Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Start of a Nice Run (MMW 6-19-08)

Thursday, June 19th was the start of yet another excellent run of music in New York City. When the summer hits, there is so much happening here that it's easy to pull a double or triple header without too much effort. Of course, the unfortunate aspect of this musical embarrassment of riches is that you often are forced to skip one or two tremendous acts each night because they either conflict with one or two other tremendous acts or you need a little time to sleep. Then again, I'll sleep when I'm dead.

On this particular Thursday I hauled ass out of work to get to the best venue in the city, the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn. Nothing beats the laid back vibes of the tree-dotted lawn, which serves as the ultimate chill zone. I motored to get there because we were expecting a huge contingent of New York City Freaks, and we needed to save a good-sized swath of land. Arriving at 7PM, I relieved poor Kilgour, who had been trying to hold a patch of grass by laying down and making snowangels like a three-year-old child with no concept of the seasons. We unfurled my tarp, and gradually, more and more compatriots joined us, as we successfully annexed the territory to our right in a way that would have made Thomas Jefferson proud.

Taylor McFerrin and Cell Theory were up first. I'll admit that they essentially served as background music, but I did enjoy them when I paid attention, as they had a bit of a jazzy, turntable-enhanced groove that was later augmented by an MC.

Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog was next on the docket, and while I'm a definite fan of the incredibly versatile Ribot, I'd never seen this particular project. It started out strong, intense, and very noisy. Occasionally, he would drop in some less than beautiful vocals, and I did enjoy it when he would briefly bust out a little psychedelic guitar. By this point, I knew about 100 people around me, and everyone wanted to talk, which enabled me to tune out the noise and the refocus when he'd hit the grooves. I know, this makes me a bad music fan. You can't see it, but I'm slapping my wrist right now.

Medeski, Martin, and Wood were the headliners, and you never know what you're going to get with these cats. Sometimes, it's a lot of banging, smashing, and clanging of pots, pans, and rattles made from parts of an animal, and then other times, it's a sweet and funky groove machine. Everyone has their preferences, but it's safe to say that most of us came on board when they were in their groove period. Of course, in the eyes of the elitist MMW aficionados that makes us mainstream fans who is intellekshully defishint.

From start to finish, this was the funkiest MMW show I'd seen in years, if not ever:

I cannot tell a lie; I chopped down the cherry tree and I likes my MMW fonkay. The average age of the crowd was about 25 years younger than the contingent who were at the same venue for Isaac Hayes' season opener one week prior, and the band rewarded our (relatively) youthful exuberance with a litany of danceable grooves. It was a stone gas.

Ribot and slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein joined them for some interesting jams:

I really enjoyed their great Masada number from the band's upcoming album of John Zorn compositions:

When MMW gets this deep into the grooves, I love every minute, even though such practices make the esoteric elitists squirm. Because their repertoire is all over the map, I often wonder exactly how MMW decides what they're going to play each night, and as I’ve said elsewhere:

You really never know what you're going to get with these guys, and I have to wonder how they decide what they'll play at each performance. On this particular night, I was envisioning the following pre-show conversation.

WOOD: What say, John? Can we please make it funky tonight?

MEDESKI: I'd rather not, Chris. I'm really in the mood to produce some noise in changing time signatures.

WOOD: (sighs) Again? Well, there's only one way to settle this. Billy, what's your vote?

MARTIN: Oh, I don't care, as long as I get plenty of time to play the deer hooves.

WOOD: Damn! I'm always losing this game. (dejected) I guess it's John Cage's wet dream once again.

MEDESKI: Hold on. I'm sick of those fucking deer hooves. In fact, I hate them so much that I'll make it funky just to keep those deer hooves locked up.

MARTIN: C'mon! I wanna play the deer hooves! I wanna play the deer hooves!

MEDESKI: Alright, you get one fucking song, but it's at the end of the show. Don't even think about trotting them out early. Ribot will never sit in with us if you start in on that shit too soon. You know he hates venison.

MARTIN: You never let me have any fun.

