Casa Amadeo doesn’t just sell records: Thanks to Mike Amadeo’s love of music, and talent for creating it, the store has started and supported Latin-music careers for most of its history. “I started shopping at Casa Amadeo when I was 13 years old,” says Jason Molina, now 33. “I bought my first LP there, Héctor Lavoe’s Comedia.” To local Latin-music fans, Molina is Jumpin’ Jay, one of the main DJs on La Mega 97.9, spinning and announcing from midnight to 6 a.m., Monday through Thursday. He found many of the songs he spins, particularly the classics, while browsing Casa Amadeo’s stacks.
Before Molina became a DJ, he studied accounting and information technology, staying in touch with his passion for music through frequent visits to Casa Amadeo. “I kept going back because [Amadeo’s] such a nice guy,” he says. “That was my store to get anything, especially salsa. Mr. Amadeo knows his music.”
Amadeo has a good ear because he’s a skilled musician himself, and he often encourages his customers to try making their own songs instead of just listening. “He’s a resource for young musicians,” explains Harvey Averne, 79, a former Latin recording artist turned producer who has taken home two Grammys for his work on Latin soul albums. “If you tell him you play trumpet, he’ll tell you who you need to listen to, or if you’re a singer, who you should study.”
A legend in his own right, Averne marveled for years over the influence of just one man and his store, even though he’d never talked to the proprietor himself. “We finally met for the first time six months ago,” Averne explains. “We hung out for about three hours. He started pulling all my productions out, and in the end he pulled out some orange-flavored moonshine.”
The two old-timers bonded over what everyone connects with at Casa Amadeo: history, shared culture, and a love of music. “He’s outlasted everything and you can’t replace him,” Averne says. “Nobody runs a shop like him.”
Two weeks ago, Red Bull Music Academy announced the spectacular lineup for their 2016 festival, which gathers multiple generations of musicians to create a snapshot of where music has been, where it is now, and where it’s headed. As of today, tickets for all eighteen events (some of which span multiple nights) are now on sale. If previous editions are any indication, most or all of these will sell out, and quickly.
Young Fathers have scared the shit out of people three times: once back in 2014, when the Scottish three-piece (live, a sometimes four-piece) received the Mercury Prize for their asymmetrical hip-pop album Dead, beating out surefire frontrunners FKA twigs and Damon Albarn with their diasporic brand of experimental, architectural sad-guy bangers; then when they named their Mercury-supported follow-up album White Men Are Black Men Too; and again in 2015 when they performed in Central Park as part of a concert curated by Okayafrica.
Young Fathers play on our cultural expectation that artists can never, ever have a bad day at work like the average person. Rarely do the band members make eye contact, even when digital rhythms dissipate into polyrhythms, casting prisms, unfolding. The whisper-light, gossamer twine of their voices is indicative of exactly who they are: three guys who dragged each other, kicking and screaming, out of puberty (the band formed in 2008 after meeting at under-sixteen rap nights). Not relying on antics or attitude, allowing their sub-contextual, dreamy lyrics and music to speak for them, they clearly take themselves seriously, thereby demanding we take them seriously, too.
