For those hardy enough to brace for the biting cold wind blowing through the streets and alleys of Brooklyn on Saturday February 13, the Knitting Factory was one haven where one could duck in and enjoy some quality homegrown live music in an intimate atmosphere. Locally based rising pop star Catey Shaw was the headlining entertainer, but openers Gillian and Memoryy were just as much a part of the experience for anyone present early enough to catch them.
Gillian is a band that sounds like it came together as the result of getting just the right alt-rock junkies with just the right record collections together at just the right time in just the right place. They unabashedly own the stage, the band members emphatically traversing in every direction while projecting their tight and polished riff and vocal hook driven pop rock to an attentive audience. Despite all this confidence and cohesion, they don’t come across as trying to be anything more than what they are: a Brooklyn band well worth seeing. Over the course of their 45-minute set, Gillian demonstrated impressive versatility, nimbly navigating tempo changes and dynamic shifts and integrating a guest two-piece horn section into their lineup. The switching off between male and female lead vocals and use of rough-and-ready harmonies kept one guessing at just where this band draws its inspiration but indicated that these fun loving musicians are more than schooled in rock and roll history and infused with the spirit of the same. Gillian’s primary goal in performing music seems to be to have a great time. Warming up the Knitting Factory stage on Saturday, they took several dozen folks along for the ride and set the tone for an engaging evening of rocking and dancing, holed up out of the cold in this cozy little hole-in-the-wall club.
Next up the curly haired synth-pop maestro Shaun Hettinger, a.k.a. Memoryy, stepped onstage with his 5-piece band. Hettinger’s unassuming demeanor and almost self-deprecating nonchalance as he introduced his band and bantered throughout their set may have allowed one to overlook his understated passion for warm electronic pop if one wasn’t paying close attention. A sense of ’80s nostalgia pervaded Memoryy’s music, but there was also kid-in-a-candy-shop innocence and the plainly personal sentimentality of a 21st century workaday musician who hasn’t been able to help writing songs as a reflexive habit since childhood. Working in his preferred medium with a band he put together years ago under another name and just now reassembled for the first time in a while, Hettinger could barely contain his passion for this project enough to keep his fingers in contact with the keys as his body jerked about in much the same way as some of his more enthusiastic fans on the floor. This particular Memoryy set had an added layer of significance as it marked Hettinger’s final performance as a Brooklyn resident, and he made sure to point out just how special it felt to be playing again with the same four guys he first played with in New York City. The packed room showed Memoryy a lot of love.
At 11 PM the lights dimmed for the third time, and a trio of clean-cut fellows clad in mod suits ambled on to the stage. After situating themselves behind instruments and striking up a punchy rhythm, Catey Shaw appeared at the back corner of the stage dressed for the weather in a full-length off-white fur coat. Shuffling up to the microphone without much pomp, it was clear from the get-go where the artist wanted the audience’s attention to be focused: on the songs. No distracting choreography, props or other visuals were provided that could have taken away from the raw presentation of the songs that Shaw clearly takes a lot of pride in. The hour-long set consisted of all but one of the tracks from The Brooklyn EP plus a few more recently released singles. The still-small repertoire of this budding pop chanteuse holds together pleasingly onstage as it spans from folksy to bubblegum to synthpop revival.
The energy was ratcheted up early in the set with the fiery “Walks All Over You,” a pre-Valentine’s warning to all those prone to being played for fools by a blazing beauty. The anthemic “Brooklyn Girls,” which was met with some criticism upon its release in 2014, was nonetheless delivered with confidence and zest by Shaw after she announced that this hometown gig was also the culmination of her seven-date east coast tour. Coasting off the pep of the preceding party-starter tunes, the crowd swayed to the dreamily optimistic “Revolution” and continued to ride the decreasing tempos until Shaw put on a slightly more earnest face and sang the poignant ballad “Show Up,” with the studio track’s piano replaced by gentle, clean electric guitar.
The remainder of the set was a string of Shaw’s danciest and most satisfying material. A cover of Drake’s spacey R&B jam “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” was received with a surge of enthusiasm from all the dancers on the floor. Shaw’s two newest singles, the Maroon-5-esque “Tell Everyone” and the deep and bouncy “The Ransom,” came up next. These sleek and heavily ’80s-influenced ragers were full of glistening, icy guitar, but the triggered synth lines that make these tunes so fresh on record added a sense of incongruity in the concert setting where a live keyboardist could have achieved more depth and balance. The band did play these songs for all they were worth, the guitarist and bassist breaking away from their rigidly held positions onstage to feed off of each other and rock out, leaning back with knees in the air and fingers working their instruments so as to squeeze as much excitement out of them as possible in these penultimate moments of the performance. Shaw picked up her ukulele and brought the set to a close with “Human Contact,” the most reliable tune in her arsenal. Not quite ready to let the show end there, she quickly reemerged with uke still in hand after the band quit the stage to give a solo encore performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” hearkening back to her days busking on the subway. Catey Shaw was happy to be back home in Brooklyn, and well over 200 Brooklyners were happy to be there with her at the Knitting Factory.
Setlist: Walks All Over You, Brooklyn Girls, Revolution, Night Go Slow, Show Up, Outerspace, Hold On We’re Going Home (Drake cover), Tell Everyone, The Ransom, Human Contact
Encore: Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin cover)