The New York Night Out
It’s the end of summer, we’re coming up to a holiday weekend, and I’m in dire need of a night out.
Dallas band The Hourly Radio, whose debut album I’ve been publicly salivating over, are playing a Thursday night residency at The Annex, one of the Lower East Side’s newer clubs. I’ve missed the first two weeks; the last one falls on the eve of the Labor Day weekend. Perfect.
I send an e-mail to half-a-dozen NYC friends, inviting them to join me, if not for the music, then just for the craic. Two of them respond.
The day of the show I learn that Mark Gardener, once of Ride, is playing at Pianos on Ludlow Street, at 9pm. It’s one block over from The Annex on Orchard Street, starting one hour earlier than The Hourly Radio. Perfect.
I take the bus from Phoenicia to Manhattan, for once leaving the laptop behind. I carry in a backpack my next day’s clothes and a book. The book will go unopened. I successfully snooze on the bus.
The bus pulls into Port Authority and my phone rings immediately. It’s one of my friends to say he can’t join me: he’s just got a ticket for the Andre Agassi match at the US Open.
My phone rings again almost immediately. It’s another friend to say he only just got my e-mail and fully intends to join me.
I try and find healthy food at Port Authority. I fail. I buy an almond croissant from Au Bon Pain instead. Later at night there will be a slice of pizza. I don’t always eat rabbit food, you know.
I catch the subway downtown. Two rapid trains and in 15 minutes I’m on the Lower East Side. Sometimes this system works.
At Pianos on Ludlow Street, I immediately run into three people from Radio 4’s label Astralwerks. All profess themselves life-long Ride friends. Given that one of them, Risa Morley, worked for 15 years at Sire, Ride’s American label, I don’t dispute the claim.
I also run into Mark Gardener. We’ve kind of gotten to know each other.
I also run into someone who’s kind of seeing Mark Gardener. We’ve also gotten to know each other.
I run into Steve from Shout! Not Shout! The “Mod” Musical, but the decade-and-counting Sunday club night, at which I once used to spin and for whose compilation album I wrote the sleeve notes. Steve has put tonight’s show together.
Together? Turns out Mark Gardener is sharing the stage with Doug Yule.
Doug Yule replaced John Cale in The Velvet Underground.
He is featured on more VU songs than John Cale.
Not many people know that.
Inside the actual performance space, I run into fellow Yorkshireman Jonny Cragg, formerly of Anglo-American band Spacehog, and then The 22s, and later tonight playing a post-MTV Music Video Awards party with his new band….
…Which features Spacehog’s Antony Langdon. Looks like they got back together.
Johnny was a neighbor of mine in Park Slope. A good guy. I haven’t seen him for at least a year. Not since I moved out of NYC.
Spacehog were also on Sire. Risa is having a serious Sire flashback.
Mark Gardener takes the stage with his acoustic guitar (not a Gibson) and faces a well-lit crowd.
He’s filming a DVD tonight.
He plays a couple of songs off his solo album. They’re well enough received. He’s here among friends. He plays a Ride song, too. It’s not one I know off hand.
He introduces Doug Yule, noting, perhaps unnecessarily, that the Velvet Underground were a massive influence on Ride.
Doug Yule takes the stage. And introduces his son.
Doug Yule’s son, about 13-years old, with a neatly coiffed pigtail running halfway down his be-hooded back, takes the stage. With a violin in hand.
Father and son launch into a piece of “Appalachian folk music” as an example of what Doug says he’s been up to musically of late. He quips that it was the “original shoegazing.”
It’s the kind of music I hear upstate at village fairs and school dances all the time.
It’s really funny to hear it here.
The Pianos crowd don’t know whether to make believe that it’s hip. Whether to walk out. Or whether to stand there politely hoping this won’t be all Yule plays.
They’re in luck. Yule introduces ‘What Goes On.’ Yule Jr. continues playing violin. Gardener continues to accompany on acoustic. It’s not too well rehearsed. But everyone digs it.
A couple more obscure VU songs, something else Mark wrote, and then they’re done. There’s no encore; they hadn’t rehearsed enough songs.
