Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Hippiefest at Asser Levy Park, Brooklyn NY 7/26/07

Old hippies tend to skew hard in one of two directions, either totally inspiring or completely pathetic. Think back to the most recent antiwar protest you attended, and who was doing most of the heavy lifting, and who came out in full force: that segment of the demographic is clearly still firing on all cylinders, role models for all of us.

Then there’s the wrinkly, potbellied element lost in the ozone of whatever residual chemicals remain from all the groovy lids and trips they undoubtedly wish they could remember. If they only could remember what it’s like to remember. That element doesn’t come out much but usually trickles out for shows like this one. But not tonight. This free Thursday summertime outdoor concert series has a smalltown vibe, local merchants taking the stage to hawk their wares, the wide expanse of lawn taken up mostly by what’s left of the indigenous white blue-collar community here, local celebrity and longtime New York dj Cousin Brucie Morrow serving as master of ceremonies tonight.

We got there as former Wings guitarist Denny Laine, his voice shot, was wrapping up his set. He and his generic backing band phoned in Go Now (the single he sang with the Moody Blues before he left the band and they got really good), and the edited, single version of Band on the Run, complete with cheesy synthesizer. After what seemed an interminable break, Cousin Brucie going on and on about not much of anything, Melanie took the stage, backed by a young guitarist who may have been a family member: the vocals weren’t coming through very clearly at this point, so it was hard to understand what anyone, Cousin Brucie included, was saying.

While it obviously took Melanie considerable determination to drive down from Brooklin, Maine, past the Whitestone Bridge where she’d burst into tears (she’s from Queens: can you think of any other city, Paris included, that evokes such powerful nostalgia for returnees?), to play the longest set by anyone we saw here tonight, she really shouldn’t have been up there. Her voice is completely gone, and to make matters worse, she tried to hit all the high notes. Watching her struggle and miss the mark every time was viscerally painful. She’s a perfectly adequate acoustic guitarist: why she didn’t capo up her guitar and transpose the songs to a lower key is a mystery. When she did the obligatory version of Brand New Key, she made it abundantly clear that it was not what she wanted to be remembered for, telling the audience how she’d originally conceived of it as a roughhewn, Leon Redbone-style song, blaming her producer for making it fluffy: “Here I am, with silver hair and what am I doing? Cute!” she railed. Though she went out of her way to make it clear that she’d always seen herself as a socially conscious songwriter (which she was), tonight she did the hits, ending with Lay Down, which dissolved in a mess.

Country Joe McDonald was next, also solo acoustic, and got all of three songs. “Gimme an F,” he joked, then did some nice fingerpicking on an excerpt from the 1967 Country Joe & the Fish psychedelic classic Bass Strings. Then he launched into a fiery, sarcastic new song called Support the Troops. “Draft dodging chickenhawk son of a Bush,” he spat, and any preconceptions about this part of town being redneck Rudy Mussolini territory went out the window. The crowd loved it.  When McDonald hit the second chorus, “son of a Bush” became “sonofabitch,” undoubtedly the nastiest word ever to resound from the loudspeakers here, and the crowd was completely energized for the first time tonight. McDonald followed with another recent number,  a sea chantey about saving sea creatures. And then he was done. When Cousin Brucie returned to the stage, it turned out that he’s also against the Iraq war. And that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz (a craven shill for luxury housing developers) wanted to hear Country Joe do the Fish Cheer! Cousin Brucie always came across as a man of the people, but Markowitz? A complete surprise.

Finally, the Zombies took the stage, just singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent left from the original band, joined by their very first bass player (who’d returned to the fold in 1969 in Argent’s self-titled project), along with a decent drummer who didn’t overplay and a heavy metal guitarist who unfortunately did. Though it was clear to everyone, Cousin Brucie included, that they were the act that everybody had come out to see, they got all of a half-hour onstage.

It wouldn’t be fair to expect Blunstone, now in his sixties, to have the pretty, airy voice of his youth, and he doesn’t, but he still hit the notes. One would, however, expect the musicians in the band to play the songs pretty much note-for-note with the records, especially considering how iconic their hits have become, but Argent didn’t, and his extemporizing didn’t add anything to the material. They opened with I Love You and followed with a bouncy, aptly bluesy I’ve Been Abused. Then they did Time of the Season, with a long, pointless keyboard jam at the end, followed by Argent’s lone, long top 40 hit, the forgettable stoner riff-rocker Hold Your Head Up.

Their best song of the night was Tell Her No, the chorus just as fresh and memorable as it was when the song was released over 40 (!) years ago. They closed with She’s Not There, the solo at the end unfortunately taken not by Argent but by the guitarist, who failed to ignite the crowd with a grotesquely self-indulgent, excruciatingly long heavy metal wank-a-thon. And then they were done. The Turtles and the Rascals – woops, Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals – were scheduled to play afterward, but even as brief as the Zombies’ performance was, most anything else would have been anticlimactic. So we went over to the beach to see why there’d been a police helicopter circling with its searchlight on during the show (a young girl had happily escaped the clutches of a predator, who’d managed to escape by the time the helicopter showed up).

By the way, if you haven’t been out to Coney Island lately, make sure you do. Developers are salivating over the beachfront, and not that there are enough rich Americans or Eurotrash to buy the whole strip of coastline, but the Russian beach bars, deep-fried bellybomb stands and surprisingly cheap Astroland with its $2 rides will undoubtedly not survive the onslaught. The Mets’ single-A minor league affiliate plays at the ballpark toward the end of the boardwalk, admission is $7 and there’s not a bad seat in the house. The Pakistani taxi driver joint on Ocean Ave. a couple blocks north of Surf Ave. is heaven for hot pepper addicts, and Mrs. Adler’s Knishes a block north of that is still open and delicious. Don’t take this place for granted: it won’t be here much longer, take a long walk along the sand before it’s patrolled by private security from Halliburton.


