Category Archives: music reviews

Highlights of “A Great Big Pile Of Leaves”

I really love music and whenever possible, I will be listening to music. However, it is rare for me to go to concerts. I used to go frequently when I was younger, but as I grew older, more responsibilities came my way and there was barely any time to go. Having to attend a concert in an effort to covered a band was an awesome opportunity to relive th past years and get back in tune with the concert scene, which is not only about the artists and the music, but also about the environment and the fans.

I recently attended a concert at the Highline Ballroom Located at 431 W 16th St. I had never been there before, but it is a nice looking place with lots of room. When we arrived, the place was empty for the most part but more people kept coming in as the night moved along. The dowm side of such a place is that drinks are expensive and we could not have access to a table unled we paid $10 per person.

The band my group and I decided to covered was called “A Great Big Pile of Leaves”, a band from Brooklyn, NY who decided to mix genres such as indie, jazz and rock in an effort to be creative and unique. Was their goal accomplished? It is fair to say that their music can be somewhat mellow, but it is not great either.

While they were playing, I had to try to focus on their songs, on their music. The enviroment and my surroundings kept me away from what I was there to do. I was more interested in the look of the place, the lighting and the people singing the songs.  I had never heard of this band before and now that I have, I would probably not follow them because, while their music is not too bad, is not music I would enjoy listening while I do my homework, chores or even to dance to in a club. Their music just does not meet the criteria I like when it comes to music.

I did not have a terrible time either. Being there with my group made the experience much more enjoyable and exciting. It had been a while since I had been at a concert, and even though it was a band I had not heard of before, just being there doing something outside of my routine was good enough for me.

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When a song temps you to move, its magic.

It starts out with fast, dynamic rhythms and extraordinary beats. The song “Pearl” featuring Jean Grae from Black Bottom, is one you would enjoy dancing to in a club. Despite it’s repetitive beats, it gets you on the mood to dance nonstop. Even though there were few changes in rhythm that were confusing for as long as they lasted, the song gets back on track tempting its listeners to keep moving to its beats.

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A Great Big Pile Leaves You Wanting More

When they’re setting up on stage you get a sense that A Great Big Pile of Leaves has done this before. Every tuning solo, every beating of the snare, and even the steps they take over tangled wires connecting guitars to amps to the sound system seem inveterate. I believe this band immediately, at least more than I believed the last group, Two Lights, a band still riding the coattails of the Jonas brothers.

Highline Ballroom is comfortably packed by 10pm when the guys take over the stage. The mostly underage crowd, sober from the previous act, begins to pour from the awkwardly placed dining area on the edge of the venue. Fans scream “Yeah Tyler,” as they come closer to being ready. I remember that overwhelming anxiety when I performed with my band, Pyramus and Thisbe, senior year of high school. The Leaves don’t seem phased a moment away from breaking the silence on stage.

“Why won’t they start already, so we can get out of here,” said Theresa, my classmate, forced to a Thursday show in midtown Manhattan, an hour away from her home in Staten Island.

With a heavy flannel shirt and a heavier beard, the drummer announces the beginning of the set with a banging of his sticks. Immediately I see he is going to be uncomfortably sweaty, but not enough to merit removing his shirt like Travis Barker. The music carries a fast upbeat pace, which burns a significant amount of calories but requires very little skill. The guitarists play bright chords, exploring the clarity of their Gibson’s and Epiphone’s, and the bassist glides between a good range of his instrument. It’s fun, and the lead singer breaks out in fervent staccato grunts that strike emotional chords. His presence is strong on stage, as he strums his guitar with calculated precision that make his biceps swell and his forearms vascular.

He’s less clean cut than in the bands music video for the song Aligator Pop . His beard is scruffier, his shirt wrinkled and his boat shoes worn below tarnished blue jeans. The second guitarist, a hired gun for the tour, is wild and dressed in black from head to toe, appropriate because he kills it the whole night. The bassist looks out of place in this band of hipsters, but after the first song boasts, “It’s good to play at home. Well almost, I’m from Brooklyn.”

The rest of the concert neither added nor detracted from the enthusiasm of the crowd.  The same trio screamed “Yeah Tyler,” the same fans danced, and people who knew the lyrics sang bashfully. “It felt like one long song,” adds Theresa as she exits the venue, disappointed. I nod and agree, but it’s one long song I enjoyed listening too.

