Father John Misty @ Maxwell’s, May 17, 2013 – And Commotion On 6th Avenue

It’s a risk every time you leave the house.  Step off the curb…you’re hit by a bus.  Catastrophist?  Yes.  But on the way home from the Father John Misty show Friday night, we stepped off the PATH train into this.

We had finally reached the West Village after an arduous journey.  Walking down 6th ave from the 9th st PATH train stop, all we could do was exclaim how great it was to be back in New York.  Then, just in front of Gray’s Papaya…we heard a loud bang.  The block went silent for a minute.  The crew of party boys on the corner exclaimed “Yeah, that’s how we do it in the hood!”  They were obviously joking around, the consensus was that it was an M80.  There was a general feeling of unrest though, so we crossed over towards Greenwich Ave.  People seemed ready to dismiss it, but a man ran straight into traffic to hail a cop.  Within the time it took us to get to 7th st, one block south, there were 5-6 police cars on the scene.  We even saw the undercover police taxi.  If anything, it has given me renewed faith in the NYPD.

We saw no action, and had no idea what happened until the news trickled down through Twitter, but you could feel the commotion.  It was an unsettling end to an unsettling night.

The question that has come up most often recently is “What the hell is wrong with people?”  A few weeks back during a friend’s show at Brooklyn Bowl, some jerkoff unloaded a fire extinguisher during the final song.  Everyone thought it was a fog machine until it became difficult to breathe.

This lead to the venue being cleared out, 2 fire trucks called to the scene, a good portion of the venue covered in fire resistant powder, and instruments damaged.  A gigantic waste of resources at the behest of some entitled hipster fuck.  What the hell is wrong with people?

Over the past year, I have evangelized Father John Misty every chance I get.  It took a minute to warm up to his debut album, but once it connected, I was all in.  It’s a mix of great songs and showmanship, a magical combination.  And with the next New York show being at Prospect Park’s “Great Googa Mooga (which will forever have a giant shitstorm cloud hovering over it,) followed by the West Side Highway cavern known as Terminal 5, I jumped at the chance to see him across the river at Maxwell’s in Hoboken.  Despite Hoboken’s reputation as Murray Hill literally on steroids, I’ve had nothing but good experiences at Maxwell’s.  It’s so far north, that the bro’s usually find some trouble long before they reach the quiet northern streets.

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It was billed as a Solo Acoustic show, and I was willing to give Misty (Josh Tillman)  the benefit of the doubt.  Seeing songs performed by one person with an acoustic guitar is like a look behind the curtain.  If a song can’t stand up to this bare bones arrangement, then it’s just sauce without a sandwich.  So while there would be no Freddie Mercury style dance moves, we would get to the essence of the music, and I was ok with that this Friday night.

A friend’s father was a police lieutenant in Jersey City, and told us no officer wants to take the Hoboken shift, because the bro’s don’t think twice about fighting a cop.  I have no doubts about this.  I am a Hudson County defender.  As a former 5 year resident of Jersey City, there are plenty of things to love about New York’s annoying little brother.  Great food, cheaper rent, lovely views…but it’s hard to defend Hoboken.  While standing on line for the bathroom at Maxwells, I heard this exact conversation:

“Dude, we’re two short guys with muscles, we’re definitely starting a riot tonight.  Someone’s gonna wanna fight us.”

“Yeah Bro!”

Had I been a more instinctual and spontaneous decision maker, I would have left right there.

The show was sold out  – The place only holds about 200 people, and the man sold out Webster Hall, so this was to be expected.  But the crowd was still a surprise.  Usually at Maxwell’s, people who want to talk and whatnot hang towards the back, so up front you get a good experience.  But this was no holds barred. Upon taking the stage, Misty (let’s refer to him as this from now on, because it sounds better than Tillman) invited the crowd to sit on the stage.  The phrase “oooh, mistakes were made!” was uttered from the crowd.  He immediately seemed to regret the decision.  “Now, don’t abuse your privileges!” he muttered.

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An adorably sad looking girl clutched the giant stuffed white tiger, perched on a stool as a stage prop, and clung to it for the remainder of the evening, singing every word.  A more enthusiastic yet lyrically challenged girl sat directly behind Misty, throwing herself fully into only the verses she knew.  And just to her other side, the VERY bro who made the “short guys with muscles” statement, plopped himself directly on the chair set up for Misty to sit on.  The guitar tech kindly asked him to sit on the floor, much to the bro’s dismay, and he proceeded to drunkenly knock over said chair, and sit with his feet just inches from the performer.  Not the best of omens.

