Over the last nine years, Northside Festival has grown from a small festival on the north side of Williamsburg to one of the largest music events in North America. It’s more than just music, though. Northside now has two components – Music, featuring over 300 bands this year, and Innovation, which is a blend of tech, marketing, and journalism based talks and events. At times, it can be overwhelming, but Northside is always a fun experience, and the 2017 edition was perhaps the best and biggest yet. That’s saying something because last year’s festival was hard to top. I break this year’s festival down by day below, and there’s a bunch of pictures at the end, so be sure to check that out!
The first day of the music portion of Northside started on Thursday. The lineup had me running around Williamsburg and Greenpoint, so I could catch everything. The day started, surprisingly, in Two Boots Pizza, where I grabbed a slice and saw Francie Moon play a great little set in the backyard there. That’s the beauty of Northside – tons of little showcases pop up throughout the neighborhood and you never know what you might walk into.
Next was, surprisingly, my only planned visit to McCarren Park all week to catch Jay Som, who was opening a great triple-bill with Kamasi Washington and Dirty Projectors. Jay Som’s set was fantastic, and her band continues to get better every time I see them. The new album, Everybody Works, is just a fantastic record, especially live. After Jay Som’s set, I made my way all the way to Brooklyn Vegan’s showcase at The Park Church Co-op in Greenpoint because there was no way I was missing Aldous Harding in a church.
The opener for Aldous Harding at the church was M. Lamar. His set was fascinating, just piano and wordless singing for about twenty minutes. Tiny Hazard then played an amazing set. They sounded so great with lead singer Alena Spanger’s voice doing some weird, amazing things, and the rest of the band jammed out so hard. Their album, Greyland, is one of the year’s most unique listens, and the live show brought a ton of energy. Also this was the first time I saw lasers used in a church, and my goodness that was awesome.
New Zealand’s Aldous Harding is one of the most unique, and intense performers I have ever seen live. While she sings, her facial movements remind me of the intensity of Nick Cave, breaking down the fourth wall between stage and audience to seemingly stare directly into the soul of each audience member. But because of the intimate setting, it felt even more intense. Harding’s voice is something not to miss live. After she played “What If Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming” from her fabulous new album Party (one of our collective favorites), Harding said, “It feels weird to play that one in a church”. But the setting was the perfect environment to hear her beautiful songs.
Day Two had perhaps the best single-day lineup of the weekend. From the stacked show at Warsaw with Lexie, Ian Sweet, and Girlpool, to the Really Big Pinecone, Mega Bog, Big Thief show at Rough Trade, to Julianna Barwick at National Sawdust, to Beverly and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart at Music Hall, you get the point. Tons of choices, and no way to be at all of them. I chose Warsaw mostly because I love all three bands, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Lexie, a band consisting of members of Frankie Cosmos and Warehouse.
Warsaw was definitely the right choice. All three bands were amazing. Lexie kicked it off wonderfully with their songs. It should be no surprise, though, Warehouse kill it every time, and Greta Kline is seriously one of the most creative people I’ve ever encountered. Their album, Record Time, just came out on Bandcamp. There will also be a physical release soon via Skeleton Realm, so keep an eye out for that.
The second band on was Ian Sweet, who were absolutely incredible, and came very close to stealing the show. Jillian Medford’s on-stage energy is unmatched. Her vocal inflections add a sweet intensity to almost every song. They played a bunch of stuff from Shapeshifter, and a ton of new stuff, as they are about to head into the studio.
Girlpool’s most recent record, Powerplant, is a huge shift in their sound, in a great way. I’ve seen Girlpool a ton over the last couple of years. It’s always a treat hearing Harmony and Cleo harmonize, but overall, the sound needed a little more meat to it Powerplant contains everything the band was missing, and more. The addition of another guitarist and drummer turned Girlpool into a true force of nature. Of course, new songs like “123” and “Soup” sounded full, but what stood out to me were the older tracks, like “Chinatown” and “Emily”, which sounded bigger and bolder with the added instruments. The banter was also wonderful as it always is between the two leads. While there were tons of great shows I was missing at the time, I was happy with my choice, as it would have been impossible to match the power of these three bands. Luckily, if you missed it, you can catch Pitchfork’s stream of the show here.
After Warsaw, I headed to possibly the farthest venue from me, Baby’s All Right to catch Flock of Dimes. Ancient Ocean opened with a dreamy, ambient set that may have been a little too dreamy for 1AM, but it was a good set nonetheless. Flock Of Dimes brought the energy level way up. It was a fun, dancy set, perfect for its very late-night start. Jenn Wasner is just an incredible, engaging frontperson. Add in her amazing backing band, which includes the incomparable Katie Harkin, you have a can’t-miss show, even if it’s way past your bed time. It was a special set, and it ended with a wonderful cover of Annie Lennox’s version of “No More I Love You’s”.
Perhaps, the most bang for your buck happened at the Exploding In Sound showcase at Sunnyvale on Saturday. Eleven great bands for just a few bucks, including Big Ups, Kal Marks, Baked, and gobbinjr. There was a ton on the bill, and it was really easy to come and go, but I made sure to catch the run of Peaer, Fond Han, Kal Marks, and gobbinjr. All four bands were great. Peaer was entertaining. Fond Han were a ton of fun, led by their drummer and wearing some cool shades. Kal Marks killed it. gobbinjr had a few technical problems between their guitarist’s pedals not working and their singer Emma’s keyboard not working properly. They ended up switching out the keyboard, after poking a little fun at the situation. It was a fun afternoon of great music in one of the coolest spaces in Brooklyn.
After another really, really long journey, I found myself at National Sawdust for Julia Holter. The opener for that show was Georgia. They played some real interesting, ambient-electronic stuff, set to some really entrancing videos. Their set ran a bit long, taking up over their allotted hour, but mostly because it seemed they were completely in their own world, totally absorbed in their music.
Julia Holter was next, and she played this wonderful set on grand piano. She played new and old songs, including some rarities and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Waltz”. She played a good portion of the set solo; however, for some songs she was joined by Tashi Wada on another keyboard. Hearing “Why Sad Song?” live in this setting was incredible. Then she played “Betsy On The Roof” and had the whole place paralyzed in amazement. Other than applause between songs, the audience was dead silent. Even the shutter from my camera cut through the air like a knife. It was one of the more special and unique sets of Northside, and definitely an incredible way to experience Julia Holter’s music. She’ll be back at National Sawdust in about a week to perform Tragedy as an opera. That should definitely be something to experience as well.
2017 marked yet another great Northside Festival, full of great music and moments. Check out the slideshow below for some more pictures!
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