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October 15, 2007
I live in a city that plays host to what is arguably the most prolific music scene in America, if not the world. On any given night there is an incredibly wide variety of bands playing at an abundance of venues across New York's boroughs. Which makes it all the more shameful that I rarely make it out to a show these days. Of course I've got a thousand excuses, none of which makes me feel any less like the asshole that I am for not taking advantage of my situation. Inspired by Ari Shapiro's Tucson Triptych article about the joy of seeing three high-profile bands on three successive nights in Arizona, I decided to get my act together and make the most of a week that, like most in NYC, saw an astounding number of quality bands playing in the area. I was fortunate enough to be able to take in four of my favorite artists during October's first week, avoiding the regret I no doubt would have felt had I stayed home with the usual carton of ice cream and this month's selection from Oprah's book club.
---



I remembered really liking the Bowery Ballroom the first time I went there. Which is funny because I don't really remember anything else from that night. In hindsight, hitting up an open bar before the show was probably a bad idea. As was pulling a beer out of my sock on the way home that I had apparently snuck into, and drunkenly back out of, the venue.

Well, times have changed. Instead of missing bands because a bar was having a special on blended margaritas and the day's couch cushion raid happened to net a boozable sum, I only caught openers The Bowerbirds' last song because I stayed late at work catching up on some emails. If you heard an unexplainable groan of agony in the lower Manhattan area on the first of the month, that was my youth getting kicked in the nuts.

I had my doubts about the show after coming up from the bathroom about ten minutes before the Mountain Goats were to go on and seeing main Goat John Darnielle by the backdoor looking preoccupied and fidgeting like he was about to cop something. About to say hi to him, I closed my slightly ajar mouth and passed by, mostly because I was afraid I would faint like a teenage girl meeting Justin Timberlake and/or ruin a drug buy.

My fears were unwarranted, as the band was, as to be expected, focused and amazing. Darnielle looked like a cross between a professor, a mad scientist, and a jubilant teenager in his blazer, eyeglasses, and moppish hair. His stage banter was funnier than most comedians' and smarter than whoever was having a reading at the Barnes and Nobles down the street.

Because Darnielle is so prolific a recording artist and enjoys trotting out rarities on the road, one is never sure what songs they are going to hear. In this case, it was a pretty good mixture of all Mountain Goats eras with the added bonus of a new song. Which I'm sure has long since been posted on YouTube. This show turned out to be much more satisfying than the last one I saw. While I wrote that on said occasion Darnielle not being able to use his voice lent itself to a unique experience, I will take him in full vocal capacity, hollering out choruses, anytime.

As with any show these days, the Mountain Goats received the obligatory clapping and foot stomping that signals a peak in the audience's willingness to wait for an encore. Of course this time the après-performance set was deservedly appropriate, but sometimes crowds tend to get carried away. After leading the crowd in a chant of "Hail Satan" during "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton," I thought the audience was crazy to expect, or even to want, Darnielle and his accompanist to come back for more. Wouldn't it be better to leave elated by the final song than to risk the show ending on an off note? Somehow, Darnielle topped himself by letting the audience sing the majority of "No Children" while he played along. Standing at the very front of the stage, Darnielle played conductor, or more appropriately, ringleader, to the packed crowd that had demanded, and received, this fantastic extra performance.

