Posts Tagged ‘indie rock’

The Joy Formidable @ St. Stephen’s Church

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

The Joy Formidable

I try not to ever pass up an opportunity to shoot The Joy Formidable, whose band name is a pretty accurate description of how they approach their live show. This fall, they did a mini-tour of the US, playing only small nontraditional venues rather than the big clubs they’ve recently graduated to. In DC, that meant they played a fairly intimate benefit show at St. Stephen’s Church – fun to be a part of but very challenging to photograph.

There were basically no lights aside from what the band brought with them, so none of these shots can compare to what I got from the last time I saw them. At the end of the set, Ritzy Bryan jumped into the crowd right next to me, played for a second, tossed her guitar back onto the stage, gave a random fan a hug, and stalked off backstage to the close the show. I had the wrong lens on and no flash, so I didn’t capture any of that. Frustratingly, I might never get to shoot a whole set of this band again, since they’ll be playing clubs that enforce a 3-song rule – so that might have been my last chance to capture the inevitable end-of-show mayhem that has become their trademark. Oh well.

Here are just a couple highlights; for more, see the full set at Flickr. Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with my work.

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

For more, see the full set at Flickr. Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with my work.

The Joy Formidable at Fine Line Music Café

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

The Joy Formidable

One of my favorite shows of last year was The Joy Formidable‘s set at 7th Street Entry. I knew exactly what to expect this time around, and the band’s setlist hasn’t changed too much from a year ago (their new album is forthcoming, but only one song from this show was drawn from it), but they nevertheless didn’t disappoint. As a bonus, Fine Line Music Café has exponentially better lighting than the Entry, although it was still a relatively challenging show to shoot. Much like last year, I had a hard time pointing my lens at anything but Ritzy Bryan, which is reflected in the selection of favorite shots below.

Many more photos from the show, including some of the excellent openers Exitmusic and A Place to Bury Strangers, are on Flickr here. Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook to keep up with my work!

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

Many more shots here.

St. Vincent’s crazy light show

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

St. Vincent

Annie Clark and her band St. Vincent kicked off their fall 2011 tour at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis last night – an interesting venue choice given that they were playing 1,000+ capacity clubs on their last tour. (The small capacity of the Walker’s 400ish seat McGuire Theatre was made up for by the fact that the band played two back-to-back shows last night; I covered the early show.)

Playing material that drew a lot from their just-released Strange Mercy, we got to hear lots of trademark St. Vincent stuff: catchy songs with odd lyrics and brief guitar freakout interludes. Clark had, as far as I could tell, a completely new backing band, with just two keyboardists and a drummer. The loss of the bassist didn’t seem to affect the fullness of the band’s sound, particularly as Clark often used a huge fuzz tone that completely and effectively filled the theater. While I don’t actually like anything St. Vincent has done as much as I like their debut, Marry Me – and they only played one track from that album, the encore-closing “Your Lips Are Red” – it was still a satisfying show and seemed like a pretty great tour kick-off.

The McGuire Theatre has a huge, expansive stage and a gorgeous lighting rig, which was put to good use for opener Cate Le Bon. Unfortunately, Clark set up six or seven feet behind the front of the stage, and the beautiful house lights gave way to a schizophrenic custom light show that often saw Clark lit incredibly brightly from below – hardly a great lighting design for photos. I was actually shooting at ISO 400 quite a bit, but unfortunately nothing aside from Clark was lit anywhere near as brightly. Wide-angle shots were hopeless because of the difference in light levels across the stage, so I just focused on getting some good tight shots of Clark herself.

This is my fifth time shooting St. Vincent; the best lighting was last time I shot them, at the 9:30 Club in DC. That also happened to be my favorite show musically, although the first time in DC’s tiny Rock & Roll Hotel definitely had a particular charm. (The other two times: Virgin Mobile FreeFest and at the Black Cat in DC, both in 2009.) But while this concert wasn’t my favorite of theirs, Annie Clark and company are still reliably putting on great shows.

A few more favorites below; the full set – just a dozen photos – is at Flickr. Also be sure to like my page on Facebook or follow me on Twitter for more!

St. Vincent

St. Vincent

St. Vincent

St. Vincent

The Formidable Joy Formidable

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

The Joy Formidable

Most of the time when I shoot a band, I focus on the frontperson but try not to neglect the rest of the band – my shots tend to be distributed reasonably evenly amongst the band members (drummers excepted, but usually for pragmatic reasons – impossible to get a good angle, or no light to speak of). Some bands, though, have such a charismatic frontman or frontwoman that it’s basically impossible to tear the lens away from them. The Sounds come to mind. Add The Joy Formidable and their guitarist/vocalist Ritzy Bryan to that list.

The Joy Formidable

The Welsh trio put on a hugely entertaining show at 7th Street Entry last night; if it wasn’t sold-out, it was close, and I’d be shocked if they weren’t filling up much larger venues on their next U.S. tour. Catchy, slightly noisy indie-rock performed by very good musicians, with a frontwoman who’s simply impossible not to love? This band is going places. What’s more, they wrapped up their closing number, “Whirring,” with Ritzy Bryan slamming through a guitar freakout that probably rivaled whatever Kawabata Makoto of Acid Mothers Temple pulled off at the Entry the night before (I missed that show, sadly).