Thanks to the phenomenal stealth efforts of Scott Bernstein, you can download this show via BitTorrent.. By the way, why don’t you allow taping if the artists are okay with it, Celebrate Brooklyn? Everything else about your venue is pretty chill, so there’s no reason to act so anal about this. I’m warning you, Celebrate Brooklyn. You had better get your act together or I might start skipping your free shows.

Beer and Beer and Beer and Beer and Beer and Beer and Beer and Beer and The Cure and Dale Watson and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Beer 6-20-08

Now The Cure is not a band that is high on my radar. When I was in high school, a lot of my friends were very into The Cure, but I had little interest in such mopey music. While they were digging The Cure, I was listening to psychedelic and classic rock. There were a few Cure songs that interested me, but I wouldn't be caught dead at one of their shows, as I never wear eyeliner unless I'm getting paid for it.

However, my stockbroker is a huge, colossal, die-hard fan of The Cure, and he's been cajoling me to see Robert Smith live for many years, assuring me that Cure shows are a wild time. My stockbroker is also a man who knows how to party, as evidenced by his pre-show estimation that he'd consume close to 45 beers before the end of the night. With the possibility of witnessing such a record-breaking feat in mind, I decided to see how the other half lives and took the plunge on getting an $80 ticket for the show.

I met my stockbroker at Penn Station, and we rode back to my neighborhood for the pre-game. Knowing that I'd need something substantial in my belly to soak up the incoming flood of alcohol, I grilled peppers and corn (with my beloved green chile-garlic-cilantro-lime butter) as well as figs wrapped in pancetta and sage. For the main event, I fired up the smoker and made succulent, moist barbecue chicken that was falling off the bone and Pig Candy, which is a revelatory recipe that involves smoking bacon, then coating it with brown sugar and cayenne pepper before continuing the smoking to create a smoky sweet and hot piece of delicious swine. We ate well, although time constraints really prevented me from ingesting enough food. At the time, I knew it wasn't worth worrying about because I'd surely be paying for this mistake much later on.

We high-tailed it to the Garden and made it to our seats with time to spare, thankfully missing the opener, 65 Days of Static, who were described as 65 Days of Pounding Eardrums. I expected to see a crowd comprised of people in their 30s to early 50s, but to my surprise, almost half the audience appeared to be in their mid 20s. Since The Cure haven't had a hit in 16 years, I'm not really sure how the band would even be known by this younger generation. The crowd was ethnically diverse, as well. Of course, the homosexual population was well represented (both those out and those locked safely within the closet). For this reason, I shaved off my Village People-esque fu man chu before the show, as it's always a good idea to avoid looking too gay when you're amongst many regular patrons of the Blue Oyster Bar. There was a surprisingly small number of goths, and my stockbroker incorrectly assumed that the thing in front of us was a woman. Having lived in New York for over eight years, I am well-versed in the old Milton-Bradley game, Spot The Tranny, and I knew she was all man, baby.

I'm not gonna lie. I was really hoping I'd see lasers at this concert...or at least some fire. I don't get to see mainstream arena shows all that often, and the bands I like tend to do stupid shit in concert, like focus on the music. For once, a big spectacle would be nice. I don't need to see David Lee Roth dry-hump a gigantic inflatable microphone again (an image that permanently scarred my retinas), but I don't think it's too much to ask for a few lasers or a little fire or maybe even a strobe light. The Cure had none of that jazz, although the light show and backdrops were certainly respectable. They were supposed to have video screens, but a security guard told us that the screens weren't working. Umm...WTF? How can you come to Madison Square Garden, the most legendary arena in America, and not have everything in working order? And seriously, this is New York. We kinda know a thing or two about this here entertainment business, and we have no shortage of electricians.

Regardless, the show was pretty cool. Robert Smith's voice sounded in fine form, especially when he held out a high note for a really long time, which garnered enthusiastic approval from the fans. While I enjoyed Smith's singing, in my opinion, the real star of this show was guitarist Porl Thompson. Certainly one of the strangest looking musicians I've seen, thanks to a shaved and tattooed head, white-face and raccoon-eye makeup, and black leather boots with platform heels, this guy was shredding all night long. Never in a million years did I expect The Cure to rock so hard, but Porl was really raging for the entire show and brought everyone along for the ride.

I should also mention that I felt a tremendous amount of inexplicable nostalgia at this concert. Of course, it didn't make sense for me to feel nostalgic because The Cure was definitely not the music of my youth. Nevertheless, I felt swept up into the surprisingly positive atmosphere.

When a band has been in the business for nearly 30 years, you'd figure they've learned a thing or two. Towards the end of the set, Robert Smith showed his savvy by using the setlist to connect with the audience and dial up the energy in the room. "Friday I'm in Love" brought elated screams from the girls (and some boys) in the room, and while I'm not much of a fan of this tune, it was hard to deny the cheerful feelings it evoked. “Inbetween Days” immediately followed in a similar vein, and the good times were ramped up yet again in a jubilant "Just Like Heaven." By now, a solid 86.2 percent of the arena was up and dancing, a site I never expected to see.

There are tons of video clips of this show on YouTube, and these three are my favorites, all pro-shot from the FUSE TV broadcast.

“Friday I’m In Love”

“Inbetween Days”

“Just Like Heaven”

There were three pre-conceived encores that were well done, although I have to say that I'm officially over pre-conceived multiple encores. One pre-conceived encore is bad enough, but two and three are utterly pointless, aside from the band getting a little extra exercise while trotting on and off the stage. Listen up, bands, it's time to stop this pre-conceived multiple encore bullshit. That's right, I'm talking to you, too, Bob Dylan. Either play longer or leave. Stop toying with our emotions.

The final encore was one of my favorite Cure tunes, the gritty and raw "Killing an Arab." Due to political correctness, Smith has changed the song to "Killing Another," rendering the lyrics pointless until someone digs up Albert Camus and asks him to change his novella. In this day and age where idiocy knows no bounds, I could see some whacked out white supremacist using the original lyrics as some sort of warped mantra, so I guess I understand the change. Nevertheless, the tune smoked and was an excellent, fist-pumping ending to a fine three-hour show.

Since it was only midnight, our evening had just begun. My stockbroker, his brother, and I hopped in a cab, jetting cross-town to the comfy confines of Rodeo Bar, where Dale Watson was holding court. The Austin resident has a bit of Johnny Cash in him, and his full-throated bass sounds great when singing about outlaws and injustice. As soon as we arrived, my stockbroker immediately saw to it that our pace hastened in the Beerlympics. If I was going to have any shot at the Silver Medal (my stockbroker was a stone cold mortal lock for the Gold), I knew I needed to get something solid in my belly. My stockbroker and I split some delicious and mellow Chorizo con Queso, and I inadvertently hoarded and plowed through a plate of loaded nachos. It was dark and I have no idea of what was on them, but they were solid.

With another layer of protection in the digestive system, we cabbed on down to Sullivan Hall for Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. I had given my stockbroker lots of late night options prior to his visit, and to my surprise, he chose this dark and one-of-kind trio. I really thought their brand of jazz would be too esoteric for his tastes, but shortly after walking in, we both concluded that the robed and hooded band sounded a lot like a jammed out version of The Cure, making theses guys the perfect post-show act. (If only they had known about this, JFJO could have made a living playing after-show concerts in the way that Particle leeched off of Phish for years.) While downing a few more beers, I watched Reed Mathis unexpectedly play a lot of guitar (I think it may have been either pedal or lap steel, but don't ask me because my depth perception was waning at that point) before switching to bass. In between songs, several annoying friends approached us to crow about the life-changing event they'd witnessed at Radio City, thanks to some band called My Morning Waistcoat. None of them could believe The Cure show was good, let alone great. Their loss.