SEE ALSO: www.themountaingoats.net
SEE ALSO: www.boweryballroom.com
---




My first impression of the Highline Ballroom was, Whah? I must be in the wrong place. Situated inconspicuously next to a garishly fluorescent grocery store, I wasn't sure if the lurkers smoking out front were there for the show or had wandered over during their break from stocking soup cans. Once inside, I was even more confounded by the sight of a floor full of tables and chairs. There was not really any option to stand either, so I settled down into a chair near the back and looked over at the couple next to me, their faces busy chowing down on French fries and popcorn shrimp like we were at some kind of third-rate dinner theater. The Highline was a fairly intimate little space, but with its neon-lit alcoves and snappily dressed wait staff, it looked as though this Great Lake Swimmers' show might have been an aberration. I was surprised they didn't offer bottle service and play Jay-Z over the PA between sets. Later, I was almost embarrassed that I had left my top hat and cravat at home when I turned around after taking a leak to find a bathroom attendant waiting for me with the water running and a bottle of soap in his hand. Far from having an attendant, the bathrooms I usually find myself in at shows have a way of making toilet paper look like an unnecessary extravagance. However, in an attempt to present myself as a class act, I emerged from a billowing screen of chamomile steam smelling like a combination of Cool Water and CKOne, chewing five different kinds gum, and with my hair parted down the middle.

I had only to stew in my intoxicatingly odoriferous cloud for a few minutes before the Great Lake Swimmers ambled onstage. Live, the band was a perfect personification of their own delicate music, playing with a quiet restraint behind front man Tony Dekker, the ensemble's focal point. Singing out of the side of his mouth, Dekker's voice sounded lovely, conveying more anguish and hope than it does on the band's albums. He looked so fragile and sensitive up there, I wanted to climb onstage and give him a hug.

Seated ended up to be a rather good way to enjoy the Great Lake Swimmers' music. Like taking in a gorgeous aria at the theater, it was easy to absorb the band's hushed majesty while not having to look over someone's shoulder or listen to the asshole next to you go on and on about the Red Sox. But, alas, dignity made a quick exit when a couple of girls got up into the aisle and started doing what can only be described as "hippy twirling." Don't get me wrong, I'm all for dancing. I give props to anyone who breaks the mold and does something besides stand there, looking bored. However, it also seems a bit inappropriate and tactless to whirl like a stoned dervish after the singer, in a somber tone, says that the next song is about "death."

I could have listened to the band play all night. Unfortunately, they finished up their final song, and with a gracious thank you, left the stage. It was refreshing to see the joy that Great Lake Swimmers took in performing and the gracefulness that they displayed. On the way out, I could only agree when my friend fittingly said, "it's nice to see that someone is still making beautiful music these days."

SEE ALSO: www.greatlakeswimmers.com
SEE ALSO: www.highlineballroom.com
---




The little restaurant on the corner might not look like much, and in actuality, it isn't, but they somehow offer one of the most glorious things to be found in a major city outside of Las Vegas or New Orleans. Margaritas to go. That's right, delicious margaritas that can be enjoyed, if not legally, then at least hassle-free on any park bench, grimy stoop, or air-conditioned subway car around the city. Of course they're relatively expensive, but it is hard to put a price on the enjoyment found in a Styrofoam cup filled with one of the greatest alcoholic beverages ever invented. As an added bonus, you get to watch the bartender place a plastic lid on top, hand you a straw, and give you a wave and a little wink as you waltz right out the front door. I'm not sure what they put in them, but I'm guessing that the margarita mix is made on the premises, possibly in a dirty bucket.

Anyway, it was a beautiful night, I was in the area, and why not kill time before Caribou took the stage with the addition of tequila to some sort of lime tasting stuff? A full two hours early, I had ample time to follow a few margaritas with a beer and a teacup filled with vodka. However, all of this pales in comparison to whatever the two dudes on the corner of Bowery and Delancey had had to drink that night. Not forty-five minutes after the nightly news and the severely inebriated pair were crawling around on their hands and knees, puking indiscriminately. Instead of real help, I offered advice to their friends, telling them that they should probably get those guys somewhere before they got picked up by the cops. Caught a bit off-guard by their response, I could only look on incredulously as they answered, "Really, you can go to jail for that?" as their friends blorted out soupy regurgitate nearby.

