Monday, January 16, 2012

NewVillager takes Manhattan

I know next to nothing about NewVillager, and I am not the only one.

I came across the video for “Lighthouse” while curating a design blog and was blown away by the elaborate costumes and energetic posturing. When their self-titled debut album was released, it was hard not to fall in love with the infectious melodies and pop-inspired grooves. But who were NewVillager? They seemed to have anywhere between two and twenty members, depending on whether one decides to count dancers, living sculptures, hand-clappers, and videographers, all of whom seem to have been beamed down from another dimension beyond our own plane.

drummer Collin Palmer bestowing fan with mask
NewVillager are most certainly building a mythology around their work, which is equal parts musical and visual. A gallery installation in Tribeca last month and a video for second single “Rich Doors” have introduced a conceptual game that apparently has to be experienced to be understood, and even then all bets are off. Last week I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about, knowing that even if the set-up was less elaborate than what I'd seen on YouTube, I'd still hear some great tunes.

Ross Simonini
I was dismayed upon arrival to find a line down the block. My friend and I went to a bar around the corner for drinks, but even after we'd downed some cheap PBR and returned to Mercury Lounge there was still a line. The crowd was baffling. Had Mercury Lounge run a Groupon? That's the only explanation I had as to how the folks in front of us had wound up here.  I'm not trying to be judgmental, but none of them seemed the type that would be into the possibility of this becoming some insane piece of performance art.  Slowly but surely, we filtered through the door and the narrow bar to the show space inside. We didn't have to wait long before three musicians took the stage, which was adorned with bizarre props.

Ben Bromley makes faces, and music
The set was perfectly executed and seemed extremely well-rehearsed. Be-scarfed singer Ben Bromley's facial expressions were particularly animated as he manned the keyboard, prompting my friend to aptly dub him “the white Bobby McFerrin”. Ross Simonini chimed in with additional vocals and apparently prefers to play guitar barefoot. Drummer Collin Palmer did double-duty as hype man, stepping out from behind his kit a few times to get the crowd pumped.  Halfway through the set a dancer completely obscured by a hood with with a grin that literally went from ear to ear came from out of nowhere, wriggling off the stage and through the audience, handing out masks. One particularly ornate mask was bestowed upon a lucky observer who was invited to dance (albeit poorly) on stage. She was later joined by two friends, one of whom exuberantly proclaimed “It's my birthday!” but I'm almost positive this was not part of the NewVillager myth.

Not actually a member of NewVillager
Meanwhile, on stage right, another performer had situated himself or herself or itself inside a giant inflatable statue. A grey-and-white striped column pranced through the crowd as well. The culmination of these activities was, of course, “Rich Doors”, performed as an encore though encores are always a slightly perplexing endeavor at Mercury Lounge, where there's no place for the band to hide. When I say they played “Rich Doors” as an encore, I also mean that they played Fleetwood Mac's “Dreams”. You can watch a video I shot of the revelry below.

I went to Mercury Lounge expecting indie rock's answer to Gwar, and in all honesty I was more weirded out by the audience than the performance. What I got was definitely more random than the almost Jodorowsky-esque set-up promised in the “Lighthouse” video, but was still a little charming. Even with all the fanfare it was the songs themselves that stood out most. Well-constructed in the first place, their live translation was sublime. With regards to the mythology behind NewVillager, all I can say is that it would be nice if these artists let their fans in on the secret.  

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