Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Hipster Demolition Night Still Rules

Thursday night was Hipster Demolition Night at Public Assembly. Last time we caught one of these, it was at Glasslands in the dead of summer, 120 degrees inside the club on a night where four excellent bands met the challenge head on but we didn’t. We left in the middle of a literally scorching set by Muck and the Mires, which pretty much speaks for itself. Since then, Hipster Demolition Night has moved to Public Assembly, whose larger back room is an improvement on every conceivable level. The Demands opened this show. They’re what the White Stripes ought to wish they were. The three-piece band’s frontwoman plays simple, catchy bass riffs that lock tight with the garage-rock drumbeat. Much of the time their guitarist would punch out chords on the beat but there were also a lot of places where he’d go out on a limb and explore, adding an unexpectedly psychedelic element. The operative question was whether he was going to go out too far and fall off – nope. Even with those diversions, they kept it tight, and with the vocals’ sarcastic, playfully confrontational edge, it was a fun set.

Jay Banerjee & the Heartthrobs were next. Between songs, Banerjee chugged from a Cloraseptic bottle and complained about his health. But whatever was in there – hey, cold medicine works fine for L’il Wayne – gave him a noticeable boost. Meanwhile, Vinnie, the drummer was bleeding all over his kit. If that isn’t rock and roll, then Williamsburg is cool. And just when we had them pegged as a band who write songs for guys, they get a woman to play 12-string lead guitar. She’s brilliant. She ended one of the songs with a casually stinging charge down the scale that evoked nothing less than 12-string titan Marty Willson-Piper of the Church. They opened with a blistering version of the deliciously catchy Long Way Home, an amusingly brutal account of a gentrifier girl being brought down to reality: OMG, she might actually have to get a job to pay the rent on her newly renovated $5000-a-month Bushwick loft! With a snort or two, Banerjee and the band did her justice. Maybe desperate to get the show over with, they ripped through the rest of the set: a Byrdsy janglerock song with cynical la-la’s, a guy assuring his girlfriend that he’ll stick around “because I’m too lazy to look for someone else,” a couple with an ecstatic early Beatles feel, another fueled by a catchy, melodic bassline that sounded like the Jam without the distortion and finally an equally ecstatic cover of I Can’t Stand up for Falling Down, reinventing it as a powerpop smash in the same way that Elvis Costello reinvented What’s So Funny About Peace Love & Understanding. If Banerjee was really feeling as miserable as he insisted he was, no one would have known if he hadn’t mentioned it.

Garage rockers Whooping Crane were scheduled to headline afterward, but there were places to go (the train) and things to do (kill self-absorbed, nerdy boys in skinny jeans standing in the middle of the sidewalk and texting – just kidding). Hipster Demolition Night returns to Public Assembly next month, watch this space.

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December 12, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jay Banerjee’s New Album Slashes and Clangs

Cynical janglerock heaven. Jay Banerjee may be best known at the moment as the creator of Hipster Demolition Night, arguably New York’s best monthly rock event, but he’s also a great tunesmith. On his new album “Ban-er-jee,” Just Like It’s Spelled, he plays all the instruments, Elliott Smith style (aside from a couple of a couple of harmonica and keyboard cameos, anyway). Drawing deeply on the Byrds, the Beatles, the first British invasion and 60s soul music, Banerjee offers a slightly more pop, more straightfoward take on what Elvis Costello has done so well for so long, crafting a series of three-minute gems with a biting lyrical edge. The obvious influence, both guitar- and song-wise, is the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn – like McGuinn, Banerjee plays a Rickenbacker. The tunes here are brisk, with an impatient, scurrying pulse like the Dave Clark Five, with layers of guitar that ring, jangle and chime, throwing off fluorescent washes of magically glimmering overtones as only a Rickenbacker can do.