Despite a few weird sound adjustments in the beginning of the set, it was great to see these stripped down arrangements.  The hits were just as exciting.  Also a slew of new material was performed, and it’s fun to guess how they will sound on record.  It’s reassuring to see that he’s still a magnetic performer in this setting.  There were times when the rowdy crowd was enraptured, unable to text, talk, or take Vine’s with their smartphones.  The highlight of these included a slowed down version of “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” which is not one of my favorites from the record, but tends to be favored as the one to belt out at the show.  But slowing it down without the admittedly awesome broken sounding electric on the record, the song came through. And that’s a great chorus.  Even the meat head enthusiastically erupting with laughter at every remotely sarcastic lyric was stunned silent.

The performer was aware that the vibe felt off.  The on-stage-chair-knocking-muscle-bound-tiny-bro began talking to the girl next to him.  And texting.  While on the stage.  Yeah.  Misty had had enough.  He turned around before a song….

“Oh my god, SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

The little stout and surly fellow looked stunned, and shifted uncomfortably.  While tuning, Misty paused again….

“You’re SO close to me right now.  SO CLOSE!”

It continued this way for a bit.  When someone is on stage with an acoustic guitar, and there is a sold out crowd there to see them, just use some fucking manners.  That’s really all there is to it.  Yes, sing along at the big parts.  Laugh at the jokes between songs.  But relax with the fucking iPhone videos every song.

Recently, I’ve begun to turn the brightness on my screen all the way down before the show.  Then, I allow myself a few quick photos.  I don’t take videos, and it’s not hella distracting.

It was a startling evening.  The fashion/freak  show that is Washington Street in Hoboken on a Friday after midnight is astounding.  It was a mad dash for the PATH.  Couples were fighting (possibly about who was more tan,) dudes were sniffing each others asses and asserting alpha male dominance.  Something is in the water over there.

Closing the night with a hate crime shooting in the West Village…well I don’t know what to think about that.  At least we made it home unharmed.  I’m going to let it stir for a minute.

Festivals and Streaming: Coachella And The Death Of Dealing With Sweaty People In A Field

Festivals.  Let’s talk about them.

On the one hand, it’s the Costco/Music Mall/Best Buy of shows.  Every band you’ve heard anything about on many stages across a vast landscape.  Sets are truncated (sometimes severely due to scheduling,) and the first few songs always sound terrible due to lack of sound checks.  Food and water are impossible to obtain, you will either bake in the sun, or be covered in mud from hours of torrential downpours.  Your fellow attendees will be hallucinating, screaming, passing out, and just generally being all up in your space, and you will get no rest, because the partying goes all night, and the hot sun will wake you up at the crack of dawn.

On the other hand….You get to see every band you’ve heard anything about in one location, and maybe a few of those will be pretty good!  That’s about all I have for positives…I’m not one for endless groups of people for days on end.

In my younger days, I was a festival enthusiast.  These mostly existed in what one might call the “Jamband” scene.  The Gathering Of The Vibes in Bridgeport CT was a prime example.  A few years in a row, it was a utopian experience.  Easy parking and transportation, not a massive crowd, good lineup, friendly people.  As it gained popularity, it literally became a shit show.  That’s literal…during a storm which included tornado warnings, porta-potties overflowed on a massive scale.  It was also pretty much a farmers market for sketchy drug dealers, who heard there would be some hippies in town.  Not good vibes.

What, you don't want to hang with these people?

Years later, at my final festival as an attendee, I went to the Phish IT event in Maine.  The drive was 12 hrs from New York, then 12 hours once we got to the location, on the mile long road leading to the festival entrance.  It was a not so fond farewell to a music I was not longer in love with.

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In 2010 I was fortunate enough to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival with the band Depedro, in Winnipeg Canada. The other side of the coin looked completely different.  As a performer, you were driven with your gear to stages by golf cart, people carried equipment for you (photo above,) you were fed great meals at any time of day, shade and seats were readily available.  We saw tons of great music, made great friends, played Beatles songs in the hotel ballroom at all hours of the night….the complete opposite experience.

