November 16th, 2007. Throngs of New Yorkers braved the November chill outside The Blender Theater at Gramercy for what they hoped would be a heavy handed, floor-heaving infusion of Kentucky dance-punk. Luckily, VHS or Beta was there to deliver.
After sets by Soft and co-headlining tourmates Moving Units, members of VHS or Beta set the tone of the evening by resetting the stage themselves. It's been a while since I've seen members of a nationally touring act schlep their own gear onto stage. This non-chalant attitude gave the concert an unpretentious and familial feeling.
The casual atmosphere was most plainly illustrated when a couple of girls in the audience threw ice cubes at frontman Craig Pfunder as he plugged in his pedals. When he looked up to find the offending party, the girls screamed "we love you!" Mildly amused, Craig made an audible smirk, drank his beer and offered a few bottles of water to the crowd.
Drawing heavily from their most recent album, "Bring on the Comets" (2007), the band quickly got head's nodding with the album's second track, "Love in My Pocket." By the time the Louisville quartet moved into "Can't Believe a Single Word," American Apparel hoodies were hitting the floor by the dozens. Pfunder's faux-brit vocals had the venue jumping for the show's energetic climax "Burn it All Down."
A friend at the show commented that "Bring on the Comets" is everything The Killer's second album "Sam's Town" should have been. I've got to agree.
All of you who love music but hate the iTunes music store, rejoice! All three of VHS or Beta's fabulous albums are available in DRM-free MP3 format over at Amazon for less than $10 each!
I was unusually excited when the confirmation for this show came through at the last minute (many thanks to Kate at Astralwerks). In addition to loving the band, this was a rare opportunity to shoot along side the best concert photographer I know, my brother, Todd Owyoung (www.ishootshows.com).
The icing on the cake was the prospect of shooting in a venue rumored to have some of the most dynamic lighting effects in the city. Despite The Blender Theater at Gramercy's modest 600 seat capacity, the lighting did not disappoint.
Although it meant that I was able to shoot the band's entire set, I was slightly disappointed by the lack of a photo pit. I had been sick with the flu that week and found the prospect of fending off a horde of dancing fans unappealing at best. As is evident by the lack of photos of guitarist Mike McGill and drummer Mark Guidry, shooting from the crowd greatly restricts movment.
Though the stage is modest in height and width, it is lined with a huge array of multi-directional computerized lighting that, when combined with a smoke machine, is capable of a huge range of colors and effects. The lighting for VHS or Beta consisted largely of strong directional backlighting (red, blue, green, yellow) with a lesser amount of neutral/warm front lighting. Small strobes on the floor of the stage were used for a few of the more energetic songs.
While shooting this show wasn't easy by any standard, the lighting was much more exciting and entertaining than anything I've seen at similarly sized venues like Bowery Ballroom or Roseland.
Though my f-stop remained at f/2.8 for almost all of the set, my shutter speed and ISO varied wildly thanks to the ever changing lighting. At its worst, the show called for ISO 6400 at 1/60 for proper exposure. At its strongest, I was able to shoot at a comfortable 1/160 at ISO 2000 - 3200.
I used the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L for the majority of the set. The Canon 50mm f/1.4 and Canon 135mm f/2.0L saw limited use. Though the 70-200mm f/2.8 L would have yielded some nice downstage images, I was sick and decided not to burden my pack with an extra 3.5 lbs.
For more from this show, I highly recommend you check out my brother Todd's write-up on (www.ishootshows.com). Todd is a fantastically good concert photographer. His site is definitely worth a bookmark by anyone who likes music, photography or both.