See them April 2 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg — I’m serious. — Meredith Graves
The Necks March 24–25 Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, whitney.org
The Necks have said they can almost read one another’s minds — adding that, if they could, it would probably be boring. The Australian trio of pianist Chris Abrahams, drummer Tony Buck, and bassist Lloyd Swanton have been refining their mind-melding skills during nearly three decades of group improvisation. Most Necks performances take the form of uninterrupted one-hour chunks of patient, uncannily empathetic instrumental conversations. It’s neither jazz, rock, nor avant-garde trance music, although it borrows from all of the above. Mostly, it’s music of exquisite collective personality you hardly need to be a mind reader yourself to relish. — Richard Gehr
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead March 24–26 Brooklyn Bowl, 61 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, brooklynbowl.com
The most musically nourishing and downright fun rock combo in town happens to be a Grateful Dead cover band. Following a stint as the remaining Dead members’ go-to drummer, Joe Russo retrofitted his instrumental Led Zeppelin rep band, Bustle in Your Hedgerow, added a solid singer-guitarist (Brothers Past’s Tom Hamilton), and set sail. As the Dead’s remnants devolve into ever-sludgier versions of their former selves, JRAD navigates the band’s jam standards with a spirit reminiscent of the Dead’s amphetamine-aided 1967 debut. No two shows are the same, natch, and the music boogies, shimmers, and explodes, with Deadhead nostalgia a hazy afterthought. — Richard Gehr
David Bowie tributes March 31–April 1 March 31 at Carnegie Hall, 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, carnegiehall.org; April 1 at Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Avenue of the Americas, radiocity.com
From Lady Gaga’s Grammy Awards appearance to Jherek Bischoff and Amanda Palmer’s sumptuous string-quartet tribute, testimonies to the Thin White Duke’s seemingly universal appeal have emerged unabated since his death. Impresario Michael Dorf’s two-night, two-venue event, however, has been in the works for more than a year and will benefit a handful of worthy music-related charities. Longtime Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti wrangles the house band at what should be long, often surprising evenings of familiar songs performed with greater or lesser fidelity. Bette Midler, Laurie Anderson, Michael Stipe, the Roots, Perry Farrell, Cyndi Lauper, the Mountain Goats, Robyn Hitchcock, saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s Blackstar backing group, and other names you would recognize will be on hand — an artist for every Bowie persona, as it were. — Richard Gehr
“Let’s dig in deep and get out of this rut,” wails Bonnie Raitt on the opening track of her latest album, Dig in Deep. The musical highlight of the otherwise lackluster recent Grammy Awards, Raitt has been digging in since her 1971 debut at the tender age of 21, when she was singing and praising the songs of female dynamos like Sippie Wallace and Calypso Rose. Twenty albums and one sobering-up later, she’s developed a refreshingly adult musical persona that combines vinegar-marinated roots rock with relatively relatable balladry. (Consider the slow tunes the skunk-streak through her red tresses.) She’s still a terrific slide guitarist, her band sounds better than ever, and lessons in aging gracefully come at no extra charge. — Richard Gehr
This Texas-based retro-futurist prog-boogie quartet has nailed the post–jam band thing with casually fiery playing and exactingly erratic left turns. Denim basically adhere to the Wilco template of classic rock with an avant-garde tinge, and there’s nothing wrong with that. When his guitarist and drummer left to join soul singer Leon Bridges’s start-up, frontman James Petralli released the kitchen-sink solo album Constant Bop (as Bop English) before making a few new hires and recording the tersely titled (and more soulful than proggy) Stiff. — Richard Gehr
Chhandayan All-Night Concert May 7 New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th Street, chhandayan.com
When they hit the stage, well into the morning, the Saami Brothers qawwali party’s voices, harmoniums, hand drums, and handclaps will tap into a 900-year-old mystical tradition. Though this, one of the city’s more remarkable and important annual cultural events, is usually devoted to classical Indian music, the 2016 edition will focus on the legacy of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, the Sufi saint who created qawwali as a hybrid of South Asian and Middle Eastern styles. The evening begins at eight with qawwali performances by Delhi’s Rooh Sufi Ensemble and Ustad Naseeruddin Saami. The concert then returns to its roots with the northern-Indian sounds of the exciting sitarist Ustad Shujat Khan and masterful Bangalore classical vocalist Pandit Vinaya Torvi before the Saami Brothers arrive to sing their audience into a new dawn. — Richard Gehr
Anoushka Shankar April 2–4 City Winery, 155 Varick Street, citywinery.com
Following two albums dedicated to the memory of Pandit Ravi Shankar, her father and musical guru, who died in 2012, Anoushka Shankar’s new Land of Gold addresses the rather more global tragedy experienced by people displaced and dispossessed by war, economic inequality, and climate change. Sitar, tabla, and the oboe-like shehnai blend with double bass, cello, and the Hang — a sort of steel drum played by Shankar’s co-writer, Manu Delago — commingle in gorgeous ruminations on people searching for a home. — Richard Gehr