Lyrically, Banerjee goes for the jugular, sometimes with tongue in cheek but generally not. These are songs for guys. Banerjee’s characters, if they are in fact characters, have no stomach for drama, no patience for indecisive girls holding out for men they’ll never be able to measure up to. And these women don’t get off easy. The funniest and most spot-on cut here is Long Way Home: what the Stooges’ Rich Bitch was to Detroit, 1976, this one is to Brooklyn, 2010, a brutal dismissal of a “dress up doll with a goofy drawl” who finds that she’s no match for New York heartlessness. By contrast, Just Another Day (not the McCartney hit, in case you’re wondering) is equally vicious but far more subtle. Banerjee lets the gentrifier girl’s aimless daily routine slowly unwind: finally awake by noon, “She tells herself if life’s a game, it isn’t hard to play/’Cause all you lose is just another day.”

A handful of the other tracks have obviously pseudonymous womens’ names. Dear Donna, the opening cut, sarcastically rejoices in pissing off the girl’s mother – via suicide note. Kate is rewarded for having “too many feelings” with a memorable Byrds/Beatles amalgam. Lindsay won’t be swayed by any overtures, and her shallow friends may be partially at fault: “They said you pray that I just find someone desperate/Lindsay, all that they say, already I could have guessed it.” Another cut manages to weld the artsy jangle of the Church to a Chuck Berry boogie, with surprisingly effective results. There’s also the early 60s, Roy Orbison-inflected noir pop of Leave Me Alone; See Her Face, the Byrdsiest moment here; and the clanging 60s soul/rock of No Way Girl. Fans of both classic pop and edgy, wounded rock songwriters like Stiv Bators have plenty to sink their teeth into here.

With his band the Heartthrobs, Banerjee rocks a lot harder than he does here: your next chance to see them is the next Hipster Demolition Night at Public Assembly on December 9, starting at 8 with the garage rocking Demands, then Banerjee at 9 followed at 10 by psychedelic rockers Whooping Crane and then oldschool soul stylists the Solid Set. Cover is seven bucks which comes out to less than $2 per act: did we just say that this might be New York’s best monthly rock night, or what?

By the way, for anyone lucky enough to own a turntable, the album’s also available on vinyl.

December 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hipster Demolition Night II at Glasslands

This would have been the best rock show of the year if it hadn’t been so physically taxing. Thursday night, an atrocious sound mix and hundred-ten degree heat (the club has no air conditioning) couldn’t stop four excellent bands. Hipster Demolition Night III moves to Public Assembly in August, which has both air conditioning and much better sonics, an auspicious move for both musicians and fans, especially those who stuck around in the sweatbox this time out. The Anabolics opened. This band just gets better and better with every gig, it seems. Frontwoman/guitarist Anna Anabolic ran her Gibson through a vintage Vox amp for some of the most delicious natural distortion you can possibly imagine: in their finest moments, they sounded like the Dead Boys. Other times they resembled another first-rate female-fronted garage band, the Friggs (whose frontwoman Palmyra Delran happened to be playing Maxwell’s the same night). Anna’s chirpy vocals were buried in the mix most of the time, as were the bass player’s agile, fluid Rickenbacker lines. The drummer took a few vocals but never got the chance to cut through either. At least the songs were good: the ferocious Dead Boys-ish anthem they played early in the set, the Go Go’s-style girl-group punk song Bad Habit and the ghoulish Kill for Thrills that they closed with. They’re at Bruar Falls on August 1.

Jay Banerjee & the Heartthrobs were next. Banerjee is the creator of Hipster Demolition Night and really knows his way around a retro janglerock song. They have two Rickenbacker guitars in the band, which usually means a feast of ringing overtones; this show only hinted how good they’d sound with in a club with a competent sound engineer. Lead player Jason Szutek was obviously working hard, but most of what he played got lost in the sonic sludge. With the guitars abetted by some neat upper-register, melodic bass work, the band battled through a couple of powerpop numbers that could have been the Raspberries if those guys had been born right around the time they were making records. Several more echoed the way the Jam would amp up old R&B hits; a couple of tasty, jangly ballads had more than a few echoes of the Byrds. They closed with an ecstatically fun cover of the Beatles’ You Can’t Do That.