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Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 9 PM

Whether it costs money or the admission is free, music could be just loud and obnoxious sometimes.  Free concerts sound like a great idea, but there is a reason why the music is free.

The Bamcafé holds many events that include free performances. The BAMcafé is a small part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which was founded in 1861. This makes BAM America’s oldest continuously operating performing arts center.

Located on 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, BAM consists of a 2000-seat opera house, a 800-seat theater, and four other cinemas. Because an escalator can only be able to hold so many people, space in BAMcafé becomes a priority. Just like any other building, it can only hold as much as regulated. If you are even a minute late, you can still miss the show.

Once one enter the caliginous hall, the first thing you may see are the arrays of individuals just standing. Seating is limited, which means one must come at least a hour in advance to each event. One may order food as well if they are seated. The ones who are left standing are left to gather around the bar, where anyone could like the music that is played.

From April 22nd till June 4th, the BAMcafé will add a spice to their everlasting melting pot of cultural events. This spice is the ¡Si Cuba! Festival, which is from March to June. It is held throughout fourteen New York City locations to celebrate or showcase Cuba’s rich culture. BAM will feature seven Cuban bands that includes Quimbombó.

Quimbombó is not your typical plate of gumbo. It is not spicy and it is quite loud. With congas, trumpets,  saxophones, and flutes Quimbombó is as traditional as the spicy dish.  On Friday, April 22, 2011, Quimbombó performed at the BAMcafé.

Quimbombó includes: Nick Herman (director, composer, and arranger), David Oquendo (lead vocals and  guitar), Igor Arias Baro (lead and background vocals), Steve Gluzband (trumpet), Alex Fernandez Fox (third lead vocals), Ricky Salas (congas, vocals), Arun Luthra (tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and clarinet), and Jorge Bringas (bass and vocals). Although the band has eight members, their performance at the BAMcafé included only five with David Oquendo as the main vocalist.

Oquendo, a native of Havana, founded the Latin Grammy-nominated group, Raices Habaneras. He has personally worked with many top artists including Paquito D’Rivera, Cachao, Willie Chirino, Marc Anthony, and Johnny Pacheco. When Oquendo sings, it becomes amateur hour on the dance floor. As young couples look like fools when trying to do the samba, Oquendo pours his heart out on stage. While some were dancing and enjoying themselves, I could not help but feel distant from the music.

No yo no gusto Quimbombó. For those who do not understand spanish, I just said I do not like Quimbombó. The music did not connect with me but it can for other people. Maybe I should have enjoyed the bar like the others did.

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When Robots Make Love, 3OH!3 is Born

It was a freezing day in New Jersey and still, girls bravely sported mini-skirts and boys walked around shirtless.  Thousands of people gathered around the stage and with less than an inch of space between each person, the outside temperature had no chance of breaching the bubble of body heat. Yurcak Field was mud-ridden from the previous night’s rain and we were all ankles deep in the muck. Nature may have been against the concert, but it had no effect on us. For the next few hours, we would be in a zone unaware of our surroundings, focused solely on the stage. Afterall, this was Rutgersfest.

The Rutgersfest crowd waits for 3OH!3

The annual free concert held at Rutgers University is notoriously known for drawing several non-Rutgers students, like myself, because of the popular bands it features each year. This year, one of those bands was 3OH!3. The electronic-pop band consists of two members, Sean Foreman and Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Motte. The band shot to fame after their 2007 self-released album, put together in Nat’s apartment, was passed along to Photo Finish Records, where label president Matt Galle was blown away by their unique sound and brilliant lyrics. To top it off, the band also had a unique name, which came from Sean and Nat’s area code in Boulder, Colorado. Their first single, “Don’t Trust Me,” released in 2008, went double platinum and sold over 2.6 million tracks. On 3OH!3’s official website, Nat describes the band’s sound the best. “It sounds like robots making love,” he says.

Sean Foreman of 3OH!3

It’s no surprise that 3OH!3 was asked to perform at Rutgersfest, since a large part of their fans are college students. The minute they stepped on stage, Sean and Nat were full of energy. They jumped on speakers and ran across the stage, holding the microphone out to the crowd at times, allowing the audience to sing along. They performed hit songs such as Don’t Trust Me, My First Kiss, Touchin’ On My and I Can Do Anything. The rebellious songs carried on the theme that they don’t care about what anyone thinks. They sang loudly and despite all the running around they did, there was never a point that they were out of tune. The radio doesn’t do this band justice. Their vocals are even better live.