After JFJO ended around 3:30, we grabbed a cab home and went straight to my backyard, where I immediately fired up the tiki torches and cranked up The Cure on the stereo, undoubtedly delighting my neighbors. The plan was to eat the leftover smoked chicken, but as we stood there, wobbling back-and-forth with beers in hand, I realized that we should be sitting. Now I have about 63 chairs in my backyard, but I decided that we needed to be sitting in my most comfortable camp chairs. I retrieved the chairs, and we sat down, which was the evening's kiss of death.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up, slumped over in my chair, the sun shining across the 6:45AM sky with all four torches still blazing away. My stockbroker was inside, conked out on the couch, and while I was tempted to wake him up and shout, "Why'd you leave me sleeping out there, asshole?" (he would later claim that he thought I was slumping over while talking on the phone), the best I could do was make my way inside the house to lay on the floor. Oh, you wonderful floor with your amazing stiffness and your wonderfully uncomfortable carpet. In no time at all, I would be awakening to begin suffering from a world-class hangover, which was a sure sign that I had a great night.

Pass the Ibuprofen.

The Redemptive Powers of Hot Empanadas and Warm Cookies (Alice Russell and Bonerama with Pimps of Joytime 6-21-08)

That morning was an incredible struggle. My head was pounding, my body ached, and I was exhausted. I spent a few hours trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again before my stockbroker departed and I caught a brief nap. I had to get something at Costco, so I soldiered off into the scorching heat to wait for a bus. After shopping, I wandered into nearby Socrates Sculpture Park, which was hosting some sort of Summer Solstice Celebration festival. While there, I heard a drum circle of children banging out a multitude of discordant rhythms, which sounded great while I suffered from a pounding headache. Technically, this qualified as my first musical event of the day.

However, the virtue of this detour to Socrates Sculpture Park was not found in the performance of 40 budding, little Tito Puentes with a John Cage sensibility. Nay, I found salvation in the form of Mama's Empanada's, a small tent that was serving up a host of the deep fried Latin treats. I saw exactly what I wanted in the Guava and Cheese Empanada. Now I don't know what genius accidentally discovered the combination of sweet guava with mellow, nutty queso, but I'd like to shake his or her hand. Wrap those two up in dough, deep fry it, hit it with a little powdered sugar, and you have just what the hangover doctor ordered.

When this day began, I had lofty dreams of pursuing a multi-state, double-river crossing quadruple header involving two parties in Jersey and two concerts in Manhattan. The quadruple header is not nearly as difficult as one might imagine, but it does require a bit of preparation, efficiency, focus, and solo travel. (Gentlemen, I highly advise against attempting this with a girlfriend/wife/call girl unless you want to get dumped/divorced/sued between stops 2 and 3.) Unfortunately, I had broken my own rules and lacked both preparation and focus for this effort. Not only was I suffering from a relentless hangover, but I was also way behind schedule and only capable of moving slowly. An executive decision needed to be made, and I had to abandon to Jersey half of the plan, which was unfortunate because I knew that both parties would feature fine food and even finer friends. Instead, I took a little time to regroup before heading out for the first of two concerts.

The Hiro Ballroom is a gorgeous venue underneath the swanky Maritime Hotel. With its stylish Japanese motif, it appears to be a lounge for the beautiful and talented...yet somehow they let me inside.

Arriving at 8:45, I figured I'd be walking in late, but I actually opened the door at the perfect time, as Alice Russell's band struck their first note. Initially, the scene was awkward because everyone was afraid to move into the middle of the floor for fear of blocking the views of the beautiful people sitting at perfectly stylish but naturally uncomfortable low-slung tables. Then Alice motioned everyone to come forward, so I shoved my ass right in front of those models, Middle Eastern princes, and their gay hangers-on.

As a performer, Alice Russell exuded an incredibly infectious charm. She's a pint-sized woman with a powerhouse voice and excellent diction (which was required to spit out her often dense lyrics), and her smile and jovial demeanor really lit up the room. Everyone seemed to be having a blast in her slightly randy but cheerfully seductive presence.

Her band was comprised of a Buddy Holly look-a-like on guitar and a fiddler who sang backup vocals flamboyantly (as all fiddlers seem to do these days). These two were imported from Russell's UK, and they were joined by San Franciscans on drums and bass, neither of whom missed a beat.

