Photo of Emmett Kai by Erica Harris DeValve
I walked into Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg on a dewy Saturday night in July, late on account of the trains. It was hot as hell outside but they really keep the AC pumping in there! Upon entering the back room, the first thing I heard was some muy tasty 70’s funk, a kind of Al Green soul vibe mixed with rock n’ roll. I saw three guys on stage, all wearing ties and collared shirts, each styled differently.
I realized it was Smith Taylor and band. The second song they played after I arrived was introduced as “If I See Satan, It’s Hands on Sight.” It had a stanky groove with a long buildup to its climax, but the next song was sweet and soulful. Falsetto, yes, I thought to myself. “I almost told you I loved you,” Taylor sang, pausing on his guitar. I thought of Raphael Sadiq. They finished their set with “If it’s not Vegan, it’s Murder.” This one had crashy, thrashy drums, and an almost rap rhythm to the words, but in, like, a punk way, like classic Funkadelic.
Next was Emmett Kai. Six guys got on stage and set up their various instruments with focus. Keys, two guitars, drums, bass, and last, but certainly not least, tambourine! The first song, “Monsters at the Roxy,” started them off funky and tight. There was a British punk sound there, like the Clash, but with oozing guitar licks, poppy breakdowns (Emmett also does some pretty cool remixes on the side), crisp drums, and great harmonies from the keyboardist.
It was their first show in over a year and a half! They killed. Emmett’s songs have the sweetest melodies, very summery, and very California (in a Bay kinda way). Sometimes nothing beats when there are 6+ people on stage. Everyone was smiling and dancing and I really mean everyone! Three songs into the set was “Nature’s Voice Is A Cry.” This song just really gets me! “Walk down lover’s lane / Nothing but this gravel road / Nice night for an escapade / Promise me you’ll take it slow…”
Finally, Pink Skies took the stage. Arieh Berl, the frontman, was so present. Yet his presence was almost soft and gentle. The sound of their band swarms and swirls. It was synthy too, full of reverb and echo. They played a new song called “Reality/Nostalgia” that reminded me of Beach House, but they still really got their own thing going. Pink Skies kind of encircles you and fills you up, maybe like a sunset would. There are elements of Frank Ocean and Tame Impala in their psychedelic-pop music as well.
As their set drew to a close, I realized the bill that evening was exactly what the doctor had prescribed. Each band put such a big smile on my face. The through line throughout was ethereum (“etherial” plus “delirium”!) and funk, swelling instrumentation with boundary-pushing experimentation. Each set was genre-bending and enveloped us like the humid summer air. (Willa Rudolph)