Waco Brothers April 13 Union Hall, 702 Union Street, Brooklyn, unionhallny.com
Is this the end of the Waco Brothers? “You can’t kill us, we’re already dead!” proclaim the Chicago punks in “DIYBYOB,” the opener of their new Going Down in History. Take the title either way. Jon Langford’s Mekons spin-off is a joyous, twangy party band that doesn’t play honky-tonk country so much as a smart, politically engaged British expat’s fantasy of what boozy American country music ought to sound like. Their famously raucous and bracingly intelligent shows are the stuff of legend, too. — Richard Gehr
Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil April 20–21 BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, bam.org
Both born in Bahia in 1942, these songwriting giants have toured together fairly often over the decades. More recently, they’ve been circling the globe and appearing onstage side by side, with only their acoustic guitars, singing as elegantly and conspiratorially as ever. Their unplugged material encompasses psychedelic Tropicália, classic sambas, Antônio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova, a little reggae, and their own brilliant, poetic, and subtly subversive originals. Expect thick nostalgic vibes and spontaneous sing-alongs. — Richard Gehr
Art-rock’s very own Banksy of a band has been creating anonymous and conceptually cryptic music since the late Sixties, when they invited listeners to Meet the Residents. Their latest show, Shadowland, is a career retrospective performed by the group’s latest incarnation: singer Randy Rose, guitarist Lionel Bob, and laptopist-composer Charles (Chuck) Bobuck. A screening of the documentary Theory of Obscurity will precede the band’s surreal, semi-serious blend of fake rock-pomp and dystopic electronica. — Richard Gehr
While the Village Voice‘s own 4Knots is the best free festival in New York, when it comes to ticketed blowouts, Red Bull Music Academy Festival is impossible to beat. Rather than offering an overwhelming, two- or three-day lineup that rolls out one mostly unrelated band after another in the hot sun, the festival is a series of individual events that are both internally cohesive and, when considered together, speak to larger themes about the current state of music and how we got there. Reading through their lineups is an exercise in saying “How did they pull that off?” over and over.
Today, we learned who’s on deck for the 2016 edition, which runs from April 29 through May 22, and it’s as impressive as always. In another welcome break from traditional fests, there is no headliner, so let’s just dive into some highlights, shall we?
On May 18 and 19, ANOHNI, the Oscar-nominated composer and artist formerly of Antony and the Johnsons, debuts a new work at Park Avenue Armory. The Technopolis party on May 14 gathers many of the best DJs working today in Brooklyn, including Galcher Lustwork, Aurora Halal, Umfang, and Volvox. If you like jazz (especially the Afrofuturistic kind), there’s Kamasi Washington with Pharoah Sanders and the Sun Ra Arkestra on May 8. And that’s just three of nearly twenty events that cover hip-hop, electronica, film, and more.
The full lineup in handy graphic form (print it out for your fridge!) is below. On-sale dates have not been announced yet, but head to the RBMA Festival site to sign up for updates and details about the festival.
New York is in the middle of a tarot revival. We live in a city where covens like the Witches of Bushwick host parties covered by the New York Times, where occult shops run by young practitioners are thriving. And if nothing else, the deep selection of smudge sticks at the Gowanus Whole Foods is a reminder that the line between the mainstream and the occult has dissolved. Divination is back, more publicly than ever before.
Darcey Leonard is at the forefront of the local resurgence. In 2015 she founded the Tarot Society with her partner Kevin Pelrine as a place for tarot readers to practice their craft with proactive compassion, because she’d never felt a sense of community before she found tarot. “I was booking rock shows and being a part of [that] scene, but I was kind of in the broom closet” — concealing her interest in tarot and the occult — “except to my good friends.” As her appetite for knowledge about the occult grew, it began to fuse with her passion for music, and she went back to booking shows. But this time, it was with a purpose. “It’s important for marginalized groups who feel like they’re not seeing what they want to see to just start booking shows,” she says. “Create what [you] want to exist.”
[pullquote]’It’s important for marginalized groups who feel like they’re not seeing what they want to see to just start booking shows. Create what [you] want to exist.'[/pullquote]
Her latest creation happens tomorrow at South Street Seaport’s Out to See festival, where Leonard is co-curating an evening of music that will also include tarot readings between sets. Taking inspiration from her experiences of women-centric performances, the lineup is composed entirely of female-identifying performers. “I booked these women because I think that they’re incredible musicians doing interesting work,” she explains. “They’re not playing within the orthodox musical world.”