[AWESOME ADDENDUM: Fellow photog Stacy Ann Schwartz has posted a video of last night’s performance of “Whirring” in its entirety.]

Here are a few of my favorite shots of the band (er, or at least of Bryan). The final shot was the very end of the show, when Bryan literally slammed her guitar down onto the floor at the end of the “Whirring” guitar-pocalypse.

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

Full set at Flickr.

Sufjan Stevens’ new tour…

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Sufjan Stevens

…is kind of bewildering. It features almost entirely material from the new album, which is fine except for the fact that the new stuff is so different from the old and is a bit jarring by comparison. It features bizarre backup dancers (which I understand may or may not be anything new for Stevens’ stage show). It features Stevens himself doing these weird robotic white-boy dance moves. At first, the crowd laughed and hooted and hollered a bit. Then, he kept doing it and it became less and less clear how seriously we were supposed to take this stuff. It just kind of got a bit strange and uncomfortable and distracting.

Musically, I thought the show was kind of a mixed bag too. Some of the new songs have these pretty great buildups, creating lots of tension before exploding into joyous noise. Live, they just seemed cacophonous and a bit unfocused. Also, Stevens has started using the upper register of his non-falsetto voice a lot more, and it’s not really a part of his voice that I enjoy all that much. I love his lower, softer range; I don’t love this new reliance on his upper range.

Sufjan Stevens

The light for the show, at least for Stevens himself, was decent; there was a white spotlight that focused on him occasionally. Aside from those moments, it was all about deep color washes; lots of yellows and magentas. The stage show features a mesh screen that gets periodically lowered in front of the band to allow projections to show up not just on the screen behind them, but also in front of them. This is a pretty cool effect, although one that’s not really photographable except from a vantage point further back in the venue. Up close, the mesh screen just obscures all the band members and makes getting good shots pretty much impossible. The screen was down for maybe the equivalent of one full song out the first three, so this isn’t a negligible consideration.

I didn’t really get too many photos of Stevens dancing for some reason. I was kind of zeroed in on getting one or two great shots of him singing; I ignored trying to get shots of the larger stage show or the other band members (who were playing in darkness almost the whole time anyway). I guess I got that from shooting for a daily where one great shot of the bandleader is really all that you’re looking for, and the rest is just bonus.

I more or less got what I want, but a gazillion photos of Stevens singing and playing guitar does not an interesting photoset make, so I’ve just posted a few over at Flickr.

Ra Ra Riot at the Varsity Theater

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Ra Ra Riot

I love shooting Ra Ra Riot. Their brand of indie-pop isn’t really my favorite, but I love their live show. The entire band just seems so deeply into their music; it’s pretty endearing and it makes for great photos. Cellist Alexandra Lawn in particular (above) looks like she’s in a happy trance for most of the show, dancing with her instrument the whole time, often with a wide smile on her face. There’s a good reason that she is a perennial favorite with concert photographers.

Ra Ra Riot

The Varsity Theater has a lighting rig that rivals the best of any I’ve ever seen at a venue this size. Bizarrely, it was put to best use for the first opener. For Ra Ra Riot, the lighting scheme mostly consisted of colorful background washes and inconsistent frontlighting. Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller were on the far edges of the stage and almost never got any clean, direct frontlight. For basically the entire show, I was locked in at ISO 3200 and even then not quite getting the shutter speeds I wanted – I was flicking from 1/80 up to 1/320. I probably should have broken out the primes a bit more than I did. I often have a severe bias to the 24-70 simply because it’s the most versatile of my concert lenses, but switching it up more often would definitely do me some good.

Ra Ra Riot

There’s no pit at the Varsity, so I got there unnecessarily early and was mostly confined to a single spot on stage left. I moved halfway through Ra Ra Riot’s set, though, swapping places with some other fans in the front, to get some slightly different angles. It wasn’t so jam-packed in there that that was a problem at all.

Ra Ra Riot

Ra Ra Riot

And how about that gorgeous light for the first opener, We Barbarians? Here’s a taste:

We Barbarians

Lots more photos of all three bands here in the full set.

The Flaming Lips (and syndication!)

Monday, September 20th, 2010

The Flaming Lips

Any smart concert photographer should never pass up an opportunity to shoot The Flaming Lips, even if their live schtick hasn’t changed year after year after year. There’s just too much craziness going on to not get some amazing shots. Granted, some of the classic shots are now completely overdone (Wayne Coyne in his hamster ball, Wayne Coyne riding the giant bear, etc etc), but there’s still great images to be made. In particular, Coyne looks like he’s having the time of his life at every Flaming Lips show I’ve seen, grinning like a madman while slinging around massive balloons and popping off confetti guns in fans’ faces.

The Flaming Lips

This show marked my first show as a shooter for Retna, a photo wire service specializing in music, event and celebrity photography. I’m obviously focusing on the former and not at all on the latter. Shooting for a wire is nice in that I never know where my photos might pop up, but it’s also a bit less satisfying than shooting for a publication in that… I never know where my photos might pop up. (If anywhere.) We’ll see how it goes, but I’m excited to be part of the Retna team.

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips

Got some more Flaming Lips photos here, and of course check out the last time I shot these guys, about a year ago in the DC area.