Real Rock 'n' Roll
Rockin' in the Free World. As rock turns into jazz (respected but commercially unsalvageable), it becomes important to honor the places that keep it alive. For the longest time, bands have complained that New York has no midsize rock venues?nothing between CBGB and Irving Plaza. Now several places have materialized in Brooklyn: Northsix, Southpaw, Local, as well as Luxx and the venerable L'Amour. A slew of great shows went down in these places this year; here's hoping they stay alive until whatever band you're in gets big enough to play them.
The Sticky Fingers of Time
Why Would She Lie? Directed by Hilary Brougher and set in and around Tompkins Square Park between the years 1953 and 1997, Sticky Fingers is what happens when you do sci-fi on an indie budget. It's the story of Tucker, a pulp writer from the 50s who acts as the lens through which the film is shown. The story, however, is not the point. In fact, the point here has nothing to do with the director's almost plausible theories or the artful cinematography. It's simply that barely anyone knows this is the best New York City sci-fi, and that's the fault of bad marketing. Ambiguous relationships between women (despite obvious man/woman love) have cast this film into the no man's land of the Gay/Lesbian section, allowing it to be lost amid tender coming-of-age romance and greasy sex romps in video stores across the city. We all know how hot two naked women are, but what advantage is there to misleading misogynistic men and unsuspecting grrls? Why not just believe the director when she says it's sci-fi?
The Rockettes Ain't Rock. The Strokes and the White Stripes shared a bill at Radio City Music Hall on Aug. 15, and all the doofus rock critics in the city wrote basically identical reviews: Two hot young bands on the verge of mega-success get the career-pivotal chance to audition for the big leagues. The Strokes stepped up to the plate and hit a home run with their bright, shiny rock-pop, proving that they're true professionals, ensuring them (as though they didn't have it already) the industry backing to take the next step to global pop-star status. The White Stripes, meanwhile, struck out, failing to fill the hall and even mystifying the audience with their eccentricity, pretty much ensuring that they'll remain a cult band for the rest of their career.
Best Bowling Alley
Changing Lanes. Here's the hard truth: all three public bowling alleys in Manhattan charge roughly the same price ($7 games evenings and weekends, $4 for shoes). So the real question is esthetics, and Leisure Time has the edge. Chelsea Piers' ultramodern alleys are like an aircraft hangar: vast, chilly and impersonal. Plus they don't cut you a deal for bowling early. Bowlmor chose fashion over function in its 90s makeover, and though sometimes a fun night out, it's now more like going to a club (and they've got the door hassles, uselessly hip decor, DJs, massive bar prices and ever-so-slightly-inflated weekend admission to prove it).
Here's a Present for You. People always say there's nothing underground and there's nothing alternative anymore. And there probably isn't. But there's at least one spot in Brooklyn to see bands play that the general public isn't clued into?and that's Happy Birthday Hideout. You won't find a listing for this place in a phone book or an advertisement in any of the weekly papers. Their parties, which combine the party/loft atmosphere with live performances, are completely word-of-mouth and some of the best times we've had while living in New York.
Unashamed 70s Nostalgia
And This Bird You Cannot Chay-Uh-Ay-Uh-Ay-Uh-Ange. Corporate rock karaoke night at Arlene Grocery. Loser's Lounge tributes. A spate of tribute albums that can be summed up with one word. Luther Wright and the Wrong's Rebuild the Wall: brilliant. Mary Lee's Corvette's Blood on the Tracks: touching. Camper Van Beethoven's Tusk: wacky. What they all have in common: a fine balance of irony and respect. The 70s weren't a complete artistic wasteland, especially in light of the 90s. It was the age of rock stars, which must seem like anthropology to kids now with their myriad subdivisions of pop culture. Embarrassing? Sure, but great fun, too. The dark-horse winner: Lonesome Bob's country cover of Clarence Carter's 1970 soul classic "Patches." What a beautiful gesture this song is.
