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Bishop Allen &
Rock Plaza Central
River to River Festival
Pier 17, South Street
July 20, 2007

Written by Julia Sirmons
Photographed by Amy Davidson
(Opposite photo: Bishop Allen Guitarist)

“It’s a great night tonight,” Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, the core members of the Brooklyn-based indie-pop group Bishop Allen announced from their spot on the bandstand at South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 on the evening of July 20.

They couldn’t have been more right. Cooled by the sea breeze, a beer in hand, listening to the amped-up insanely catchy and smile-inducing tunes of Bishop Allen was the perfect way to celebrate the end of a long, hot working week.

Jon Natchez with Bishop Allen

Drummer with Bishop Allen


Before the main act took the stage, however, the audience was treated to the musical stylings of the opening act, Canadian band BLAH Plaza Central. Their unusual sound can perhaps be most succinctly described as one part Death Cab for Cutie, one part jam band, with a girl fiddler thrown into a mix. They rambled amiably through their varied set, peppering it with odd, frequently inaudible references to very Canadian guitar picks and something they mysteriously referred to as “Music Deep Throat.” After they’d finished up, they thanked Bishop Allen for the use of some equipment and shuffled off to enjoy some liquid refreshment.

Rock Plaza Central

Rock Plaza Central Rock Plaza Central

We were only kept waiting a few minutes before Rice, Rudder, a few other striped-shirt and tight-pants clad guys (Bishop Allen has a rotating group of supplemental members, and back-up vocalist Bonnie Schiff-Glenn – looking absolutely smashing in a kicky high-waisted, suspendered skirt with a white sequin top underneath – took the stage. As they got set up, my friend and examined Rice – who we’d admired in his star turn in the charming and sophisticated indie comedy Mutual Appreciation, directed by Rice and Rudder’s former roommate, Andrew Bujalski – trying to decide whether he looked better on camera or off. Off, we finally determined.

Then it was time for the fun to begin. No matter who’s in with the gang, Bishop Allen, is clearly a band that loves to play together, and they were in high spirits throughout their set -- those of us privileged enough to be standing in the cordoned-off VIP section were privileged enough to watch Rice & Co. throw back a few brews – and the jumping, head-banging, and rocking started off right away with the band’s first song of the night a foot-stomping rendition of “This is the Same Fire’ from the band’s June EP.

Highlights of the set included a rollicking rendition of “Chinatown Bus,” a song about coming home to New York on that cost-efficient but often perilous form of transportation, with an appropriately and evocatively wild, driving drumbeat. There was also the great and impassioned “Busted Heart,’ definitely the crowd favorite for the evening. Another great number was the wistful yet hopeful “Tings Are what You Make of Them,” with a cheerful “hey la” refrain reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye.”

The band then had Schiff-Glenn abandon her keyboard and maracas and step forward to sing a song from the band’s new album, The Broken String. The song, ‘Butterfly Nets,” a perfect, magically wistful summertime ballad, was beautifully accentuated by delicate guitar riffs and a gorgeous saxophone solo by a guest horn player. And while Schiff-Glenn’s dusky voice should have been ideal match for the song, she seemed to lack confidence once she was up front, and it was difficult to hear most of her performance.

Not ones to dwell on tiny mishaps, Bishop Allen sent the crowd off with a bang with three kicky songs perfectly tailored to the happy New York audience. Dropping off their beer cups in the recycling been, they walked toward the subway happing, their toes tapping.

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