If the Gaslight Anthem could actually write a song, they might sound something like Wormburner. The anthemic New Jersey five-piece powerpop band blasted through one fiery, smartly lyrically-driven anthem after another. Escape is a constant theme with them (any surprise, considering where they’re from?). Early in the set, one of their janglier numbers, Peekskill, chronicled an aimless trip up and down (mostly down) along the Hudson, from one dead-end town to another, through power outages and worse. A cover of Guided By Voices’ Teenage FBI perfectly evoked its contempt and frustration at pressure to conform; their closing version of the Undertones’ Teenage Kicks was tighter and ballsier than the original. In between they threw in a catchy ba-ba-ba pop song, but done as the mid-80s Ramones might have done it, a couple of big midtempo stomps, and a long, drawn-out version of Interstate, their towering, distantly Springsteenish highway alienation anthem, their lead guitarist switching to bass and doing some tremendously interesting, melodic work with it (it was hard to hear much of anything else in the din, let alone their charismatic frontman’s lyrics). Interestingly, they also contributed the night’s lone, caustic anti-trendoid moment [From day one, we were pioneers here in refusing to use the h-word, even though Banerjee thinks that’s a mistake. He thinks that the more overtly hostile slur, “trendoid” plays into their “esthetic,” if you can call it that, because the word’s robotic connotation mirrors what they’d most like to be. He’s probably right.] Wormburner once shared a rehearsal space with the Rapture, and when they moved out they liberated one of the Rapture’s keyboard stands. That this stand was being used to support a keyboard being played by an actual human being (the rhythm guitarist) was a point that resonated with the crowd.

Muck & the Mires headlined. The moptopped, redshirted heirs to the throne occupied for decades by the Lyres and the Fleshtones, this era’s kings of garage rock were as fun as always. They mixed up a bunch of songs from their most recent album, Hypnotic one along with some older crowd-pleasers. Drummer Jessie Best and bassist John Quincy Mire kicked out a boisterously slinky British Invasion beat while frontman/rhythm guitarist “Muck” Shore and lead player Brian Mire punched and clanged over it with just enough vintage tube amp distortion to add a tinge of danger: considering how hot it must have been onstage by the time they went on, it’s surprising that nothing caught fire, at least in a literal sense.

Shore alluded to having Kim Fowley in the merch booth, which may or may not have been true, although Fowley did produce the new record. A couple of songs had a Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds rattle and clatter; the rest of the set smartly mixed up punch riff-rockers, jangly midtempo tunes and a couple with a ghoulabilly feel. The best song of the night was one of the set’s early ones, Do It All Over Again, a dead ringer for a Lyres classic circa 1981 with its snarling, insanely catchy chorus. By the time they finally called it a night, most of the crowd, withered by the heat, had escaped into the relative cool of Kent Avenue. Public Assembly in August has never looked so good.

July 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hipster Demolition Night Comes to Williamsburg and We Can’t Wait

Jay Banerjee is the impresario behind the Hipster Demolition Night scene and leads a tremendously tuneful janglerock band, Jay Banerjee & the Heartthrobs. The next one is on Thursday, July 15 at Glasslands. Lucid Culture convinced him to go on record about his thoughts concerning the great unwashed masses of Williamsburg and whether there’s actually an audience in New York for fun, entertaining rock music anymore.

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: Would you mind if I started out by playing devil’s advocate?

Jay Banerjee: Well, I’ve never heard of them, but they can’t be any worse than Bear in Heaven.

LCC: Isn’t “Hipster Demolition Night” kind of flogging a dead horse, I mean a dead trendoid? For example, look how popular stuffwhitepeoplelike is. We outnumber the trendoids a hundred to one, and they’re universally despised except within their own tiny little clique. Isn’t this kind of like picking on the retard in fourth grade?

JB: No, because most retarded people shower.

