For the fourth year, an onslaught of bands and fans descended upon Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods for the Northside Festival for four days of non-stop shows featuring bills filled with recognizable names and promising young guns.
Northside now includes film, art, and entrepreneurship showcases and panels, but the hook has always been the music — and this year delivered headlining shows from GZA and of Montreal, along with plenty of pleasant surprises from myriad newcomers.
GZA w/ Raekwon
The Wu-Tang spiritual head, GZA, The Genius, kicked things off at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Thursday night, performing his classic album, Liquid Swords. Backed by Austin Latin funk eleven piece, Grupo Fantasma — who opened with a groove-tastic set under the moniker Brownout — GZA controlled the stage with a too-cool, thousand mile stare swagger. Requisite “Wu-Tang, Wu-Tang” chants abounded, as The Genius rolled through crowd pleasers like “Liquid Swords,” “Gold,” and “Living In The World Today” (not to mention an Ol’ Dirty Bastard tribute, “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”). GZA readily turned his mic to the crowd who eagerly finished lines, while Brownout’s fatty basslines, silky guitars, and heavy horn section gave an old favorite an excellent new spin.
The weekend started a few hours early on Friday as hazy Brooklyn-ites Beach Fossils opened a show at McCarren park that also featured Portland rockers The Thermals, Swedish pop extraordinaire Jens Lekman, and Athens, Georgia indie stalwarts of Montreal, who kicked out the props, costumes, and jams as the sun set over Manhattan. Lekman, however, gave the evening’s most memorable performance: With visa problems keeping his band from joining him to play new material, Lekman, armed with an acoustic guitar, took the stage alone. With endearing melancholic pep, Lekman picked out older material like “The Opposite of Hallelujah” and “A Sweet Summer’s Night On Hammer Hill,” getting back-up both from friends on drum and bass later on, and the jubilant audience throughout.
Later that night, or rather early the next morning, the Knitting Factory hosted one of Northside’s most buzzed about shows: The NYC debut of Florida rapper Kitty Pryde, who’s hazy “Okay Cupid” shot her into the blogosphere recently. With a jolt of punchy giddiness injected into her usually sweet, dethatched flow, Pryde’s nerves showed but her confidence grew as she joked with the audience and hypemen — BFF Annie and younger brother George — in between spot-on renditions of “Thanks Kathryn Obvious,” “smiledog.jpg,” and “orion’s belt” (the last two, standouts from her new haha, i’m sorry EP). After closing with the lovelorn quick-spitter “give me scabies” — which samples Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” — Pryde fell into George, who threw an arm around his smiling sister. First shows are exhaustingly exciting like that — especially when done well.
Of course Northside features plenty of local acts, and on Saturday night Union Pool hosted a riotous showcase from upstart punk label Jack Shack Records. Austin trio White Pages kicked things off, followed by three Brooklyn acts: dystopic rockers Pampers with their barbed wire guitar riffs; relentless shredders Call of the Wild, whose pile-driving riffage left necks throbbing; and rambunctious hardcore quartet Foster Care, who tore through their new record, Bad Vibe City, as the rank of beer and sweat filled the venue.
The following night Brooklyn post-punk outfit Crystal Stilts headlined local label Sacred Bones’ showcase at Glasslands that also hosted Danish group Vår for their highly anticipated U.S. debut. Fronted by Elias Bender Rønnenfelt of Iceage (who played their first Stateside concert at last year’s Northside) and Sexdrome’s Loke Rahbek, Vår tore through songs with synths that howled, droned, revved, and throbbed alongside the persistent thump of a floor tom. Mesmerizing, powerful, if not ultimately draining, their set finished with Rønnenfelt and Rahbek embracing, kissing, as a beat continued to pulse. Two more bands followed, and even more played at other venues throughout the borough, but in a way Vår’s debut — music, love, et al — was a fitting end to Northside 2012.