After a quick post-work visit to a friend and having a small sample of a very tasty blueberry, I made my way to Hipsterville. I'd never been to this part of Williamsburg before, and the conditions were right to enjoy a nice walk through the neighborhood. Following weeks of unusually cool weather, the heat felt nice, especially the warmth of the bright orange setting sun baking my skin as I descended 5th St. toward the East River.
I found Pies & Thighs, and the reviews were correct in that it was easy to miss. Heading into the sweltering, dingy former beer closet that was a haven for freeloading flies, I surveyed the menu and ordered the pulled pork sandwich with the spicy mac 'n cheese and a mint limeade. (I had considered the cheesy grits, but the guy at the counter strongly suggested I'd be a bloody fool to pass up on the mac.) There was no one else there at 7:00, so I took my seat outside in the courtyard surrounded by beautiful barbed wire.
Shortly thereafter, my food arrived. The mint limeade was essentially a virgin Mojito, which was both a blessing and a curse because it had great flavor but made me long for Demon Rum. At first glance, the spicy mac 'n cheese looked pretty weak. "All they did was pour some Tabasco on it," I thought. One bite and I realized that was only the half of it. The macaroni was nestled in a mild and creamy roux that was well accented by piquant little spices, and the Tabasco was there for added kick. Speaking of kick, this dish had it and then some. First, I tasted the mild, cheesy blend, and then the spices began to slowly kick in before the Tabasco worked its magic. The whole dish really progressed in three steps: mellow, a spicy finish, and then a significantly spicier kick in the balls. Getting kicked in the ‘nads never felt so good.
The pulled pork was Carolina style and heavily soaked in vinegar, which bothers some people but not me. It was also flecked with crushed red pepper, adding yet another layer of heat to the plate. As I alternated between the spicy mac and bits of the peppery pulled pork, beads of sweat began to cascade down my scalp. The pork sat on a plain white bun and the top half had a spread of some creamy and tart coleslaw and two of those neon green pickles, the kind that make Jews cringe but somehow work wonders in barbecue and Southern cuisine. Just as the reviews had advertised, after letting the pork sit on the bun for several minutes, the bun became soaked with precious pork juice and nearly dissolved. Oh, the magic of pork juice!
Mark, Jim, and Curtis arrived and dug into their food. I tried the potato salad, which was some of the better potato salad I’ve ever tasted with a lot of fresh dill, but it wasn’t good enough that I’d advise choosing it over the mac. The pinto beans had some hunks of pork and bacon in there, but I would have preferred more smokiness. The little bit of fried chicken I tried was pretty good, although it was not in the same league as the incredible stuff I’ve tasted at Fiorella’s in New Orleans. I had wanted to try either the revered Key Lime or Peanut Butter Pie for dessert, but they were all out of each, so I opted for the Chocolate Chess Pie, which was silky, smooth, and deliciously creamy. Naturally, Curtis brought a cooler full of Hoegaardens, and we drank them outside in plastic cups. Since the Rock Star Bar that is connected to Pies ‘n Thighs lets you get your beer in a go cup, we probably weren’t supposed to bring our own, but no one cared because we were the only ones there for a while. The location under the Williamsburg Bridge was so desolate that we wouldn’t see a single car or person pass by for several minutes at a time.
We then made our way to the Warsaw and surprisingly found nearby parking with relative ease. The search on the way in consisted of one Polish security guard shining a flashlight and asking people to remove stuff from random pockets. He really wasn’t very thorough, and as long as you pulled something out of your pocket, he didn’t seem to care what else was in there. Inside, there was just about zero visible security presence, which was appropriate because for the most part, this crowd was way too cool to be worried about breaking the law.
This was my first visit to the Warsaw, and I really dug the space, a small, fairly drab ballroom (I think it holds 600) with a stage that reminded me of an elementary school multipurpose room because of its plain, beige curtains, rudimentary lighting, and American flag off to the side. The lonely macramé owl who hung on the back curtain only added to this elementary school effect. The Warsaw definitely had a spartan Old World feel, and almost everyone working there had a thick Polish dialect. As an added bonus, draft beers were only $4, the cheapest in-concert beers I’ve ever seen, beers that practically begged you to drink them. They weren’t bad either, especially the I.P.A. from the Somethingorother Brewery. There was a presumably Polish beer on tap, as well.
On this night of firsts, I would be losing my Wilco cherry. To make the situation even more unique, I was almost entirely unfamiliar with Wilco’s music, a statement that is somewhat remarkable considering the fact that nearly everyone I know is ankles-over-ears lusting after this band. I know and love Mermaid Avenue, but that album is more about Billy Bragg and Woodie Guthrie’s lyrics than Wilco. For some reason, once the crazed hype began around the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I shied away from them and somehow managed to stay away. Sure, friends had played a couple of songs here and there, and I had liked everything I had heard, but I never really sat and intensely listened to any of their work. My ignorance was partly the result of my mistrust of everything considered “indie rock,” a faux genre of music that is neither indie nor rocking. Heading into this concert, I was pretty sure that I would only recognize one song: “Handshake Drugs.” I thought these circumstances would put me in a very unique position to appreciate the show because my judgment would not be clouded by the dreaded double-pronged spectre of familiarity and bias.
Right from the start, I was very impressed. The band was incredibly tight and rocked hard-— real hard. The three guitars scorched, and Nels Cline was truly ripping. Without having any real familiarity with their music, I thought I heard some segue-ways between songs, although these could have been different movements of one song. In either case, the crowd applauded all of these smooth transitions. Speaking of the crowd, I really, really loved them. I was shocked at how silent the room got. I mean, it was quiet-- not just quiet for New York (which doesn’t get quiet for anyone), but it was quiet for Nordkapp, Norway. If people weren’t silent, they were singing along—with fairly credible pitch! It was so refreshing to be amongst fellow music snobs who were focused on the art being crafted on stage, but it also felt a little odd, as if I were the only real “non-fan” in attendance, sneaking amongst the hardcore groupies.
“Handshake Drugs” was great in every way that I expected it to be, and I surprisingly recognized “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” which were both excellent. By the time the second encore began, I had retreated to the air conditioned bar because I was getting a little wobbly in the heat. Then I saw these lovely Polish ladies selling pierogies. Did I need to eat pierogies on top on all of the fattening pork and mac and pie and beer I’d already ingested? No, I didn’t, but fuck you, I’ll eat whatever I damn well please. I entered this evening with every intention of undoing all the good I’ve done in my recent trips to the gym, and nothing would stand between me and my goal. By the way, I’ve lived in Pittsburgh, a notorious pierogie haven, but these were the best damn pierogies I’ve ever tasted. That being said, anything slathered in butter tastes good after six beers.
I really enjoyed the tremendous passion Wilco brought to the stage. In my mind, their performance was somewhat like a well-rehearsed play: I got the sense that they weren’t truly improvising, yet they were so committed to their music that it sounded as if they were creating this music for the first time. They seemed to get a kick out of playing a small venue in Brooklyn for a predominantly local crowd, and they really gave it their all.
No doubt about it-- I am now a fan. I will probably get their albums and assimilate into the mainstream. It’s an awful fate, but I have little choice. Even the pretentious must eventually cave in when faced with sheer musical talent.
I hate you, Wilco. I compromised my principles for you, and now you’re making me into a whore.