Nat Motte of 3OH!3

If they hadn’t been on stage, Sean and Nat easily would have been mistaken for students from the way they were dressed. They both wore hoodies, jeans and leather jackets. Nat had a beanie on most of the time, and zipped down his jacket to reveal a red and white checkered button-up shirt, the kind you get from grandma for Christmas. Sean also took off his jacket to show his green and blue plaid shirt (I’ve seen an identical one at Hot Topic). Their choice of clothes, much like their songs, gave off the impression that they aren’t trying to impressing anyone and fame hasn’t turned them into money flaunting jerks.

The crowd sings along with Sean


Even offstage 3OH!3 was nonchalant and friendly towards their fans and students. One camera man mentioned that they walked into his tent and struck up a conversation so casually that he mistook them for crew members. The down-to-earth attitude that Sean and Nat are both known for is what makes me like their music even more. They’re not fake like some musicians tend to be. They sing about what they know and have fun doing it. I would definitely recommend seeing them perform live. It’s an unforgettable experience and I’ve even bought tickets to see them perform again at Warped Tour over the summer.

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Bad Buka, Worse Than Bad.

By 1 a.m., the room was already charged with energy and excitement. Drinks held in gesturing hands were only slightly responsible. Lively chatter intermingled with the wistful, acoustic blues storytelling sung by Renard Harris‘ harmonica. But his deeply soulful music was not the centerpiece– it was only the backdrop, the calm interlude, to the already-building energy that would soon explode.

Renard Harris on his harmonica

Something big was happening inside this small room, a music hall in East Village known as Drom. Drom had become the venue for the BoB Quarterly show, a competition that brings into the spotlight on a quarterly basis a diversity of up-and-coming bands. At 10 p.m. on Apr. 30, a Saturday night that was already simmering in blossoming romances, laughter, and life, Drom had opened its doors for $20 a ticket. The room was filled, packed with raw excitement from customers prepared to stake the next 6 hours of their night waiting for the competition’s 3 judges to make the final call.

It was finally time– time for Bad Buka, one of seven bands competing at the event, to take the stage. As other bands had done, Bad Buka, an eight-member band made up of 4 men and 4 women, began playing a 30 sec. preview– offering a taste of their gypsy punk rock to its standing audience members. Everything came together beautifully; the crowd was stirring, preparing to be amazed.

And indeed they were, though for reasons not entirely innocent.

The vocalist, a tall, long-haired man, first sang “Sister Mary,” as two female vocalists swerved their heads and swung their arms to the rhythm of the music. Occasionally, their voices came in, but mostly, their voices remained unheard, lost by the sounds of the strumming guitar, the drums, the trumpet, and the violin. As the first song ended, the two female vocalists, on opposite sides of the male vocalist, synchronized to bend their bodies to the same posture. It was dramatic, as so many of their movements later were, but the meaning behind their songs were entirely lost.

Bad Buka's two female vocalists

Perhaps it was the diversity of the other bands that had already been showcased, but Bad Buka, a band which brings their “lively Balkan roots to NYC with the richness of world music, punk rock attitude, and even the spunk of ska,” was nowhere as sophisticated and diverse in sound. The excitement from the audience, though visible and undeniable, was engineered. They cheered, danced, and even jumped, but only after they were prompted by one of the female vocalists.

Undoubtedly, Bad Buka was successful. But by relying on gimmicks, rather than their music, their songs began to feel oddly similar and distasteful. Nonetheless, they were chosen as the People’s Choice and won third overall.

But gimmicks can only get you so far.

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A Great Big Pile of Nothing

I should’ve expected the worst when a fellow reviewer and I got lost on our way to the venue — an ugly-looking, white-washed building perched between austere apartment buildings and factories perhaps not in use since the child labor laws have been lifted sometime in the early 1900’s. It also didn’t help that it was right next door (and I mean that literally, right next door) to a Western Beef — a supermarket I associate with neighborhoods that are more notorious for their crime rate rather than good choice in music and cuisine. Perhaps I expected too much from Highline Ballroom — hey, maybe the “ballroom” part got to me — but from the outside, the music venue is anything but top of the line.

