“How do you start when you know it’s gonna end?” Alex Schaaf asks on Yellow Ostrich‘s “How Do You Do It?”. The same could be asked of anyone starting a rock band these days. Or for that matter, a music venue. Yellow Ostrich came onto the scene full of promise, and throughout their five years, they mostly lived up to it, as their popularity soared and the density and complexity of their songs followed. Like a lot of bands these days, this one began as Schaaf’s bedroom project, only growing into a formidable live act after the fact. The first time I saw Yellow Ostrich perform, at Mercury Lounge in 2011, Schaaf was fighting with his vocal loops on “Whale”, putting on a hell of a performance despite the glitch on his first song. Back then, the band had other dates happening at places like Shea Stadium and Piano’s. A year later, they were playing Bowery Ballroom, a confident full band at the top of their game.
But isn’t it painful, in the end, to put forth so much effort, to pour so much of your soul into something, when you know that in all likelihood, a half-decade worth of a run is all you’ll get if you’re lucky? Making music requires so much giving of yourself, it’s hard sometimes to imagine how it can be worth it. You give and give and give, and at best you get a few syncs, a few streams, and hopefully a full house some nights. When things end, chances are that memories will be short. If you matter, in the long run, to a handful of people, you’re lucky.
But if Schaaf and his band felt any melancholy about Yellow Ostrich’s passing, they didn’t show it. It felt right for the band to close things out on the stage at Glasslands, which itself will be no more as of the end of this year. The band will end on a high note, the more confident Cosmos, which pushed their limits while retaining the essential tunefulness of the melodies and intensely personal bent of Schaaf’s words. Tonight the band was on from start to finish, Schaaf bounding across the stage as songs took on added flourishes of guitar and a little something extra in the vocals. This isn’t the same band that started it all, when Jon Natchez joined up to make it a fully-realized creature, but it’s a very good one, equally loyal to Cosmos tunes like “Terrors” and “Things Are Fallin'” as to old greats from The Mistress like “Whale” and the set’s closer, a searing, extra-long “Mary”. While the whole set is streaming below, I wanted to emphasize “Whale”, which has grown so much from that first version I saw played at Mercury. To me this first song on The Mistress is the essential Yellow Ostrich song, and in the three evolving versions I’ve recorded, you capture the band’s story in miniature. The song has always been catchy, but only this time, the entire crowd sang along.
Those of us who spent much if any time in the music scene just across the East River have found much to mourn this season, saying goodbye not only to institutions like Glasslands and DBA but to longtime bands and friends as well. While a moment has ended, this can only be looked at as torch passed. New York has never been the place for those who don’t like change; change is the essential part of its character as a city in almost every way. For his part, Schaaf isn’t going anywhere — he’s already got a new project, Human Heat, with an EP to its credit. I grinned as the band played The Mistress’ “Hate Me Soon”. The truth is, Yellow Ostrich didn’t stick around long enough to give us a chance to. And most times, that’s just the right way to go.
I recorded this set with our installed Glasslands system, Naiant X-R cardiod microphones and a soundboard feed by the band’s FOH Keith Milgaten. The sound quality is excellent. Enjoy!
Stream the complete show
Brooklyn, NY USA
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Recorded and produced by acidjack
Soundboard (engineer: Keith Milgaten) + Naiant X-R>Roland R-26>2x24bit/48kHz WAV>Adobe Audition CS 5.5 (compression, alignment, mixdown, fades)>Izotope Ozone 5 (light EQ, effects)>Audacity 2.0.3 (tracking, amplify, balance, downsample, dither)>FLAC ( level 8 )
Tracks [Total Time 1:08:35]
03 Hold On
05 Neon Fists
06 How Do You Do It
07 Elephant King
08 My Moons
11 Any Wonder
13 Things Are Fallin’
14 Marathon Runner
16 Hate Me Soon