Amanda Salane is one of those unorthodox performers. She was nineteen when she got her first tarot reading at a fair in the basement of a church. “The [other] kids didn’t take [the tarot reader] seriously at all,” Salene remembers, “but when I got to her I said, ‘I trust you, give me the works.’ She told me everything that’s been manifesting, to this day.” Since then, Salene has become a deep believer in tarot, which has worked its way into her songs. “My music is informed by what I consume, and tarot is one of those things,” she says. “It’s a tool of evolution and understanding of the self, and using it affects how and what I create.”
In her project GODXSS, healing and female empowerment are one and the same. “To me, being a witch
means having a deep relationship with the earth and my environment,” Salene explains, “[an] awareness that I am creating my world, that we are all creating our world.” Her music, an experimental breed of electro that brings to mind a young Lydia Lunch, is “strongly feminine” and inspired by her exploration of identity through goddess culture.
René Kladzyk, who will perform at the showcase with her synthpop project Ziemba, also takes inspiration from the goddess archetype. “The muse is very potent to me,” says Kladzyk. “There [have] been times that I’ve had songs emerge organically in whole form, and it’s hard to give myself credit for that. I feel much more comfortable with attributing those songs to beings in the ether.” For Kladzyk, the muse and its adjacent archetypes play roles similar to guardian angels and ancestors in other faiths and traditions. “I think of my grandmother and my godmother,” she says. “They all can breathe through the songs I sing.”
Kladzyk sees her music as a therapeutic space in which she offers catharsis to her audience. Existing at a crossroads between folk and dream pop, her lo-fi songs allow the listener to lose themselves fully in the narratives. “You can place stories or sounds within specific associations, and that can be fantastical, scary, or inspiring,” she says, noting that music has the capacity to create sacred spaces.
Leonard, the organizer of the showcase, says she also wants the sacredness of the music to be the main focus of the evening. Multifaceted, complex, and diverse, tomorrow’s performance highlights the divinity these musicians find within their art and their tarot cards. “That’s what we’re trying to do here,” says Leonard. “Put the muse back into music.”
Out to See hosts the Tarot Society showcase tomorrow night. For more information, click here.
Would Laura Palmer have listened to Xiu Xiu? The experimental band’s sometimes disturbing lyrics and always dark noise stylings certainly suit her awful fate and the strange town that mourned her, so at the very least they’re a natural fit to do something like, say, cover the Twin Peaks soundtrack. And that’s exactly what they’re doing: Today we learned that on Record Store Day (April 16), Polyvinyl is releasing Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, a vinyl LP that reimagines Angelo Badalamenti’s score. If you’ve ever wondered what those instantly recognizable songs would sound like with a lot of distortion and screaming layered over them (answer: pretty good, probably), your answer will arrive in just over a month.
Xiu Xiu is touring Europe with the soundtrack but will make a single stop in the U.S. on April 30, at Chelsea experimental performance space the Kitchen. While tickets aren’t on sale yet, now is a great time to pick up some donuts, coffee, and that gum you like that’s coming back into style.
Listen to the band’s very intense (this is Xiu Xiu we’re talking about) cover of the Twin Peaks theme song, “Falling,” below. If this is any indication, it’ll be a damn fine album.
On Saturday evening, the Brooklyn Museum was filled with beats thanks to the “Oral History of Female Drummers” museum takeover. Presented by Tom Tom Magazine, the event brought together female drummers and beat-makers of all backgrounds to explore the “undocumented history of female drummers using the oral tradition of performative exchange.”
When I met Michael Gira last year, he graced my hand with a kiss. He had just finished playing with Swans at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and the kiss felt like a prize for enduring his exhausting set. The guys who’d come with me to the show didn’t make it through the gauntlet and had ditched early, but I’d survived to see the merch booth. There stood Gira, somehow a mortal human, nonchalantly mingling with fans as if he hadn’t just pummeled us with relentless, soaring noise. And then, the kiss.
