Brooklyn-based indie folk duo Kaiser Cartel, made up of Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel, got together back in 2004. Following the release of their debut record March Forth (AmazonMP3) in 2008, great showing at SXSW 2009, amazing Daytrotter session, and song appearances on TV soundtracks for multiple shows, the band has maintained a pretty significant following and kept fans interested by putting unique personal touches on their albums, videos and concerts. For example, in the summer of 2010, the band released Secret Transit (AmazonMP3 & Spotify), an album recorded in the middle of the night in Blackheath, London, in an old church built in 1839. Throughout the record, you can hear sounds the band recorded on handheld tape recorder – birdsong, water trickling and other moving sounds.
But despite their growth in popularity, Kaiser Cartel is just as approachable by fans as they were in the beginning. In fact, they just might be the ones doing the approaching. I finally got to see them on Thursday at Rockwood (Stage II) on the Lower East Side. Stef had mentioned that the band sometimes comes out in the audience and gets a little closer. Playing a song in the crowd isn’t the most unusual thing, but I soon learned that this was very different.
Kaiser, a former member of John Mellencamp’s band and classically trained vocalist, and Cartel, a self-taught musician, each play multiple instruments, which brings a pretty wide range of sound for a duo, ranging from indie pop that sounds like Lykke Li, to folkin excellent Civil-Wars-like tunes. The first song of the night was more of the latter and hooked the crowd pretty quickly. As the band continued through their set of fun punchy numbers and stunning love songs, I somehow felt like I knew them well enough to invite them over for dinner. Little did I know that I’d be wooed further. For that final song, the two walked down off the stage and approached individuals in the crowd, looking them in the eye as they sang. I’ve never seen anything like this. My friend and I were watching from the balcony, so they didn’t get close to me. It was special and I was insanely jealous of those that got up close.
In an interview for the Brattleboro Reformer a few years ago, Kaiser said,
“When we play live, we try to reach every person intimately through our music. We want something to change for them after the show has finished.”
Unsurprisingly, I’m more drawn to the band’s folkish Americana tunes than their poppy ones. Kaiser’s voice is beyond pristine while Cartel’s harmonies and percussion give a fullness to the performance that makes it seem like there are way more than two people on stage. Check out two of my favorites below.