You Go, Girl. Boy. Whatever. Whether he's spinning Dead Boys at the Motherfucker parties, Buckcherry in the basement of Lit at the Seen parties, or the Ramones over at Niagara, we love Michael T. And not just because he's the best-looking girl we've ever met, either. Michael, the perfect cross between David Bowie, Tim Curry and Cindy Crawford, really knows how to pack in a powerful set of tunes to have you pounding your pud or pussy in the air, like you just don't care! We also love Michael because he's so sweet, has the best collection of tunes we've ever heard and, like the truly beautiful woman he is, knows how to say "NO" to the idiots who request NSYNC, DMX and Pink. Although we kinda like pink. Anyway, you go, Michael!
Did We Mention He's Also a Designer? Magnetic Fields songwriter Stephin Merritt has produced a flood of additional projects. Now that same outpour has helped spawn L.D. Beghtol. He's been featured as a vocalist on the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, but Beghtol's own bands manage a better average than Merritt himself.
So what keeps Beghtol from being an indie star? It doesn't help that he's a bear of a gay guy who discusses his sexuality from the stage. (He doesn't camp things up, outside of appearing with the Three Terrors.) Beghtol's left falling between the cracks of every scene?which, of course, is why he's built a scene of his own. How else can a talented musician survive in this town?
Freddy Got Fingered
Matthew Blarney. Every couple of years there comes a movie so jarring, so powerful or strange, that no one gets it. Joe Versus the Volcano was one such movie, sadly sunk by mismarketing. We find it difficult to stand by and watch Freddy Got Fingered get pilloried in a similar manner and have been on a one-person crusade to get everyone we know to see this near-masterpiece of grotesquerie?there's no movie in recent history we watched with such concentrated fascination.
Compare for example a scene in which a pregnant woman realizes too late that her baby's being delivered by a stranger, Indian women begin to ululate and play the tambourine while blood is splattered on their faces and a man rends the umbilical cord with his teeth, to a scene in which a translucent corset is filled with bees and Norman Mailer plays Houdini. Tell us, which one of those two auteurs would you want to spend the evening with? Now also tell us: Why hasn't Freddy Got Fingered become the sleeper hit of the year?
Tank Boy? Trank Girl? This is our favorite form of Friday night entertainment. We mean, come on, who doesn't love to see flaming trannies with platforms almost (we said almost) as big as their egos, prancing around to monotonous club music? It's Webster Hall's main stage freak show Atomic Dolls, and we love it. Watching the fiercest freaks boogie down in scare-wear is enough to make us get off our asses and duck the $30 general admission just by dressing ourselves up. It's really worth it, because behind those ropes not only is there free entrance and full access, but also drink tickets and pretensions that would scare any casting-couch Hamptonite.
Best Indie-Rock Swan Song
With All Due Respect, the Don Was Slipping. We shed a soggy tear just like you when Brownies announced they were done hosting live music. It's always sad when a stage goes dark, and this was no exception. We suspect that for the few DIY faithful still out there, it's come as a real cushion blow: What to do, now that our Monday midnight to 12:45 a.m. slot's gone? Call a spade a spade and play Arlene's for nothing?
Sour grapes? Hardly. The business runs on money. Always has, always will. And we certainly don't begrudge Mike Stuto?easily one of the most dedicated, hardest-working guys in the business?his success. No, in the end, all we take issue with is the gap between the spin and the reality. Measure our sorrow by a venue lost and it's huge. Measure it by the sincerity in the promise and we say, Alas! Here was an era that begged for an end.
Now We're B&T. As much as we city folk joke about them, we feel bad for the New Jersey crowd. They're forced to trek across the Hudson at $6 a pop just to hear some decent live music. Jersey, plagued by an ever-growing cover band scene, with more and more bars catering to a college crowd hungry for rehashed Blink 182 and Nickelback songs, has a dwindling supply of venues that cater to those hungry for original live acts. However, we have found one place in the land of factories and shopping malls that has bucked the current trend of unoriginality: The Underpass goes against the grain by showcasing mostly original live acts, seven days a week, and has become one of the best places to see original music in Northern New Jersey.
Best Public Sculpture
The Gandhi Man Can. Who doesn't like Mahatma Gandhi? Everyone seems to love this bronze statue too, newly reinstalled on a reconstructed patch of Union Square Park. It's a lifesize take of the frail little dude, striding purposely forward toward the farmer's market, maybe ready to break his most recent fast. A lot of the time he's wearing fresh bouquets of flowers.
Mahatma disappeared for a bit while his immediate neighborhood was spruced up. His new digs now allow better and more dignified access to the old boy. We're glad to see him back, looking ready as ever for some very civil civil disobedience.
Best Monday-Night Institution
Sidewalk Cafe Anti-Folk Hootenanny
94 Ave. A (6th St.), 473-7373
Umavision. Between the endless libidinous whining and scheming of the Sex and the City coven, and the I-Need-a-Guy-Any-Guy HBO film Hysterical Blindness (that Uma Thurman!), any human male who feels underappreciated has only to hit the boobs tube to realize he's Needed, and that some of his bits and entrails are wanted. Such a relief from the usual Men-Are-Monsters Cobras-Are-Natural shitcoms.
A Portrait of Abe Every Time. We know there are certain people who feel that Coney Island is merely the future site of some terrible tragedy, a Tilt-A-Whirl ride gone horribly, horribly awry. But we maintain that there are still many hidden treasures there, many little charms.
Here's another secret: If you know someone whose birthday is coming up, find a coin from the year they were born. If you put it in the machine with Lincoln facing out, most of the time you can read the date on the back, which makes for not only a perfect souvenir, but a perfect birthday gift, too.
Great for the Price. Sure the girls are flabby and they can't really dance, but if their fellow clubgoers look uninterested they will rip their tops off. Even though we pity the poor things and their desperate attempt at a good stage show, we understand the commanding presence of breasts (and even have to admit that we like it).
Best Warehouse Fire Waiting to Happen
It Never Happened. We'd like to disclaim everything we're about to say in advance, in case any fire marshals have deigned to leaf through this issue. We mean, really, what kind of venue would bring out a propane-driven version of Simon? (You remember, that toy where you had to repeat an increasingly complex pattern by smacking buttons in the right order?) We ask you, what kind of venue would allow a man in half-unbuttoned overalls to light this "Simon" device, while a volunteer stood in a square cage of metal tubing, the corners of which were spouting 7-foot flames in random succession? What kind of venue, indeed, would conscientiously let its warehouse-raw brick-oven space cool down for 20 minutes before a kickball-pregnant woman with a makeup black eye dragged The Device out again, in the middle of a faux-redneck party, her thin, sweat-drenched wifebeater nearly slipping off?
We mean, come on. Would anyone do that? Nooo. Who would do any of that? It would be silly. Or maybe, just some good hot fun.
Best Local Rock Promoter
Country Rock. We recently told an out-of-towner in a touring band that Jon Weiss is the nicest rock promoter we've ever worked with.
Indeed. But he'd never dealt with Weiss. We have, and we repeat: Weiss is the very rare rock promoter who's a genuinely nice guy. We're sure we'll get letters from a band or two who've had unhappy encounters with him and think he's a dick, but that comes with the job. We've booked several gigs and had other related dealings with him over a few years now, and we love the guy. Weiss books shows at Warsaw and the Village Underground, as well as honchoing the dinosaur/garage rock Cavestomp! series and record label. He was into garage rock well before it became a fad, long before that raghead from Springsteen's band glommed onto it, years before Time Out tumbled onto the White Stripes and the Go.
Lately he's been indulging his 60s rock jones at Automatic Slims on Sunday and Monday nights, where the soundtrack is all vintage songs chosen with exquisite taste, and the muted tv over the bar runs classic, and often little-seen, Shindig-era footage. You kids want to see what a real rock band is supposed to look like? Check it out. More recently, Weiss has revealed himself as a well-versed aficionado of country music as well; Billboard just ran a piece about his rock-to-country crossover. If he does for classic country what he's done for vintage and revivalist rock, NYC could become the Nashville of the North. We can think of far worse fates.
Best Sorely Missed PBS News Anchor
We'd Dhali Her Wal Any Day. The London-based International Television News was yanked from the air last year, and that saddened us. We used to tune in (weekdays from 6-6:30) whenever possible, not out of some abiding concern for the irrigation dilemmas of Malawi's farmers or some fetish for the stunted, apocalyptic inflections of British field reporters. It was because of Daljit Dhaliwal, ITN's news anchor. Because she was hot, exotic and, yeah, not a bimbo. But mostly because she was hot and exotic. This, we suspect, has also to do with why we can't tune into her anymore.
