Early bed was the last thing on our minds on Thanksgiving Night. Instead, the dilemma was how to bounce between Hammerstein Ballroom - where Paul Oakenfold and Darren Emerson were playing the now annual Trancegiving party - and the more intimate Centrofly, where Basement Jaxx were playing the first anniversary party for Erick Morillo's Subliminal club night. We opted for Hammerstein first, given that we had tickets in hand and Darren was playing the 'early' slot at 11pm. As dance aficianados and even many rock fans will know, Emerson was the youthful mastermind who helped Underworld cross from alternative has-beens to techno pioneers, a decade's success with which has found him now itching to reclaim his DJing reputation to the extent of quitting the band. I'd heard Darren spin just a few weeks earlier at, coincidentally, Centrofly, and though his choice of records had little cohesion and he appeared to blow a speaker along the way, the sound was still infectious neough to keep me on the dancefloor for two hours solid. At Hammerstein, Emerson was playing a far more commercial, thumpin' twistin' and funky techno to a packed dancefloor. And by packed, I mean 3,000 tickets, 'sold-out' packed.
The result of crowding a concert hall's capacity into a concert hall floor is and was inevitable: it felt like a concert. Now it should be said for those who don't know it that Hammerstein Ballroom, with its enormous stage, heavenly arched ceiling, standing-only floor and seated balconies is probably the best venue New York has had for live music since the Ritz (in either downtown-now-Webster-Hall or uptown-formerly-Studio-54 location), especially music of the techno variety. I've seen Orbital, Prodigy, and Chemical Brothers there and they've been absolutely fantastic shows every time. But I also attended a Fatboy Slim Dj at Hammerstein last Christmas when Norman Cook played 'in the round' and it was horrendous, the total dumbing down of club culture, typified by girls flashing their boobs whenever the video cameras zoomed in on them, like they were back at Woodstock '99 (though this made a welcome change from the cameras zooming in on Norman Cook's turntable as if it might explode for us).
||"Here was Emerson delivering classy techno and here was a (somewhat more leftfield) audience giving it their all, and yet the sound was unerringly quiet and the lights - all of which emanated from the stage - minimal. "
There was a similar lack of club spirit at this Trancegiving event: here was Emerson delivering classy techno and here was a (somewhat more leftfield) audience giving it their all, and yet the sound was unerringly quiet and the lights - all of which emanated from the stage - minimal. The promoters at Hammerstein (this event was also handled in part by Giant Step) wisely place speakers around the balconies and at the back of the hall, but while this is an enormous boon for the concert experience, it's not enough on its own to inspire a club vibe; the lighting has to be similarly all-surrounding, or at least to make an effort. And it wasn't. You could see right from the back of the top balcony to the stage, where Darren was off in a corner occasionally pumping his fist at the crowd in exuberant yeah-man-get-into It cameraderie. Then again, what looked at first like budgetary skimping may in fact have been an insiduous part of concert promotion, because it seemed to me from up there in the balcony that there was a full trestle of intellibeams in the shadows waiting to be used, and I know from the last time Oakenfold played New York, at Roseland, that he utilizes video footage too. Perhaps such effects were being saved for the headliner?
We didn't stay to find out. Our tickets restricted us to the balcony, a splendid location for the concert experience, a less than useless one for a supposed dance event. One drink, half an hour of listening to Darren pumping it, regret that we couldn't mingle downstairs but no great disappointment at not having to squash like sardines on the floor there without the peripherals that make such an event worth sweating for, and off we went - to Centrofly.
New York nightclubs, as you have probably heard, are dictatorial establishments that make you feel like dirt while you wait outside the velvet rope, then treat you as potential criminals when you enter through the metal detectors and often invasive manual body searches. Not Centrofly. It was sub-zero when we got there on Thanksgiving night at around 12.45 am; the guest list line was long but as ever at this venue it was moving. A cheerful security guard checked for ID "but you don't need it if you're over 41" (in Giuiliani's New York we get our laughs however we can), a door person did his best to match the many guest lists with the many people on line claiming to be on one, and we were inside within 10 minutes, without a body search, just as Basement Jaxx came on - at exactly the time they'd been scheduled for. Though the coatcheck line threatened to choke the whole venue (a frustrating by-product of attending New York nightclubs in winter), at least the bar tenders moved swiftly, earning bonus points for serving (decent red Zinfandel!) wines in proper, generously-filled wine glasses.
|"The Basement Jaxx' two-hour set moved from their own cuts ('Bedlam' and 'Bingo Bango') through what sounded like their own remixes and edits of several disco classics, ending with them scratching Eminem over that bootleg breakbeat of The Jam's 'Start' that's so infectious you wonder why no one had thought of it before."
Centro Fly used to be Tramps, in which venue I saw all manner of great shows, The Beautiful South, Fun Lovin' Criminals and a typically cosmic Spiritualized coming straight to mind. Now, redesigned beyond recognition and under completely different owners, it plays host to the new generation of club acts, the DJs. The Subliminal night puts on some of the best available - apart from Basemnet Jaxx and Darren Emerson, recent weeks have also seen Bob Sinclair, David Morales and Laurent Garnier - though its crowd is less rockist than this talent pool might suggest: straight, gay, bi, white, black, Latino, bridge and tunnel, downtown, tourists and drag queens all pile into the Thursday night. And without spouting too much of a cliche, it's in this kind of diverse crowd that the international language of dance music makes most sense. Especially so when listening to an outfit like Basement Jaxx, two white south Londoners with a punk rock background who nonetheless seem born to the Latin beat. Their two-hour set moved from their own cuts ('Bedlam' and 'Bingo Bango') through what sounded like their own remixes and edits of several disco classics, ending with them scratching Eminem over that bootleg breakbeat of The Jam's 'Start' that's so infectious you wonder why no one had thought of it before. It wasn't a perfect DJ set - somehow Centro Fly's chaotic exuberance brings out the chaos in the DJ, and this set was just a little too commercial and disco-tinged with less of the BJ's own productions than I personally may have hoped for - but it might have been a perfect example of the New York night out. That is, until the Subliminal night's host(ess) took to the venue's only podium during the aforementioned 'Start' and delivered a tedious self-congratulatory anniversary dedication to Subliminal's wondrousness, every sentence peppered with at least three downtown dragged-out 'darlings.' Judging by their bemusement in the booth, I'm not sure Basement Jaxx expected to be cut off in mid break beat, and judging by the stampede for the exits, I'm not sure the audience needed reminding that it was diverse, or that Subliminal books quality DJs. That, surely, was why we had all come, and had the Djs been allowed to pass on to each other like tag teams as used to be the rule "back in the day," maybe we would have stayed too.
It was left to what is possibly the most ludicrously over-the-top rock show currently doing the rounds to demonstrate for me how a live performance can truly captivate its audience, wring them dry and throw them back out on the street, if not exactly changed then certainly cleansed. Friday night was the third time I've seen Marilyn Manson in concert. The first was when he opened for Nine Inch Nails at Webster Hall shortly after signing to Trent Reznor's Northing Records; I recall dismissing him as Alice Cooper redux and vacating to the bar halfway through. The second was at Hammerstein a couple of years ago on his last tour; I remember being surprised by the audience's relative maturity (at least in terms of age), and by the show's professionalism, it being much more colorful and glam than I'd expected. I also remember being nearly deafened and calling it a night after a handful of songs. I am not, after all, part of Manson's obvious demographic: I don't live in the strangulating suburbs, I don't hate my parents, or my school, or my church, I'm not harboring any Christ or Satan complexes, I'm not a cross-dressing, sexually permissive industrial goth (though I'm allowed to fantasize) and as much as anything, pure noise stopped being cathartic to me around the time I regretted buying the first Cockney Rejects album.
But if it doesn't sound too Clinton-esque, I understand why millions of young Americans are that way and why they should flock to Manson in their millions. You might not want to call him a role model, but he speaks out for the emotionally disenfranchised, and if he doesn't do so as eloquently as some adults (and especially music critics) would like, he's still smarter than most people would like him to be. And I refuse to fall into the trap of calling Manson's music crass, dumb or inciteful of violence. It only takes one listen to his new album Holy Wood to understand that it's written in character, it tells a story, and it provides a release. It's rock'n'roll for God's sake (if you'll excuse the unintended non-pun). And it's meant to piss people off.
||"I refuse to fall into the trap of calling Manson's music crass, dumb or inciteful of violence. It's rock'n'roll for God's sake (if you'll excuse the unintended non-pun). And it's meant to piss people off."
And so in a famously liberal city which was quite rightly far more concerned with Black Friday shopping than Blacklisting a Marilyn Manson concert, it was easy enough for me to step back and see Manson's show for it was - rock'n'roll Broadway. The four other band members veered between playing like puppets (with their eery make up and the manner in which keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy spent all night chasing a single keyboard bouncing haphazradly off a spring) and playing like the possessed. Manson may never achieve the critical credibilty of Trent Reznor, but he's got a frightening work ethic that more than makes up for it: he consistently produces and tours an album every two years - despite being forced to ground after the Colombine School massacre - and recently expanded his CV to become a video director, a novelist and now, like Reznor, a record label svengali. At some point his audience will grow up, and if Manson can't cop a move from his prime influence David Bowie and reinvent himself, he may be forced to imitate the career of his secondary influence Alice Cooper and tour as a harmless caricature of his formerly dangerous self, but for now that doesn't matter, beyond the fact it's patently obvious how, beneath all the violence and shock tactics, he's a born entertainer.
Because I was reviewing the show for Newsday, I played Manson's albums relentlessly in the days leading up to try and distinguish one crude anthem from another; it was something of an overdose and I won't be playing them much in the foreseeable future. All the same, I've also found myself despite myself continually singing out loud the chorus of the typically sarcastically-titled 'The Love Song' from Holy Wood: "Do you love your guns? Yeah! God? Yeah! The Government? Fuck yeah!" During America's post-election confusion and frenzy, this anarchic rabble-rousing seems not jost gloriously tongue-in-cheek as intended, but highly pertinent, even important . As all the best music should be.