Well, this weekend, we discovered the middle ground.  And not surprisingly, it appeared like a desert oasis thanks to technology.  Streaming.  It’s pretty much the answer to everything (media related anyway,) and festivals have become Youtube enthusiasts.  I’ve tried to access some streaming events in the past to some dismay – probably due to wonky internet connections…but it seems to be making some progress! Coachella, the hipster paradise and its own desert oasis to some, decided to stream nearly the entire festival.

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Sunday night, after a day of biking, a trip to Smorgasburg in DUMBO, and  an obligatory visit to 16 Handles, we retired home to the comfort of our livingroom to watch Father John Misty do his evening set at Coachella.  There were a few hickups in the stream, and the sound was a little weird during the first few songs….but would it have been much better in a windy desert?  No one was standing in front of me, no drunk idiot looking up the lyrics on their phone to sing along (which happened at a previous FJM show) no line for beverages…..all in all, pretty good!

FJM via Brooklyn Vegan
FJM via Brooklyn Vegan

Yes, you can call it COUCH-ella.  The Office already did that a few years back in a surprisingly well timed joke! Give it a little time.  The picture looks great, there are no commercial interruptions, and the sound mix gets better as the performance continues.  I’m sure as bandwidth becomes less of an issue we’ll move to higher resolution, but I’m not complaining.  If they decide to charge a bit for it, that’s fine.  If the quality increases, its totally worth it.

Yes, nothing can replace the live experience.  But As I get a little older, the experience as a whole is what’s important.  The band needs to be great, but I just can’t deal with all the other shit that goes along with it.  Hundreds of people holding up  iPhones for entire songs.  Drunk pushy people.  The Talkers.  It’s endless.  I’ll venture out if its a favorite band at the right venue, but you just never know.  Even the Village Vanguard attracts “Bro Dudes On Date Night” from time to time.

Somehow I don’t feel guilty about this at all.  As I said, I’ll pay to stream shows, I don’t care.  As long as musicians can all be in the same room playing together, Music will continue.  Just the thought of having to rush to get tickets when anything goes on sale, only to be defeated by The Bots, then have to worry about a shitty experience even if you do get in….it’s just too much to take.  I sound old, and I’m pretty OK with that.

Reggie Watts @ Webster Hall, May 20th 2012

Reggie Watts is the closest thing we have, as a nation, to a living cartoon character.  He should be treated as such, and allowed to live his life in a way the rest of us are not.  He should have the power of flight, invisibility, invincibility, and be able to do anything that occurred in a Warner Bros. cartoon, without the thought of legal or social repercussions.  Reggie is simply different from the rest of us.

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This became apparent immediately last night at Webster Hall.  There are comedians, there are people who make sounds without the use of other instruments, and there are singers, but there is no one else who combines these in such a way.

If you have never seen or heard of Reggie Watts, he is a performer who possibly fits under the heading of standup comic…if only because his material makes you laugh.  But each nonsensical part of his performance transitions into an improvised musical piece, done with nothing more than his own voice, and a looping pedal.  There are no other musicians, and nothing is pre-recorded.  He occasionally plays a keyboard, but it’s mainly just vocals.  He’s Bobby McFerrin from another dimension.

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His set last night went to some strange places.  He takes on any convention you have about a comedian or musician, and blows them to bits, as if it were a Roadrunner cartoon.  He constantly adjusts the mic stand, like you see any nervous performer do, only when Reggie does it, it becomes an insane ritual, as if moving that mic just a little will unlock the key to all the secrets in the universe.

He unplugs all of his pedals, fumbling around with every cable, asking the audience if anyone has any C batteries, otherwise the show cannot continue.  This will be followed by a completely silent song, with all the dance moves and enthusiasm of a Beyonce performance.

The dance moves….He moves like he’s being animated in real time.  Pixar could base an entire character on him, and it would make the Toy Story franchise look like Suburban Commando.

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This is the thing we all chase in live events.  You want to see something no one else can do.  Something that could immediately fall apart at any moment, yet somehow continues to be amazing.  If Reggie Watts ended up playing Madison Square Garden, I would not be surprised for a minute.  I would also line up early to get in.

One more thing brought a smile to my face.  Surprisingly, there were some loud drunk girls behind us at Webster Hall.  I believe this might have been the first instance of anything like that occurring at a live event, and most definitely at Webster Hall, a venue known for its respectful crowds.  Anyway, they talked through the opening acts, proclaiming how they could do much better.  And were very excited once Reggie came on stage.

They lasted through the first few songs, cheering on whenever he made a New York reference…which he did in a Hype Man voice… at he expense of the very people cheering him on.  About 20 min in though….the ringleader, lets call her Tramp Stamp McMurrayHill (because all she talked about was the tattoo she got that day, and I’m guessing on both the location of the tattoo and her apartment)  decided she wanted a Hamburger.  That is all she would talk about.  Eventually, they left, hopefully to get said hamburger.  And no, I do not hope they got food poisoning from this burger.  Any hype surrounding Reggie, was clearly not enough to please her very wide and varied cultural tastes.  I’m glad Reggie could benefit financially from this group’s attendance, but I’m even more glad it was a little too weird for them.

Why don’t we close with a classic, an undeniable hit…..

Review and Rant: Nels Cline and Thurson Moore, Rockwood Music Hall 1/13/2012

OK, we’ve gotta discuss an ongoing epidemic at shows.  No, not the loud talker, not the drunk girl yelling at her friends, not even the guy texting.  We’re talking about photographers.  I understand you would like to capture the moment.  At times, I would too.  But here’s the difference.  I take out my phone, snap a few quick pictures, then I put it away.  I.  Put.  It.  Away.

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I Took Two Pictures. This Is One.

Friday night, as part of the New York Guitar Festival, Nels Cline and Thurston Moore played as a duo at Rockwood Music Hall.  They called it “Pillow Wand”  maybe because it feels like being hit with a magical pillow.  These possibly the two most widely known Avante Garde leaning guitar players, who have crossed over into the mainstream world.  Cline as a part of Wilco, and Moore founding Sonic Youth.  Needless to say, lots of people were in that tiny room.

This was my first time at Stage Two of Rockwood Music Hall, a lovely addition.  It seems to be reserved for more well known acts, were as on Stage One, there’s always the chance that dude with a weird Jew Fro will go on right before your friend’s band and play the entire Plastic Ono Band album front to back.  Its a cozy space, the sound was great, and despite it being packed, it was not that hard to obtain a beverage.

Oh right, it was packed.  It was definitely over fire department capacity.  People would walk down the entrance stairs, see that there was nowhere to go, and literally just set up camp on the stairs.  That can’t be safe.

Now, before we get to the problem of people preserving their memories on compact flash cards, lets talk about the music.  They played a continuous set of sound….not really just noise, but not melodic compositions.  It was basically a fucking giant explosion.  Tons of effects pedals, lots of volume, several Jazzmasters.  They played like they meant it.  I would compare it to some type of experimental painting.  You see some weird shit thrown on a canvas and you think “I could totally do that.”  Well maybe in the case of some phony artist who just wants the image, you could.  But look at one of those giant Jackson Pollock canvases, and there is no way you could.  That’s what these guys were like.

Every sound seemed like they meant it.  There was no phoning it in.  It’s a wonder their guitars didn’t just fall in pieces to the floor.  They put these instruments through incredible abuse.  Cline plays the strings with a little kitchen whisk, Moore sticking a drumstick under the strings on the neck and thrashes back and forth.  They hit the tremelo so hard, it would be no surprise if the bridges just popped off. Yet somehow, they did not.  But that was the good part, lets get to the other thing.

There seems to be a rule with professional photographers.  They respect those around them.  And when they don’t, its brief.  A guy asks you if he can switch spots for a minute to get some shots, then moves along.  Its a mild inconvenience, but you live through it.  When I was about 11, we went to see Slash at the now defunct NY Club Tramps.  His manager came out beforehand and told all of the photographers, “YOU GET ONE SONG!  THEN YOU’RE OUT OF HERE!”  lo and behold, he came back out after that song, yelling “THAT’S IT!  GET ‘EM OUT!”  fucking professionals.

Somewhere between 1994 and now, things have changed.  I don’t dispute that the iPhone camera is awesome.  I love it.  I use it all the time.  It makes life better.  You can remember any moment, because you always have it with you.  And the pics look pretty good!  But think for a fucking minute.  How many pictures do you need?  Can’t you actually live in the moment and enjoy the amazing things happening in front of you?  You really need to look in a 3″ LCD monitor to experience what’s in front of you?  Fuck you.

The light from all the iPhones and cameras rivaled the stage lighting, which was minimal.  Its 2 dudes with guitars.  The lighting doesn’t change.  They aren’t even switching guitars.  How different is it going to be?  That’s not even the issue, I guess if you want to get all artistic, that’s fine.  But don’t do it in a tiny club.  The amount of dudes with fucking giant DSLR’s with huge telephoto lenses on them was just ridiculous.

