A Month on the Town

The man who's reviewed 12,000 records reviews 32 shows in 30 days

 In the 65th year of my life on this planet, I went out to see live music every night (or day) of June. The main reason I conceived this project, which many considered nuts, was that I wasn't liking enough new guitar bands. So my professional purpose was to encounter young musicians in their natural habitat. But since the idea of going out is to have fun, I wasn't rigid about this. In 30 days I caught all or most of 52 acts and bits of nine others. To start, here are a few things that happened in New York in June—not always the best, but worth remembering.

A teenage Be Your Own Pet fan danced on the Knitting Factory stage with a basketball under his T-shirt to simulate pregnancy.

Andrew Geller of the Isles uttered the lyric, "We should stop breathing." Or was that "breeding"?

photo: Nicholas Burnham

The art-damaged Excepter wore costumes: curly sombrero, boating outfit.

CocoRosie's Sierra Casady came out in white shaman paint and white headdress.


6.01 Twilight Singers (plus tail end of After Hours) Irving Plaza

>6.02 CocoRosie (plus tail end of Nomi) Bowery Ballroom

6.03 Stylofone (with the Isles and start of Lions & Tigers) Mercury Lounge

6.04 Anthony Braxton (plus Gamelan Galak Tika) World Financial Center

6.05 James Luther Dickinson Joe's Pub

6.06 Tapes 'n Tapes (with Figurines) Bowery Ballroom

6.07 James McMurtry Bowery Ballroom

6.08 Black Angels (plus tail end of Pink Mountaintops) Southpaw

6.09 Gogol Bordello (plus tail end of Kultur Shock) Irving Plaza

6.10 Dungen Irving Plaza

6.11 !!! (plus Mountain High) Northsix

6.12 Be Your Own Pet Knitting Factory

6.13 Sonic Youth (with Tall Firs) CBGB

6.14 Arctic Monkeys Roseland Ballroom

6.15 Excepter (plus tail end of Pterodactyl) Tonic

6.16 Ornette Coleman Carnegie Hall

6.17 Mr. Lif (with Camu Tao, Cannibal Ox, Cage) Bowery Ballroom

6.18 Nellie McKay Joe's Pub

6.19 Baby Gramps Lakeside Lounge

6.20 Beirut (with Lonesome Doves) Northsix

6.21 Morningwood (with Rock Kills Kid) Warsaw

6.22 Les Ambassadeurs du Manding Lava Gina

6.23 Robert Plant/We're Doing It for Love (with Ian Hunter, Nils Lofgren, Ryan Adams, Gavin DeGraw, Yo La Tengo, Garland Jeffreys, and Flashy Python and the Body Snatchers) Beacon Theater

6.24 Liars (with Apes) Warsaw

6.25 Buck 65 Central Park SummerStage

6.25 Hellfires (plus tail end of Cataract Camp) Mercury Lounge

6.26 Atmosphere (with Brother Ali) Irving Plaza

6.27 Sara Tavares (plus tail end of Malika Zarra) S.O.B.'s

6.28 Romano Drom Makor

6.29 Peter Stampfel & Walker Shepard Parkside Lounge; tail end of Man Man Webster Hall

6.30 Amy Rigby (with Robbie Fulks) South Street Seaport

6.30 Futureheads Webster Hall

Inspired by such new lyrics as "Got to be real now baby," the !!! crowd at Northsix shouted clever sayings like "Chk-chk-chk rocks!"

Aging Twilight Singer Greg Dulli reached over an adoring twentysomething in kerchief and glasses to pull a more glamorous girl from the second rank onto the stage.

CocoRosie, !!!, and the Twilight Singers all had African American friends do cameo vocals. Nervous, guys?

64-year-old Memphis legend Jim Dickinson said "You've made an old fat man happy" three times in an hour-long set.

6?-year-old primal folkie Baby Gramps said "Moving right along" and then "Got a little number for you" eight times between his third and fourth songs.

68-year-old modal folkie Peter Stampfel performed a song about raw sewage engulfing a Hawaiian multiplex while he was there on vacation.

On the same Friday night, twin titans Ornette Coleman and Chuck Berry played eight o'clock shows 15 blocks apart. At 76 and 79, they were minding their bedtimes.

Nellie McKay autographed a Van Gogh print for the Joe's Pub patron who knew that Paul McCartney wrote "When I'm Sixty-Four" at 16. "Can you write 'To Renee'?" the patron requested. "Is there an accent on that?" Nellie wondered.

Chloë Sevigny caught Sonic Youth at CBGB. Thurston's mom was in the pit.

A bunch of guys at the Bowery Ballroom established the ugliest word in the English language, when chanted in unison, is "Jux."

Tapes 'n Tapes' Jeremy Hanson earned his 16-bar drum solo.

A 20-minute Dungen song deserved its 10-minute flute solo. The unknown Pterodactyl repeated the same climactic six-note riff for six minutes (at least—it was underway when I arrived). This was so much better than that flute solo.

Morningwood's Chantal Claret licked the Warsaw microphone and later her bazongas, which she claimed tasted like peaches. Bet they actually tasted like sweat and cologne—unless she meant they tasted like Peaches'.

A short, slightly stout person in red ski sweater, red ski mask, and black shades lectured Warsaw indie rockers on the virtues of family and the rigors of touring. Then she removed her mask, turned into an Ape, and pumped organized noise from a Farfisa facsimile for 40 minutes.

James McMurtry got pin-drop silence for an a cappella rendering of the second half of "Holiday"—until some dame started arguing with the Bowery doorman. McMurtry's motto bears repeating: "We tour so we can make albums. We make albums so we can tour."

6?-year-old primal folkie Baby Gramps cadged a bed for the night from the stage of the Lakeside Lounge.

" 'Live Music Is Better' bumper stickers should be issued," joshed Neil Young in 1980's "Union Man," which he has performed in public precisely once. Two visionary musicologists honor this dictum: Charles Keil, adept of participatory discrepancy, and Christopher Small, who believes all music celebrates the intricacy of relationship. For surprise-craving jazz fans, spirit-feeling gospel fans, and house-rocking blues fans, the primacy of the unique, unduplicatable musical event is a truism. The gig is the sacred ritual of indie rock.

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