Saturday night’s show at Knitting Factory with The Stepkids, Cuckoo Chaos, and Lushlife was officially the first show of the year to properly blow my mind. I needed something fresh to kickstart me back into music mode, and this was the one. In fact, The Stepkids blew their own album out of the water. Simply listening to their self-titled studio LP will not do their live show justice, unless they find a way to make it a pop-up book with light projections included, plus super extended shredding outros.
The Stepkids are a trio comprised of bassist Dan Edinberg, guitarist Jeff Gitelman, drummer Tim Walsh, plus Fred Dileone on keys for their live shows. They all wear white, and drape white sheets in front of the drum kit and keyboard stand so that the psychedelic visuals by Jesse Mann can completely wash over them, enhancing their colorful psych soul sounds and begging for shadow puppetry. The band’s background in jazz, funk, soul, and R&B is ingrained in every song, along with their fierce musicianship. Jeff has played in the backing bands of artists like Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, and 50 Cent; and let’s just say The Stepkids would not be the same without Dan’s noodling bass lines. It comes as no surprise that they were scooped up by Stones Throw records this past year.
They opened their set with “Brain Ninja,” which may aptly describe their ability to transform state of minds with their infectious melodies, and then went right into the funky “Suburban Dream.” They threw in a new song called “Bitter Bug,” another shimmering soul throwback with plenty of wah wah guitar that is likely to end up on their second album that they are reportedly already working on. They had a few guest vocalists on “Legend in My Own Mind” and “La La,” the latter of which was an impressive vocal workout. In general, the way the trio passed around lead vocals before falling into three-part harmonies, while also passing around wild solos on their respective instruments made their show the kind that you don’t even want to blink, let alone take your eyes off the stage. They saved the best for last: “Cup Half Full,” which was a closer to showcase every aspect of their show that is just as much about atmosphere as it is about sound – video below. In stark contrast, they came back with an inventive cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” as an encore. They retained their psychedelic futuristic soul identity impeccably, once again with their 3-part harmonies, but more minimalistic with accompaniment of shaker, xylophone, melodica, and violin.
The Stepkids didn’t steal the whole show; Cuckoo Chaos spread their southern California warmth with a set of all new songs. They left the now familiar singles from Woman behind, as they are continuing to grow fast and move forward with newer material. “Super Skeleton” is still in there, along with “Michael Jackson,” both good examples of the band’s laid-back vibe that makes it hard not to move your hips. Scott Wheeler’s voice smoothly butters the cuckoo bread, and Jeremy Scott sprinkles the spice on top as he plays his guitar like a siren singing while the rest of the guys keep the substance solid. They were the perfect precursor to the headliner with their own creative harmonies and breathe-of-fresh-air arrangements. With them is where the kickstart into musical gear of the night really began.
Philadelphia-based emcee Lushlife brought the hip hop flavor, rapping over unexpected beats that had samples from OMD and other bands who are familiar, but you can’t quite remember. He made a good effort to get the crowd involved in his call and response-type hype, and had some witty banter in between. He got on the edge of the stage and rapped to the crowd who were still several feet back as if they were at the front, like one who has the ability to carry on a conversation easily by himself – an important quality for an emcee to have, as we all know it can take some time for NYC concert-goers to warm up so early on a cold night.
The Stepkids are off to Australia for a handful of shows, including Sydney Festival on January 27th. Tweet at them and check their Facebook for more info. Cuckoo Chaos will be back to their home state for a string of shows on the west coast. All dates are listed on their Facebook. Looks like Lushlife will be back at Knitting Factory next month, and has plenty of tracks to check on his Bandcamp.