Spring Standards, Ian Axel, and Rosi Golan @ Bowery Ballroom, 9/6/11

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Heavy rain seemed like it would keep fans away from Bowery Ballroom early, but for the most part, the crowd fleshed out just in time for the treat that was opening act The Spring Standards. With drums and other instruments evenly distributed across the stage, it would be fair to expect the band to sound chaotic. Instead they’re a slice of indie pop brilliance. Bouncing between Americana, nostalgic rock and cabaret, the band delivered an incredible punch while being able to multitask singing and playing. If they missed a beat, I surely didn’t hear it.

Carrying on the upbeat energy was co-headliner Ian Axel, who pulled faces and could hardly seem to stop smiling as he performed. From behind his keyboard, he delivered quirky songs that were easy to relate to, both charming and a bit tongue-in-cheek. While many musicians try to make themselves into enigmas, Axel was obviously just overjoyed to be bringing his music to the people. The highlight of his set was when he promised that “anything could happen” during one of his songs. Soon a man in a suit was struck over the head by a (fake) bottle by an enthusiastic cowboy. That’s not a sight you’d get at just any old concert.

But the true star of the evening was Rosi Golan, who was celebrating the release of her new record, Lead Balloon. Most of the setlist was comprised of new songs, and the often-acoustic Golan was joined by a full band to better replicate the tunes as they appear on the album. Many audiences get antsy when they don’t know the lyrics, but the crowd really embraced Lead Balloon’s material whether or not they had heard the record yet. I attribute this to two factors: one, Golan is a gifted performer, and two, her new album is even stronger than her debut.

Though Golan’s songs are deeply personal, it’s easy to relate to the heartache and self-discovery in her lyrics. No matter the peril in her lyrics, which can tear at the heart when heard stripped-back to just her powerful voice and the guitar, there’s still beauty in the way she finds her way through life. It was a treat to hear her joined by Allie Moss on vocals throughout the show, though the greatest treat was the finale when Golan unplugged and approached the edge of the stage. Flanked by Moss and fellow songstress Bess Rogers, Golan performed a gorgeous, unamplified version of “Can’t Go Back.” It was a gentle sendoff into the night for a grateful audience as the rain relented for the trek home.

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