I have bragged about this story ever since. As an atheist, Swans shows are the closest thing I’ve ever felt to a religious experience: a truly righteous din pouring from a wall of amps, music made with near-evangelical fury, Gira playing both Heavenly Father and the Devil of sonic pain. Swans redefined for me what live music should feel like, their sheer volume and blistering intensity rumbling and reverberating straight through my chest. In short, I loved them, and I loved them deeply. So when Gira pressed his lips to my hand that night, it was akin to a dark blessing.
Now that memory is tinged with disgust. On Friday, singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm came forward to allege that Gira had raped her as they worked together on her 2008 album, Parplar. I read with a heavy rage as she described the rape itself and the months of harassment she says followed. Her mentor became her tormentor, and she says that when she finally confronted Gira about the assault, he dropped her from his label, Young God Records. Grimm says her career never fully recovered. I was livid. A hero had betrayed me, and as I look back on the dark confessions he made throughout his music, it is now through a damning lens.
Because Swans were on hiatus in the mid-Aughts, they were not my entry point into Gira’s work. I listened first to his haunting, Americana-tinged side project, Angels of Light. Though sonically they were much less punishing than Swans, their lyrics were just as brutal and nihilistic, the violence and despair here nestled in cello and dulcimer. The songs made a multitude of references to mothers and daughters, those roles women must fulfill for many men to want to care about our safety. Gira’s fascination with feminine forces, though, doesn’t seem to have inspired him to have compassion toward us, and I often overlooked lyrics I might otherwise consider questionable. On “Real Person,” an Angels of Light song off their 1999 record, New Mother, the first album of theirs I owned on vinyl, Gira makes a strange, accusatory admission: “You gave me a reason for lust/And I will find a way to access your secrets/No surface can deter my evil.” The song is a step-by-step guide on how to dehumanize someone, but it’s also a dirge bemoaning inhumane actions. I knew, of course, that no matter how moral, we all possess something dark, wounded, and vengeful. The song terrified me because I could see myself as both the dehumanizer and the dehumanized.
[pullquote]The fact that I could appreciate this band — full of aggression and ambiguity and ugliness, things women aren’t supposed to embody — made me feel like my gender was incidental or unimportant. I was just a default human.[/pullquote]
When Swans re-emerged in 2012, they were a balance between their previous iteration and Angels of Light, more complex but still punishingly loud. Gira seemed to me like a highly evolved guru who examined the darkness of the human heart to help the rest of us channel and release it. I found that listening to Swans made me feel genderless. Or, the fact that I could appreciate this band — full of aggression and ambiguity and ugliness, things women aren’t supposed to embody — made me feel somehow like my gender was incidental or unimportant. Like I was just a default human. Instead of feeling othered I could simply touch the angry, animalistic tendencies we all encounter simply because we are alive. Swans’ unrelenting drone and meditative repetition expressed something universal, and their noise was there to embrace anyone who could bear to listen. On “Mother of the World” Gira’s shallow gasps were like a yogic chant, a twisted version of the Lamaze-class breathing that helps birth us into this irreconcilably harsh world. He never glorified violence, per se, but he never really castigated it, either. He just exposed the ugly and wretched; he let it writhe before us without comment, and that felt like a necessary part of the exorcism.
In light of Grimm’s accusations, this ambivalence toward cruelty feels disingenuous. Grimm characterizes her relationship to Gira during their work on Parplar as a platonic “love affair” between mentor and protégée that she did not want to consummate. But Gira produced the record. Gira owned the label. Gira had been seen as a visionary for more than two decades at that point. The power imbalance was already in place, making any “love affair” one of skewed dynamics. With very few women owning labels or producing records, female musicians face the predicament of enlisting men in a professional capacity to help them create work that often leaves them emotionally vulnerable. When those men interpret our professional passion as personal, our choices feel limited to going along with it or risking career suicide, with none of the recourse or protections that women in more professional settings have for speaking out against sexual harassment. Gira had nothing to lose in this situation, and Grimm lost everything.
