Monday, June 8, 2009
Show Review: The Diamond Center and North Highlands @ Market Hotel
Bereft of many of the usual trendoids, carpetbaggers, and scenesters, it was a quiescent Sunday evening in the hothouse confines of Bushwick's Market Hotel. It had been some time since I last visited the venue which seems to be inextricably linked with my writing career -- my first review was of one of the first Market Hotel shows, back when tres-chic commissary Mr. Kiwi was in its infancy and the neighborhood guys would scowl at you under the El -- and the gradual transformation of the space from the austere remnants of a Dominican social club into one of the city's foremost venues for experimental rock has been something to behold. Aside from the climate control issues, exacerbated by last night's humid conditions, it doesn't get much better than this these days.
Appropriately for a Sunday show, few of last night's players, to employ the old addage, were quite ready for prime time, hearkening back to the venue's roots as a showcase for the less-than-blogworthy. A relatively new collective of musicians, local residents North Highlands opened the show nearly an hour and a half after the doors opened at 9:00 with a corruscating set of Van Morrison-meets-David Crosby-via-Grizzly Bear harmonies, block rocking drums, and Brenda Malvini's tremulously sultry vocals. While Malvini (who doubles on electric piano) seemed to take far too many vocal cues from freak folk stalwart Joanna Newsom for her own benefit at times, her incalculable yet highly mutable stage presence makes this band quite worthy of future attention, and it's more than a pleasure to welcome them at the beginning of a great career. Closing number "Fresca", which found the band members laying down their instruments to partake in some a capella vocal gymnastics, was just the tip of the iceberg. With likeminded groups such as the aforementioned Ursus Aarctos Horribilis and Animal Collective now breaking through the Billboard Top 20, it's only a matter of time before North Highlands supplant them as local faves.
On the contrary, Lubbock's own Diamond Center seemed to take the stage in an atonal necronarcotic haze, the last thing my friends and I were looking to groove to in the oppressive heat. (Sorry, guys!) Although I only stayed for about five minutes of their set, their jagged psychedelic noise/folk-rock places them in the freaky Texas tradition of antecedents like the 13th Floor Elevators and Shiva's Headband. With appearances on NPR and their new record My Only Companion garnering favorable reviews in the indie press, it would be remiss to immediately dismiss them. Expect a review of MoC later this week, and in the meanwhile, check out North Highlands as they emerge from the musical womb.