Rubies, diamonds smothered under octopus
Mikaela’s Fiend + USAISAMONSTER
March 26, 2005
If you, let’s say, write a music blog for a living, going to shows in New York can become something of a soul-deadening ordeal, especially when you’re on your way out to your fifth one of the week. It’s a crazy paradox: greatest city in the world, teeming with bright and creative and motivated people, an embarrassment of cultural options on hand every night, bands trying their hardest to impress whenever they roll through town because they know important people are watching, but all those amazing things come with side helpings of peacocky scenesters and sniveling publicists and shithead bouncers and two-digit drink prices and camera-phones and ambient chatter-din and general forest-for-the-trees bullshit. Great moments are forced to coexist with all this nasty careerism, and it’s way too easy to get caught up in the feedback-loop. It’s not that art should be pure or that indie culture is selling out or whatever; I could really give a fuck about that stuff. But it’s not a lot of fun to be surrounded by ulterior motives.
I didn’t stay till the end of Sunday night’s Japanther show at Uniondocs; I’d seen the headliners before, nobody I knew was there, and I didn’t want to miss The Sopranos (glad this coma-dream shit is finally ending). But I felt more at home there than I’ve felt at a show in a while. Uniondocs is apparently pretty much just someone’s living room in Williamsburg, a big white room with bank-tile ceilings and a fridge in the corner and no stage anywhere; bands would just set up and play wherever. I couldn’t tell whether the stepladder with a laptop underneath it was an installation-art piece or just a stepladder with a laptop underneath it. A couple of kids upstairs had a makeshift bar rigged up, but half the people there were drinking corner-store 40-ounces. Some kid in the backyard was trying to tell his friends how great the Lil Wayne album is. There wasn’t any bouncer, just a kid at the door who asked for somewhere between six and eight dollars. Back in Baltimore, almost half the shows I went to were in spaces like this, loft apartments or tiny art galleries or whatever, and these shows almost always ended up being more fun than the club shows. Todd P., a local New York promoter who I’ve never met, has been putting on shows like this in off-the-beaten-path spaces for a minute now, bringing bands to rooftops and galleries and neighborhood bars and sometimes clubs, every once in a while grabbing a big band like Death From Above 1979 or Black Dice but usually sticking with scrappy little noise-rock bands I’ve never heard of. He also books shows constantly; Sunday’s show was one of three he’d booked that night, and he never seems to show up to his own parties. I’ve only been to a couple of his shows, never stayed to the end, but that needs to change. I can’t stand most of the bands he books (you couldn’t pay me to go see Black Dice), but I couldn’t be happier that someone is dragging live music kicking and screaming out of the bootlicker Manhattan club culture. He’s doing us all a big favor.
So I didn’t particularly mind that the two bands I saw on Sunday were basically thrashy guitars-and-drums noise-rock duos, not exactly my favorite mini-genre. Japanther, who I missed, stand head and shoulders over most of these bands because they cram vocals and big anthemic hooks into their wall-of-skree; the one time I saw them (at a B-More loft show, naturally), they sounded more like the Strokes than anything else. Not so with USA is a Monster. I’d seen them opening for Lightning Bolt at a friend’s apartment a few years ago, and they came off looking like pale imitators of the headliners, distinguished only by their guitarist’s questionable balding-on-top/dreads-in-back thing. The hair was the same at Uniondocs, but they’ve absorbed power-chord stomp-riffs into their arsenal, and it’s done wonders for them. They’re still pretty much just a punishingly loud math-rock band, though, and that stuff can get terrible, as theirs did on the last song. The Seattle duo Mikaela’s Fiend was more orthodox with its roiling noise-blasts, or at least I think they were; it was tough to hear anything other than the hyperactive drums. The drummer handed out earplugs before they began playing (he had a big bag of them), which was a nice little advance warning for how loud he smashed his shit. Every once in a while, I could hear something resembling a metal riff, but it wouldn’t stick around for long, and the band didn’t play individual songs, exactly; it was more that they sometimes put two-second pauses into their onslaught. Between bands, they’d pump in Refused and Minor Threat, much better music than anything the bands themselves played. And still, this show left me feeling better than any number of jammed Manhattan buzz-nights. I need to get out to these more often.