At first, we were willing to grant that British newsies do not work the celebrity circuit to the degree that their U.S. counterparts do and so okay, a point scored for the high-minded. But it was in the article's crescendo that Wells let his true mind slip: "Dhaliwal does not remotely live up to the hype. She is striking, but not unfeasibly pretty; yes, she has great bone structure, but she also has bags under her eyes. And some of the pictures on the website have clearly undergone the Photoshop treatment."
Ahem. Yes, well, we once made similar remarks about a woman, though not in an appraisal of her journalistic integrity. With enemies like that it's no wonder Daljit Dhaliwal's been banished to the murky outposts of airport-feed cable news.
Lest she think we've forgotten her we'd like to take this opportunity to say: Daljit, Na maskar. Aap se mil ke khu-shi hui. Kya haal hayen? Chunari chunari. Krip ya dhan ya vad. Mujhe minu dikha. Haram zadah, David Wells, haram zadah! Ach ha.
P.S. If some or other ill fortune should befall that lucky SOB husband of yours, our door's always open.
Best Odd Public Sculpture
Your Dog, by Yoshitomo Nara
As you get closer still, however, you notice that the dog's eyes are downcast, and that what at first appeared to be drool is, in reality, a continuous stream of spilling tears.
Nara is a world-renowned Japanese artist famous for regularly mixing the cute and the melancholy. In fact, he's done crying dogs before. We're not exactly sure how one of his dogs ended up here in Tompkins, or if it's supposed to be permanent. We do wonder, however sadly, how long it will take before some of the more easily entertained park regulars destroy it. While it's there, though, we think it's pretty keen.
The Dazzle Dancers
Shed Your Towel of Indifference. The avant-gay dance troupe known as the Dazzle Dancers come from some odd pixie-glitter realm between modern dance and performance art. They're a little bit Mummenschanz, a little bit La Cage Aux Folles and a lot Oh Calcutta! As far as movement is concerned, they are not about highly complex choreography or flawless execution. Nor, thank heavens, do they bid for irony. No, if they could effect all that they essay, they would; it's just that the Dazzles are comprised of both dancerly and un-dancerly bodies. Which is the point.
The Dazzles are a coed group. They tend to perform mostly at the gayer venues, which is a shame since hetero audiences could probably dig their act, too. As to their habit of concluding their routines smack-ass naked? Well, that does not bother us even a little.
Best Punk Rock Band
Not Another Green Day. When it comes to the punk rock, we in New York have had just about enough of those little pussy skater kids on the Left Coast taking our music and turning it into pop crap. Every one of those shorts-wearing, spiky-haired little sissies only wants to sound like Bad Religion, anyway. Or a band that sounds like Bad Religion. Even if they don't know it.
Hey, That's Clean Pool. Situated on arguably the last geographical line of distinction between the infamous Williamsburg brat pack and Sr. and Sra. Jose Boricua living in the south streets, Yabby should have no choice but to be clearing out a fistfight most nights?the free pool table offers a rare treat in this penny-pinching area of Williamsburg. Its residents, though, fueled by an across-the-board desire to look good, or, at the very least, better than the man, woman or child next to them, are too distracted to concern themselves with trouble. So, unfortunately, for those of us who get a kick out of a touch of tension and a hint of bad language to go along with our Marlboros and Guinness, it ain't happening here. Stick your name on the board with confidence in this place, for no matter how far you venture into the oft-200-or-so-strong crowd, you can be sure that some fresh-faced art student is prepared to hunt you down when you're up, rather than fuck with the order of things.
Always On My Mi-Mi-Mi-Mi-Mi-Mi-Mind. At first glance, Uncle Joe's Bar ("est. 1893"), a ramshackle three-story nestled in the still-gritty warehouse district off Jersey City's gentrified waterfront, looks like a good place to get stabbed by a meth-addled trucker. Go inside and you'll be surprised to find a cool neighborhood hangout under new ownership and remodeled (dig the backyard gazebo) this past year to serve both locals and an emerging crowd of Jersey hipsters and NYC art-punk rent refugees.
Best Orgy to Avoid