After a two-flight walk up on rickety stairs wide enough to only accommodate one person at a time, we were met by two Australians — a man and a woman, both dressed in black to match the walls — that appeared to work here. The man scanned our tickets, and the woman politely offered us a table — which, to our horror, came with a $10 per person price tag. Having come from a full day of class and work, we inquired about some sort of coat check. At first, they appeared puzzled, but then informed us that we’re on our own. Strike one against Highline.

The area itself was large and fairly spacious, with two bars on parallel walls and a dining area adjacent to both. The room was well air-conditioned and quite airy — definitely important when packed with hundreds of sweaty, gyrating people. However, packed it was not. Frankly, until the first act, it appeared that there were no more than perhaps 30 or 40 people total on the floor.

Two Lights: Hey, at least the singer's cute.

The first act practically reeked of bubblegum pop and Hollister anthem — a Jonas brothers-y type of band called Two Lights in which the lead singer was cute, the songs were all about summer and breaking up, and the crowd was as enthused as one would be for a root canal.

However, that all changed once A Great Big Pile of Leaves got on stage and began setting up. A mob of tortoise-shell-wearing hipsters rushed forward, pushing to the foot of the stage. Cheers erupted from the pluck of the first guitar string.

They reeked of cliche and unprofessionalism — no introduction to the members (although I was led to assume that one of them was Tyler, due to the yelling from one of the members in the audience), no sound check, no building of a relationship with the members of the audience that weren’t already fans. The songs themselves weren’t catchy in any way, and the melodies were virtually indistinguishable from one another. It was the same breakup, lazy-day crap that Two Lights pulled — just in a scruffier outfit, though I could appreciate the occasional swear or two.

All in all, it was ultimately very forgettable — from the lack of interest to connect to the audience, to the half-assed songs that frankly seemed like a ten year old wrote them (“no time to sleep, no time to eat, trying to make money!” Really?!), a Great Big Pile of Leaves is an act that deserves as little recognition as the effort that they give.


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A Great Big Pile of… Well, You Know

Unless most of that line was for Western Beef, this could not have been the same night.

Once you step past the facade of the Highline Ballroom, a dull white brick wall shared with a sketchy looking Western Beef (not that there’s any other kind, to my knowledge), the whole feel of the evening changes. I stepped in out of the misty fog and was immediately greeted by a strange ambiance for a rock show; the only lighting was provided by a few red spotlights over the dining area and bar, a strobe over the empty stage, and a few scattered candles. Strangest of all, to me anyway, was the pleasant smell and cool air; But I suppose I’m just a little too used to basement and garage shows. All of the lovely ambiance and friendly staff, however, couldn’t save the night once the bands took the stage.

I couldn’t tell you much about the first opening act, Two Lights , since I spent a good amount of their Jonas Brothers-esque pop set of breakup songs at the bar wondering if I could possibly justify spending $7 on a beer. After half-hearing a few of their songs, it was more than justified.

I would tell you his name, had he taken the time to introduce himself

I made my way back to the base of the stage to catch A Great Big Pile of Leaves set up, rather unprofessionally at that. There was no sound check, no change in drum kit to accommodate the new drummer, not even an introduction of the band or members, which to me is just a matter of respect for the backup members and establishes a relationship with the crowd, which this typical Indie/Pop-rock trio could’ve used to work up some energy.

As with any local band that performs near their hometown, which for Pete Weiland, Tyler Soucy and Tucker Yaro is Brooklyn, there were some excited fans up front, seemingly friends of the brand, who were able to sing along with the scrappy looking lead singer through all of his melodramatic Hipster anthems like Alligator Bop, which seemed to be their best known track.

It could’ve been the sudden tight gathering of the crowd increasing the temperature in the once comfortable room, but I blame the half hour of bad Indie movie soundtrack being performed on stage for the headache (and for the $25 tab).

All in all, a bad gig with good company to laugh about it with is still a good night in my books. I suppose if I had stuck with my original low expectations and not let the ambiance trip me up, I wouldn’t have been as annoyed. Then again, bad music is bad music no matter the lighting.


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Just as Fun as Jumping into a Great Big Pile of Leaves

Awkwardly standing near the stage of the Highline Ballroom with about ten other onlookers scattered around the spacious and dim lit room, I noticed a sudden change in the venue’s atmosphere as the next band made their way towards the stage. The air was now filled with liveliness, as passionate and anxious fans began to crowd into the previously empty room, pushing me closer towards the stage.

