My trepidations about incipient senility notwithstanding, Sunday saw me put in a solid 12 hours of rocking and rolling, first at Day Two of the aforementioned Carlapalooza, latterly at the Lost And Found Saloon over in Greenpoint.
I didn't see all the bands at the Cake Shop, but of those I did see, my two favorites were, well, my perennial two favorites, the Leftovers and the Steinways. I know you may suspect me of being a one-man hype machine for these two bands, but I don't hesitate to mention when either of them is on less than top form, and have done so at times this past year.
However, this Sunday was not one of those times. Just off a several-week US tour (and having been kept up past 4 am by man-about-town Frank Unlovable), the Leftovers tore into their set at a whole new level of power and professionalism (the good kind of professionalism; i.e., their instruments were in tune, they didn't waste time in between songs, every song was tightly honed and fit into the set like jewels in a flawless Swiss watch). It's almost frightening to see music played at that level in - with all respect to the Cake Shop - what resembles little more than a basement practice space. I imagine it must have been a bit like this to see the Beatles in their Cavern Club days or the Rolling Stones at Richmond's Crawdaddy Club.
But as sensational as they were, the Leftovers didn't even take top honors on this Sunday. That distinction would have to go to the Steinways, who after a lull earlier this year while they developed new material, have re-entered the fray as - in my decidedly none too humble opinion - the best band in the USA today. Yes, I know the Ergs are far better musicians technically speaking - so are the Leftovers, for that matter - and certainly the Ergs have a bigger following, but as simple and unaffected as the Steinways are, there's something that ineffably sets them apart from and on a different plane from all other bands. Think Ramones in 1975 or Screeching Weasel in 1988: almost nobody grasped the full amazing-ness of those bands at the time, or foresaw the impact they were going to have on pop music and culture.
Am I predicting similar greatness for the Steinways? No, because they've already got similar greatness. Are they going to have a similar impact? Too soon to tell, but barring a breakup or one or more members developing a serious drug problem, there's no reason they shouldn't.
Sunday's show, which got underway when singer/guitarist Grath McGrath made a perfectly timed entry after spending much of the afternoon watching football back in Queens, turned out to be one of those magic moments when everybody simultaneously realized, "Hey, these guys aren't just our friends, they're also like this totally awesome band that I'd love even if I'd never met or heard of them before."
I'd seen something similar happen at the 2006 Baltimore Fest, but now there were new songs, new people, and a new level of ecstasy and excitement as virtually everyone sang along and all but threw themselves onto the stage to smother the Steinways in a great big puppy pile of mutual love and affection. Being in the slightly mopey mood that I described in the previous post, I was standing off to the side of the stage facing the crowd, and it looked exactly like one of those photos you see in books about some classic music scene from the past, be it CBGBs in the late 70s or DC in the early 80s, or Gilman Street later on in that decade. It made me feel pretty cool, too, that I knew about 90% of the people in that crowd. Not only are the Steinways a great band; they have the best fans, too.
A sensible person would have gone home after that, but remember who's talking here. Actually, I did go home, but only to grab my bike and ride over to Greenpoint, where the Modern Machines (yes, named after the song by SoCal's The Crowd) were playing along with three or four other bands (lineups and schedules at this rather louche drinking establishment are nearly always subject to great variation).
I'd already seen the MoMacs at the Cake Shop, but they'd mentioned that they'd be playing again that night with a band they highly recommended, who turned out to be the Thomas Function from Alabama, who with their slippery-slidey organ riffs reminded me of a kudzu-and-Spanish moss-encrusted Del Shannon if he'd had Ray Manzarek playing keyboards for him. The singer was so drunk he could barely stand up (at least that was the case when I talked to him afterward), but it was good jolly fun, even if by now it had gotten on toward one thirty in the morning. I thought surely that the party had to be over now, but yet another band, this one from über-punk Crown Heights, leisurely started setting up.
If I were them, I would have got up and started playing as quickly as possible, before what was left of the audience drifted away, but that's apparently not how things work at the Lost And Found. Just when their equipment seemed to be nearly ready, a couple band members nonchalantly wandered outside to smoke. I'd resolved to stay long enough to catch at least a couple of their songs, but this was getting ridiculous, so I hopped aboard my ragged bicycle and made my wobbly way home.