Sunday, May 31, 2009

OJ Half Day Month Before All Day BBQ Video

Hey-check it out. Justin Remer made this video.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bushwick Book Club Goes to Beatrice at the Merc, May 27, 2009

The Bushwick Book Club, the literary songwriting endeavor that Susan Hwang has been running at Goodbye Blue Monday, has been getting some nice publicity recently and also broken out into a new venue. Ron Hogan, the presenter of a literary series at the Mercantile Library asked if songwriters from the B. B. C. would interpret two new novels for an event timed to the Book Expo conference (the event was held at the Slipper Room on Orchard Street). Four of us: Susan, Phoebe Kreutz, Duck and Swallow, and myself signed up and were asked to write songs about debut novels by Sarah Rainone and Rakesh Satyal. Three of us focused on Sarah Rainone's novel "Love Will Tear us Apart," which is written in the alternating voices of four friends who reunite at a wedding. (Susan wrote a song based on Rakesh Satyal's book "Blue Boy.")

Reading these books can be a good way of getting inspiration for a song. In my own case the books seem to shake loose concepts that have already kind of been floating around in my subconscious. I took Sarah's book as a jumping off point to look at weddings, focusing on a lineage of marriages in my family. I actually did a fair amount of research to try to get details of my grandparents' wedding, or at least what it possibly could have been like, and I also spoke to my mom about her wedding to my dad. I have no way of really knowing how accurate my interpretation of this history is but at least in my own mind the process helped me develop a better understanding of the personality dynamics in two generations of our family.

By the way, interestingly enough both authors read from their books and also performed songs themselves. Sarah appeared as one of the characters from her book--a gay male character named Shawn--and performed the Joy Division song that provided the title of the book. Rakesh evidently has another career as a cabaret singer and performed "Part of Your World," from The LIttle Mermaid (I understand the song makes an appearance in the book).

I was really glad to see the Time Out New York article this week on the Book Club. Susan runs the whole thing in an efficient but very low key way, and it's nice that she and the project are gaining some recognition.

I'll be back in October for "Confederacy of Dunces."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Monday Night Open Mic, May 18, 2009

Geez, I hate to say this, but I was really not all that drawn in by what I was seeing Monday. Could it be I've just been hanging around too long? I don't know but there seemed to be a lot of folks who were finding their sea legs--not that there's anything wrong with that. I did like Milo's "I Ain't Your Mailman," and Debe Dalton's new song "52 Minutes." 

I'll be away for Memorial Day. In the meantime, enjoy some photos from the OJ Half Day BBQ 

Monday, May 18, 2009

OJ Half Day Month Before All Day BBQ, Sunday, May 17 2009

This year's OJ All Day Festival is coming up June 19th and 20th, and yesterday Olive Juice threw a kick-off barbecue in the back yard (back shed?) at Goodbye Blue Monday. People started showing up a little after four, and at first it seemed as if we might have needed to call in a specialist to get the barbecue lit. At one point Susan Hwang asked: "How many hipsters does it take to light a barbecue?" I know it takes at least two, one to light the charcoal and another to make a video documentary about it. In fact there was more than one video crew on hand. Justin Remer is making a promotional video about OJ All Day for YouTube, and a local Brooklyn Cable Access program was there shooting a piece on Goodbye Blue Monday. In any event, with a little help from Goodbye Blue Monday's proprietor, Steve, two grills got going, one for veggie dogs and another for the fully meated variety.

By about 7 Matt Roth called things to order and after a brief bit of introduction got some performances going. First up was a group I was unfamiliar with called either Birth Control or Wooden Ghost. I am under the impression that Toby Goodshank normally plays with them, but he was not on hand yesterday. The group centered on a guy/girl duo and was supplemented for a few songs by Brer Brian on trumpet and by a bass player. My memory is going to be fuzzy on a lot of the particular songs played last night but I enjoyed these guys. At one point somehow a plume of smoke was dramatically released in front of the stage. I know I didn't imagine this because I have a photo, but I still don't know where the smoke came from.

Next up were The Wowz, or at least two-thirds of them, in the person of Sam and Simon. They sat side by side and Wowd us with their harmonies and cool-sounding songs.

