Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Brooklyn What Are the New York Equivalent of the Clash

The corporate media wants you to believe that New York is all master mixologists mixing $26 heirloom lobster cilantro mochatinis, with celebrity djs pumping up the bass while Shtuppi, Blandie, Faylor and the rest of the cast of The Real Housewives of LoHo poledance for the camera. That element does exist, and in greater numbers with every passing tax break for the ultra-rich, but those people don’t represent New York. They’re not even from here. And while we wait, and wait, and wait, for a high-profile murder or two to send them scrambling for the next charter flight back to Malibu or Lake Wayzata, the Brooklyn What write songs for the rest of us. Like the Clash, they use punk as a stepping-off point for a range of styles that span the history of rock, from the 50s to the indie era. This may be old news for those who’ve seen them live, but they’re not just playing crazed punk music anymore: they’re become a truly great rock band. They have five newly recorded singles out: the songs are complex, psychedelic, and socially aware without losing the in-your-face edge that made the band so compelling from the start.

I Want You on a Saturday Night has been a big concert hit for them for awhile. It’s punked out doo-wop, a Weegee snapshot of a random night out. Guy’s at the bar, got only half a buzz, annoyed by the annoying crowd, trying to drown them out with Johnny Cash on the jukebox. He could go to Williamsburg, or to the Village where he’d meet some people and “want to kill them,” or stay home, get stoned and listen to Springsteen. But he wants out. And like the Uncle Sam poster, he wants you.

Punk Rock Loneliness is the shadow side of that picture. The guitars weave a staggered tango beat, distantly echoing the Dead Boys but more funky. Jamie Frey’s lyric sets the stage: “Rain through your canvas sneakers, nervous breakdown in your speakers…” Who hasn’t been there? Down at the corner of Bleecker and Bowery, where CBGB’s used to be, he thinks back on the girl who’s gone now. “All the things you had to give her, first your heart then your liver, drowned in the East River.” And the world couldn’t care less: there’s no more Johnny, or Joey, or Dee Dee with a song that would dull the pain, and the club they made famous is just another stupid shi-shi boutique now. A classic New York moment early in the decade of the teens.

Come to Me is like punked-out Sam Cooke. It’s sly and it’s irresistible – the singer understands that the girl’s been working a twelve-hour shift, she has to smile when her heart’s a frown, but he’ll make her forget about the long day and how light her purse feels at the end of it. The brief doubletracked guitar solo at the end is pure psychedelia: Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo make the best one-two guitar punch this town’s seen in decades. A more rocking take on early 70s psychedelic funk/soul a la Curtis Mayfield, Tomorrow Night is more abstract, floating in on a catchy yet apprehensive slide guitar hook, winding out with another nimble, incisive solo. The fifth song, Status Quo, evokes Black Flag with its furious vocal tradeoffs, then goes for an anthemic garage punk Stooges/Radio Birdman knockout punch on the chorus. “I’m so bored with the status quo/Everything here has got to go,” the band roar. “You get all your sense of humor from reality shows,” Frey taunts the latest wave of gentrifiers. At the end, they finally let it fly completely off the hinges. The Brooklyn What also have a monthly residency at Trash Bar, a Saturday night where they play alongside some of the best of their colleagues in the Brooklyn underground scene. This month’s show is this Saturday, December 18 starting at 8 with power trio New Atlantic Youth, the Proud Humans (ex-Warm Hats), the Highway Gimps (the missing link between My Bloody Valentine and Motorhead), the Brooklyn What, postpunk rockers Mussles and finally the new Pistols 40 Paces at midnight. Check with the band for these songs as well as their classic 2009 album The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

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December 16, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Brooklyn What at the Brooklyn Lyceum 8/22/08

Very possibly the best show of the year so far. The Brooklyn What look and sound like something you would have seen at CBGB around 1977, not a carefully coiffed, safetypinned-and-mohawked self-parody decked out in matching mallstore Ramones shirts, but just an average-looking bunch of guys playing blazingly energetic, loud, often hilarious rock with purist punk energy, intelligence and a spot-on, often vicious sense of humor. Frontman Jamie Frey is a big guy who looks like he doesn’t deprive himself of pizza or beer (although at this show he was fueled strictly by adrenaline, drinking only water). By the time the band had started their second song, his shirt had come off, “NEXT TOP MODEL” stenciled down his hefty torso. The band – who seem to be something of a revolving cast of characters – started out with three guitarists and ended up with two. Running their instruments straight through their amps as the PA was being used for just the vocals, they played smartly, tersely and tunefully although with enough looseness to provide plenty of menace.

 

They hit the ground running with a blazingly catchy, upbeat number, then a couple of songs later did what has become their signature song, I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg. If there is anyone alive 20 years from now, this song will be a classic, the little clique it ridicules a metaphor for a much bigger problem. The funniest thing about this song is that it’s already dated, namechecking both Northsix and Galapagos, the first of which is defunct and the second of which moved to Dumbo earlier this year. The band played it faster than the version on their myspace, giving it a vintage Black Flag feel: “I don’t wanna go to Galapagos! I don’t wanna hear the fucking Hold Steady!” On the chorus, it’s unclear whether Frey is being sarcastic or if he’s speaking for himself: “I just wanna play with the cool kids,” he hollered. If this is to be taken at face value, he’s definitely achieved his dream. This is the anthem we’ve been waiting for. As the Boomtown Rats said, watch out for the normal people: there’s more of us than there’s of you. If only everybody knew that.

 

They did two covers. Carol by Chuck Berry was transformed from happy Dick Clark rock to something casually but absolutely evil, like what the Dead Boys might have done with it. The version of the Kinks’ I’m Not Like Everybody Else was every bit as good as it could have been, in fact with the guitars roaring at full blast the classic nonconformist anthem might have been even better than the original. Among the other songs: a vaguely oi-punk number evoking the UK Subs, the band hollering their refrain after Frey reached the end of a verse; a slow, pounding riff-rocker; and a hilarious, backbeat-driven anti-trendoid diatribe possibly called Moving to Philly. Frey thrashed around, throwing himself to the floor, then on one number got up and took a sprint around the back of the stage – in his socks – before reemerging a couple of seconds later, picking up where he left off. The band closed with We Are the Only Ones, a defiant call to unity for all the cool kids who’d come out to see them, an almost predictably diverse mix of old and young (Frey’s grandmother among them), male and female, gay and straight, dancing around deliriously albeit without any violence. Like the Sex Pistols or the Clash, the Brooklyn What could spearhead a brand-new scene that has nothing to do with fashion, celebrity or inherited wealth. They couldn’t have timed it better. Watch this space for info about their next show and their upcoming cd The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

August 26, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments