The Harlem Shakes, Free Energy, Party Down

The Harlem Shakes are a band to watch. Their 2009 album, Technicolor Health, received copious praises from the blog-o-sphere—not to mention an obscene number of plays in my iTunes (proof that it’s good for sure!)

So who are the Shakes? A poppy, sunshine-y, Brooklyn 6-piece who write effervescent pop songs impossible to dislike (even Pitchfork, who criticizes the album for being TOO sunny and optimistic calls the band “charming”), the Shakes have been making music since 2006, winning fans through relentless touring and high-energy performances.

“Tonight is our last stop on tour,” says vocalist Lexy Benaim Friday night at Kung Fu Necktie. “It feels like we’ve been on the road for 7 years!”

The show was actually a make-up show for a performance cancelled by the band last April, and a sizeable crowd turned up to watch the band in action. Live, they seemed…well, tired (7 years of touring I imagine would wear on anyone!) but still managed to throw a pretty kick-y show, which the audience hungrily devoured.

The Shakes kicked things with “TFO,” the New Order-y dance number that chants “We got time to waste some time, we got time to waste some time” again and again over syncopated rhythms. From there, it was “Nothing but change, Part II”, a horn-laced Afro-pop number reminiscent of fellow New Yorkers Vampire Weekend, and “Strictly game,” a cheery folk number with funky drums and unison singing.

The crowd loved every minute of it, dancing and singing along enthusiastically. In 45-minutes, the band played almost every track off Technicolor, and after a short encore (“Winter water”), walked off stage looking exhausted.

But the crowd kept cheering. “PLAY ANOTHER SONG!!!” yelled a guy in the front. Others joined in, and Benaim, drenched in sweat, standing two feet in front of the stage, finally smiled. “Ok, he said.

The Shakes closed out the night with “Sickos,” off their 2007 EP Burning Birthdays, and the crowd hooted and hollered. Not band for a band on their way back home!

Philly-by-way-of-Minnesota transplants Free Energy opened, kicking things off with a freewheeling set of ‘70s-influenced pop-rock anthems. A recent signee to DFA Records (LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip), Free Energy seem to have appeared out of nowhere, but already know the score, invigorating the crowd with their laidback, exuberant concoctions.

Singer Paul Sprangers was the star of the show, clad in a tank top and skinny jeans (something tells me he has a sense of irony), fist-pumping and boogying his way through a short set of 7 songs. Tracks like “Bang Pop” were catchy and explosive, with ringing power-pop chords and lots of head-banging, while arena rock anthem “Hope child” thundered in aggressively, only to descent, epic-ly, into a swaggering slow jam, then build back up again with tambourines, thrashing and bravado.

“Congratulations folks, I saw some moves out there,” said Sprangers to the crowd, who started dancing reluctantly, then grooving and shaking by the end of the set. The band’s energy and enthusiasm were impossible to ignore – I’ll be looking for big things from these guys soon!