Rachel Trachtenburg played two songs, one about a black cat and one about a pigeon (if I remember correctly). Rachel played one song at the keyboard and on the other played ukelele and was accompanied by Chris Brodeur on air violin (Chris hummed along while miming the violin playing--it was a kind of charming effect, actually).

Rachel was followed by her dad Jason who played some of his recent hits...I seem to remember "I don't want to tempt.....time." That catchy sensation.

Then Schwervon! rocked the place. It's always amazing to me what these folks can do with just the two of them. It's one of those things where it's hard to pin down exactly what makes it work, but somehow the sum of their voices and playing adds up to more than the parts.

Finally, Ching Chong Song. Every time I see these guys I am more impressed. The stuff they come up with is stunning, really. The songs that Julie and Dan write are so different and original. It's hard to see how they come up with these ideas that seem so off the charts from anything else out there. But then they have continued to develop them in performance, and now with Susan Hwang woven in on vocals and accordion they are more musical and moving than you could imagine. On one song Susan played this traditional Korean drum and somehow it worked beautifully, even though it was a kind of funny (i.e. humorous) song. They also had a bass player for the first time that I've seen, a guy who played stand-up and contributed a percussive element that helped give the songs a frame and form in which to sit.

Throughout the night, between acts, Matt continued to talk about the elements of OJ All Day--the haircuts and massages that will be available, the crafts booths and vendors, etc. etc. on top of all that great music. Something like 40 perfomances are scheduled.

One of the things that has impressed me about OJ All Day is that, although Matt is clearly at the helm of it, the endeavor brings out a community of folks who all pitch in to pull it off. It's interesting how the OJ community stems from and overlaps with the Sidewalk gang but then also has gone off in its own direction. Aside from all the fun music, it was nice to hang out with these folks last night. I'm looking forward to the Festival in June for more music and hanging and community and fun stuff. See you there.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ben Godwin, Thusday, May 14, 2009

I stopped in to catch Ben Godwin's set on Thursday. Ben was in town from London with his wife Dawn and cute baby Calliope. Ben was part of the regular crew there for a long while and eventually we ended up having some fun times when he played bass with me in the Key Lime Pie Revue. Ben is a really good musician and he picked up the tunes we played quickly and really helped me realize my rock and roll dreams in what amounted to my first band. So thanks for that Ben. He was also one of the first portrait subjects when I renewed my interest in photography, and I always loved the shots we did at the Museum of Natural History (one of which can be seen here).I remember when we did those shots that we were worried we might get kicked out of the musuem. Eventually a security guard did come up to us......and gave us advice about how to get better shots!

Ben played some new songs, including a couple written for his daughter about toes and such. He also returned to some of his classic material like Skin and Bones. I'm always impressed by Ben's guitar playing and he did some nice work on a couple quieter tunes that had a bit of a jazzy feel to them. Ben played a big red electric guitar that he borrowed from a friend and he also had another friend of his sitting in on a stripped down drum kit for several songs. It was great to see Ben, Dawn, and Calliope, although I was sorry I couldn't catch up with them more and also that I had to cut out before seeing the rest of that night's sets.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ladies Love Lach (and Guys Too)

When Lach stepped down from running the Antihoot in July 2008 I made a video in which lots of folks from the scene at that time reminisced about him and what the Sidewalk scene has meant to them. The video was meant as a tribute to Lach, but as an extra benefit (maybe just to me) it also captures some of the personalities who were present at Sidewalk around that time. I'd been meaning to get the video online one of these days, but guess what, even without me it somehow mysteriously found its way online, with extra-added titles and stuff. Well, enjoy. It's linked in the list at right in 5 parts called "Ladies Love Lach."

Monday Night Open Mic, May 4, 2009

Maybe it was me but I thought things were kind of sluggish the other night. I guess it happens occasionally. 

I was glad to finally get a chance to hear Barry Bliss, who I'd heard a lot about in the last few years but who had been living out of town until recently. Barry did a song called Do Not Call On Jesus, at the piano. Unfortunately I couldn't make it to Barry's show the following night, but I look forward to hearing a full set sometime soon.