OK, OK, really now…my problem with hipsters isn’t the suspect hygiene, the asphyxiating jeans, the tumbleweed facial hair, the neon, the keffiyeh, or the 1980s. Those things are evil, of course, but the only thing about hipsters that I would classify as worthy of all-caps HATE is the music, or rather the “music”. Guitar feedback grafted onto a Casio demo beat is not music. Caterwauling your AP English compositions into a microphone while your kid sister flails at the drums with her eyes closed is not music.

While I find other elements of their culture – do I have to call it that? – distasteful, it’s secondary to and mostly an extension of my intense distaste for Bedfordbeat. Williamsbeat?

Maybe I’m just a stuffy little square, but I think all music – good music – has to have some kind of structure. There needs to be a concept beyond “Hey guys, let’s make noise!” because otherwise, noise is exactly what you’ll get. And noise is exactly what we’ve been getting. And that’s the problem. As widely as hipsters are mocked, they’ve had a stranglehold on the underground rock scene for the last decade. This is what I’m trying to demolish.

LCC: It’s 2010. You write these gorgeous, jangly twelve-string guitar pop songs that sound just like the fucking BYRDS. Roger McGuinn is, like, your grandfather’s age now. What on earth makes you think that there’s an audience for music with real melody, real guitars, real emotion these days? I mean, look at how popular Lady Gag is. You don’t have a prayer! Or do you?

JB: Thank you very much, first of all. The thing is, Clear Channel ain’t part of the battleground here. I could dumb down the lyrics, spit-shine the production, spring for voice lessons and cosmetic surgery, and maybe I’d have a shot at widespread appeal, but I don’t want to do any of those things. That said, I’m confident the indie world is more than ready for a change after spending the last ten-plus years trying to figure out if the stereo’s broken or if that’s really the song.

It’s time the scene saw a revolution, which is exactly what I hope to spark – or at least fuel – with Hipster Demolition Night. Maybe that sounds megalomaniacal, but I’ve been very pleased to discover that I’m not the only one who wants to go back to real songs. So, not only do I have a prayer, but the congregation’s growing every day.

As for the influences, yes, The Byrds are a byg one. I’m proud of my musical roots – and I love it when people get them right – but I do try to take my own musical and lyrical approach to things. I don’t think it’s pure revivalism…but even if it is, it’s still better than whoever’s playing at Bruar Falls tonight.

LCC: This is the second Hipster Demolition Night, I believe? It’s July 15, 8 PM at Glasslands.

JB: Right. The first was at Southpaw in May.

LCC: I know the girls who run Glasslands are nice and all, but you’re playing Trendoid Ground Zero! Do you really expect anybody from that neighborhood to come to the show?

JB: Oh, I’m sure some will stagger in after downing a few half-priced PBRs elsewhere.

There’s no point in hosting Hipster Demolition Night where there are no hipsters. You can’t demolish things from across a river. Given their usual fare, though, I’m aware that Glasslands is a particularly ironic choice. I’ve told this joke before, but it reminds me of Ozzy Osbourne hosting a PETA rally. And I’ve told this joke before, too, but it’s not as if Williamsburg is any stranger to irony.

LCC: I know what you’re saying but let me interject that the Williamsbeat crowd that we all know and despise has no idea what irony is. They misuse the term. What they really mean is sarcasm.

JB: Seriously, though, how cool was it for the Glasslands team to book this sort of thing on a high-demand night? Thanks, guys!

While I know that most of the audience will be committed fans of power-pop and garage-rock, I absolutely want hipsters to attend. If I can make just one of them realize, “Say, song structure and tight popcraft are actually not so bad after all!”, then the evening will be a success.

LCC: On the bill July 15 – that’s this coming Thursday – you have four excellent live bands – retro garage rock with the Anabolics and Muck & the Mires, plus your band Jay Banerjee & the Heartthrobs, plus Wormburner, who also have a smart, jangly, lyrical powerpop thing going on. Other than Muck & the Mires, a band that pretty much everybody knows – everybody who’s not a trendoid, that is – how did you find them? I’m always curious…

JB: I don’t like calling hipsters “trendoids”. That makes them seem like robots, which is what they want.

