Many things; so many things!
The Rase came to town last weekend and Nina's brother Michael and I went out for drinks with her and a mix of our mutual friends from college and high school. In true The Rase fashion, the venue chosen was a fancy shithole on Houston and Sullivan called XR Bar. When the place got too full of crummy debutantes, we hit the road for Arrow Bar on Ave. A, Sophie and some of her associates in a taxi, Michael and my friend Moira and I on foot. We got frustratingly lost: Arrow Bar is downstairs from and partially obscured by the signage of some awful karaoke place, and by the time we figured that out, Moira'd gone home and Sophie was planning to do the same.
We finally met up with her and convinced her and her boyfriend to stick around for one last whiskey at a place a few blocks further downtown, and we were en route when a whole bunch of... stuff exploded around us. At first we thought someone had lobbed a McDonald's milkshake at us from across the street -- there was white liquid everywhere, including on us -- but there was no cup, only about four or five ruptured zip-lock baggies. It wasn't until we looked up from the splatter of what we ultimately decided was (spoiled) milk and saw two bespectacled, teenage-looking faces leering down at us from a second-floor window of the apartment building above us that we figured out what had happened. "Fags!" they yelled. Sophie and her boyfriend hustled to a cab and jetted off. Michael ran around the corner to the entrance of the building and, before I knew it, had managed to kick in the lobby door and disappeared inside. As I tried from the street via cell phone to dissuade him from his quest to locate and punish the guilty, two cop cars pulled up and two pairs of cops entered the building. I face-palmed, but Michael, as always, was able to charm his way out of the situation. We didn't stick around to see the outcome, favorable or otherwise. It had been a long night.
"They sent you air mail!" said Tom when I told him the story the following week at the High Dive. "We used to do that kind of shit all the time in Virginia. Of course, some older boys caught us once and threw my friend Guy off a roof for it."
We watched Howard The Duck at Bad Movie Night. I'd heard that that flick was bad, but I didn't realize that what an enormous and rightfully deserved place it occupies in the, you know, shit canon. Like I think I've said before, it's very easy to glibly dismiss a "bad" movie without really getting into why it's a trainwreck. So: It's not just that the movie's about a kind of creepy, talking, fundamentally unlikeable humanoid duck; it's not just that the duck comes very close to fucking Lea Thompson ("I have developed a greater appreciation for the female version of the human anatomy," he says; she lovingly caresses an unwrapped condom she discovers in his wallet); it's not just that there's this insane third act about a monster called the Dark Overlord played by Jeffrey Jones. Each of these things alone could probably sink a movie. Combined, they converted me from willing craphound to, like, feeling like I was actually stuck on that space prison from Mystery Science Theater. Truly uncomfty.
Speaking of movies, Hanlon was in one -- a proper feature, a zombie movie called A Cadaver Christmas. It was his birthday a few weeks ago, and, being one of the managers of the venerable Landmark Sunshine, he took over the basement of the theater for an after-hours Saturday screening. I arrived limping -- I'd taken a painful spill onto my patella while carrying a heavy mirror (sober!) across our bedroom -- but the seventeen (!) pizzas he'd ordered to feed his assembled well-wishers, not to mention the thrill of getting the run of the place after hours, helped take my mind off it. There were also cookies. And we got to take a peek inside the projection room to see the strange, enormous projector. The movie follows the ordeal of an intense (and sorta mis-cast) young janitor who fends off a zombie attack at a university with the help of a cop, a wino (Hanners), and a bartender. I won't reveal how it ends. It looked very professional! They had strikingly polished animated titles and all sorts of complicated shots: exploding heads; camera submerged in pint glass, toilet.
CMJ started on Tuesday. Having been largely shut out last year, I did a fair amount of planning this time around, using the official schedule cross-referenced with Myspace, and created a casual itinerary for myself designed to maximize access to bands that sounded good.
I started on Wednesday, and after an abortive attempt to get into the Surfer Blood show at Webster Hall without a pre-ordered ticket or badge, I headed out to Grand Ave. in Williamsburg to see the Mon Amie Records showcase at Bruar Falls. Magic Bullets were playing when I got there. They do a kind of polished-sounding guitar pop, maybe a little bit like Jonathan Richman, and they'd been heralded as the band doing the most dancing at the marathon (hard to believe) I guess because the lead singer bopped along to all the songs in a look-'Ma-I'm-dancing, white guy way. He had the same awkward physicality and put out the same kind of phony bonhomie as Nick, guy who used to run Rebel Monkey. It creeped me out. And their songs were only so-so.
The band I'd come to see, Drunken Barn Dance, was up next. That's not a great name for a band, but it had caught my eye in the schedule since it seemed like it could be a literal description of the type of show they put on -- hard to resist if true. As it turned out, they were less exuberant than their name had led me to believe, but they were still pretty good. I guess what they were playing was more or less country or folk music, but with some satisfyingly rock-sounding chord progressions mixed in. The lead singer had a face like a young Harry Dean Stanton.
After they finished playing, I ducked out of the Falls and got back on the train to Manhattan and then headed over to the Sidewalk Cafe, where 194 Records was holding their showcase. That place doesn't have a whole lot of places to stand once the tables are taken, so I kind of lurked in the hallway, under a sign saying not to stand there, and craned my neck around the corner at the stage. The first band to go on was called Elastic Summer, and they were super young. "This is our second show," chirped their lead singer. "First!" the drummer corrected her. "I'm counting that awesome party we had in our practice space," she explained. Despite this, their sound was pretty tight -- a little too tight, actually. As I was explaining to Nina, when I was a teenager and trying to write rock and roll songs, I found it impossible to come up with anything that didn't take its cues from Nirvana -- power chords, oblique lyrics. You know, the, uh, anxiety of influence. I wonder if the following generation has the same problem with The Strokes. Because these guys really sounded like The Strokes -- carefully layered guitar and bass, consistent eighth notes on the drums, warbling vocals -- but without the plaintive neediness evoked by Julian Casablancas to keep things interesting.
