I arrived after the first opener had already started, and as I ascended the dark stairs I could hear shrill noises over electric guitar. This was Little Scream. She looked human enough, with her minimal solo setup, but she sounded like something very different with her reverb-soaked guitar, fierce stage stomping, and banshee-like wails. Her voice got so loudly high the feedback it created could barely match her. Hmm, better watch this one.
I noticed that the hot pink tape adorning a keyboard stand read “SUUNS” on it, so I knew what was coming. I had previously listened to some SUUNS tunes (that rhymes), but their kind of art rock experimental dancey jams are hard to really appreciate without seeing them build the tension and then freak out before your eyes. Singer Ben Shemie’s vocals were filled with fitful energy, a bit like the singer of Clinic, all pushed with droning synth and drum beats that verged on hardcore at times. Through their screeching guitar riffs I heard a guy behind me exclaim, “I haven’t heard these guys before, but they’re awesome!” I concur.
For their last song, we were treated to a guest appearance of Elizabeth Powell, frontwoman of Land of Talk, who came out blazing on bass and tongue-wagging directly opposite Shemie. I love surprises of the rockin’ kind.
Turns out that the bassist and drummer of SUUNS make up 2 thirds of Land of Talk. After a bit of a prolonged wait (for the boys to take a breather and put themselves in a different mindset, I’m sure), Powell emerged again, wearing a white lace dress and holding a green electric acoustic guitar. She started the first song, the opener from their latest album, Cloak and Cipher, of the same name. Just her and her guitar on stage for the intro, and then the other members trickled on stage. They were all the guys from SUUNS, plus another singer to provide the harmony to Powell’s melody. It didn’t take long for the band to lock in and really fill the ballroom with their sound.
On the next song, “Swift Coin,” she broke a string rocking so hard. She was clearly happy to be playing the Bowery, with her big eyes and wide smile. Although she came out at first looking like a dainty singer-songwriter, this girl rocked it harder than the boys, smiling with her tongue out the whole time. Trust me, it’s cute. She turned an already stand-out album into a mesmerizing performance, and obviously enjoyed it. She recalled playing other venues in New York before “…but Bowery Ballroom…wow!” She exclaimed. The crowd was with her on that sentiment. From singles like “Some are Lakes” off their first album to “The Man Who Breaks Things” off their Fun and Laughter EP, the crowd was with hands in the air for every one. Her distinct voice did ultimate justice to her songwriting, cascading up and down while she strummed and bobbed intensely, and all the while being totally in tune with the audience. When a couple kids almost got busted for smoking in the venue, she commented, “Close call! Good one, guys.” When a really drunk guy got a little too rowdy and tried to mosh, she remarked, “Some people need to calm down!” Way to not miss a beat, Lizzie. Rock on.
Land of Talk are continuing their tour down the east coast before ending back in their home town of Montreal.