Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Coney Island Today and Tomorrow

Last night we went to see Taylor Swift at the Viagra Arena at Coney Island. Since they’ve shut down the subway and replaced it with the VIP shuttle from the Brooklyn, Brooklyn casino in the middle of Prospect Park, we all crammed into a friend’s battered Greatwall Gwperi, dodging sinkholes and potholes, finally finding a spot in the Russian mob parking lot by the water at the edge of the former Floyd Bennett Field. In the old days there would have been a city bus, or we could have walked, but it’s too dangerous now, so we had to wait in line for a cab. Because there wasn’t enough room in the rickshaw for all of us, a couple of us had to ride on top of the rickety canopy, clinging to the torn canvas as the contraption bounced along through the mudpuddles in what’s left of the tarmac from the days when there was a public infrastructure budget.

Outside the arena, Halliburton security were selling meth and ecstasy when they weren’t zealously feeling up tired ticketholders. After six additional security checkpoints, retina scan, DNA analysis, fingerprinting and a full-body search, we finally made it through to our seats, which had already been taken by a sinister-looking crew of crudely tattooed bodybuilders. So despite having paid three trillion renminbi per person, plus inconvenience charges, for our tickets, we had to head up to the nosebleed seats, hoping that another crew of bulked-up ex-cons wouldn’t show up and take those from us as well. After an hour of earsplitting, nonstop big-screen commercials for Lucky Oncology Centers, Finest Face Masks, Bedbug Busters, and of course Viagra, Swift finally was ushered onstage by a doddering, mumbling, ninety-year-old Marty Markowitz. Fully nude, for about ten minutes she gyrated and lipsynched to a medley of old Journey songs with a new, fully computerized arrangement. From the view on the big screen, it’s obvious that all the plastic surgery, and the already sagging boob job, make her look twenty years older than she is – and she’s not even thirty yet.

Oh yeah, all that was just a dream. Must have been reading too much Gary Shteyngart. Yesterday at Coney Island perfectly captured what this city stands to lose if or when the carnival atmosphere is replaced with a corporate one. It’s not a done deal: notorious landgrabber Joseph Shitt’s Thor Equities are demolishing buildings that in the pre-Guiliani era were on the fast track to landmark status, but when they’re reduced to rubble there’s no guarantee that anyone’s going to pay top dollar for the vacant lots where the Bank of Coney Island and similarly faded, once glorious buildings used to stand. In the meantime, there are fewer rides at the amusement park, but it’s still there, as are the grimy boardwalk bars, dodgy hamburger stands, Shoot the Freak, the Coney Island Museum and the ever-shrinking vestiges of the individuality that has made this neighborhood world-famous.

And appropriately, there was surf music on the boardwalk out behind the Wonder Wheel: Deb Noble of Blue Stingraye Productions emceed a whole afternoon worth of first-class bands assembled by Bill and Julie Rozar, creators of the Alien Surfer Babes (who headlined). The game plan was to get there in time to catch surf rockers Reverb Galaxy, but a two-hour subway ride from Manhattan nixed that. The second act, Sean Kershaw’s baritone voice still resonated all the way to the tables outside Ruby’s Bar and Grill: the Coney Island Cowboy was in his element and loving every minute of it. From a distance, he and the band sounded a lot like Ninth House, particularly on the darker numbers among Kershaw’s signature, surreal, carnivalesquely witty Americana songs.

Strange But Surf were next and were a breath of fresh air, just like the breeze that began whipping in from the water. The two-guitar instrumental band bring a tongue-in-cheek punk edge to surf music, and they mixed it up. A number possibly titled Beached Fish sounded like their version of California Sun; they turned Pipeline into a long, shuffling jam with fiery guitar solos and a Paint It Black quote at the end that got everybody smiling, even the band. Hey-Ho, a Ramones-ish stomp was “about my girlfriend,” grinned one of the guitarists. He and the drummer switched on a couple of tunes, including an amusing Link Wray-inspired number, The Martians Are Pissed. They wound up their long set with inspired, punk-flavored versions of the Bar-Kays’ Soul Seeker, the Addams Family theme, the Ventures’ Out of Limits and a really splendid, extended version of the Byrds’ Eight Miles High.

The Octomen appeared to be missing five of the guys, if there are in fact eight of them. If not, they still sounded good even though they could have used a rhythm guitarist to fill out the sound when the one guitar player they’d brought along was soloing. Because he was good, and left a lot of space rather than playing loud and mindlessly. A lot of their originals add eerie chromatic passages amidst all the twangy, upbeat good cheer. He used a flange on a couple of tunes, Link Wray’s The Rumble included, for a sort of 80s chorus-box feel. By halfway through the set, he was taking longer solos and really getting the pyrotechnics going with some long, blazing, sometimes bluesy, sometimes country-tinged excursions, particularly on a ghoulabilly-flavored song and then a 60s go-go instrumental with some ferocious blues playing.

In hindsight, it would have made sense to stick around for the rest of the surf bands continuing into the night. Randi Russo’s solo performance at a private party later in the evening was terrifically gripping and intense. But trading beautifully polyglot Coney Island – where latino and Asian kids swayed side by side with the older, mostly blue-collar white crowd who’d come out for the bands – for the uptight, privileged whites-only section of ever-more-hideously segregated Williamsburg, was a disaster waiting to happen, a sad reminder of where this city’s going if we don’t put a stop to it.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments