Thursday, March 10, 2011

Road to Joy

Alright, I'll freely admit I don't like spewing coins from my wallet, so when I see what I think is a bargain, I'll jump for it. The most recent of which was my current residence, New York Hostel 99 in Harlem.

It's a nice place, with clean rooms and good social spaces. You even get a towel! For $18 a night it's a pretty sweet deal right? Well, not quite. There's a catch, and that is Harlem.

It's nice by day - with street vendors selling out sorts of smelly stuff and a melting pot of all sorts of cultures. However, when the sun goes down you'd be better off anywhere but here.

The traffic delays in Connecticut and check-in delays here meant I didn't go out as early as I planned. Still, it was just before 7PM and on my way to the Subway stop I'd already walked past one guy taking a leak on a payphone while his junkie lady-friend/accomplice stared at him with eyes more vacant than half of the buildings here. No matter, I was more distracted by the bullet proof glass at the fried-chicken place across from him...

None of that mattered when I made it to Chinatown though. I was there to see Rival Schools. Across from the venue a homeless man was drinking hard liquor and telling off anyone who passed by. I brushed off the usual "your mum" jibes I'd heard countless times from Sweaty Mike when he struggled for a comeback, and so did the policeman, who seemingly couldn't give two fucks about a guy drinking in public (read that UMass po-po).

The venue, Santos' Party House was decorated in all sorts of fluoro. A giant spacewoman hung from the ceiling and paper signs were placed around the building with quotes like "FEEL FREE TO FEEL FREE".

The first band, Radar Fiction, were infinity shades of terrible. Musicians shouldn't wear a shirt on tie on stage, especially if it's not tucked in, more especially if you don't wear one to work and even especially-er, if you're not Elvis Costello. Putting their terrible mix aside, I couldn't help but notice how much of a shit Ian Curtis the singer was, and how if his family hugged him more as a kid this middle aged attention seeking could be avoided.

VS. Antelope were much better.

Rival Schools, were much much betterer. Walter Schreifels is probably the most underrated musician in the world, and even with the number of fans he has, the title still fits. The room was packed like a subway cart at peak hour and the room went a bit mad when the band made it on stage.

It's been 10 years between albums, but that all seemed irrelevant to the band and audience. They jokingly played ska versions of songs and moved about with the energy of one of their earlier incarnations in hardcore bands.

They may not have played my favourite song of theirs, but they ended their nights by covering The Smiths' 'How Soon Is Now?', a more than adequate substitute.

Through some sort of miracle, I made it back to the hostel without being slain. The next day, after the best sleep I've had in weeks, I decided to spoil myself because staying in Harlem means each meal could be my last. Vegetarian Indian food that claimed to have some sort of spiritual healing powers was the choice and after the recommendation of my cousin Owen, Ayurveda Cafe was the place. I'm not sure the 7 dishes did much to cleanse my spirit, but it certainly filled me up with deliciousness.

Walkig from 129th street to 94th, I couldn't help but notice a lot of people were trawling about with black shit all over their forehead. More and more walked by, and a few even began to resemble crosses. Finally, I saw a sign outside a church announcing something about Ash Wednesday.

See, my parents raised me to be religiously-ignorant. I remember when I was in my early years of primary school and asking my Dad why I wasn't christened. He remarked that it was because he didn't want to force a religion on his kids and that if we wanted to follow one it was always going to be our choice. It'd be over 15 years since that questions and I still remember it very clearly. Such was the apathy towards spirituality in my house that I didn't know what Hanukkah, Mecca or communion was until much later.

Until today I thought Ash Wednesday was a bushfire, but it turns out it's the start of lent, where you walk around with stupid facepaint - looking like a bell-end - and give up stuff in the name of god for a days. I can't really understand the point of the whole process, and if you want to prove you're not an oxygen thief, and are infact, a good person, then simply go and act like it...everyday. Hold open a door for someone. Donate blood. Adopt an animal. Write someone a letter. There was an axiom painted on a wall in a Wollongong kebab shop that read, "it costs nothing to be nice", you don't have to wear charcoal on your forehead to prove it. But hey, I am thankful on this religious day. I'm thankful that my parents taught me not to care for these types of things. Time is finite and life is short, there's no need to carry a cross on your back for the sake of an afterlife that has no proven existence.

If I was looking for something to believe in, I found it across the park at the Guggenheim. It's an amazing emblem to what we humans can achieve. From the outside Frank LLoyd Wright's Circular motif looks like an orange being peeled. The inside spirals around a one-way path where once you reach the summit, you don't want to take the elevator to the ground floor, but instead go through the whole experience again.

The exhibit at the moment focused on modernism from the early 20th century. Georges Braque's cubist takes on musical instruments demonstrate a pinnacle of creativity, or a splendid side effect to horrible double vision. The Kandinskys showed his evolution from sceneries to Bauhaus, and even some of the draft sketches were enough to make me marvel. Gleize's 'Head in Landscape', Delaunay's Red Eiffel Tower and everything by L├ęger proved that we don't have to look to the skies for answers, we can find enough inspiration through the people on this blue dot in the galaxy.

