dragon Little Dragon performs at Absolut's "Encore! Sessions" at new Chinatown club Le Baron last Thursday night. (Photo: Andrew Hampp)

Like many Thursdays in New York, May 3 was a crowded night for concerts - Lady Antebellum (Radio City Music Hall), Norah Jones (an album release show at The Box) and The Walkmen, Sharon Van Etten, Twin Shadow and others (Crossing Brooklyn Ferry at Brooklyn Academy of Music) were among the big names in town. But perhaps the hottest ticket for the indie circuit was an invite-only show for Little Dragon at Chinatown's tiny, hot new club du jour Le Baron.

Not only was the gig an increasingly rare underplay for the buzzy band (the last time Little Dragon played a ticketed NYC show in October, they sold out Terminal 5), it was also the fifth installment of a new concert series called "Encore! Sessions," sponsored by Absolut vodka. The series kicked off this spring with performances from artists like Theophilus London, The Virgins, Hearts Revolution, and Friends, each of whom taped initimate showcases that will appear on the "Encore! Sessions" YouTube and Facebook pages every Tuesday for the next five weeks, culminating in Little Dragon's performance on May 29.

The series was intended as a continuation of Absolut's similar program at the original Le Baron nightclub in Paris, where it hosts concerts on Sunday nights, as well as an updated take on the brand's history of partnering with emerging artists and entertainers. "Encore! Sessions" is booked and executed by Absolut's music agency < /FORWAR:D > - a new venture founded by Alexandre Sap, Fabien Moreau and Leslie Dubest, formerly of The Hours (an agency still owned and operated by ad holding company Havas). Similar to previous brands-and-music projects with The Hours, from the Ting Tings' original song for Tommy Hilfiger to Air's short film for Cartier, "Encore! Sessions" has an emphasis on exclusive music and experiences. Theophilus London debuted new single "Big Spender" (featuring A$AP Rocky) during his performance, and Little Dragon premiered a new song "Sunshine" at Thursday's show.

"It's not about getting an artist to write something for us, it's about creating a place that's comfortable for them to try new things," says < /FORWAR:D >'s Moreau. "It's not just a place for bands to play at that exact time and see their fans. We've created a platform of expression for artists in that sense."

But with the exception of an Absolut bottle or two being poured in the VIP section, the brand's presence during "Encore!" events is quite silent - no logos or the brand's signature bottle silhouette imagery are anywhere to be found. The goal for Absolut was to become "more of a benefactor," says Moreau. "When a brand becomes too big and too mainstream they can lose a little bit of their DNA and disconnect from the creative field," he says. "There's no pressure on the artists to mention Absolut - it's more a 'made possible by Absolut' experience." Still to come for "Encore! Sessions" are three more artist sessions at Le Baron this summer (artists TBD), with possible festival activations currently in the works.

Absolut kicked off 2012 with music in a significant way when it sponsored Swedish House Mafia's sold out New Year's gig at Madison Square Garden, which was quickly followed by a new song and drink project called "Greyhound," including a music video that's logged over 80,000 views since March. The brand has spent over $1 million in support of the act, becoming an early supporter of the electronic-dance music craze that has since seen brands like Belvedere and Pepsi develop programs around the genre.