Yes, Muck & The Mires are one of the biggest names in the international garage-rock scene – they have a Wikipedia entry, and isn’t that the gold standard of notability? They’re very well known for winning Little Steven’s Underground Garage Battle of the Bands a few years back, and they deserved it, because they have first-class tunes.

Evan “Muck” Shore and I had been in touch via Myspace a few times. Once I secured the Southpaw gig, I asked him if they wanted to come down from Boston to play it. Unfortunately, they couldn’t, but not too long afterwards, Evan sent me a message asking if I could set something up on Thursday, July 15th. So, tah-dah! Hipster Demolition Night II.

As for Wormburner, I met their frontman, Steve “Hank” Henry, a few months back through my friends in a terrific band called the Neutron Drivers. Hank is a world-class lyricist, not that he has much competition these days. We talked via e-mail; Glasslands fell into place; I invited the band onto the bill; they accepted. If only it were always that easy. I’d originally scheduled my band to go on after them, but then I saw them pack the Bowery Ballroom – ! – back in June, and I’m not that megalomaniacal.

I’ve known The Anabolics for a couple years. Cute girls, good songs. Not a hard band to like unless you’re both deaf and blind. Or a hipster. They’re mainstays on the Brooklyn garage-pop scene, and we played gigs together back when I played drums for a band called the Anything People.

Let me get in a word for the Anything People, because they were a terrific group. I was kind of the odd duck in the band – as if I’m not the odd duck everywhere else – since the other three guys are a bit older than I am, and since they’d been playing together for a few years before I joined. They wrote songs for the Anything People; I happily bashed away at the drums while writing and recording my compositions on my own. Well, not quite on my own. My Anything People bandmate Michael Lynch engineered and co-produced them.

The three songs you hear on the Facebook page are just a start, by the way. I have a full album ready, but more on that some other time, because I think this answer’s going to cross the browser-crashing threshold if I don’t end it here.

LCC: Can I ask, who actually comes to your shows?

JB: Passionate rock & roll die-hards who are fighting for a change in the music scene just as fervently as I am. And my mom.

LCC: Is it possible that there’s an audience for real rock & roll right here in New York, one that’s completely shut out of the corporate media and the trendoids at stereogum, flavorpill and pitchfork, etcetera?

JB: There absolutely is an audience for real rock & roll in New York. The trick is to harness it. That means playing on a respectable bill on a respectable night at a respectable hour on a respectable stage. This is why I started putting my own shows together, so that I could make sure we tap into the audience every time and get the exposure I feel we deserve.

The emphasis is definitely on “we.” I did things backwards as ever by forming the band after recording the tunes, alone, but the live line-up is in many ways a separate project. The Heartthrobs come in with their own perspectives on how the music should be played, and they take the songs to places I never thought they’d go. Let’s hear it for the boys who actually make me sound talented: Vinny Giangola on drums, John McNamara on bass, and newcomer Jason Szkutek on lead guitar. “Skinny Vinny” has a solo project of his own, and Jason fronts one of my very favorite local acts, the Naturals, who sound sort of like what I would if only I could sing and play guitar.

LCC: If somebody can’t make it to the Thursday show at Glasslands, I understand that you have another Hipster Demolition Night in the works. When and where, and who’s on the bill?

JB: Starting in late August, the night is becoming a monthly residency at Public Assembly. The first line-up there is going to be a special surprise for everyone. By which I mean it’s not finalized yet.

LCC: Anything else we should know about?

Because some people don’t seem to get the joke, I should make one thing clear: As much as I really, really, really, really hate their music, I don’t seriously advocate violence against hipsters. I’ve even met a few who are quite nice. Along these lines, Mike Conlin (The L’s music editor) and I had a little internet spat a while back about the concept behind Hipster Demolition Night, but we ended up with mutual respect for each other.

In other words, smash the records, but spare the skulls.

July 10, 2010 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment