‘Tis CMJ still, and Ludlow Street was a zoo last night. Not that it isn’t a zoo on other week-ends, mind you, but there was a “deer in the headlights” look on many of the faces above those CMJ badges. Not many Badgers at the Living Room for Jason “no-relation-to-Julia” Darling, however; his SRO audience was apparently mostly civilian. Since comparisons to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen surround him like a halo (the guy sings, plays guitar, has a harmonica around his neck, after all), let’s get them out of the way. It is mostly his guitar playing that captures my attention: his solos often remind me of those airy, blues- and folk-based lines from Stephen Stills or Jorma Kaukonen in their 60′s heydays. And the encore, an idiosyncratic rendition of I wanna be sedated, was downright bizarre –but in a good way!
A quick walk up Avenue A to the Sidewalk Cafe, with its newly remodeled stage (larger kitchen, smaller stage; does it mean the service will improve?) At the edge of this truncated stage, against the raw, ill-fitting plaster board is a piano, not the old, battered upright, but a peeling, scabby not-quite upright that appears to lean dangerously forward. Fortunately, neither Joe Bendik nor the Sprinkle Genies will try to pound on it! Joe Bendik is for me the true epitome of local anti-folk, more so than the acknowledged champion of the form, Lach, because Joe’s intensity is unmatched; he’s drenched in sweat and out of breath by his second song; veins, arteries, and tendons that I did not even know existed bulge from his neck and forehead; he jumps, he stomps, he stampedes… And all that, as he eloquently puts it, is designed to sell us beer. Or cranberry juice, in those venues where the beer is unappealing –most music venues in New York, I’m afraid.
After this short but intense set, comes the task of fitting the five members of the Sprinkle Genies on the Sidewalk stage; never an easy task, but now it verges on the ridiculous! They can barely move their elbows once the drums, the amps, the various things to shake or bang on, and the guitars are in place. No matter, they take it in stride as they should: it wouldn’t do for them to get steamed up about something, they are the masters of “slacker” rhythms and sly, lazy lyrics. They managed to go through their set without major mishap, nobody fell off the stage, and if a string was broken halfway through, so be it. Then it was time for me to grab a quick bus ride up to the Rodeo Bar hoping to catch Wayne Hancock, but as I had feared from a cryptic web site message, he had cancelled –he’s been ill for a while, and had obviously not recovered enough yet. So another bus ride brought me to the other Bloodshot showcase of the night, at Tonic.
I arrived toward the end of Trailer bride’s set, just in time to see Melissa Swingle take out her musical saw. They’re a weird band indeed, roots, rock, country and blues all rolled into one, with the lanky Ms Swingle at the helm; North Carolina at its steamiest. Next in line, a band I’d never seen live before: Split Lip Rayfield. Terrific musicians in a crazy bluegrass idiom (where else would you see a gas tank turned into a single-string standup bass, with an oddly shiny, chrome foot), but their vocals left me completely cold; they just don’t have the right voices for their music. Too generic, too … just OK. However, quite obviously mine was not an opinion shared by the spastic dancers in the mini mosh pit!
I hadn’t had time for dinner yet (I had been counting on the Rodeo Bar), and I was getting restless. It was already about 1 a.m. when Bobby Bare Jr took the stage; I had seen him several times before, both solo at 9C, right here in New York, and with his band in Austin at SXSW, but this was the best show so far. A serious rock & roll band with big Rolling Stones chords, a drummer who sits sideways, and guest horn players who did not sound like Exile on Main Street; but my stomach was making demands. I wanted to stay, but it was high time to drop by Bereket for a kebab platter to go. There was Delirium Tremens on tap at d.b.a. Yay!