Last night, the Gutter, Williamsburg’s divey alternative to Brooklyn Bowl, was turned into Ray-Ban and Vice’s version of a homespun punk prom. Decorated with shimmering balloons and Confetti System streamers, the wood-paneled bowling alley played host to bands the Men and White Lung and a karaoke contest hosted by Andrew W.K. (Grime rapper Skepta was scheduled to play the show too, but a conflicting booking at Palisades in Bushwick took him off the lineup.) But with minimal to subtle branding throughout the space, it felt less like an event manufactured to push sunglasses and the coolness of a corporate entity — despite the fact that the Gutter’s entryway was covered in Ray-Ban signage — and more like your hometown’s battle of the bands.
But there were losers last night. Kicking off in the front room, Andrew W.K. (who, full disclosure, is a Sound of the City columnist) played the most genial karaoke host. “It’s not a contest because everybody wins!” he exclaimed, ushering onto the stage the first “contestant,” who wore a shirt emblazoned with “SATAN IS MY SPIRIT ANIMAL” and performed Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive.” While Bon Jovi is a classic karaoke move, the night offered a diverse array of song choices, from a survey of TLC (“Baby Baby Baby” to “No Scrubs”) to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” for which W.K. provided the chamber-like backing vocals. While most karaoke hosts simply cue up the music (as they should), W.K. helped bolster each participant’s confidence by playing hypeman when they needed it, even if he himself was unfamiliar with the song. There are always standouts in a roomful of strangers performing for one another, and, even though there was no winner, the hypothetical crown should have gone to the woman doing full body rolls to Melanie’s “Brand New Key.”
While people were trying their best to nail all the words to Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” or hit Mariah-like high notes on “Fantasy,” the Men were taking the stage in the even more festively decorated backroom. One of the things that makes them one of New York’s best working bands is how constantly they evolve their sound while always adhering to an undercurrent of ferocity. A band that has taken on so many tones may not be able to deliver a tight show, but, despite their music’s gruffness, the Men still perform a slick set.
White Lung have seemingly not stopped touring since the release of last year’s excellent Deep Fantasy, but they are historically a fascinating live band. But despite this much road under their belts, they’re always at their best in a small room. And not only because lead singer Mish Way becomes even more electrified in close quarters — there’s something extraordinarily powerful about a roomful of people, packed together, all receiving the same shrieked messages about sexual power, the inimitable bonds of female friendship (“Wrong Star”), and the demand that you believe assault survivors when they tell you their story (“I Believe You”). Through that lens, the crepe-paper trappings of the room struck an eerie chord: These are the lessons you learn in high school that take you until long after to finally process. No brand-sponsored magic should be able to create such an intense emotional moment, but somehow, in a dusty bowling alley, it happened.