It looks like The Pogues are foregoing their annual St. Patrick's day Roseland performance, which is convenient, since this year I was planning on skipping it, Shane's new teeth and all.
After two separate, abortive attempts at Union Pool, I finally saw The Muslims on Friday at Cake Shop. (They've since been renamed The Soft Pack, which is a way less punk rock name, but.) It was freezing cold when I got to Ludlow St., and some light snow had started to fall. There was a line down the block to get in. As I got in line, I thought I recognized a guy standing off to the side, by the curb, holding a vintage amp in one hand, a gig bag slung over his shoulder. His beard made him look like an earnest satyr. "That's Patrick Stickles!" someone yelled from a cluster of NYU freshmen behind me. "From Titus Andronicus!" Patrick waved and, to my surprise, came over to talk to the guy.
"Titus Andronicus are amazing," the fan said.
"Uh, I don't know if we're amazing," said Patrick. "A baby's laugh is amazing. We're just really high energy."
"Can you guys play a show at our dorm?" asked one of the kids. To my further surprise, Patrick entered into schedule negotiations with the guy.
Cake Shop was packed, moreso than I'd ever seen it. Nina showed up and we sort of nestled up against the bar. A bunch of people kept trying, annoyingly and unsuccessfully, to squeeze past us -- not only was there actually no room, but there was an enormous guy standing right in front of us who would brook no attempt to usurp his spot. I'd never given much thought to the cruddy old TV above the bar, hooked up to a grainy video feed of the stage, but that night it was the only way I could see what was going on.
The Soft Pack were fine -- I've liked them for a while now for two reasons: 1. They've got a fantastic song called "Extinction," a great, nasty, Richard Hell-type punk song; 2. They've got a kind of aggressively non-rock-and-roll aesthetic: they dress like guys who temp at a second-tier investment bank, and, like, the most handsome dude among them looks like a less memorable version of Todd Barry. They played a tight, fast show. It was their record release party, apparently. Maybe I'll buy their album.
So this February has been, apparently, the snowiest ever in New York? That's crazy! All told, we've gotten two large reg'lar snowstorms and then one kind of unexpected one at the end that really clobbered everything. I don't know, I'm a big fan. Nina hates it, but I love the way a good layering of snow changes the terms of engagement with the city: More climbing, more balancing, more puddle-jumping. From my office on Friday the 26th, in the midst of a storm that would leave the city with twenty inches of snow, I watched the flakes blowing practically horizontally, or in miniature vortexes, doing the strange things that snow does when caught in the updraft between two large buildings in Manhattan. Here's a photo I took up on the roof in Sunset Park:
The night after one the big storms, I hit up Don Pedro in Williamsburg to see Cerebral Ballzy, who I'd admired ever since hearing them on Myspace a year or so ago. I'd eaten something gross, was worried that I'd crap myself, but managed to huddle in a dark corner of Don Pedro's music space, which looked like a place you'd through a quinceañera party: It's a large, mostly unadorned and featureless room, with high tin ceilings in need of cleaning and repair.
The first opener was a band called Fuck School. Their lead singer Nick was a big guy in a hooded robe whose long hair and beard contributed to his druid-y appearance. Fuck School's set was short and sloppy, and funny. At the end, they played their eponymous anthem, which put me strongly in mind of a similar song by The Headliners ("We are The Headliners / We only fuck minors / We are not coal miners"). After they were done, we were subjected to the execrable Total Slacker. (I'd recognized their waif-like lead singer earlier, with a sinking heart.) Or not, since I and, satisfyingly, most of the audience, left and went out to the bar while 'Slacker was on.
Cerebral Ballzy came on close to 1:00 AM, but the crowd was still pretty thick. They sound a little like the early Jones / Da Fonseca collaboration, Contraband, but with knit caps and skateboards. Their lead singer, Honor, is a great front man -- he's got a really expressive face and a tough, cheeky attitude. Literally: his coin slot was hanging out of his jeans the whole time he was climbing the amps and dangling off the exposed pipes on the back wall of the stage, tearing bits of insulation out with his bare hands. I've never been to a hardcore show before, and it was great -- the songs were fast, the audience was intense and enthusiastic. Honor stood straight atop an amp, one arm behind his back like a punk George Washington crossing the Potomac, while the band played what I guess might be their hit, a song called "Shit Rag," which is about a topic near and dear to my heart: a digestive crisis and the suppression of its expression. Towards the end of the set, Honor's, uh, ballzy made an appearance. He flapped them vigorously at the crowd.
I saw Patrick Stickles again when I went to see Titus Andronicus and Parts & Labor at the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday.
Parts & Labor were good, although I was spent part of their set being preoccupied with how beardy and owlish the lead singer looked -- he rocked out, but it was hard to read any emotional cues from him. Is this what punk rock looks like these days? To my fusiform facial area, heavy beardos are all pretty much indistinguishable from the yeti in Monsters, Inc.
Titus Andronicus were fantastic, though, in spite of being even beardier. I'd never seen (or heard) a full-length set by that band, nor had I heard any of the material from the album they were releasing the next week. So I noticed some things that made a really strong impression on me: Like Ted Leo & Co., they've got really clear, bright lead guitar lines; but whereas The Pharmacists take their cues from pop-punk and soul, Titus Andronicus draw from folk and traditional music -- one song even featured an extended breakdown into The Battle Hymn Of The Republic, never a bad idea. I've read several comparisons of their sound to Bruce Springsteen's, and one thing they definitely have in common is their use of chord resolution. I've got kind of a tin ear when it comes to intervals (although I passed "Clapping For Credit" back in college with flying colors), but I'm thinking of a 4th or a Major 3rd or something. Or maybe it's a 5th, I don't know; it's that sonic "dunh-dunh" you get from the inhalation / exhalation of an accordion or from drawing the bow across and back on the violin or cello. From what I could tell, Stickles' songs tend to chew over the problem of, well, America; American history; being an outsider in America. The material's compelling and disturbing to listen to, and his reedy howl drives home that there's no actual resolution to be had.
"This might be the best show of all time," said a guy behind me. I wasn't sure initially -- I was a bit lonely, didn't know the songs -- but the crowd was undeniably lively, and it wasn't just dudes. Some of the hardest pushers and shovers were ladies, and not the peacoated, Blackberry-checking ones you usually find at the Bowery Ballroom -- these were nerd girls: Acned; fuzzy-haired with long, wispy girl-sideburns; wearing faded, baggy sweatshirts. They were great. And, oh man, that eponymous song: It's a steamroller. Pretty much impossible not to get right up in the middle of the pit when they play that one. So I guess it was a pretty great show.
Towards the end of the show, Patrick took a moment to wax optimistic. "We're going out on tour on Monday," he said, turning to his bandmates, "and I honestly believe it's going to be the greatest adventure of our lives." Then he serenaded them with a solo cover of a Replacements song called "Treatment Bound." And then the band joined in and they played a vigorous, extended finale, a song from (I think) a triptych called "No Future."