Photo Gallery: Northside Festival 2012

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In the beginning, The L Magazine’s Northside Festival was a small-scale celebration of Williamsburg and Greenpoint’s indie music scene at a handful of venues in those neighborhoods, each night bringing a selection of the area’s best local bands. By its fourth year, the event had grown into Brooklyn’s own mini-South by Southwest; Northside’s headquarters, once a bar’s back room, stretched out to fill an airplane hangar-size warehouse, and its scope expanded to encompass film, art, and entrepreneurship. But as far as we’re concerned, the festival’s biggest draw was still the music. For four days, big-name acts like Jens Lekman, of Montreal, GZA, The Olivia Tremor Control, and Kool Keith invaded the borough, joining those same excellent local musicians who still comprise Northside’s core, while the Internet’s new favorite teenage rapper, Kitty Pryde, made her New York debut. We’ve collected some photos and highlights from an excellent weekend of music below.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Zambri Thursday 6/14, Knitting Factory

It’s a shame Zambri had to play so early, to such a sparse crowd, because we count their performance among the best of the weekend. Sisters Cristi Jo and Jessica Zambri filled the stage with synths and microphones (including a truly inspired dual-microphone necklace that brought some analog realness to the vocal-delay trend), their goth-pop vocals and Seth Kasper’s apocalyptic drum booms combining to create a sound that could fill far bigger rooms.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Cold Cave Thursday 6/14, Europa

Greenpoint’s Europa, which is a Polish dance club on nights when it’s not hosting punk shows, made an unexpectedly appropriate setting for darkwave duo Cold Cave. The band’s noisier-Depeche-Mode schtick is perfectly wonderful on record, but while the performance was still a good time, it often slid into Euro-cheese territory, and we couldn’t help giggling a bit as Wesley Eisold and Prurient’s Dominick Fernow did straight-faced, Ian Curtis-style spastic dances. We remember when Caralee McElroy was in Cold Cave, and we miss those days.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

The Thermals Friday 6/15, McCarren Park

After a wonderfully and then slightly disappointingly dark opening night of Northside, we were back in sunny Williamsburg for a brighter, outdoor triple bill: of Montreal, Jens Lekman, and The Thermals. (Beach Fossils played earlier in the afternoon, but us working stiffs missed them.) Despite an audience still trickling in from a line that stretched around the block, veteran Portland-based three-piece The Thermals played an exuberant set of fan favorites from throughout their career (“No Culture Icons,” “A Pillar of Salt,” “Now We Can See,” etc.), along with some promising new tracks from a forthcoming album.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Jens Lekman Friday 6/15 McCarren Park

Do they call Jens Lekman The Nicest Guy in Indie Rock? Well, they should. After his band members were denied visas to come to the US for this performance, in which Lekman had intended to premiere a slew of new songs, he was forced to cede his headlining spot to of Montreal and come up with an alternate plan. But it was no loss to see him do a solo acoustic set of familiar singles like “A Postcard to Nina” and “The Opposite of Hallelujah,” and exhorting his smitten audience to stand in as backup singers. When the performance was over, The Nicest Guy in Indie Rock hung out and talked to each one of the hundred or so fans who lined up to meet him.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

of Montreal Friday 6/15, McCarren Park

By now it should be clear that Friday evening’s McCarren Park show may as well have been called Night of the Indie Rock Dreamboats. On the heels of The Thermals’ Hutch Harris and then Jens Lekman came of Montreal, fronted by the reliably glammed-up Kevin Barnes, in a new (at least to our eyes) asymmetrical haircut. Although the set started off a bit rough, and we worried that of Montreal were best appreciated in a darkened venue after a few glasses of bubbly, the band hit its stride, blowing through new stuff (“Wintered Debts” and “Spiteful Intervention,” from excellent but negatively reviewed Paralytic Stalks), standbys from 2007’s classic Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, and even a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” Of course, it’s not an of Montreal show without dancers in head-to-toe spandex creating decadent tableaux; this time, they crowdsurfed. The big surprise was how many tracks from 2008’s Skeletal Lamping — largely an experiment in creating songs that felt like mash-ups — made it into the set, and how great even the album’s most obscure moments (“Women’s Studies Victims,” “St. Exquisite’s Confessions”) sounded after being reworked for live performance.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

of Montreal

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

of Montreal

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

of Montreal

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

of Montreal

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Kitty Pryde Friday 6/15, Knitting Factory

Brian Wilson called Smile a “teenage symphony to God.” Kitty Pryde’s music might be best described as “teenage dream-rap to the Internet,” but what the musicians have in common is an acute awareness of the intrinsic “teenageness” of their endeavor. Roughly eight hours after The Thermals took the stage in McCarren Park, the 19-year-old Florida rapper made her New York City debut to a substantial — but by no means packed — crowd at the Knitting Factory. Flanked by her best friend and little brother, whose haircut prompted chants of “blond Skrillex!” (he responded with a good-natured fist pump), she announced that it was her first show for an audience that wasn’t largely comprised of personal friends.

Other critics have pointed out the awkwardness of her live performance, but what they don’t seem to get is that with Kitty Pryde, awkwardness is the performance, and it’s charming in the same way as that dog.’s 1997 ode to teen romance, Totally Crushed Out! She was full of jokes and anecdotes about boys she liked who only wanted her to promote their band (and are now, by the way, getting married). Her delivery was imperfect in just the right way, full of winsome moments and spontaneous asides. After the crowd responded in a big way to a perceived dig at Kreayshawn, she assured us that it was not a diss: “I love Kreayshawn!” The “rap game Taylor Swift” is what Kitty Pryde is selling, and that’s who we saw at 2 a.m. at the Knitting Factory, with her parents hanging out at the back of the room and wincing at the curse words.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Kitty Pryde

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Kitty Pryde

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Laura Stevenson and the Cans Saturday 6/16, Music Hall of Williamsburg

Having spent more than the equivalent of a full work day at shows on Friday, we were somewhat exhausted by the time Saturday rolled around. But we surely would have regretted it if we hadn’t mustered the energy to see The Olivia Tremor Control with Laura Stevenson and the Cans at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Brooklyn’s own Stevenson is a friendly and genuine performer with a warm folk-rock sound and a stadium voice, her lyrics both confessional and humorous. We’ve seen her enough times to know that she’ll always warn you when she’s got a sad song coming up, and let you know how long you’ll have to wait for a happy one. This is utterly unnecessary, as even her most melancholy songs are never a drag, but it’s endearing nonetheless.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

The Olivia Tremor Control Saturday 6/16, Music Hall of Williamsburg

Northside didn’t officially end until Sunday, but a prior commitment meant we had to cut our experience a bit short. Luckily, there was no better way to finish off an excellent three days of music than with Elephant 6 all-star band The Olivia Tremor Control. Although they haven’t put out an album since 1999, the collective still goes out on tour every once in a while, and has spent the past few years teasing a new full-length. (Last year’s single, The Game You Play Is In Your Head, seems to suggest that this might actually happen.) As always, their psych-pop set was loose and fun, the band’s talented musicians switching instruments after every song — and sometimes in the middle of songs — and laughing through inevitable technical difficulties. It was a special treat to see the jovial, white-bearded Scott Spillane, of The Gerbils and Neutral Milk Hotel, pull out his bright white sousaphone for the performance.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

The Olivia Tremor Control