“Revenge of the Book Eaters” sounds like the title of a rejected ’50s horror movie, but the only thing scary about Sunday night’s event — a benefit concert for after-school writing tutoring organization 826NYC — was the impressive line-up. Like last summer’s inaugural Book Eaters concerts, which included dates in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle and counted Sufjan Stevens and David Byrne among the musicians, this year’s show was a virtual who’s who of indie rock. Among the performers at Manhattan’s Beacon Theater were Feist (pictured), Britt Daniel of Spoon, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, A.C. Newman of the New Pornographers, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene and finally — deep breath! — Brooklyn folk act Grizzly Bear. On the non-musical side were writer Sarah Vowell and Daily Show comedian Demetri Martin, who hosted the show and bantered with the crowd between acts.
Considering the bands’ short sets (Drew and Canning only played two songs, Feist did one), Martin probably spent more time on stage than all of the musicians combined, so it’s a good thing he was straight-up hilarious, milking his geeky charm for all it was worth. Dude would be perfect playing Michael Cera’s college professor in a hypothetical Superbad II: Attack of the Coeds. But we came for the music and the potential of once-in-a-hipster-lifetime moments — Would lovebirds Kevin Drew and Feist sing together? Would the golden-voiced Jim James sing with anybody? — and the Beacon did play host to some memorable scenes: Grizzly Bear played the song “Marla” for the first time ever live and had former tourmate Feist guest on a song, and A.C. Newman joined Britt Daniel on a cover of Alex Chilton’s “Hey! Little Child.” Man, think of what they could’ve done with “September Gurls.” That wasn’t the only missed opportunity; Feist sounded great on piano ballad “The Water,” but despite the show’s almost three-hour length, I don’t think anybody would’ve minded if she’d played a few more tunes. Same goes for Daniel, whose acoustic renditions of “I Summon You” and “Black Like Me” (on which he was joined by a pianist) were as intense and visceral as they were with his band the last time they were in town.
Still, all of the musicians were in fine form, particularly Grizzly Bear, whose soaring harmonies hung in the air longer than a Barry Bonds home run. Jim James played one of the best sets, electrifying the crowd with a bloodcurdling scream during “Gideon.” And how often do you get to see Feist reading short stories written by Moses Williams (age 8) and a 2nd grade class at 826NYC after-school sessions? I guess I’d rather hear that than, say, a “Lover’s Spit” duet with Drew. Maybe they’ll get the chance next at year at Book Eaters III: It Came from the Book Lagoon.