On January 16th, 2011, Sun Airway, Little Shalimar, and Mister Heavenly performed at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom. The turnout was strong, filling up the space of the intimate Manhattan venue. The crowd was young for the most part, but there were a few cases of middle-aged exceptions. A lot of the concert-goers seemed to be dressed similarly. Many wore either some form of flannel or striped shirt, or wore a winter hat even inside the venue, and some had on black-framed glasses like the kind Buddy Holly wore. Quite a few couples were there, but even as they got cozy over the course of the evening, like the rest of the audience, they too seemed captivated by the music that night.
Although the concert was to officially begin with a performance by Little Shalimar, before they began playing, I was able to meet with a couple of members of Philadelphia’s own Sun Airway. On the second level of The Bowery Ballroom, I noticed that one of the members was hanging out near the venue’s bar. His name was Robert, a keyboard and synth player for the group. We spoke for a little. Robert talked about the group’s effort to move “away from guitar rock.” After a few minutes of talking, he went to grab Jon Barthmus, lead singer and songwriter for the group.
Jon talked about his desire for their music to have an “amorphous” feel to it. He also spoke about the desire to, in the words of Phil Spector, build a “wall of sound.” Jon also discussed the formative influence of “My Bloody Valentine.” He then talked about Brian Eno. “Another Green World made me want to work with synths,” he said, “and a lot of electronic music.” After we spoke, the concert began, not with Sun Airway, but instead with Little Shalimar.
As it turns out, this was Little Shalimar’s second show ever as a band. Little Shalimar’s performance inspired a lot of dancing and movement. Their music featured soulful and psychedelic melodies, fat bass licks, and tribal percussion. Though they have yet to release an album, the crowd received the up-and-coming band warmly. Little Shalimar was also one of the more unique looking groups of the night. On the bass was a young woman with jaw-length platinum blonde hair and a strapless dress. Their keyboard/kazoo player had an Afro hairdo, a large necklace, and his shirt unbuttoned to his chest. The dreadlocked drummer sang backup vocals on a few of the group’s songs.
After Little Shalimar was Sun Airway. Sun Airway played a beautiful and stunning set of songs accompanied by a spellbinding light show projecting on and behind them. To witness a Sun Airway performance is to experience musical, dreamlike landscapes of sound with spacey, electronic ambience, emphasizing the synthesizers, and minimal guitar work. Their music brought concertgoers at The Bowery a special listening event that was every bit as gorgeous live as it is on record. Particular highlights of their set and the night were “Waiting on You” and “Oh, Naoko.”
Finally, there was Mister Heavenly, the headlining act of the evening. Comprised of Honus Honus from Man Man, Nicholas Thorburn of Islands & The Unicorns, Joe Plummer from Modest Mouse, and Michael Cera as a special guest bassist, Mister Heavenly offered concert-goers at The Bowery Ballroom an eclectic selection of tunes from their yet-to-be-released debut album. These songs ranged in styles from reggae to rockabilly to surfer-rock. Throughout the night, Mister Heavenly introduced the songs they were playing, often playfully. “Here’s a song about being a bad man,” said Nicholas Thorburn with a laugh before one tune. “It’s like Inception, layered,” he added. However, there was one song that night that was particularly heavy in terms of lyricism, about a sniper attack in the Bronx.
Towards the end of the night, Mister Heavenly turned on a disco ball to wind down the performance. They appeared for an encore, playing three additional songs, one of which was a soft, ballad-like performance from Man Man’s Honus Honus. The final song of the evening, “Hybrid Moments,” a cover of the song by The Misfits, offered concertgoers at The Bowery Ballroom a stunning conclusion to the evening. Before launching into it, Honus Honus twisted his hair into an Elvis Presley curl. They yelled “Long live The King!” and then started to play.
The entire night was a testament to the New York City concertgoers’ faith in the potential of these groups. Everyone seemed to enjoy all groups equally, and every band shined. Though incredibly different in terms of style and showmanship, each group had in common the certain promise of many great years of musical creation and performance ahead.
Before leaving the venue, I noticed someone familiar hanging out in the audience. It turned out to be the bassist from Little Shalimar. As I left the venue, I noticed that a young man approach her, yet another concertgoer wearing a striped shirt. “Good job,” he said to the bassist. “Thank you,” she replied, touching him briefly on the arm as he left The Bowery Ballroom for the streets of New York City.
– Written by Doug Menagh