This Weekend In New York: Theophilus London, Kurt Vile, And A Bit Of Possible Self-Parody


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 weekend involved lots of semi-aimless wandering around the city for Debbie and me, for which we were rewarded with one strange new friend after another. It was sort of like Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, minus the copious weed smoking and cameos by Doogie Howser.

Friday night began with a trip to the Brooklyn Museum, where The L‘s Audiophile series had booked hip-hop/funk/rock sensation Theophilus London to play in the huge, glass lobby. Unlike last week’s artsy Met performance, the show had little to do with visual art unless you counted Theophilus’ badass fedora, which I can only assume he festooned with sequins in order to stay ahead of the curve. (The Sunday Styles piece that gave away his preference for Borsalinos did come out a month ago.)

This show was considerably more diverse than The L‘s usual events, drawing a veritable rainbow of attractive and stylish Brooklynites. Perhaps the most stylish of all was Theophilus himself, who changed out of said sparkly hat and matching shirt into a sharp brass button-adorned blazer halfway through. It’s rare that an artist can sing, rap, and pull off sequins, but this Trinidad-born, Brooklyn-bred dandy is quite the triple threat. Backed by a full band, he alternately crooned like Prince and delivered rapidfire verses, even bringing Telli “Bathroom Sex” Gramz of ubiquitous Brooklyn crew Ninjasonik onstage to help him with the (somewhat ironic?) banger “Gurls, Girls, Money.” (“My mom would not approve of this song,” Theophilus said by way of introduction. “Everyone say ‘hey, Theophilus’ mom!'”) As the crowd yelled and threw their hands up, he climbed on speakers, threw t-shirts (and some of his jewelry!), and gave a sweet shout out to a “special lady” named Joanne. Eventually a bunch of people climbed up onstage and the DJ dropped some classic hip-hop, turning the night into a dance party.

Later we ended up at 319 Rutledge Street, where Vibes Management had put together a show that seemed to have “drugs” as its unifying theme. One of the boys working the bar table was wearing no shirt; the other, no pants; each had incorporated glitter into his ensemble. Gary War was just starting to play his synthy, lo-fi space rock, with the eponymous frontman warping his voice in such a way that he sounded like an evil alien monster. Everyone was grooving hard to it, but about four songs in he somehow cut his face up and began bleeding everywhere. War started screaming into the mic a lot more intensely than he had been and threw his guitar against the wall, breaking it something good. This seemed like part of the act at first, but it wasn’t. Dude ran for the door, leaving the rest of the band to wave goodbye nervously. Word around the crowd was he was tripping too hard on acid and “totally freaked out.” I was a little disappointed we didn’t get to hear more, but props to him for going to such lengths to remind us what the “psych” in “psych rock” actually refers to.

Next up was freak-electro duo Greatest Hits, who came off like a John Hughes movie viewed through a witch-house lens. One of the guys was dressed like a Goth cowboy; the other was a dead ringer for Mark Harmon circa Summer School. The cow-Goth (Tyler Thacker) made goofy faces as he did his best Yoko Ono voice over cheesy synths and a bleak-sounding drum machine, while the cool summer school teacher (Zak Mering) never took his Ray-Bans off. The chorus to one song consisted of half the stops on the L train, recited in Canarsie-bound order. For the grand finale, Thacker attempted to balance on top of a monitor (he was unsuccessful), crowd surf (unsuccessful), and make out with everyone in the front row (semi-successful); the two capped it off by clapping for themselves. The whole thing struck me as an absurd caricature of what people outside the scene think all DIY shows in Brooklyn are like, although I suspect that’s intentional.

Saturday, we clawed our way out of the rabbit hole in time to catch the second half of Kurt Vile’s Bowery Ballroom show. After the previous night’s insanity, it was nice to see a straightforward rock band play some tuneful, well-crafted songs. As if to emphasize the thought I was having, Vile pulled out an acoustic 12-string and performed a heartfelt composition off Smoke Ring For My Halo all by his lonesome. “You got such a good review on Pitchfork, it was awesome man,” some wise guy heckled. Nobody laughed.

When Kurt’s backing band of long-haired doppelgangers rejoined him, things got considerably louder but no less lovely. Equal parts dark Americana, fuzzy alternative, and Tom Petty-like classicism, Vile’s music is a combination of almost everything good about rock and roll. When he rasped “I ran ’til I thought my chest would explode,” the crowd collectively held its breath. It just goes to show: You don’t need to dress like a trippy horror movie from the ’80s in order to command an audience’s attention.