Fresh on the heels of a new album released just a few weeks prior, experimental math rockers Covet brought their “Catharsis” tour to Brooklyn’s Brooklyn Bowl on Wednesday with support from Scarypoolparty and altopalo. I love me some math rock and I was stoked to catch Covet’s set but what I didn’t expect was how great the night would be musically from top to bottom.
I was also stoked to shoot a show at Brooklyn Bowl again. The venue doesn’t have a photo pit but offers more than enough vantage points from which to shoot. No photo pit (usually) means no three-song restriction, so it was going to be nice to have a more relaxed environment in which to shoot. Plus, I had a new feature on my camera I’d been wanting to test out. More on that later.
altopalo kicked off the evening with a genre-bending set. The band has a unique sound; delicately constructed yet free-flowing. Just when you think you have them pinned down, they introduce you to another dimension of their sonic identity and invite you in for a listen.
Frontman Rahm Silverglade took a moment during the set to acknowledge their excitement to be playing their hometown of Brooklyn, quipping “It feels like we drove 3,000 miles just to get to this fucking show!” altopalo’s set was spectacular, and the crowd was more than happy to give the band the hometown welcome they deserved.
Scarypoolparty, also known as Alejandro Aranda, took the stage and sat down with an acoustic guitar. Lit only by a lamp set on the stage without a shade, he got in position to begin his first song when all of a sudden a drunken rendition of “Happy Birthday” came from one of the bowling lanes in response to the inopportunely timed delivery of a birthday cake, lit candles included. The crowd joined the seemingly oblivious group of celebrators for the very last line of the song and cheered, after which Arnada wished the cake recipient a Happy Birthday and then began his set.
And what a set it was. Aranda’s guitar playing and his use of loops and effects was as mesmerizing to watch as it was to hear. He performed with the power of a full band in a single guitar with a voice equally as resonant. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen a performer command the stage on their own in the way Scarypoolparty managed to do. In lieu of having the setlist handy, shouting out his song “The Darkness“, which was an immediate playlist-add for me and absolutely worth a listen.
Covet capped off the evening with an epic set of dynamic instrumentals that showcased the band’s technical prowess. Guitarist and band leader Yvette Young’s intricate and purposeful guitar-playing featured a number of techniques, each performed as masterfully as the next. Young offered vocal glimpses in a few songs as well but otherwise let her guitar do the singing.
Covet underwent a lineup change last year when Brandon Dove and Jessica Burdeaux joined the band as bassist and drummer, respectively. The tightness with which the trio performed their set was impressive given the recency of their collaborative partnership. The members communicated comfortably through their instruments as if old friends who have played together for years.
In my review of Placebo at Brooklyn Steel, i.e. the post right before this one, I talked about making every shot count when time is not on your side. How about when all you have is time?
In most situations where a venue lacks a photo pit, thereby giving you the ability to shoot the whole set from wherever you are, the excitement about that freedom is usually offset by the pain of standing in or pushing through a crowd for hours so you can get your job done. Thankfully in the case of Brooklyn Bowl, a venue that is intimate yet spacious, I was able to navigate my way through the crowd and get my shots with ease.
As a result, there was plenty of time between when I got the shots I needed and when the sets ended. That’s a long winded way of saying I had free time. Time, which I realized offered a perfect opportunity for me to experiment with a few ideas. In the pit at Placebo the other night I was given a tip from fellow photographer David Zeck to consider what’s called “back button focusing”. David mentioned that this feature had changed the game for him, and I was very intrigued.
Back button focusing involves using a separate assigned button to handle autofocus as opposed to your shutter button. In other words, instead of pressing your shutter down halfway to focus, then the rest of the way to take the shot, you instead press a different button to focus and then the shutter button to take the shot.
Why is this helpful? When you use your shutter button to focus, the camera is going to try and set the focus every time you lift your finger off the shutter and then push back down to take your next shot. This can be frustrating when trying to capture a moving subject like say, a headbanging bass player. When the autofocus is re-assigned to a different button, you can press that button to set your focus, and then shoot ‘til your heart’s content.
I set up back button focusing on my camera by assigning the autofocus to my “AF On” button, and by removing the autofocus from my shutter button. I was excited to try it out, but as soon as altopalo took the stage I quickly realized the extent to which the existing button pressing had ingrained into my muscle memory. It was going to take time to retrain my brain before I could work quickly with these new settings. I switched back to my usual settings to be safe and decided to give it a try after I knew I had the shots I needed.
I ended up turning the setting on and off through the night, never feeling comfortable enough to lean on it entirely. The biggest initial struggle for me was finding the AF On button with my thumb; something that will easily with practice (muscle memory) but was frustrating when I missed a shot as a result.
The biggest win was shooting Scarypoolparty. His use of a single lamp as the only source of light on the stage looked amazing but made my autofocus go crazy. Being able to set my focus once and then shoot until I needed to set it again made shooting his set so much easier. So much, in fact, that I had time to play with some in-camera double exposures as well.
The dramatic edge lighting created by the lamp gave me the perfect base of a shot on which to build my second exposure, and I was happy with the above result. Shooting double exposures is a practice in which I’m always anxious to participate simply due to fear of failure, but whenever I do I’m glad that I did.
I’m looking forward to exploring back button focusing a bit more. I think that it could indeed become a game changer if I put in the practice and get comfortable with it. I’ve got Bush coming up at The Paramount – perhaps I’ll try it there? Stay tuned.