I was also glad to hear Jen's Revenge who told me that she hung out at Sidewalk for a long time in the 90s. She said she first encountered Lach when he was hosting an open mic briefly at a place called Rainbow on St. Marks. Well, that's another location to add to the list. According to Jen Lach might have only run things there for a few weeks. In any event, Jen performed a very funny song that integrated the catcalls and remarks she hears yelled at her on the street as well as pick-up lines she's encountered.

Other stuff/people: Liv Carrow, JT Hathaway, Enid Ellen (with white dots of facial makeup and a shirt shredded in strips), Christopher Kelly, Jon Berger, Richard Ringer (told of breaking into a friend's residence to steal back his own cap), Touching You (sang a lovely song about how 'humans are shit' and made the case that he's the smartest person on earth), Josh Fox, followed by his dad Howard Fox (who I believe sang "My Way"), Poez.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

I was at Sidewalk for a very solid Friday evening bill.

Aaron Invisible kicked things off. Some interesting songs. He seems inspired by a Dylan folk-vibe kind of thing and in fact covered a Dylan tune. He has an unusual singing voice, very different than what you would expect from talking to him and hard to describe, a little whispery, a littly reedy, a little high-pitched.

Jon Berger performed with Sanjay, his guitar playing sidekick. I really admire Jon for moving into the singing realm, even though his tonality is sometimes, shall we say, approximate. It's interesting because, although I guess you could call what he's performing songs, they're really more like sung poems. Jon also read some poems on an unaccompanied basis between his singing forays.

The Venn Diagrams. It seems as if the Venn Diagrams and The Young Dads have formed some kind of alliance because The Young Dads came up to introduce The Venn Diagrams. I love the material that The Venn Diagrams choose. They opened with "Take a Walk on the Wild Side," and had the audience singing along with the doot doot doots. They also had an audience member come up and blow soap bubbles. Then they sang a Kurt Weill song in a mix of German and English, and I think another song entirely in German. They gave a lesson in high-fiving (aim for the elbows) and performed a cover of 9 to 5. They also spoke about their mutual affection for Bea Arthur and did the theme song to The Golden Girls. It seems they have developed a specialty number for tip jar time...."We're in the Money." They closed with Dream a Little Dream. These guys are immensely talented. Jeffrey has a sublime voice and Rick provides very tasteful and tasty accompaniment. Their means of interpreting the songs they cover is usually to smooth them out and calm them down. Maybe what I mean by that is that they add a simple elegance. Anyway they stick pretty close to the original melody, but there definitely is a Venn Diagrams style to the tunes they interpret. Jeffery and Rick are both very funny, but they may lean a little too heavily on the in-between song schtick, especially since the dry humor of including songs like 9 to 5 and The Golden Girls stands so well on its own. In any event, I love what they do and always enjoy their shows.

The Young Dads. Holy moley. The young dads wore business suits and had an elaborate Powerpoint presentation to accompany their songs. What can I say? These guys are brilliantly funny. Their set was basically a take-off on corporate America with mock business graphs charting aspects of their songs and their performance. Between numbers they would pretend to take cell phone calls about business matters. One of the lines that kind of cracked me up was when one of the Dads said "excuse me, I've got to take this," in a very officious, businessman kind of way. There was one "cell phone conversation" in which the same Dad (I think) got into this chant of "yes, buy, no, sell, buy." He kept chanting that over and over like some sort of mantra. I've written about most of The Young Dads songs before and they did many of the favorites we know and love I've Planned Stuff for Us, What's the Use of Having a Threesome, Get the Most of My Membership, and the one from the perspective of two 9th grade girls, which is amaving, really, as a study in character.

I'll say it again, not only are they reliably funny, but The Young Dads are extremely musical. I'm always impressed by their harmonies and that they create a very full sound with just a bass and whatever you call the drum thing that the one Dad sits on. They're also in an interesting realm mixing comedy with songwriting. A lot of comic songwriting is very heavy-handed. I think the Young Dads have carved out a new kind of space for well-crafted comic songs. And yet another thing...I really liked the theatricality of their performance. I've said before that not enough performers at Sidewalk pay attention to the holistic aspects of their shows. Even if it's just how the band is dressed or how the stage is arranged, I think there's something to be said for thinking through the style of your presentation. Yes, maybe corporate America is an easy target. Not everything about that world is so black and white. But the Young Dads certainly drew from the images and stereotypes of that environment to create a truly original show at Sidewalk.