But that’s ok. The audience is primarily comprised of friends. Most audiences on the over-saturated Lower East Side are primarily comprised of friends.
My cell phone rings: my Brooklyn-based Brit friend on his way to meet me. I give him the address to The Annex and walk the block to meet him.
He calls again ten minutes later to say he must have missed the venue. He’s all the way down at Delancey. I give him the address again and he soon strolls back up the block, this time on the right side of the street.
It occurs to me that we once all survived without cell phones. God knows how.
iJamming! Pubber and poster Patrick C, aka The Last living Boy In Staten Island, meets us outside. He’s come from his mother’s 80th birthday dinner and is dressed accordingly. We now have, if not exactly a posse, at least a quorum. We enter the venue. None of us are carded. In NYC, where carding is an inevitable nuisance of nightlife, this can only mean one thing: we look like we’re over 40.
Inside the Annex, a group that appears to have the name Le Firm are in the midst of their set. They’re quite nondescript.
Until they wrap things up with New Order’s ‘Age Of Consent.’
There are few things more guaranteed to appeal to a New York crowd than a New Order cover.
They pull it off admirably. And we find ourselves talking about them. Le Firm, too.
We have a beer.
The Hourly Radio take the stage to a backlit wall of brightly colored spotlights, creating of themselves mere silhouettes, and launch their set, as I’d suspected, with History Will Never Hold Me‘s opening instrumental, ‘Travelsigns.’
As they look downwards at their feet, checking that they’re pushing all the right effects pedals, they are the living embodiment of ‘shoegazing.’ I’m immediately aware how heavily indebted they are to Ride.
And how New York nights often feature these moments of serendipitous poetry: from the Velvets to Ride to the next generation, in two clubs, one block and less than an hour.
The Hourly Radio break into proper song – ‘He Said/She Said’ – and as I’d suspected, they do so with a keen confidence that can’t be fully masked by the back-lit light show.
I quickly dump several of the comparisons I made in my album review. I see in singer Aaron Classon’s angular features and hear in his high-pitched, slightly forced voice, visions of Brian Molko and echoes of Placebo.
And the previous band’s New Order cover has indelibly lodged itself in our psyches. All of us now hear mid-period New Order in almost every thing they attempt.
Which is not fair. The Hourly Radio is clearly indebted to psychedelic rock, to shoegazing, to U2, to glam, and to early 80s new wave, but they’re also very much their own band.
A great band.
They don’t put a note wrong. The sound is superb. The light show is astonishing. (Radio 4 played here three months ago and we couldn’t get close to this kind of concert hall lighting.) Guitarist Ryan Short is in his own (creative) world. Rhythm section Tim Jansen and Adam Vanderkolk are solid and secure. And the songs are frighteningly mature for what appears to be such a very young band. I recognize ‘Closer,’ ‘Not A Victim,’ and something that I take to be a new song, though somehow I miss the single ‘Crime Does Pay’ when I head downstairs to the toilet.
While downstairs, I notice the bunting going up for a birthday party.
There’s almost always a birthday party taking place in a downtown NYC club.
But not always with childrens’ bunting. It looks cute.
Back upstairs, in front of the stage, one of our crew has determined that Aaron Classon is a major pin-up candidate.
Fortunately, he also has a good voice.
I feel like I’ve found my new favorite band.
But if I have a reservation, it’s that The Hourly Radio haven’t determined whether to take refuge behind a wall of loud sound and bright lights, or to step forward and engage the audience with their looks and hooks.
Right now they’re trying to play it both ways.
It’s hard to discern their potential popularity. The room is moderately full, but I’m not sure it’s full of the properly important people to propel them forward.
Though when The Hourly Radio finishes its set, Aaron makes his way to the corner of the bar, where stands Stellastarr* guitarist Michael Jurin.
This makes sense: The Hourly Radio opened for Stellastarr* in the UK.
When they’re done, I catch up with Michael myself. (I hold the honor of having written the first ever review of Stellastarr*.) I haven’t seen him for at least a year. Not since I moved out of NYC.
