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.