Not many people take a vacation to New York in January. Actually, it’s quite likely no one does. But my friend Bill was having a birthday, quite a significant one too, and…umm, there were a bunch of good gigs coinciding with his birthday, so the trip was well worth any weather shortcomings. My flight from Seattle touched down at JFK right about the time one was making an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Oblivious to the events at hand, I deplaned and jumped in a cab to Brooklyn and Bill’s place. The first thing I noticed exiting the airport was how numbingly cold it was. Temperatures stayed well below freezing all weekend, dipping down to 8 degrees on Friday night. Note to self, drinking large quantities of alcohol thins the blood and makes you colder. At least it was sunny all weekend.
Thursday night started off with a whole lot of Szechuan food somewhere in Chinatown. I confess, every time in New York I pretty much have no idea where I’m at any given time since I’m with people who live there and know where they are going I tend not to pay much attention to how we get to and from places. From the restaurant we walked over to the Mercury Lounge which wasn’t too far away, for night number one of Ida Maria’s two night stint in the city. The Mercury Lounge is about the size of the Tractor here in Seattle, so it’s not that big, but it seems to get a lot of up-and-coming UK and european bands before they’re well known. I remember seeing the Boo Radleys, Gene and Air Miami there many years ago. This night they were hosting the Norse Goddess Ida Maria and the place was packed. In fact it was more like some kind of red carpet paparazzi press conference than a gig. We were pretty close to the front and I kid you not, just about everyone had a camera, camera phone, etc. It was nuts, and distracting, but probably one of the best documented shows ever. I’m guessing half the people in front had to look at the video and photos they took to remember what they saw when they got home. When they looked at their photos they probably realized they saw a pretty amazing show. Ida was dressed in a short gold 20’s flapper dress that had what looked like tiny dangling golden ornaments that shook and sparkled when she moved (I feel like I’m describing the bride at a wedding here). The set was short, but she played all of the highlights from her album like Louie, Queen of the World, but the highlight of the set was I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked where she got everyone to sing the chorus (not a difficult task). For the closer, Oh My God, she doused herself with water in an unsuccessful attempt to cool off. It only seemed to fan the flames and that song’s enormous energy left her and every one in the Mercury Lounge exhausted, spent and very satisfied.
Friday we spent the day record shopping, because what better to do on the coldest day of the year, but traipsing around the city from shop to shop . There are very few people who will go into a record store with me and thankfully Bill is one of them. We hit a couple stores in Williamsburg, Academy and Sound Fix and then headed over to Manhattan to hit the Academy records near Union Square, Other Music and finally Kim’s Underground on St. Marks Place for it’s closing sale where everything was 5o% off. Every place we hit, CD’s were cheap and records were expensive, just the opposite of 10 years ago. I walked away from nearly every place with a handful of CD’s that were under $5, but somehow ended up spending too much money. We also ate Ramen noodle soup at some point at Ippudo. The salty pork broth soup hit the spot quite nicely.
On night number two we trekked from one Brooklynn neighborhood to another, Williamsburg to Park Slope and Union Hall for Ida Maria’s second night in New York. Union Hall is a bar with a basement and in the basement is where the bands play. Friday night was a much more low key affair (it was in a basement after all) and Ida Maria dressed the part. Sporting flanel, jeans and high tops she looked a little more relaxed. The Union Hall basement is tiny, holding maybe 100 people, and everyone there was more laid back too, at least fewer photographers which made it feel more like a real gig. Her voice was pretty much shot, she could hit barely any high notes and she left many of the choruses to her band, but her charisma and energy persevered. Even after breaking a string on her guitar, the band filed off stage while she played We’re all Going to Hell while her guitar string was being replaced. It was a low key moment, but for me the highlight of this night’s show, but nicely illustrating the juxtapositions of the two shows. Her record is coming out in April in the US, and I just saw she is re-releasing it over in the UK with three extra songs and new artwork, so there is no telling what version we will see over here in the new world.
After the Ida Maria gig we cabbed it over to Zebulon for Spacecamp. Yeah I know that sounds like something out of Star Trek, but it’s a real band and a real venu. Spacecamp saved their best four mod influenced songs (which are also on thier myspace) for last, everything up to that point sounded like a jam that wasn’t yet a song, but those last four were great.
Saturday afternoon we headed over to Motorino for pizza, because I wanted to compare great NY pizza with the sorry excuse most of Seattle calls pizza. They had a big wood fired oven where they cooked the pizza, the crust was excellent and a little bit thicker than Veracci, my current favorite Seattle pizza. From there we went to a bowling alley that had been taken apart somewhere in Ohio, transported to Brooklyn and then reassembled. Since it was freezing outside, everyone else had a similar idea and the wait for a lane was somewhere around three hours. We had a pint instead and moved on. A reassembled bowling alley…only in New York. No record shops were entered into on this day. Wait I take that back, we did enter one over in Greenpoint but bought nothing, but we did spot Hammish Kilgour of the Clean and Mad Scene hanging out inside.
Saturday night we went over to friends Don and Kelly for some appetizers and drinks before the Soft Pack show at Union Pool. Apparently Union Pool is some old swimming pool store or something of the sort. Bands play in the pool house out in the back behind the bar. When we got there, the pool house was packed and Those Darlins were on stage. Those Darlins had opened for Ida Maria at the Mercury lounge a couple nights before, but we arrived too late to catch their set that night. Their Union Pool set was a blast at the perfect setting for their Carter Family meets Freakwater style. It almost felt out of time, with their authentic style evoking old country greats and the whoop-hollering crowd eating up every song. They were selling a three song ep which I bought and promised an album sometime this spring. They’re playing here in Seattle 10 March opening for Dan Auerbach at the Showbox. A band to certainly keep your eye on.
I had seen the Soft Pack (then known as the Muslims) this past summer here in Seattle and they were good, but Saturday in Brooklyn they exhuded some kind of confidence that was nowhere in evidence this summer. The band hit the stage with a big fuck-you attitude and totally nailed it. Guitarist Matty McLoughlin played like a man possessed with clinched teeth and planted firmly in one spot, narely moving from it. The band was completely on fire the entire set playing three new songs and blasting through favorites like Parasites, Beside Myself, Extinction and Call It a Day. It was easily the best show of the weekend. We hung out for a while after the show just talking and listening to the DJ who was spinning records. At some point the evening (d)evolved into a big dance party that kept us old folk out much later than was planned. It was pretty much a blast, dancing, acting silly and that wasn’t even me, both Those Darlins and the Soft Pack were all over the dance floor busting moves that I haven’t seen since those early 80’s break dancing movies. It’s lucky for me that 4:30am New York time equates to only 1:30 Seattle time. Happy Birthday Bill!