Getting inside the Bowery puke free, I entered right as the band went on, and Caribou wasted no time killing it. In an interesting stage configuration, two drum kits were set up in the forefront, with a guitar and bass player relegated to the background. Only pondering that for a moment, I was more interested to see how Dan Snaith would be able to pull off live his seeming reliance on computer wizardry in the studio. Not a knock on Caribou or Manitoba at all, but Snaith's albums have always sounded like a product of countless, painstaking hours in a studio.

Quite simply, for a performance adaptation of studio material, Caribou sounded better and tighter than most experienced and road-tested bands. Whether playing a guitar perched at Beatles-era chest level or beating the living hell out of his drum kit, Snaith showed that he's got the analog musical chops to match his Pro Tools skills.

For an album with heavy nods to sixties psychedelic pop, the songs on Andorra sounded downright ferocious live. When playing simultaneously, the two drummers filled the room with a racket I haven't heard since Milemarker mauled my eardrums in a tiny backroom in San Francisco two years ago. As astonishing as they were, an unfortunate byproduct of Caribou placing the percussion front and center was that the guitars and their psychedelic washes that served as Andorra's signature were a bit drowned out. In the end it didn't matter, as overall, hearing Caribou's freshest material played live was amazing. As I left the Bowery Ballroom, it was impossible to doubt Caribou's legitimacy as a real band.

SEE ALSO: www.caribou.fm
SEE ALSO: www.boweryballroom.com
---




For the second time in a week, my friend had accompanied me to a show, band unheard, no questions asked. I had no reservations about taking her first to see Great Lake Swimmers. That band is, at the very least, easy on the ears, and, at most, slightly boring for some. To the uninitiated, Mono is a lot harder sell than Great Lake Swimmers. I even refused to describe the band, thinking she would reply, "loud, instrumental, WHAT?" I had nothing to fear as the girl rules and my vague invitation was returned with a succinct, "I'm in."

Mono are the band your mother was talking about when she warned you that rock concerts will make you go deaf. I have seen them more than a few times now and I've always left each encounter more sure than the last that my ears were broken. Unfortunately, Mono are not headlining on their current tour. Apparently, High On Fire have enough balls to try to follow one of the most mesmerizing and captivating live acts playing today. Even though it was relatively early on a Monday night, I was almost shocked by the low attendance during the band's set, if not because of my gushing assessment of a previous Mono show then at least because of their de facto cool status by association with the Temporary Residence franchise. But as it was only a smattering of people crowded near the stage, their eardrums at the mercy of the speakers and the eyeballs facing the possibility of being blinded by the Japanese band's schizophrenic stage lights. Not fucking around in the least, Mono fit five songs, all from the more incendiary spectrum of their catalogue, into their allotted hour. It was obvious from the tattoos, beards, and generally grizzled look of most of the audience that High On Fire was the night's focus, but by the second or third song, even the most steadfast, absurdly-pierced arm-folder had come around, staring raptly at the four ethereal figures in front of them. As the last ringing note faded out, the band put down their guitars, gave slight bows, and walked off the stage. Turning to me, my friend gave a slight smile and said that that had been, "intense." I couldn't have agreed more.

Seeing someone like John Darnielle perform is to see the individual behind the music, entertaining by letting his personality shine through. While the music was superb, his banter, tangents, humor, and storytelling were almost worth the price of admission alone. Conversely, Mono did not utter a single word during their whole set. Live, the band channels a raw power and energy that is almost impossible to replicate on recording. The mute band let the music do the talking. And jaws dropped in accordance.

SEE ALSO: www.mono-jpn.com
SEE ALSO: www.websterhall.com/

--
Kevin Alfoldy
An aspiring global adventurer who cut his teeth on the sandy beaches and dirty bitches of Southern California, Kevin Alfoldy now spends his non-vacation days in Brooklyn, New York, where he occasionally finds the time to rub the crust out of his eyes long enough to contribute reviews and feature articles for LAS. A longtime staff member, Kevin also captains the tattered, often half-sunk raft of EPmd, our irregular column of EP reviews.

See other articles by Kevin Alfoldy.

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