Her new tunes sounded tre funky, particularly "Dreamer," and the audience had to be filled with fans-in-the-know because they reacted with ebullient praise when she mentioned her old band, Quantic, playing some great blaxploitation-sounding numbers from their repertoire. I particularly enjoyed the uptown funk strut of "Hold On Tight," as well as the expected encore of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."

This clip is from a different show, but it gives you an idea of what she’s all about:

While I've enjoyed but haven't been blown away by Alice Russell's My Favourite Letters album, I thought her live show was fantastic. She's a very engaging performer with a nice set of pipes and some cool songs. I'll be seeing her again.

I bolted from Hiro and hopped on the cross-town bus, exiting at 14th St. and 5th Ave. for a nice stroll through the Village. I knew I needed to eat something, but I wasn't sure what I wanted, so I was on the lookout for something new. It arrived in the form of a sign that said "Warm cookies inside." I went inside Insomnia Cookies (which is open until 3AM) and felt the uncomfortably warm air before ordering a chocolate peanut butter cup cookie to go. It cost $2 because it was a "specialty" cookie, but their regular offerings were reasonably priced at 90 cents apiece. The cookie was warm, moist, and just melted into a delicious clump of peanut buttery chocolate goodness. I'm so happy I found this place. I shall return.

I went into Sullivan Hall and caught the last song-and-a-half from Pimps of Joytime. It's hard to fairly judge an act by such a short performance, but I heard enough fine music to pique my interest in seeing these guys play a headlining gig. Their sound was a unique mix of afrobeat, funk, reggae, and other global styles, and the decent-sized crowd seemed to be just as impressed as yours truly.

Here’s a video for one of their tunes:

At setbreak, I strolled around for a while and looked for the perfect dinner. With a desire to try something new but with only minimal hunger, I settled on The Creperie for the Grilled Vegetable Crepe, which included Peppers, Zucchini, Onions, Garlic, and Ricotta Cheese. It was quite tasty, although at $8 it was way overpriced for its meager portion and MacDougal Street home of typically cheap eats. Nevertheless, the line of people, most of whom were young women in tight outfits, proved that people apparently don't care about the prices (as long as they live by the light of Daddy's AMEX). I would probably go back to The Creperie again, but I'd opt for one of their numerous and more reasonably priced dessert crepes.

I went back to Sullivan Hall and walked in the door while Bonerama was finishing "The Ocean,” which you can hear now:

Bonerama was a band that we used to see all the time when they first began, but after a while, many of my fellow freaks and I began to tire of their endless Zeppelin and Sabbath covers, which eventually lost their novelty and became old hat. However, after the release of 2007's Bringing It Home, the band hit on a creative upswing. I was very impressed with what I heard at Jazz Fest, and this night’s performance was no exception.

Truth be told, I'm probably not the greatest judge of the quality of the performance because I was completely exhausted by midnight and my eyes were redder than a baboon’s ass. However, the band was able to pick me up and get my butt moving, grooving, and secondlining, particularly on an excellent Meters medley that included "Cabbage Alley," a completely original brass band spin on "Folsom Prison Blues," and an uplifting "When My Dreamboat Comes Home.” I should also mention the fine first set sit-in by Roswell Rudd, who played a couple of swingin' tunes, including Count Basie's famously smooth "Lil' Darling," while bringing the onstage trombone tally up to five. Craig Klein said, "Y'all make sure you go to YouTube and search 'Roswell Rudd.' R-U-D-D," so
here’s what you’ll find.

Thanks to the fine folks at Radio Johnson and taper extraordinaire Scott Bernstein, you can download podcasts of both Bonerama’s and Pimps of Joytime’s sets here.

I'm pretty sure the show ended close to 2:00, and I trudged into the subway, somehow managing to avoid falling asleep before my stop, which was a nice bonus and sufficient ending to a long day.

And on the 7th Day...

...God took a nap.

I really wanted to continue my streak by going back to Prospect Park for Salif Keita and Haale, neither of whom I had heard before (but both sounded intriguing), but my mortality was becoming apparent, as I was beat from the previous three nights. I needed a day to veg out and rest.

I apologize for letting you all down. It won't happen again.