Posted by Tobias Carroll

Sharon Van Etten / Northside Festival Stage at McCarren Park
I was out of town for both the 2009 and 2010 Northside Festivals; with the exception of a screening of Centurion last year, 2011 marks my first time experiencing the festival in question. I can understand the appeal of something New York-centric but a bit more confined than, say, CMJ: one of the things that makes Austin around the time of SXSW so appealing is the relative proximity of everything, the sense of a shared experience that’s both cultural and geographic. And while getting from, say, Public Assembly to Shea Stadium may be something of a trek, it’s nowhere near the distances that can come up when considering the multiple boroughs (multiple states, really, when Maxwell’s is factored in) of a NYC-wide music festival.

I ended up arriving on the late side to see Sharon Van Etten’s set opening for Beirut at a newly-assembled stage at McCarren Park. (It’s a long story.) Since the release of Van Etten’s Epic (arguably my favorite album of last year), a pair of friends of mine have joined her band; hence, I’m no longer in the unobjective observer category. So I’ll just say that I continue to be impressed with how Van Etten’s deeply intimate music can be translated to larger stages and venue. It didn’t hurt that the space had some of the best sound I’ve heard for an outdoor concert of this scale — loud enough to be appropriate for the thousands in attendance but without losing the smaller details.

Milk Music, German Measles, Reports / Bruar Falls
Bruar Falls was hosting a quintet of bands playing a show under the banner of Still Single. I arrived partway through Reports‘ set, which initially seemed to fall into the garagey side of indiepop, with a keyboard player offering occasionally dissonant counterpoints to the guitar-driven melodies. Then, for their penultimate song, they veered into something significantly longer that seemed to nod in the direction of Neu! as an influence; it was a fine shift relative to what had come before, and one that left me eager to hear more from the group.

German Measles were up next, with a set that began in an intentionally shambolic fashion and quickly grew more focused, obsessive, and eccentric over time. All of these qualities came as welcome shifts from the sound I’d previously associated the band with: they’re getting weirder over time and assembling a denser sound along the way.

After overcoming a few technical difficulties, Olympia’s Milk Music closed out the night. Still Single’s Doug Mosurock has cited The Wipers and Dinosaur Jr. when describing their sound and I’ll gladly second that. Their sound is a mostly exuberant brand of punk, with the occasional guitar solo arising organically out of the mix. Though to bring their set to an end, they shifted gears and embraced a much sludgier side of things, suggesting an impressive stylistic range at their disposal. It didn’t hurt that the guy selling their merch spent the entirety of their set standing atop his seat dancing manically; at the end of the night, I picked up a copy of their Beyond Living 12″ and snagged, on his recommendation, a 7″ by a band called HPP.

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