At a blacktop lot in McCarren Park on Saturday, a concert plugged along and the conversation turned to befuddlement: “Is this really a free show?” What amounted to the headlining sets of the fifth annual Northside Festival was a well-executed affair. The lines moved swiftly (besides the one for free ice cream sandwiches) and the crowd was never overwhelming. The two main acts played superb sets. All on the house.
The Walkmen capped the evening and were as professional as their reputation would indicate. The quintet stormed out of the gate with three of their best songs. “The Rat” was as charged as ever, still a blistering revelation and further proof of its continuing life as the band’s standard. The backbone was stout drumming from one of the hardest working men in show biz, Matt Barrick. “Stranded” was poignant, frontman Hamilton Leithauser lamenting his way through the forlorn lyrics while horns lilted into the picture to his left.
Paul Maroon’s guitar part from “Blue As Your Blood” cascaded over the sunbathed crowd and Leithauser sang, “The sky above/ Is blue as your blood.” Then, reflecting, Leithauser remarked that any time the troupe played New York (part of its homebase which also includes Philly and D.C.), it rained. Saturday’s nice weather cooperated and even in the heat, the Walkmen wore trademark suits.
“Juveniles” provided Leithauser with the opportunity to show off his microphone-cradling skills. Only a few other frontmen are as adept as making the mic appear to be as important as a guitar. (Take note, Steven Tyler.) “All Hands And The Cook” was utterly engrossing. Leithauser’s powerful voice can reach abyssal depths and when he really goes for it, a listener can feel exhausted afterward. All emotions and energy get left on the table.
Earlier, Phosphorescent dazzled. (Friend Roulette and Abadabad opened the show.) Most of the set came off of Matthew Houck’s new one, Muchacho. He, and his five-piece touring band, popped a new life into his folky tunes. The songs can be downbeat but, on Saturday, Phosphorescent moved with a potent vibrancy — a fine translation from the record to the stage. They opened with “Terror In The Canyons” and it was readily apparent that Houck’s voice would be in charge. It’s mostly laid back but can creak when pushed to extremes. It’s something of a phenomenon and opened up fully during “Song for Zula.” Houck & Co. closed with a jammed-out version of “Los Angeles,” surprising the throng with its muscle.
1. “On the Water”
2. “In the New Year”
3. “The Rat”
5. “Line by Line”
6. “Blue As Your Blood”
8. “Angela Surf City”
9. “All Hands and the Cook”
10. “138th Street”
11. “Canadian Girl”
12. “We Can’t Be Beat”