Todd P’s Unamplified Show Acoustic BBQ
Fort Tilden State Park
Sunday, June 14
If the mind-melding absurdity of Sunday’s unamplified acoustic all-day show at Fort Tilden National Park could be summed up in a scene, it’d have to be when Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck was in the middle of his gorgeously despairing “Wolves” and a topless girl pretending to be nailed to a cross drowned him out by screaming, “YOU CAN TAKE MY PICTURE, JUST DON’T SHOW IT TO MY MOM!!” Even Phosphorescent–Houck and touring bandmates Scott Stapleton and Jeff Bailey–couldn’t help but smirk: they were in the midst of a terrifyingly beautiful song, one in which wolves work as metaphors for all that you fear, and they were competing with a topless, crucified girl squawking about her mother.
Ah, the unexpected antics that befall Todd P’s Unamplified Acoustic BBQs. The premise to these independently organized escapades is fairly simple: there’s no amplification (so that no permit is necessary), bands bash away on whatever equipment’s around for approximately 10 minutes (two or three songs), and booze goes in cups (to ward off open-container tickets). Previous years have seen Matt & Kim doing “Yea Yeah” with a cardboard box as a bass drum, a little-known band by the name of Vampire Weekend sitting Indian-style on the grass and doing a song called “Oxford Comma,” and Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth covering Dylan’s “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” from a folding chair. Songs are the delivery vehicle, but any format will do: at SXSW in 2008, Dan Deacon told a longwinded story that’s punchline, if memory serves correctly, involved Superman’s penis.
Until now, these very officially unofficially gatherings have taken place on Roosevelt Island and in Austin. This was the first one at Fort Tilden National Park, a remote beach on the Rockaways only accessible by bike, car, or the J/M/Z-A-to-S-to-Q22-bus–the latter an arduous voyage from Brooklyn, made all the more harrowing if, say, you happened to be lugging around a banana-seated Schwinn with a flat tire loaned by a well-intentioned friend. That said, the odyssey was part of the adventure–and after two hours of traveling from Bushwick with a useless bike, arriving to the lifeguard-less stretch of dunes to find a couple hundred faces you’d usually see in the Monster Island basement, all magically transported way the fuck out here, was, in that truly deliriously exhausted moment, kind of like the arrival scene in Alex Garland’s novel The Beach.
So what actually happened out there? B.J. Rubin from “punk comedy cabaret act” Puttin on the Ritz shared a yarn about unsuccessfully trying to bribe Mexican cops and how Todd P and he would have died if the cops had taken the money. (Had to be there.) Necking, normally a looped-noise fever dream conjured by at least four guys, was stripped down to two; the pair set up a mutant version of frisbee golf/toss/horseshoes on the shoreline, threw cymbals like Wham-Os, and ended up playing drums in the surf. Brooklyn’s White Diamonds (the topless girl’s friends) threw clumps of sand in the air, disassembled a xylophone, rode each other like horses. Mika Miko performed “Turkey Sandwich” from their recent We Be Xuxa (chorus: “I want a turkey sandwich”), apropos considering this was more of a BYOF beach picnic than its BBQ namesake suggests. Dinowalrus covered the Mudhoney/Spaceman 3 jam “When Tomorrow Hits.” Aa’s sunset drum circle was primordial bliss. Shilpa Ray killed it so handily with Her Happy Hookers, squeezebox, and upright bass that people demanded an encore (they didn’t get it). Matt & Kim showed up via clown-car caravan just to hang out, but it was Kim’s birthday, so she got her own personalized version of Jeremih’s “Birthday Sex.”
Special, surprise guests? The Park Rangers. They were the worst unannounced guests ever. They came one-by-one, until there was a whole green-uniformed battalion standing atop the looming dunes, staring down at us, visibly confused and perplexed. They looked through binoculars, called their supervisors, whispered to each other confusedly. An NYPD helicopter even flew above our heads. But mostly, with a little intervention from Todd, they let us be.
The topless girl on the cross came later, thankfully, after the Park Rangers had gone–but let’s not assign too much importance to her as a symbol. The point, here, wasn’t the fact that songs sometimes got lost against the crashing waves, or that there wasn’t actually a grill at the BBQ, or that my particular Sunday involved hitchhiking home and endless gratitude to one really nice Plum Tomato pizza guy. It is, I think, that entire business models exist around inverted context, and this particular show goes on for free. New York is a place of possibility, and that potential very often manifests itself in vice–but add a little imagination and all available resources, and you just may end up on a really nice day, randomly beside Michael Azerrad on a towel, at the beach.