This Weekend In New York: High And Low Culture, From The Met To The Cover-Band Depths
In Waste Of Paint, our writer/artist team of Jamie Peck and Debbie Allen will review goings-on about town in words and images.
This past weekend was a glorious cultural swan dive for Debbie and me that started uptown in the hallowed halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sailed down through some semi-respectable venues, and ultimately plunged into the whiskey-soaked depths of a 1 a.m. Rolling Stones cover show at Mercury Lounge. We regret nothing.
We thought it best to begin our weekend gently by taking in some experimental music in the comfortable confines of the Met's Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium; it played host to Molly Surno's Cinema 16 series, in which contemporary musicians compose and perform scores for short films both old and new. This time out, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs joined Shahin Motia of art-prog collective Oneida and artist-slash-musician MV Carbon (of Metalux) to score films by Andy Warhol, Le Corbusier, Herbert Kosover, Edgard Varese, Rudy Burckhardt, Francis Thompson and Gina Carducci.
The program described the performance as "postmodern and edgy," which was somewhat inaccurate; if anything, the four young noisemakers showed extreme deference to the modern tradition of avant-garde composers like Stravinsky, Schoenburg and Reich. Although they were pioneered before most of the people in attendance were born, concepts like serialism are still fairly alien to ears used to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs's sugar-coated punk. Drawing a fair amount from these giants, the musicians did a fine, restrained job of ebbing and flowing in a way that mimicked the onscreen actionI especially liked the way they captured the frenetic jazz of typewritersbut I couldn't help wishing Shahin would jump up from his chair and bust out with a sludgy Oneida riff. Maybe I just need to time travel back to my Masterpieces of Western Music class and relearn the beauty of strange, quiet subtlety; it was heartening to see a standing-room-only auditorium of scruffy tattooed kids paying attention to something so different from the usual headbanging fare. See, parents? We're well-rounded.
Then it was off to the somewhat less venerable but no less beloved cultural institution known as Glasslands, where we arrived just in time to see Brooklyn indiepop outfit Neighbors headline a triumphant EP release show. Despite the fact that the stage contained a clown car's worth of musicians backing a charismatic frontman in a tie, this group shouldn't be compared to a certain group of Canadians; Neighbors are much more into Cyndi than Springsteen, and they've got the synths to prove it. Neighbors had the entire front half of the crowd jumping around and singing along to gloomy-fun lyrics like "I know where I went wrong!" while impassioned guitars and bandleader Noah Stitelman's half-sung, half-spoken delivery roughed it up a bit. By the time the cute female backup singers took the reins on a set-closing cover of "Time After Time," the entire front half of the audience was drunkenly messing up the words, and the rest of the crowd seemed to have made at least a few new friends. How neighborly.
Saturday night, we headed to Cake Shop to witness the return of Effi Briest, the greatest all-girl rock band to be named after a German realist novel. After releasing a solid debut and garnering a smattering of positive press, singer Kelsey Barrett up and quit, leaving them S.O.L. for enthralling, witchy vocals. The Cake Shop gig was the band's first show in about a year, and although they're clearly still finding their way forward, it was good to see them play live again. Witches might be soooo 2010, but these six freak-folk-styled brunettes are the fun '70s kind of coven, with nary a hint of house to be heard. Backed by some amazing pounding (with an extra percussionist on hand drums and maracas), they wove their love of post-punk, no wave and psychedelia into something that could score a dark rite of summer. They haven't quite replicated the greatness of Barrett's incantatory wailing, but I'm excited to see where they go from here.
A little after midnight, we ended up at Mercury Lounge, where people had congregated to worship at the twin altars of Nirvana and the Rolling Stones. Actually, "ended up" is disingenuous... Mick's Jaguar frontman John Martin used to be (full disclosure) my boss at Vice, and I couldn't resist the urge to watch the large, bearded mountain man I'd once had to email back promptly about work shit prance around pretending to be Mick Jagger.
First, though, was Teenage Angst, whose set of spot-on Nirvana covers supported my theory that if you play Nirvana for a crowd of 21-to-39-year-olds, they'll be compelled to stop whatever they're doing and mosh until at least one person has a bloody nose. Clad in a homemade Flipper t-shirt and ratty blond wig, his delicate frame a match for the late rockstar's, photographer-by-day Ben Ritter made a firmly above-average Kurt. Despite the aforementioned wig, Cobain's introverted persona doesn't really lend itself to drag or burlesque, and after a few nervous smiles Ritter fucking committed to it, singing and playing the heck out of those timelessly awesome songs. They might be called Teenage Angst, but the name's the sole hint of irony in the operation, a thin smokescreen over how they really feel about Nirvana. (Which is to say: Intensely positive. Also: Sad that Kurt shot himself.)
By 1:30, both band and audience were sufficiently intoxicated for Mick's Jaguar to begin, and it was interesting to see that almost nobody sang along with both acts. I'd say this division was generational, but almost nobody in attendance was old enough to have listened to the Stones in their heyday, so I'm going to go ahead and call it spiritual. "Guys, I know these songs were written before you were born, but you can still have a good time," Martin said before grabbing the mic and delivering the most inspiring live-band-karaoke performance I'd ever seen. ("This is the difference between an okay karaoke song and an amazing one," Debbie observed.) As much as I would've liked to see him attempt a sexy chicken dance, Martin was smart enough to not mimick Jagger in any way. Instead, he treated the gig more like a hardcore show, jumping into the audience and sharing the mic as he tunelessly yelled the words to classics like "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." When it came time for "Dead Flowers" he pulled out a bouquet of yellow roses and flung them into the crowd, which flung them right back. He screamed, rolled around, ran all over the room, and generally murdered the memory of Young Sexy Mick. In its own shitty way, it was kind of brilliant.
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