All of those aforementioned were the undoubted visual highlights, but if there is one person to explore more it's Umberto Boccioni. He was a futurist who never got to see that far into it. His life was compressed, achieving more in his short years what other families do in generations. His sculpting hands were wasted when he was activated by the Italian Military during WWI, and not long after he was killed in a training exercise.

From the loveliness of the Guggenheim I headed for the bustle of Chinatown in search of cheap sunglasses ahead of Miami. I found some, they're incredibly dodgy and what you expect for $6 of value. I even managed to spend a whole $2 on Chinese bakery treats to fill myself up. It's the absolute perfect place for a man of my financial hesitance, but comes at a cost of non-stop people traffic and smells that I couldn't describe through any keyboard.

The Chinese bakery food was so good that I ultimately missed my Subway stop and got about by foot for an extra hour or so. As the sun set I headed towards Midtown, enjoying the lit up skyscrapers showing off in the night.

Fifth avenue at night is remarkable for what it does to pedestrians. No longer are they staring at footpaths, or avoiding eye-contact. Instead, they're eyes are firmly set on the Empire State Building that is a beautiful figurehead in the night skyline. Tonight the lights were white, and under its own natural colours, it was the most beautiful I had ever seen it.
The reason I was ventuting to Midtown was to finally go inside Radio City Music Hall. Woodie Guthrie played there, and recently schooling commitments meant I had to take a mulligan on The Gaslight Anthem's show there, but tonight was Bright Eyes. A band I got into way after it was cool for people with sill haircuts to enjoy them.

Before the show I went by the Rockefeller Center, watching the last of the winter's ice-skaters perform their penultimate pirouettes. There's certainly loads of talent, but for all the prancing about and camp hand-gestures, I'd rather be a shitty guitar player and writer than lord of the ice. Well, that and a broken wrist.

Will accept tripod donations
Once inside Radio City Music Hall, I was pleasantly surprised by the all female opening band, Wild Flag. It's odd that supporting bands are any good (see the top of the page) but these girls, despite their lack of bass player, were extraordinarily talented.

Somehow, in my 24.75 years I had missed out on Superchunk. It's a giant shame, because they were brilliant. Old punks still punking it up in front of a bunch of 20-year-olds. If it weren't for a curfew and inevitable setup times between bands I would have loved to see them play a longer set. Either that, or they were one or two more rock-jumps from a zimmer frame.

Bright Eyes, the band I listed to as a 22-year-old man with a job and car instead of hormonal 16-year-old girl have impressed for the last few years. Conor Oberst is a prolific songsmith whose voice, though it can be grating, delivers the kind of songs that Dylan and Springsteen would be proud to call their end.

The intro from the People's Key was played over the P.A. before Conor started Firewall with his downtuned telecaster. Like a lot of great live bands, they play simple songs with an expanded sound base. There were two drummers playing in tandem, lapsteel, two keyboards and a bass player accompanying throughout.

The perception that Bright Eyes is just one man was debunked tonight. Mike Mogis on guitar offers just as much to each song as Conor's vocals, and with tonight's setlist got the chance to prove it. The band was tight, and not afraid to switch between instruments again. They played some of the folkier songs from earlier albums with a distorted take but when the sincerity was required, the dynamic shifted accordingly.

Shell Games,Triple Spiral, We Are Nothing And It's Now, Arc of Time and Road to Joy were obvious strongpoints. However, the highlight remained Poison Oak. The slow acoustic song, along with Landlocked Blues was the reason I started to change my mind about a band I previously had no time for. The room was silent at the start, offering all of the subtlety the acoustic required, but when the full band came in, with additional trumpet, the song was complete. It was beautiful, and for those 5 minutes the best song my ears had heard.

The set was cut short because of timing issues and amps blowing up. The new album sounds spectacular live and the band proved that it's more than a one man show. I haven't seen as many bands in 2011 as I would have liked, but if that were the last, I wouldn't be upset at all.

It's 3:30AM, I should go to bed.

Jim Bryson and The Weakerthans - Freeways In The Frontyard.
This album is a creeper. Before bed, on a bus, doing homework, whatever-it's perfect for them all.


  1. i'm glad you liked ayurveda! i love that place. what dessert did you get? they have an amazing coconut rice pudding thing that i always hoped for every time i went back.

    santos party house is owned/run by andrew wk, hence the "FEEL FREE TO FEEL FREE" party vibe. i saw rival schools on their first album tour here and they were the most boring band i had ever seen.

    wild flag is carrie and janet from sleater-kinney's new band. hence the talent they showed. janet also played drums with elliott smith on tour a lot with her husband/ex-husband sam coomes playing bass. they're also in quasi.


  2. It is a credit to you that you can take all the depth, theory and philosophical dissertation behind the topic of 1000's of years of religious teachings and conflict, and relate it to a quote scrawled on a wall in a kebab shop in Wollongong.

    You truly are a credit to your upbringing.

    NOTE: My comment is no where near as informative and/or degrading to any obscure underground bands as my brother's...