Same As: It Ever Was
The internet bubble in which I live had me convinced that last night, the farewell show of Williamsburg venue 285 Kent was an Event. In case you, a person who reads about the New York Music Scene, somehow failed to hear about this Event, it was the closing of a venue that meant a great deal to a small group of people. Or maybe it was a closing that meant very little to the few people who were even aware of it. The narrative before the show was confused, as these things tend to be. (Hey, we even delivered a premature eulogy for the place back in 2013.) But the three bands I saw perform last night–White Lung, Diiv, and Fucked Up–helped in some small way to override the narrative by putting on an real-life, honest-to-god, actual rock show.
For its last hurrah, 285 Kent saw a cockrock crowd gather to mourn and thrash and posture, with a significant number of Brooklyn it-kids mixed in with the hardcore fans. Veterans of the Williamsburg music scene hugged it out on the sides of the room while what may well have been someone’s unattended laptop pumped non-sequitur mid-aughts jams in between sets: songs from the likes Yung Joc, Limp Bizkit, Unk and Kid Rock seemed to represent the yawning void in cool that will soon open now that 285 is lost to the world forever.
Thankfully, the actual performances were stronger than the filler. “We like this city, a lot,” said Mish Way of the Canadian band White Lung, a no-nonsense introduction for a no-nonsense punk rock band. Way is the heart of the band, a Stevie Nicks witchy-lady with a Joan Jett energy. The band’s new bassist Hether Fortune (also of Wax Idols) fit in well with the crew but it was Kenneth Williams, the otherwise unassuming-looking guitarist who won me over, shredding the hell out of his instrument as his eyes rolled back in his head. He looked like a man possessed. White Lung were thankfully short on the 285 grandstanding, more focused on playing choice cuts from their 2012 album Sorry, an underrated record that shows the band to have some real songwriting chops underneath the feedback they favor live. Some drama with a broken kick pedal seemed as if it might cut their set short, but White Lung finished off with a rush of adrenaline and left the crowd feeling buzzed.
That buzz was unfortunately wasted on Diiv, a group of lanky, rangy longhairs who favor a downtempo, shoegazy psychedelic rock. Their sole album, 2012’s Oshin, is pleasant in an easy-listening kind of way, but the nature of Diiv’s music is not to be front and center. The transition from their sleepy, sometimes entrancing album to the stage is not without friction and it made for an underwhelming performance from the group.
Their set was also hurt by the absence of their regular drummer Colby Hewitt. Hewitt, wintering in Los Angeles, has a loose, easy style that punctuates the band’s sound. The hole he left was particularly evident during “How Long Have You Known,” the group’s best song, which was punctuated by the most perfunctory crowd surfing, like a Brooklyn version of the now-standard standing ovation that occurs after every Broadway musical.
Diiv represented the dark side of the bubble surrounding venues like 285 last night. Not to undersell Oshin, which, again, is a solid record, but Diiv has achieved a more pernicious kind of hype of late, the kind that comes from having your quasi-celebrity and sometime model frontman who idolizes and somewhat resembles a young Kurt Cobain, drive the point home by being pulled over with 42 decks of heroin on his person.
The cynicism with which the music media has embraced Zachary Cole Smith’s story speaks to the parasitic tendencies of an insular world, where a hint of morbid glamour can turn the full glare of a spotlight onto a band still learning its own identity. Skeptics who exist within that world are not too far off then when they talk about 285 as a glorified box. Veneration of the venue over the past two weeks speaks to both the media’s inevitable tendency to dramatize the goings on within our bubble and the increasing placelessness of contemporary indie rock. 285, which opened in 2010, wasn’t CBG’s or Max’s Kansas City. There was no one sound associated with it, no slate of acts whose lineage traces back there. Like all young venues, it was little more than a room.
But it would be juvenile, needlessly contrarian, to act as if there wasn’t anything special that happened inside 285. Any venue becomes something bigger than itself when occupied by a great live band, and Fucked Up were a savvy choice to close out the space’s time on the scene. Damian Abraham, the band’s lead singer and a big bearded ogre of a man, was in fine form last night, a demented bolt of charisma determined to give 285 the send off it deserved. Fucked Up delivered one of the venue’s most memorable performances back in 2011 and they didn’t fall short upon their return to the stage for one last show.
The crowd roiled and teemed as fans leapt onto the stage and hugged Abraham, who happily submitted before tossing his eager devotees back into the crowd. In between it all he ripped through songs from 2011’s David Comes to Life and played some new material that was, frankly, impossible to evaluate on first listen. Abraham’s howls consumed everything and his energy made it impossible to do anything but give in happily to the noise.
After shouting out other hardcore acts like Judge and Integrity (after silence greeted a query as to whether anyone had attended Integrity’s show in Baltimore last night, Abraham proclaimed everyone in the room, himself included, to be a poser), Abraham and company closed out with the Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop,” the perfect anthem for a DIY space that could sometimes feel more like a recapitulation than an actual happening of its own. But before he finished, Abraham left the crowd with some choice words to keep in mind upon the closing.
“In a different form, in a different place, it will rise again,” he said. “Anyone can do this. You can start a band. You can put on a show. You can put out records. You can all do it yourselves. Just fucking do it.”