I mention the Ride connection. He mentions a band out of San Francisco called Trespassers William who cover Ride’s ‘Vapour Trail.’
I make a note of it in my handy dandy notebook, so as to mention it on iJamming!
Michael introduces me to his friend, whose birthday it is tonight.
But it’s not her party downstairs, apparently. That’s for Mandy, says Michael.
Mandy? says I
Mandy, says he. You know Mandy? Amanda, our bass player.
Oh, of course I know Mandy, I say. I just always knew her as Amanda.
We head back to Pianos to rejoin friends and promise to return for the party.
On the way over, someone comments how Aaron looks like he’s only 20. I point out that as we’re now in our 40s, almost everyone under 30 looks like they’re only 20.
Back at Pianos, none of us are carded. Again.
And inside, right up at the front bar, there is now another crowd of old acquaintances.
One I have not seen for ten years, since she was working for Oasis’ management in London while I was living there in ’96. We both clearly remember a pleasant evening out with Posie and a stroller-sitting Campbell at a pleasant pub on The Triangle at Clapham Common.
One of this woman’s friends asks if I remember her. She mentions a mutual friend. It’s the same name as a mutual friend of this other friend and I assume that’s who she means but it’s not and my confidence at the wrong connection has now got everyone confused. I finally stand corrected and start over again.
This woman now mentions, enthusiastically, how she used to come hear me DJ every week at the Limelight.
It occurs to me that if I was single, this would be the moment at which I’d wonder if I was in luck.
But I haven’t been single since before I started DJing at the Limelight. It’s a moot point. A hypothetical. A non-starter.
We find a table at which to continue talking. We seem to be at that age that we no longer like standing.
Another mutual friend comes sit beside us.
She places her glass so heavily on the table that it breaks into pieces. I gather up the glass and take it over to the bar.
In the process, it occurs to me that everyone in this room is either drunk or well on the way to getting drunk.
And I realize what time it is: it’s that time of the New York night when you either get out while you’re ahead or proclaim yourself in for the long haul.
Patrick heads home. He has work in the morning. He’s getting out while he’s ahead. Me, I’m in for the long haul.
The three of us left standing return to The Annex, where again, none of us are carded. We head straight downstairs for the birthday party.
We open the door in time to hear the opening notes of Bloc Party’s ‘Like Eating Glass’ and to be confronted by a wall of people dancing.
It looks likes a scene out of a New York movie.
It is a scene out of a New York movie.
We stare at the wall of people for a minute and then one of the dancers waves his hands in my face.
It’s Adam Dorn, aka Mocean Worker. We go back a ways. I haven’t seen him for at least a year. Not since I moved out of NYC.
Michael Jurin is on the decks. He follows Bloc Party with everything from The Cure to The Ramones (if such a stylistic journey counts as “everything”). The longer it goes on the less I remember.
We order one more round of drinks. The Annex bartender tries to charge us $28 for the three drinks. When we object, it’s reduced to $18. We conclude that the bar staff are just trying it on. When you’re so drunk that your vodka glass is reduced to shards just by banging it on a table, chances are you’ll pay what you’re asked for a refill.
I spy Amanda, I mean, Mandy, the birthday girl, on the dancefloor. She’s not hard to miss. Not only has she always been the cutest bassist in downtown New York, but tonight she’s wearing a tiara. A children’s birthday crown.
Turns out we’d just missed her DJing, for the very first time. She says she played to an empty room, which seems unlikely from where we’re now standing. But then again, we weren’t there.
She introduces me to her boyfriend. He looks about 14.
Are NYC party-goers really getting younger, or are we…
Just beyond getting carded?
Down in Brooklyn, at 4am, I set my cell phone alarm for 8.
I’ve promised to be at another Brooklyn friend’s house by 9.
He’s bringing his kids up to our place for the weekend.
He wants to go hiking, and fishing. And I know the kids will have a noisy time playing.
As I head off to sleep on a futon on the top floor, I think of the energy I will need for the weekend ahead, and I’m glad that nights like these are no longer the norm…
…But I’m thankful that I can still have them.