This past Saturday, Williamsburg’s Dead Herring house closed its doors after six years of throwing quality rock shows, dance parties, craft fairs, and other assorted fun times. As one of the last remaining DIY spaces located in Williamsburg proper (or “prime Williamsburg,” as their landlord likely calls it), they held on for an impressive amount of time despite being surrounded by increasingly fancy and noise hating neighbors. More impressive still, as of 2013, their cover charge had yet to rise above $5, drink prices above $4. If that’s not commitment to the scene, I don’t know what is.
Not ones to go gentle into that good night, DH inhabitants Nicki, Liz, Jeff, Andrew and Joe ended things out right with a bill of local favorites: Necking; a reunited Moonmen on the Moon, Man; the Immaculates, and Hunters. Photos of shows past taken by DH resident Nicki Ishmael festooned the walls, reminding everyone just how many ascendant acts the place had hosted.
Half an hour after the doors opened, the place was already packed with friends, music makers, and admirers nodding along to Necking’s transcendent noise jams. An unofficial house band of sorts, Necking has opened too many DH shows to count, as multi-instrumentalist/screamer Nick Lesley once called the place home. “When we started playing here in 2006, every band that was touring was like ‘we wanna play with Nick,’ explained Necking member Rop Vazquez. “So we played here always.” Another reason for playing a million shows? “We’re always bored.”
Next, Moonmen on the Moon, Man played an energetic bit of messy garage pop with numerous breaks to introduce past members and switch instruments around. At one point, they threw a bunch of giant glowsticks out into the crowd, which folks waved enthusiastically as the band barked silly lyrics like “do you understand HAND?”
During one of the breaks between bands, I spoke to resident Jeff Seal and found out Dead Herring had indeed fallen victim to rising rents, but that it was not going away forever, and was even staying in the neighborhood. Take that, gentrification!
“They raised the rent $1,000,” he said. “Normally we Jew them down–I’m a Jew, so I can say that–but not this time. They’re like, ‘we want you to leave because if you move out, we’ll refurbish it and charge more’…we found a better place at North First and Wythe. We lucked out, it was the first place we found.”
Seal’s favorite memories of the place include, er, I’ll let him explain it…
“I always feel bad about cutting people to pee, so I go outside,” he replied. “I got too many tickets for peeing and drinking, and I’m pretty sure I have a bench warrant.” In happier news, once “my friends from clown school came out here and performed and they went to go sleep in the loft…after the variety show was done, they watched everything that was happening down here, and it was like a drunken French farce.” Oh? “Doors were slammed, fights were had.” Oh.
Less visibly inebriated but equally ecstatic DH resident Nicki Ishmael elaborated on their plans for the future. “We got a place in a nicer area of Williamsburg, so I don’t know if we’re gentrifying it or not, but I’m pretty excited about our new prospects. We’re gonna do art shows, theater stuff, some comedy, variety, wer’e gonna do bands, maybe not all loud punk bands all the time, but it’s gonna be a new artistic awesome space.”
And her favorite memory?
“There are so many…We had this great dance party after the Men played, and we had a big limbo contest…another time, this band Leg Sweeper came from Texas, we all hung out and partied til 5am. It was a huge slumber party, and we woke up the next morning and made waffles.”
Nicki wasn’t the only one feeling nostalgic. “This band was invented here,” said Immaculates singer Jay Heiselmann when he took the stage. “We were at a party, listening to soul music, and we were like, ‘why don’t we fuck around and play somma this music? So we did, and it was okay.” Judging from the crowd’s reaction to what he and his band did next, he was being modest.
As anticipation built for the always awesome, last minute bill addition Hunters, I asked some more scene veterans for their stories. “I think my most favorite would be my 40th birthday here,” said the eternally youthful Vazquez. “But I don’t know how memorable it was, because I drank three four lokos that night.”
BJ Warshaw, formerly of Parts and Labor said, “I remember getting pushed off the loft [by my friend] and I almost split my head open on the floor.” Dead Herring: party til you die!
Another sometime Parts and Labor member (and current Hunters bassist) Tom Martin had a happier story: “One time, for someone’s birthday, they made apple plum cake that looked like a litter box. It looked like it had cat shit in it…I think I was the only one who tried it, but it was really good.”
Tom’s boldness is clearly shared by his band mates, as Hunters spared no effort in making the last crowd ever to see a show at 141 S. Fifth St freak out as hard as possible with a set of balls-out grunge punk for the ages. Tucker Rountree of Total Slacker says they remind him of X, Soundgarden and Thee Oh Sees all at once, and he’s right; as it turns out, Seattle sludge goes really well with sharp female vocals, punchy bass and energetic showmanship. Almeida’s pink hair flew as she jumped into the audience, rolled around on the floor, and inspired everyone to mosh like a bunch of hyper teenagers at their first Elks lodge basement punk show.
But that wasn’t the end, not quite. “Dance party now!” shouted Vazquez, kicking off many more hours of revelry by people not yet ready to say goodbye. The first song? “Empire State of Mind,” which seemed fitting, considering how many of us moved to New York for nights just like this. Dead Herring is dead! Long live Dead Herring!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 28, 2013