We got pushed in front of several times, and the photographers just planted themselves.  Also, those cameras are kind of loud if its not a big rock and roll moment.  If the music gets quiet…..CLICK CLICK CLICK….really?  I’ve heard a bootleg of Neil Young at the Bottom Line, where he asks a photographer not to shoot during the songs, because people can hear it.  Jeff Tweedy would call out anyone with a camera and tell them to get rid of it on Wilco’s last tour.  Just last month at Carnegie Hall, Ryan Adams stopped the show and went on a hilarious rant….to paraphrase  “oh my god, you HAVE to have gotten that shot by now.  You need to keep taking them?  What is your camera from like 1975 and you need to change flashbulbs or something?  Want ME to take it for you?? Just put it away”  They have a point.

At one point, the asshole with the Hubble Telescope in front of me changed cards…because you need to fill up more than one giant flash card during a 45 minute set.  Then he was fucking reviewing and deleting photos!  Are you fucking kidding me? This place is the size of a shoebox and you’re standing in front of everyone just doing that?  And those people with the iPhones who just leave them held up the whole time!  Are your poorly lit out of focus shots going to be that great?!

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OK, I need to calm down.  I’ve decided next time this happens, I’m going to get right in front of every lens I see, and just give the F.O.B Peace Sign.  Or yell “CLICK CLICK CLICK!” or just point my phone directly in front of their camera, turn the flash on, and just go for it.  We need to do something about this, kids.  Who’s with me?

Sharon Jones And The Dap Kings Dec 13 2011 Bowery Ballroom Review

Very few bands can get away with a direct imitation of another era’s style.  It’s so hard to pull something off convincingly, let alone accurately.  Those swing bands of the 90’s, the garage band revival, the brief polka boom of the mid 2000’s, it often just doesn’t work.  So when Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings pull it off, it means that much more.

I’ve written on these here pages about Jones and the Dap Kings before, so I won’t go into an extended description of what they’re about.  You probably know, and to quote the one and only Binky Grip-Tight of the Dap Kings  “If you don’t know, you got to ask somebody!”

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They held their Daptone 10th Anniversary Shows over 4 nights, 2 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and 2 at the Bowery Ballroom.  First off, you have never seen that many people on the Bowery stage.  9 musicians in the band, 2 backup singers on a riser, and Jones out front.  Not exactly spacious.

The crowd at a Dap Kings show is unlike most indie bands crowds.  Decidedly less drunken obnoxious people, but the ones who are there, obviously gravitate right towards me.  Here’s a little tip.  If you’re a drunken white girl, it’s probably not the best idea to try to do those soul-vocal trill things from the crowd while Jones is in telling an emotional story about her mother being sick.  Ya know?  Just my opinion.

Something about the band seemed just slightly off last night.  Jones clearly was having monitor problems, kept asking for more reverb and saying she couldn’t hear.  While the dap kings stage presence is always stoic, it seemed a little more stoic than usual.  Having said that, (that’s a Larry David reference) Sharon Jones feeling a little off, is like most musicians on the best day of their lives, so we’ll give her a pass.

She still gives 100%, there is no doubting that.  The crowd at the Bowery responded to every move.  In one surprising moment, they brought out Eric Kalb to sit in on drums.  Kalb, an early childhood drumming hero, was part of Deep Banana Blackout, and was probably the first drummer I ever saw play in that ghost note shuffle style in person.  It permanently changed me as a musician.  I’ve heard he’s been playing with Charlie Hunter recently, as for the rest of Deep Banana, we don’t really know where they’ve gone…somewhere into the jam band ether.  We wish them the best.

Homer Steinweiss, the regular Dap Kings Drummer, (who also seems to have a Food Blog) apparently is a lefty,  something also discovered last night. The kit was set up semi backwards, playing the kick with his left foot, but still playing the hi hat with his right hand.  Whatever, he’s allowed to do what he wants.

My favorite Dap Kings show still remains the Starland Ballroom, in the Middle Of Nowhere, South Jersey, during a snow storm.  It’s always the unexpected ones that get you.  Yes, the Bowery was a great show, they played with precision most bands can only dream of.  But when the bar is set so incredibly high, you have to be held to that standard.  I’ll give them a pass this time, you’ve earned it Sharon Jones.