03 June 2006

Rocking In The Rain

Last night's subway misadventure (more about that later) rather forcefully reminded me that one of the best ways to soften the vicissitudes of public transport is to carry a good book, so I went in search of Rabbit At Rest, the last of the Updike tetralogy (a word I'm a bit dubious about, or would be if it hadn't been employed by such an astute commentator as Jonathan). Being that I hadn't yet been down to the hipster strip of Bedford Avenue, I thought I'd take a walk up there and look for a used copy at the bookstore where Aaron Cometbus used to work.

No such luck. Not only was the book not there; neither was the bookstore. Just an empty storefront and some empty abandoned shelves. A bit depressing. I used to go there fairly often to visit Aaron, but since I spent my time talking to him, I never actually got around to shopping there. Hope that's not why they went out of business.

By then it was time to get off to the city for the second consecutive night of pop punk rocking. This episode was to take place at Desmond's Tavern, a nondescript semi-Irish bar with an unlikely (for punk rock shows, anyway) Park Avenue address. Since I'd already done my bit to put one independent bookshop out of business, I thought I might as well drive another nail in the coffin by purchasing the Updike book at the Union Square Barnes and Noble, from whence I could walk up Park Avenue to Desmond's. Of course the flaw in this plan was that by the time I got to Union Square, I had already finished the subway ride for which the book had been intended, but at least I knew I'd find a copy there, even if I had to carry it around the rest of the night in a backpack, thus resembling (and, I guess, being) one of the doofuses Ben Weasel used to rail about for standing around at punk shows with their little Jansport emo-packs. While at B&N, I noticed and couldn't resist buying the Wodehouse novel Leave It to Psmith for a friend who happens to be named P Smith, which at least gave me more justification for hauling around a backpack.

Another thing the backpack could have usefully been used for would have been an umbrella, because just as I exited B&N the heavens opened up again, which they'd been doing at regular intervals the past couple days. However, since I'd just been involved in a conversation the night before about how lame umbrellas were (prompted by repeatedly getting knocked in the head by commuters rushing in and out of the Port Authority and my recollection of Joe Queer violently denouncing a Japanese tour promoter for having the nerve to carry one), I'd decided umbrellas were out of the question. I'd just slip and slide between the raindrops, with occasional stops under awnings and overhangs when the storm got too intense.

That resolution lasted about as far as 18th Street (B&N is on 17th), and I started looking around for one of those corner shops or bodegas that are always selling umbrellas for a buck or two, one of the few genuine bargains to be found in New York. But apparently Park Avenue isn't the neighborhood for cheap umbrellas, or umbrellas at all, and I walked block after block, getting completely soaked, and cursing the cars who kept me waiting at street corners just because they had a green light, the selfish bastards. When I finally spotted a couple promising stores, I was disconcerted to realize that I was just across the street from Desmond's; buying an umbrella now would be the equivalent of buying a book to read on the subway after I'd already taken the subway ride. I dried my hair off with the extra t-shirt in my backpack (don't even ask why I was carrying an extra t-shirt), and went in just in time to see the Tattle Tales. They're a power pop outfit from Nyack, NY, with a lot of talent, some excellent songs, and a curiously desultory attitude, which I think some find charming and others grating. You can put me somewhere in the middle, though I really like the music.

Nothing desultory about the next act, the Leftovers from Portland, Maine. They hit the stage like a barely contained explosion and barely stopped moving for what seemed like an incredibly brief - maybe only 15 or 20 minutes, or maybe the time just seemed to fly by because they were so good - set. Their lead singer and bassist had a bushy semi-Afro that reminded me a bit of the MC5's Rob Tyner, and maybe that's why there was a kind of 60s feel - but only in the best possible way - to their show. There were elements of the (early) Who, of the Rationals and some of the other old Ann Arbor bands, but at the same time, it wasn't retro at all. Just brilliant songs and an adrenaline-fueled performance by three kids - I'm not sure all of them are even 21 yet - who reminded me what rock and roll has always been about when it's not being hijacked by "artists," ideologues and merchants. They're doing a tour of the UK this July, so my readers on that side of the ocean are encouraged to check them out.

Dateless, one of the few West Coast representatives of the Pop Punk Message Bored clique from which all these bands seem to emanate, had the unenviable job of following the Leftovers, and pulled it off pretty well. They've got a female co-singer I would have liked to hear more of, but their songs are catchy and well-delivered, and they went over well with the "crowd," which thanks to the incessant rain and half the subways and highways being flooded, was mostly limited to hardcore clique members and their friends. Too bad, too, because the whole night's entertainment - five bands - left virtually nothing to complain about. Except perhaps the water pouring through the ceiling just in front of the stage. The tiles looked as though they were ready to come down any moment, forcing people to keep an eye on what was happening overhead, thus putting what you might call a damper on the dancing. Which is of course illegal in New York anyway. Dancing, that is, not leaky roofs.

Paranoid about a repeat of the previous night's adventure, when we and about a thousand other people sat on the L train for half an hour waiting for it to leave before a garbled announcement came through to the effect that "signaling problems" meant there would be no more trains, I only stayed for half of the penultimate act, the Stabones, and missed the Steinways altogether. Naturally the subway ran flawlessly this time, and I barely even got wet. So I feel bad about not seeing more of the Stabones, but at least I'll see the Steinways tonight, in a third consecutive night of - let me take a quick look out of the window - yes, a third consecutive night of rocking in the rain.

Oh, about those subway "signaling problems:" what really wound me up about it, apart from having to find my way back across the river to Brooklyn at 3 am, was the question of why these signals were so bloody essential anyway. The track goes in a straight line, there are no oncoming trains or cross traffic; if need be, why couldn't they just drive the trains slowly and look out (you know, like with their eyes) for any potential obstacles. If need be they could have some employee (there seemed to be a few dozen of them sitting around doing nothing apart from laughing at the thousand stranded passengers) walk along in front with a lantern calling, "Train coming, watch out everybody!" Ah well, obviously my karma for all my complaining about the London Underground and wishing it could be more like New York City's.

Oof. It's almost time to set out again tonight, this time with umbrella ($2) and book ensconced in backpack, which means I barely have time to tell you about Thursday night's rocking, also punctuated with torrential rainstorms, this time with heinous lightning that struck and completely destroyed a car in Staten Island (didn't they always tell you that a car was the safest place to be in a lightning storm?). But we were mostly able to duck and dive around that one en route to Siberia, up on the fringes of Hell's Kitchen, where we witnessed Tokyo Superfans (slightly ragged, as it was only their first or second show with a full band, but great; their energy, vocals and costumes - Japanese schoolgirl uniforms - totally carried the day), the clever, maddening and annoying Short Attention (40 or 60 songs, none longer than 10 or 15 seconds; apparently they also haven't got the attention span to acquire a Myspace page), New Jersey's perennial favorites, the Ergs, and, from Washington, DC, the utterly amazing Full Minute of Mercury (generally abbreviated by the cognoscenti as FMHg; even though I was forced in high school to memorize the Periodic Table - it was shorter then - it took me a little while to get it), who combine power pop, cheese metal and the choreographed moves of a Broadway dance troupe into a breathtaking and intoxicating spectacle that, sadly, because of the lateness of the hour, only a few privileged people witnessed. But they tour regularly up and down the East Coast, so there's no excuse for missing them. Indeed, you'd be foolish if you did.

Tina, responsible for half of the vocal duties in Tokyo Superfans, also organized the show, the first time, I think, that she'd ever tried her hand in that department, and deserves a lot of credit for pulling it off. I know that when my bands used to do shows I'd be more than stressed enough just about playing, let alone worrying about keeping everything else going. Anyway, it's nice to see a new face stepping up to help out in that department, rather than let all the burden fall upon the indefatigable Chadd Derkins, who handles the Desmond's shows and quite a few others, like last Halloween's triumphant event at the Charleston.

Okay, I could say lots more, but it's presuming a lot to think most of you have even read this far, and anyway, I've got to get out the door and off to the city. If the good Lord's willing and the East River don't rise, I'll be back here tomorrow with another update.


jett said...

short attention does have a myspace page. it has a long tag like "theywontletususethenameshortattention" or something like that. i only go to it when linking from other people's pages.

Chadd said...