July 28, 2007 - Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. My website will open Aug4th.

    I enjoyed your well written review but, I would like to comment on the Melanie portion.

    Melanies’ preformance might have been better but she has been ill lately. She cxld shows for 6 or 8 weeks due to this illness. I would have liked to hear a better review but, she is only human. Frankly I was surprised to hear at the last minute she added this gig.

    Comment by Jim Baldwin | July 28, 2007 | Reply

  2. I am not sure what concert you were at but the 8 to 10 thousand people who were there would, I think, beg to differ with 99% of what you wrote. The crowd’s response to all of the artists but particularly Melanie was warm, receptive and enthusiastic. These Hippiefests are a very strange breed of concert…The artists barely have time to warm up the audience and they are asked to get off the stage for the next performer. All the fans are there for different favorites but I can tell you that when Melanie came off the stage, the throng of fans waiting at the gate for autographs was bigger than any other artist. She is a true legend and a trooper and she stayed until every last fan had gotten a signature, picture or just a chance to say Hi to her. As far as the other artists, all I can say is that very few people left the concert before it ended at 11:20 so that has to say something. Criticize all you want, these performers made the crowd very happy and to me, that is what is important…connecting with their audience, not trying to please some critics who look only for the negative.

    Comment by lauren | July 29, 2007 | Reply

  3. Obviously a review written by a reporter too young to have experienced these great Artists except for being ‘forced’ to for the sake of his/her job.
    …That’s OK. Everyone else knows how well these Artists do perform, despite this lousy reporter’s take!
    (Maybe next week you’ll get to review a Britney -or- Ashley concert…to which I’m sure you’ll give them a 100% rating!)


    Comment by Bill | July 29, 2007 | Reply

  4. Bill – Britney or Ashley…c’mon, let’s get real. I volunteered for this hoping to see the Zombies get more than the half-hour the promoters allotted them. What a blast it would have been to have experienced these performers in their prime!

    I wasn’t out behind the stage with all the autograph seekers, Lauren, so I’ll take your word for it (the crowd seemed pretty lethargic from where I was – toward the back – with the exception of the drunks over by the porta-potties, and the roar of approval for Country Joe’s new protest song). I still think performers ought to do their fans a favor and if they’re not in any condition to play, they shouldn’t be up there onstage. If you read the review, you’ll see that Melanie showed a lot of chutzpah…and not much else. Here’s wishing her a quick recovery.

    Comment by delarue | July 29, 2007 | Reply

  5. by the way – 8 to 10 thousand people – would be nice, but you may have been caught in the throng at the back which may have given you the impression that there were a lot more people at the show…

    Comment by delarue | July 29, 2007 | Reply

  6. I have to say that the only thing disappointing to me about Melanie’s performance was that she seemed to be PO’ed about something going on in the front rows to which I was not privy, causing her to storm off before she did Lay Down. Cousin Brucie, it seemed, valiantly tried to talk her back onstage, but in the end she only gave two or three perfunctory lines and off she went. Still, picayune reflections on each indivudual act aside, these concerts are truly a Brooklyn treasure and Marty Markowitz is to be congratulated and thanked for keeping them going. Where else can you see such entertainment for only a few dollars? Where else can you have such an amazing musical experience, and then cool your throat, raw from singing your heart out with every song, with an ice cold orange drink at Nathans to go along with a hot dog and fries. Priceless. I was beyond happy to share this the experience with my son Jason, who will now forever match these songs not with my memories of hearing them with a transistor radio glued to my ear at the Brighton Baths, but rather with hearing them live by their originators with his dad by his side.

    Comment by Allan Fromberg | July 30, 2007 | Reply

  7. If your son’s grateful now, he’ll be more grateful as the years go by. How many people of his generation will be able to tell their kids someday how they were able to see all these acts live – and had a hot dog and an orange drink at the original Nathan’s at Coney Island on the same beautiful night?

    Outdoor concerts are a New York tradition, and Markowitz is merely following in the footsteps of every other borough president before him. If anything, they serve him as a means to distract voters from his nefarious actions in concert with the luxury housing developers who are destroying neighborhoods, and, even more perniciously, the entire multicultural fabric of Brooklyn. If he and his constituents (i.e. Bruce Ratner et al.) get their way, Brooklyn will look like a Las Vegas suburb (or Chicago suburb, or LA suburb) in five years’ time.
    for some eye-opening facts

    Comment by delarue | July 30, 2007 | Reply

  8. Mitch Ryder, who presently plays this bill get’s about 4 songs on this bill. As far a performance goes Mitch’s old hits doesn’t touch where he’s at now. Checkout his site for more info/

    Comment by Mike | July 31, 2007 | Reply

  9. Old hippies don’t die, like the rest of us, they just get old. I was at the concert and was disappointed by the rudeness of the crowd. A rude hippy? Doesn’t go together. Melanie’s performance was not stellar. She only did the hits and her true gifts lie in her hidden gems. I give her credit for being true to who she is. Her voice, I agree, is not what it used to be. She has lost a great deal of her famous range. There is a coarness to her voice that can be attributed to , I suppose, her not feeling well. But, I give her credit for being up there.

    Comment by Keith | August 2, 2007 | Reply

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