In between sets, I loped over to Sal's and bought a slice of pizza that sagged with the weight of all the broccoli on it, and which I ate hunched over in the corner like a sad old pensioner. Somewhat revived, I went back to Sidewalk in time for Beast Make Bomb, the band that'd got me interested in the show. They were a bit looser and more exciting than the last band, noisier, got people up and dancing. I liked them, but I was beat.
The next night, I teamed up with Chris and Billy to see a hardcore show at Club Europa in Greenpoint. I was a little tipsy from obligatory sake at a sushi restaurant with people from work when I met them on the L platform at Union Sq. We got off at Bedford Ave. and stopped by The Turkey's Nest to piss and to pick up beers in styrofoam to-go cups. I didn't know those existed! They're pretty great, except for the slight weirdness of drinking beer with a straw. We sipped 'em as we walked past the Automotive Careers High School and onto Manhattan Ave. Europa's sort of tucked away on Messerole St. such that I'd never noticed it when walking around that area before. The space inside was pretty okay: It's got all these bits of ballroom filigree -- faux-crystal chandeliers, red lighting -- that seem equally appropriate in both heavy metal and date-rape dance club contexts.
Cerebral Ballzy were about to go on when we got there. They opened their quick, energetic set to a hail of bottles and plastic cups. Honor introduced every song with the same deadpan ironic phrasing: "This next number's about having to take a shit." "This next number's about not having enough money to ride the subway." "This next number's about getting hassled by the cops when you're just trying to ride your skateboard." Even as he maintained a flat affect, he climbed the amps and the drum kit, miming onanistically with the mic whenever he wasn't yelling into it. They're great, even if, as Chris pointed out, they're just making fun of Suicidal Tendencies.
OFF! was up next. Apparently they're kind of a hardcore punk supergroup, and they were fronted by Keith Morris, the original front man for Black Flag. He looks like a jazz critic for a New York alt. weekly, and he's got the same sort of owlish intensity as Marc Maron at his most antagonistic. A plastic cup went whizzing by the guy's thinning dreadlocks as they were setting up. "Hey, none of that shit," he said. "You know, respect is a two-way street." Yikes. Reminded me of Lars Frederiksen explaining that there's no fighting in punk rock. Or when Dee Dee Ramone complained about some "punk faggot" giving him the finger when I saw him in high school at Continental. To his credit, though, OFF! sounded significantly more together, musically, than the Ballzies, although seemed to be having way less of a good time.
On Saturday night, I dragged myself semi-willingly back to Williamsburg for the Panache Booking showcase at the "new" Knitting Factory. AIDS Wolf was headlining, along with Ty Segall, but the band I really wanted to see was the very first opener, Screens. So of course I missed most of their set, but I did manage catch their last song, which delivered on what I'd liked about them from their Myspace page: Eerie, sepulchral vocals; keyboard sounds that were weird without being self-indulgent; tight, stripped-down arrangements. The necktie-wearing keyboard-player / singer, whose name might be Danny, reminded me of Antony Hegarty, or Damon Albarn at his spookiest. In fact, they'd make a great year-round Halloween band (cf. Direct From Hollywood Cemetery), but I don't think that's their aesthetic.
The new Knitting Factory has a kind of lounge area with tables and a bar and two flat-screen TVs, one of which was playing the Phillies-Rangers series, and the other of which was displaying ads for some indie rock cruise line sweepstakes. It seems pretty well positioned as a "new" Williamsburg venue, and it's certainly less cozy than the old location (and pricier). I don't know. It's not bad. The stage is positioned pretty perfectly.
The next band was called Circle Pit, and I didn't like them much. They were Australian, I think; two guys and two girls. Their lead singer had an elaborately feathered hair-do and wore an expression of preening naiveté as he strummed his guitar with awkward, deliberate strokes. The lead guitar player, a girl with face-obscuringly-long blond bangs and wearing a baggy gray sweatshirt seemed like she was probably the brains of the operation -- at least, she obviously knew how to play guitar -- but she also wasn't super demonstrative. All of which would have been okay if they were good, but they weren't. Their set was plagued by feedback and buzzing from the Marshall stack behind them, which the singer and the sound guy took turns tweaking, to the visible exasperation of their drummer, and which was ultimately blamed, I think, on a cruddy mic. All of the technical fussing cut into their allotted time, and they left the stage peevishly explaining "We're playing a show at The Shank later, and I promise it'll be better than this. We're better than this."
Next up was Tôg, a Norwegian pop group who sounded like, I don't know, a sunnier version of New Order and who, as they reminded us several times, were kind of a big deal in Norway ("believe it or not," said their front man). They all dressed in black, sort of in a Sprockets-y way, but with plenty of dancing -- the male pixie singing lead (there was a lady pixie keyboard player who teamed up on vocals) even jumped on the back of some dude in the crowd and rode around on his back for the duration of a song. He pointed at the guy and was like, "Down. I'm climbin' on."
Pujol was up next, fronted by Dan Pujol, who looks like someone's scruffy, naughty older brother. And maybe a bit like Derek Waters, too. They played a bunch of good, sweaty, blues-inflected garage rock, with lots of shout-outs to friends at home and in the audience. I liked them plenty, so I stuck it out for their set, but I left immediately afterwards.
I was tired, babies. But for a working man, I think I sucked things pretty dry.