Saturday, May 16, 2009

The smell of crushed grass

I rarely check listing for bands coming to town anymore.

When I do, my heart races , my stomach tightens up, I get jittery and I need to go to the show. I need to be there and feel the music. I in fact need to see a bunch of shows that are happening concurrently and before even knowing whether I can afford tickets, whether or not the show is sold out, whether I have prior commitments, I am already tearing my heart to bits and trying to figure out if I can can see any or all of them or even just a little snippet here and there. I make a freak of myself though I generally try to keep it to myself. Contain the histrionics in a calm work place friendly exterior.

But Wednesday, despite my resolve to ignore the Oh My Rockness email, I opened it. And now I know what I am missing this weekend and my heart hurts. The pangs of my live music addiction. Peaches. I am missing Peaches. Gah! And Goes Cube and the Pop Music Festival.

I did go see a show on Thursday with JY. Curtis Eller, an amazing banjo singing, showman. Wireless set up on the banjo makes for antics of the best sort. Also on the bill were Robin Aigner one woman old school folkie and Thinguma Jigsaw a duo from Norway who describe their music as "Splatter Folk" or "Snuff Pop." Picture Neil Young's vocals paired with some driving banjo, accompanied by flute, the saw or melodica. They claim that their influences are folk music and art/cult/horror films. At one point in their set they proposed a toast: "To Doom and Emptiness" which is now my new favorite toast ever.

It was enjoyable but it was not my show. Not my idea. So on Friday, I checked the Oh My Rockness listings and took the M train out to Bushwick.

Dan Deacon was playing a show with his ensemble in what looked to be an abandoned urban lot right next to the overhead subway. The trains ran by with regularity and the subways conductors honked their horns an waved to us when they passed by. As it got dark the light from the train created a periodic shift of mood shedding a fluorescent glow on us all.

It was a ToddP show, I've heard of ToddP but have not until now witnessed his work. They built a stage that day and brought tons and tons of speakers. Which they were wiring and setting up all over. They put up a big white sheet at the back of the stage and a guy with a really high ladder attached a projector to a really big pole to project images onto the sheet.

The space was fenced in with rocks everywhere and weeds and dirt. It was utterly random. The show was supposed to start at 6pm. I got out of the office late around 6:30 and while I thought I'd miss most of the show decided that I might as well head out and see what was up. They were not ready yet when I got there around 7:18 so I got to loiter around, read a little and people watch. So much beautiful youth. I had to wonder where all of these people come from and what do they do for a living. If anything. Many of them were clearly kids. It was an all ages show. Haven't been to one of those in I can't say how long. And of course in my workplace appropriate attire I stuck out like a sore thumb. But for me the alienation is a part of being out and about in NYC experience, like parley with a Diner plate.

A couple of kids from the neighborhood got up on stage and asking for donations to help their basketball team and a bunch of us came up to the stage and handed them crumpled dollar bills. It felt strangely and uncharacteristically community-like.

Eventually the first band started: Teeth Mountain. There were about seven or eight people on stage. Two drummer, two laptops, one with a keyboard, a guy playing random noodley things, a violinist with many pedals and noodley things, and a guy playing the saxophone. It was noise and cacophony with a strong tribal drumbeat. Who does not love toms? I ask you.

Up next was: Future Island. A bass player, a guy with keyboard and laptop, and one really intense hardworking singer. One might dismiss them as a catchy harmless electro-pop band were it on for the sweating, emoting, screaming, growling, massive expression of artistic commitment and humanity that was their front man.

And then Dan Deacon and his ensemble, the bazillion people in decorated white jumpsuits bearing and playing instruments. Dan Deacon had an arm in a sling but this did not stop him from holding court and running the biggest romper room / mickey mouse extravaganza this side of the Rio Grande. The music was manic and zany and catchy. Almost impossible to dance yet irresistable. And then there were the group activities. To get us in the right frame of mind he had us raise and arm to the sky, shout a greeting and give thanks to the neighborhood for allow us to have an outdoor show. He made us sing one note. Over and over conducted by him as his instrument. He had games and dances with rules for the whole group to participate in. He created these all inclusive dance game phenomena during the show. In one that was particularly cute, two people would stand facing each other with their arms stretched out and up towards each other. Two new people would walk under the bridge of their arms and stop at the other side, facing each other with their arms stretched out and up towards each other. As more and more people joined, it became this human tunnel of people dancing and waving their arms that grew and grew, snaking through the open space. It was quite lovely. And with all of these games people started to smile at themselves, at each other, at perfect strangers.

This broke up the whole mosh pit crowd surfing cycle from time to time. I stepped into the pit for a bit. Which was, as always, psychically cleansing. A stomping, sweaty, churning mass steeped in the smell of the unwashed and crushed grass and weeds underfoot. Good times and peril. People were dropped while trying to crowd surf. People were kicked in the head by crowd surfers. People tripped and fell on themselves or the rocks that were everywhere or backpacks and bottles strewn on the ground. Dan Deacon repeatedly cautioned everyone to be careful and even asked people to refrain from crowd surfing during the last song. Which surprisingly, they did.

Sometimes fueled by booze and weed and adrenaline and fast manic music, things get a little out of hand. Crowds can take on a life of their own and the experience of the sum vs. the parts something else entirely. On the train ride home, I noticed a blood stain on the sleeve of my trench coat. It was dark and in the crush of humanity, I cannot know who that was or how serious his or her injury was. I can only hope that they are okay, they don't need stitches, and that they have had a recent tetanus shot.

At the close of the night Dan Deacon has us again raise our arms into the sky and thank the neighborhood again. We invited them to visit our homes and eat as much of our roommates' food as they wanted. ToddP added a request to clean up after ourselves, to not take beer out past the fence, and to refrain from being assholes while out on the streets of Bushwick.

And then I caught the train home and fell dead asleep. I woke up today feeling more human than I have in a while.

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