[pullquote]Whatever catharsis I found in his work previously now has an asterisk next to it, and I’m not sure I’ll feel safe enough at his shows to let my guard down and enjoy the cleansing noise.[/pullquote]
In a statement released after Grimm’s post, Gira made it clear that he believes what happened was a consensual mistake. In 2016, when consent and assault make music headlines almost every week, that is not an acceptable excuse, especially from someone who’s spent his career making music that brings every demon into the light. He has been a willing centerpiece for his own dark narratives. And that is what makes it so terrible that he can’t empathize with Grimm or acknowledge his ignorance about consent. Whatever catharsis I found in his work previously now has an asterisk next to it, and I’m not sure I’ll feel safe enough at his shows to let my guard down and enjoy the cleansing noise. Swans fans skew male, and many of them are responding to Grimm’s allegations with blind faith in Gira and, in very troubling cases, by lashing out at Grimm. My gender has been brought into one of the few equations where it didn’t used to matter.
The day after she shared her story, Grimm posted a follow-up saying she’d received many messages “from sweet, confused men asking, ‘I did this thing once that I don’t feel comfortable about. Am I a rapist?’ ” Throughout her ordeal, Grimm has been remarkably compassionate toward Gira and his supporters, often appearing in the comments below her own posts to explain further or join discussions. But the onus should be on Gira, not her, to engage in that dialogue. He’s dedicated his career to illuminating humanity’s darkest tendencies. He should reckon with his own, too.
This summer, thousands of music fans will spend a weekend on Randalls Island, the oft-ignored rectangle floating in the East River between Astoria and East Harlem. The festival drawing them to the island boasts some of the biggest names in indie rock and hip-hop playing alongside local favorites and up-and-comers from afar. And this year the blowout, sure to clog subways and the Triborough Bridge, is happening twice, for two different events.
It seemed like Governors Ball had the lock on Randalls, but the folks who brought Coachella to SoCal and the New Orleans Jazz Festival to, um, New Orleans are jumping into the festival fray with Panorama, which announced its initial lineup today. Headliners include Arcade Fire, Kendrick Lamar, and (surprise!) LCD Soundsystem for what is so far their only announced hometown date following their re-formation.
Tickets (available here) are $369 for a three-day pass and $769 for the V.I.P. version, with ferry passes running $55 and bus passes $65 for the weekend of July 22–24. Governors Ball, which boasts an impressive lineup of its own, happens just six weeks earlier, June 3–5. Add in the Voice‘s own huge (and much more affordable) 4Knots, and the summer festival lineup is getting packed. So unless you want to choose between Kendrick and Kanye, start saving now.
Like so many younger siblings, Jonah Furman latched onto his big brother Ezra when Ezra received a gift that made him instantly cool: a brand-new acoustic guitar for his bar mitzvah.
“I was nine, and suddenly I had this guitar in the house I could fuck around with,” Jonah recalls over the phone. Ezra joins him. “Do you remember the time I was trying to tune the guitar, and one of the strings broke, and we both started crying?”
Fast-forward to Passover weekend, 2014, over a decade later but still at their childhood home in Evanston, Illinois. Jonah once again found himself verklempt over guitar strings, but this time it was more serious. The singer/bassist of the cult-status punk band Krill showed his siblings his bank account. The balance read $12. “This is when Krill was actually doing well,” clarifies Jonah. “That was my 2009 to 2010,” adds Ezra, by that time also a working musician. “I was living in Brooklyn and I knew the pizza place that sold four garlic knots for $1 and five garlic knots for $1.” They both laugh.
The Furman siblings, each two years apart in age, have long turned to one another for commiseration, because their parents can’t really relate to their artistic lives: Their father is a stock trader and their mother a technical writer. Noah, the eldest and now a visual artist, had a record collection — the White Stripes, Smog, the Grateful Dead — that informed his younger brothers’ tastes. “I remember sharing a room with [Noah] when I was eleven. We’d go to sleep listening to Nine Inch Nails and I was just lying in bed terrified the entire night,” Ezra says with a chuckle.
Ezra broke into music first. He was a dispassionate English major at Tufts University until Minty Fresh Records — whose roster has included Veruca Salt and Liz Phair — signed his pop-rock college band, Ezra Furman and the Harpoons. Unlike the niche DIY network that would eventually support Jonah, Ezra’s career involved mainstream industry adults who were both a blessing and a curse, offering resources and propelling a false hope that the struggle would eventually amount to something.
