the ten or so bands/performers I’ve seen.

The first really great set I saw in April was Doug Wieselman‘s solo performance at a house concert. I think he performed music exclusively from his recent album, From Water, which features pieces he wrote after being inspired by specific bodies of water. Some have obvious inspirations like “Pacific 1″ and “Pacific 2,” and some had more involved explanations – like “Train” which was inspired by the train that goes along the Hudson River (which is the one I take to my parents’ house, so I know it well – it’s beautiful) and even as far afield as “Kepler-22b,” which is an exoplanet that astronomers believe has a lot of water on it. Mr. Wieselman performed on solo clarinet and some electronics/pedals.

I found this music to be particularly enjoyable in such an intimate and friendly setting. It was so easy to fully focus on and lose yourself in the sound. I’ve seen him play a few times before, but this set felt really special.

Later that week I went with a friend to see Jolie Holland. Kind of a nice musical segue, because although these two concerts could hardly be more different, Doug Wieselman played a lot on her most recent album, Wine Dark Sea. And the lion’s share of her setlist was from that album, including one of my favorites, “Saint Dymphna.”

For this particular live set, she had an unusual lineup featuring three electric guitars and no other instruments (although one guitarist swapped out his guitar for a harmonium on a couple of songs). Electric guitars are one of my favorite instruments, so I thought it made for a pretty fun band. It was a short-ish set, but the setlist was very well-chosen and included a new song that I really liked. After hearing it, I’m already looking forward to the next album! (She tends to go a few years between albums, but hopefully I don’t have to wait TOO long for it.)

Edit for a late addition: My friend Mike W. sent me this great pic he took at the Jolie Holland concert from our vantagepoint at the corner of the stage:
Jolie Holland at the Bowery Ballroom

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