Monthly Archives: June 2010

So I started wearing warpaint, and I gathered all my friends.

While there is much to be learned about American culture from, say, Seinfeld, I have been victim of my own presumptions and misconceptions on a variety of occasions. In Dublin, if one was to see that Villagers were playing at Joe’s Pub at 9.30, one would presume that it was okay to show up a little after ten and still catch the start of the set. One might also presume that one was going to be in a fairly normal-type pub.

But no, Joe’s Pub is the kind of classy joint that has its own grand piano on the stage permanently, and 9.30 means Conor O’Brien, physically onstage and performing, at 9.30. Now I know.

Even though I only managed to see a half-set plus encore, Villagers solo is a stunning thing. The jamming inclinations of the band are part of what stops Becoming A Jackal from being the truly impressive piece of work it hints at being, but while the band does contribute positively a lot of the time, I think I’d choose Conor alone four times out of five.

He can make a room follow him blindly. He can be standing on a stage in New York in a bar with waitress service and presumably a sizeable contingent of people who haven’t heard much of his stuff, and start a song a capella, and have the din cut out immediately. After a few glasses of wine, he’s cocksure, and he knows his voice now better than he did without the band in the early days.

The Meaning of the Ritual, The Pact and Home are all of the set I get, but after essentially currying an ovation out of the assembled, seated audience (more than a hundred, definitely), he came back out and did Cecilia and Her Selfhood/Sister, an album outtake which seems to work perfectly when it builds simply from whispered a capella to clattered nylon-string guitar. It’s seven minutes long at least and it’s not even on record, but it holds the crowd’s attention 100%. And then it ends, he leaves and it’s over.

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If you market yourself for blood, how do you come back?

It’s not CBGBs or anything, but there’s no denying I was a small bit excited to see what the Music Hall of Williamsburg actually looked like. Crucible of Alt, sort of thing. It’s not that impressive. Just a Tripod-esque place on a slightly smaller scale. Kind of like seeing the Mona Lisa in real life or something. Not that I’ve seen that. But I have spent some of my life having lots of fun at HEALTH gigs, so, even though the only-doing-free-stuff rule was temporarily broken, I saw them play there.

The first support was a guy called Gold Panda, a sampler squelcher and accelerando enthusiast from (or with a very convincing impression of a person from) England. Some of his songs were fairly uninspired lo-fi electronics, but once he got going, he brought little Wham City leaps of joy into his tracks. His closer exploded with unexpected drum ‘n’ bass rhythms, too, which was a pleasant surprise. Lightly bearded and with his hood up for the whole set even though it was a ridiculous temperature for night time.

Second support were Indian Jewelry, who were more on the nightmare rock end of things. With strobe lights framing their affected four-across-the-stage moves (particularly the stand-up drummer), they seemed to be going for a Happening-type musical event, and it worked sometimes, but seemed a little too pretentious at other times.

But here’s the rub. HEALTH came on, and instantly a space started to clear in front of the stage. First, it was one or two semi-crusties elbowing the people in their immediate vicinity. But then hard beats dropped, and a mosh pit of about twenty to thirty developed. The crowd divided, as they tend to when there’s a mosh pit at a gig by a band made of less than 75% beard, into those who wanted to be on the fringe watching or drinking beer, and those who wanted to slam dance to Death+. I decided I wanted to slam dance.

The politics of the mosh pit are kind of interesting. There’s the guy who is just running into everyone and pushing people. There’s the guy who looks like he’d be moshing the exact same way if he was by himself. There’s the short girl who thinks she’ll be fine, then gets elbowed in the head and knocked over and has to be rescued and escorted back a bit, where she stands proudly and maybe says “whooooooooo”.

The highlight’s a foregone conclusion at a HEALTH gig, really. So Die Slow came, the music pulsated, the crowd bobbed en masse, the strobes made it seem even more like a heart attack, and then it ended and left a mess of breathlessness and riverine sweat trails down t-shirt backs. But an honourable mention to set-closer and newest HEALTH release USA Boys, the non-remix from the Get Color remix album. Slower, more hazey-gazey, but just as intense in its own way.

The encore was about 60 seconds of pointless jamming, but who cares. This is one of the best live bands in the world at the moment.

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NY Mixtape #1

Mixtape about New York.

And I taped my tongue to the southern tip of your body

Going to free gigs in parks is great and all, but sometimes you wake up early on a Saturday afternoon and you want nothing more than to go to a free gig on an island. Thankfully, New York is made of islands, but for those for whom the novelty of the main islands has worn off, there’s Gone to Governor’s.

Converse, who successfully sell the same shoe to everyone three times a year because their natural instinct to develop holes in themselves pretty much undermines the little rainproofing they provided anyway, put on a series of gigs on Governor’s Island. Governor’s Island’s a small island off Manhattan. I’m not sure what it’s for. It has some vaguely period-looking buildings and some trees on it, but that’s not why I was there.

Right across from the southeastern tip of Manhattan, they set up a stage and a load of festival type stuff. But not exactly like European festival type stuff. Food, yes. Beer, yes. But waitress service? At a gig? Ridiculous. And a fake beach? Fake palm trees that silhouette against the impressively colourful pollution sunset and then light up in primary colours? Wonderful.

As the first support, who were so like the Cure as to not even be worth mentioning, said: “this is the most beautiful place we’ve ever played a show”. And it is. The stuff is fake, but it’s a sunny evening and there’s a beach.

After The Cure finished, Freelance Whales started. As someone who does freelance stuff, and a general supporter of the idea of whales, I had medium expectations, but they were a little campy for my taste. Postal Service/Arcade Fire on a watered down scale, with a cursory banjo on the last song.

But Morning Benders, who I had also never heard, were impressive. For a band who are a few miles from the edge of the Venn diagram for indie rock, they have startlingly large basslines, and their intense-to-laid back-to intense rhythmic shifts were the perfect thing for the darkening fake beach. Also, they played covers. Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams: terrible, possibly due to its inexorable link to the Corrs. New Order’s Ceremony: winding. With another friend tired of polite standing, I moved to some open beach and danced, and if you could print screen happy emotions onto a postcard, it’s a moment I’d have on my wall forever.

They ended with a multi-harmony extravaganza, skirting hamminess by just being straight up good, before we all walked back to the ferry and sped back to skyscrapers and free copies of The Onion in streetside newspaper holding-things. And then we walked home across the Brooklyn Bridge. This is getting ridiculous.

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There is a mountain of snow, up past the big glen.

There is untold fun to be had for free in New York. Not normal free fun, like sitting in a park or something (though you can do that), but actual stuff that you would pay to do. Owing possibly to an overwhelming karmic guilt at the fact that it spends every second of its unsleeping existence trying to suck money out of you, New York has decided to put on roughly thirty bands I want to see, for free, over the summer. And a few hundred more I don’t want to see, too.

It started with Dan Deacon in a park in Red Hook. With a friend about as into Dan Deacon as I am (a little bit, depending on circumstance) and one who had never even heard him before, I rolled up. “Which one is Dan Deacon?” said the one who had never heard him, as we watched the ensemble set up. “The bald guy with the glasses.” “Fuck off!” “No, it is!”

It started slow, partially because it was still bright when they started. There wasn’t a whole lot of variety in the crowd. Some token kids were running around at the back, but it’s not like they set up fun family activities or anything. Dan Deacon would provide excellent family fun in theory, I suppose, but it doesn’t really work like that in practice. Median age: 19ish. Mean age: 17ish. Mean t-shirt: “I Wanna Ride Bikes With You” with a cartoon bike, on a brown t-shirt.

Those who knew got straight to dancing. As it got darker, things got more intense. You know how it goes. Crowd-wide interpretive dance. Dance-offs. Lots of crowd surfing. By the time it got to 9 o’clock, the green skull was flashing and the crowd, pretty much par for the course, went mental. Mr. Deacon, ever the magnanimous dance party host, was kind enough to impart the words of Silence Like The Wind to the lesser fans before the song started. And then it flipped. Lights flashing, people jumping, me singing it as if it was my favourite song in the world. You know yourself.

All the moves were pulled. Just the guys sing. Just the girls sing. Only the left. Only the right. Only those over thirty – met with two awkward cheers and a lot of laughter. Quiet as you can…. a little bit louder now. For someone who joked about being voted Worst Boss at Bonnaroo by Spin Magazine by saying “I hope that means I’m least like Bruce Springsteen”, he had the body electric hanging on his every word.

And then they finished with Wham City, of course. Denny from Double Dagger was there, smashing the fuck out of drums. Interview with them on the way. Wham City – song, record label, general musical aesthetic – just made me think about how incredible it would be to actually be from Baltimore, fully into that scene, singing along to the words. Someone write a Dublin anthem.

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NY2: Down and Out in Bedford-Stuyvesant

Written last week.

The thing about America is, they’re always trying to sell you stuff. In shops, they’re trying to upsell you, passing it off as doing you a favour. You tip for everything and you feel like shit if you make someone resent you because you didn’t tip, a confusion of interpersonal relationship and the instinct that makes you want to be sound with the fact that you’re being harvested for dollar bills. On subways and on billboards, they’re selling you smartphones, laptops, cameras, religion, surgery, postgraduate courses in forensic science. Constant bombardment with incentives to get money, so you can spend it on stuff. So you will have stuff. A total noise of encouragement to collect extensions of personality.

I don’t have any stuff. I’m living with three friends in a fairly spacious flat in Bedford-Stuyvesant, but I’m in a parallel universe to iPhone advertisements. We have no furniture. All this sounds like a really self-pitying complaint of a middle class dickhead who has found himself living hand to mouth a few thousand miles from Superquinn sausages and a Labrador Retriever for the first time, but I’m not actually resentful or desolate or any of that crap. I kind of like that we don’t have any furniture. I’ve said it with joke pride to a half dozen people. It’s probably worth noting that I’m only sleeping on a floor under a Salvation Army thrift store blanket this week because I spent all my money on having stupid fun in Dublin and in my first week in New York.

My money. It’s not my money, actually, but Bank of Ireland’s money, which they are kindly allowing me interest-free use of until September. As a side-point I haven’t found Bank of Ireland New York yet, if it still exists, but it’d be pretty ideal if I could go there, check my balance and cash a cheque I got for doing some sort of neuroscience marketing thing. A check, not a cheque, I suppose.

That was my second job, if you can call it a job. I answered a post on Craigslist and went to 5th Avenue and 34th Street (again, right beside where I promoted political social networking last week). Someone put about 30 sensors on me and asked me to do button-press tasks with a remote whilst watching a screen and staying completely relaxed and still. These tasks were interspersed with ads for Samsung widescreen televisions. Another thing to want. It felt pretty bad to actually help neuroscientists tell corporations how to best convince people that they need a new television, I must say. But it paid $75, and I need that to eat.

Our oven and cooker doesn’t work either, which makes it slightly more expensive to stay alive once you get tired of bread and butter. But maybe the landlady will keep faith, and fix it, and I can eat rice. My flatmate had a steak dinner yesterday, because he worked a lock-in at a bar and got to keep the entire proceeds for himself. He is a cunt.

It’s impossible to stay down in New York though. I’m in Bedford-Stuyvesant, 90% black (of which I’d estimate about 30% are African or Caribbean), 10% white dudes on fixies cycling around with helmets with foam shark-fins on them. A few days ago I went to Coney Island and ate a candy apple. Coney fucking Island. I’ve been knacker drinking in Battery Park twice, looking at the Statue of Liberty. The Onion comes out once a week in physical format. Washington Square Park is my favourite place to waste time in the entire world.

The wall around the corner from our flat says “WOMP” on it in unskilled spray paint, unexplained but definitely self-confident. And the steak dinner flatmate’s going to buy speakers. Maybe things are better than they seem.

Ugh

Oh hai blog.

No internet in the New York gaff, and my laptop has had enough of my bullshit after about ten months of life. But good lord do I have a backlog of long, text-heavy posts, pictures and (one) mixtape to post. We’ll figure it out, blog. We always do.