Now, Ezra’s striking onstage persona with new band the Boyfriends channels a young boy trying on his mother’s clothes: black tights, bedazzled shades, smeared red lipstick. He identifies as gender fluid and draws parallels to avant-garde frontmen of the Seventies like Jonathan Richman and David Johansen. He jokingly describes his performances as “like Bruce Springsteen, but insane,” embracing his twin loves of classic rock and inventive arrangements. Playing to a packed Bowery Ballroom in February, the Boyfriends, blazed through a manic hour and a half, playing emotionally charged takes on Fifties doo-wop and classics like the Violent Femmes. Ezra growled about Boston (“Ordinary Life”) and breakfast foods (“Haunted Head”), later covering Nirvana’s “In Bloom.”
Jonah’s band could hardly be more different. Krill, which broke up last year, was all neurotic guitars and winding character narratives, told through postmodern prose and inside jokes. They were finally making it, too: Album sales picked up and Rolling Stoneprofiled them. To keep up with the growing attention, Jonah moved from Boston to Bushwick to be closer to his bandmates. The band broke up two weeks later. At a loss for what to do, Jonah enrolled as a graduate student at the City University of New York to study labor, something he gained an interest in when living on a near-negative budget as a musician.
“[At my day job] I’d sit in a windowless room, where no one cared if I was there, and got paid,” said Jonah. “Then I’d go out on tour where people go crazy and tell us how much the band means to them, and be paid nothing. So everyone cares about this thing you can’t get money for and you get money for the things no one cares about. It’s wild. And it was happening while Krill was getting all of this praise and —”
“Validation,” Ezra says pointedly.
“I went through a confusing time. I still am,” Jonah continues. “It’s like graduating college, but instead I’ve graduated my whole identity.”
Following the brief flash of his brother’s success with Krill, Ezra released a solo album, Perpetual Motion People (Bella Union), which made him a breakout artist, too: The record was named one of the Guardian‘s top 25 albums of 2015, in the company of Kendrick Lamar and Grimes. Björk dropped in on his soundcheck before a London show. The success amuses him, if only because this time last year he was determined to quit.
“You can hear how badly I wanted it in the title of my first solo album, Day of the Dog — I really thought this was going to be it,” says Ezra. But unlike Perpetual Motion, Day of the Dog went unnoticed, and things got worse from there. Lou Reed, a hero of Ezra’s, passed away while Ezra was on tour, and he took the news as a bad omen. It proved true at a show in Boise, Idaho, far from Ezra’s home in Oakland, CA. “There were eight people there,” he remembers. “I was just like ‘I’m 27. This is not my life.’ I didn’t tell anyone at the time, but I was 100 percent done.”
Except he wasn’t. Within weeks of that decision, a five-star review from the Guardian for Day of the Dog gave him a change of heart. His label told him a BBC radio DJ was stoking a U.K. audience for him. His band nudged him to tour Europe. So he went, but the experience of coming so close to the end loosened his artistic approach. Quitting — even just in spirit — taught him to sacrifice less. “I don’t say yes to everything anymore,” he says. “And I observe Shabbat on tour, which I didn’t think was possible for any band.”
“I loved that moment in Boise,” says Jonah to his brother, “because you do not experience brutality like that in a lot of other work. [Other] people experience having no future and there’s bleakness to that for sure. But there’s nothing like coming out blazing for a show and nobody is there.”
But it wasn’t that kind of night at the Bowery Ballroom, where Ezra was surrounded by friends, relatives, soul-baring fans, and his two brothers. Outside the exit, Noah scooped Ezra up by the torso and kissed his scruffy brown hair. Jonah pulled him in for a hug. The makeup Ezra wore at the beginning of the show was long ago sweated off.
“I saw the full arc of my musical career with Krill,” said Jonah. Two weeks into graduate school, he was sporting a shorter haircut, buttoned-down shirt, and a pocket pen at his brother’s show. But he appeared more willful and content than he had at any point in the last four years. “It’s like a branching task,” Jonah said. “My band broke up and stopped; Ezra’s band broke up and kept going.”