A Great Big Pile of Leaves, the three-member indie rock band, possessed exceptional stage presence throughout their live performance.

Gradually working their way into their first song of the evening, A Great Big Pile of Leaves played a flawless two minute long introduction, reminiscent of introductions given by the legendary band, Pink Floyd.

Singer/Guitarist Pete Weiland Performing at the Highline Ballroom

Once lead singer and guitarist Pete Weiland began to sing the show took off, as the supportive and energetic crowd cheered, danced, and banged their hands to the beat against the stage.

Although some songs were repetitive at times, A Great Big Pile of Leaves did everything but bore their crowd. Their most catchy and enticing song, Alligator Bop, is composed of lyrics such as, “We’d drive around for hours with no direction and no goal except to act stupid, and intertwine ourselves into situations to laugh about.” Weiland passionately yet softly sings while innovatively taking simple words and construing them to the beat, repeating certain vowels to give the word a stuttering effect. Weiland’s improper pronunciation at times leads to original sounding lyrics, as the singer manages to stay in tune.

With the electrifying sounds of the guitar, drums and bass bouncing off the walls and causing a rush of adrenaline throughout the audience, the band was applauded for the various techniques used to enhance the sound and quality of their music. Weiland used a technique called finger tapping while playing his guitar, a technique typical in more rock-oriented genres, which was used well during the performance.

“When I heard them I had a very entranced feeling,” said Brooklyn resident Antonio Rosa who attended the show. “The way they organized their music was very atypical which drew my attention greatly.”

Bassist Tucker Yaro Performing at the Highline Ballroom

A Great Big Pile of Leaves, the unique name founded by Weiland, began in 2007 when Weiland and drummer, Tyler Soucy, decided to write material and form their own band, as bassist Tucker Yaro joined later on. Their first full-length record, “Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex?” was released the summer of 2010.

Although the band is currently unsigned, they are now on tour, opening for The Appleseed Cast. They will be back on the road again this fall, touring with Motion City Soundtrack, Say Anything, and Saves the Day.

A Great Big Pile of Leaves has great big journey ahead of them.



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Campbell’s music is icing on the cake for the happy-go-lucky

If listening to soulful music is like treating yourself to a scrumptious piece of red velvet cake on the cheat day of your diet, than Brooke Campbell’s CD Sugar Spoon is the icing on top of it. 01 Sugar Spoon

Campbell is a singer-songwriter virtuoso of folk, pop and bluegrass music. She constructs music that will cause one to long for a simpler country life, reminisce about old loves and new, and think about life’s labors. Singing it all with a country-ish twang and being a mellower version of the Dixie Chicks, Campbell’s music easily matches her upbringing in Whiteville, North Carolina.

According to her website, she loves to “write music and sing it for folks.” This is the case despite the size of the crowd, which was clearly evident considering the small crowd of listeners she serenaded in the 92Y Tribeca. According to their website, 92YTribeca Nightlife […] offers outstanding live experiences for audiences, performers and participants alike.”

At 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 14, my classmates Jerrica, Sabrina, Ashley, Gladys consisted of about half the audience until there was an uptick of attendance as curious onlookers trickled in.

Enjoying the dim atmosphere of a rather boring venue, I let the extremely sad songs, most of which were about Campbell’s life, sink in. It was enough to bring any love sick fool, like myself, to tears. The glass of red wine did not help much either, especially as the music to one of her songs truly sounded like rain drops landing on a lake.

Still, a fan of guitar and folk music myself, much of Cambell’s music lacked the emotion I expected from this genre. Singing almost at a whisper, her vocals didn’t have the excitement I desired and expected when I walked in to find a woman with a guitar.

Occasional faster strums occasionally did break the monotony of the relatively slow strums that would put anyone to sleep with its soothing rhythms that came from Campbell’s red wood acoustic guitar.

Cambell’s breathless voice then added to it lightly. Her voice was as subtle as her body movements; she tapped her foot slightly and moved from side to side, bopped slightly to her beat, and appeared like the picturesque starving artist playing the blues.

Track after track was played from her latest album Sugar Spoon, which came out in 2009. According to her website, the album was produced by William Berlind in Manhattan and a church in Nantucket.

Good music nonetheless, I left the venue with a relatively melancholy mood to start off my spring break. However if your life is virtually void of hardships, listening to her songs is sure to be an effective remedy to decompress after a stressful day.

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