Certain labels depend on a specific aesthetic in order to flourish, something clever and digestible in order to survive. Don Giovanni doesn’t. Perhaps there’s a certain thematic element to their acts—but I doubt anyone with a working knowledge of indie rock would loop Screaming Females and Laura Stevenson in the same camp. Don Giovanni is a family, as emotionally entrenched in the New Brunswick scene as their physical locale,
Every year the label throws a showcase; this year the only exception is size. A mini-showcase on Thursday night with Amherst, Massachusetts band California X and Jersey punks Nuclear Santa Claust before two days at the Music Hall of Williamsburg—the first of which I attended—a lineup consisting of Hilly Eye, Lemuria, Waxahatchee, Jeffrey Lewis and headlined by Laura Stevenson & the Cans.
The evening opened with Hilly Eye, the indie rock art duo project of ex-Titus Andronicus member Amy Kline. After leaving what she famously described as “the great American rock and roll band of our time,” Kline was left in a critical state: it could have been the best or worst decision of her career. According to her opening performance, it was the former: Kline commanded the stage in a way most openers can’t—through trained engagement, something Hilly Eye gleams through experience.
Lemuria, the only act not on Don Giovanni Records (the Jersey band is currently signed to Bridge 9,) but one a few crowd members expressed to me as “the only Don Giovanni not actually signed to Don Giovanni,” followed Hilly Eye. If an award could be given for the band with the most bumper stickers represented in Williamsburg on that chilling eve, it would undoubtedly go to Lemuria. There wasn’t anything too memorable about their performance, just that everyone and their mother seemed to know the words to all of their songs—like a secret, cult subculture in which Lemuria are king.
Waxahatchee, Philly-via-Alabama singer/songwriter Katie Crutchfield followed.
The last few times I’ve seen Crutchfield, she was accompanied by a band, much to the dismay of those longing for the intimate woman-with-acoustic-guitar feel of her DG debut, “American Weekend.” Here, she stood exposed with nothing more than an electric guitar, repeating riffs and vocals like narration. Her movements were economic if they ‘were’ at all, drawing complete silence from the audience.
The only act of the evening front solo-ed by a man, Jeffrey Lewis took his well-defined brand of anti-folk to stage, standing with an entire band as opposed to the singer/songwriter nature of his earlier releases. Lewis, who has released almost of his recorded material on major indie Rough Trade, has recently reissued his debut 2001 album “The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane.”
Keeping in line with strong female frontwomen, the evening’s headliner was Laura Stevenson and the Cans. Stevenson stood front and center inspiring what became the most danceable set of the evening, though she herself rarely left position. Perhaps Stevenson live doesn’t exude the sort of energy like other DG acts (Shellshag come to mind) but her place is one to learn from. Beautiful melodies that serve to highlight life’s negativity, something she presents as milestones to surpass. And like other Don Giovanni acts, this down-to-earth reading of reality allows for friendships to be born, fun to be had. Here’s to ten more years.