A Friday night's diversion, without making a point of looking for any, presented itself when I walked into Borders Books downtown, at Sixth Avenue and G Street. Shelf-surfing at Borders (any bookstore) is a kind of default entertainment for me; that is, I don't have to think about it, I just gravitate there, given free time and a disinclination for movie decision-making or music venues. I'd forgotten that Borders often hosts live music on Friday nights. I was reminded by a trio of Taylor acoustic guitars on stands, including a 12-string, and also a banjo, an instrument with which I have a love/hate relationship. Banjos spell bluegrass to me, not a favorite category of mine, but I love playing the wonky five-string gizmo.Eyeing the cornball instrument, wondering how I might finagle a few plucks, strums, fans, a single chorus of Suwannee River, I saw that the stuff all belonged to either singer/songwriter Patty Hall (her stack of CDs sat on an amplifier) or the musicians that accompanied her that night. Curiosity compelled me to hang out until show time, but I had timed it wrong; I was too early. While waiting, I read War and Peace; it was about Russia. I met Patty Hall, a pleasant, bookish blonde, and she gave me one of her CDs, Just Be Glad!, featuring the single, "Native Daughter of the Golden West." They struck up what I later discovered to be "Solo Blues" as I was leaving, and it whetted my appetite for a quiet evening with headphones and maybe more Tolstoy.
Back in my million-dollar, air-conditioned condo, I listened to "The Coo-Coo," "Native Daughter," "I Know This Town," "Confidence Man," "Amelia Earhart's Last Flight," and more. The guitar playing was clean and accomplished, the melodies pleasant, and Hall's tanned thighs on the CD cover were appreciable. Her original lyrics, for example those to "The Coo-Coo," gave credence to the bio's assertion that Hall was, in fact, a children's book author as well as a songwriter and performer.
Oh, coo-coo, she's a pretty bird. She wobbles as she flies
She never says coo-coo till the fourth day of July
I've played cards down in England. I've played cards in Spain.
I'll bet you ten dollars I'll beat you next game....
The CD made a thoughtful, sensitive gift on my part to a lonely neighbor woman with a Southern drawl and a great figure who, rightfully, appreciated my manly attentions.
Music found me again the following night. With no plans whatever in mind, I sat on my terrace, garden, patio whatever (it is surrounded by chain-link fencing and has an expensive-looking barbecue unit left by a previous tenant, and several ashtrays) and realized I had no real column for the week, so I thought I'd better drum one up. I thought I might have literally done just that as I heard the crashing of cymbals, the booming of electrically enhanced tom-toms, bass, and snare all echoing down the artificial canyon between condos along Island Avenue; buildings both newly peopled and some still under construction. Though coming from the general direction of a nearby park, it was actually much closer. Peering over the fence I could see more pedestrians than usual around Island and Ninth, and I could also see parking attendants in fluorescent orange vests. I smelled concert.
And I smelled right. Sponsored by Southern Comfort, the musical extravaganza covered two-plus days in that roughly four-block area in the East Village. The lineup included: Holiday and the Adventure Pop Collective, Family Force Five, Cowboy Mouth, Flogging Molly, American Princes, the 'Legendary Shack*Shakers (the asterisk is for no apparent reason, as is the ' preceding Legendary), Spank Rock, Mudhoney, the Roots, and several bands not included on the "SoCo Music Experience" free CD and press kit.
One of the unheralded bands was a slightly aging punk group called Fifty on Their Heels. An intriguing enough name that I immediately assumed was a reference to the band or band members being now in their 40s. Not true, as it turns out. The appellation derives from a Max Brand pulp western; "It's too long a story and not worth it," shrugged bassist Nicky Shingles. When I mentioned my assumption, he smiled, "That's not it, but it could be." He definitely liked the idea but left me no wiser as to the age of any members; they could just be a really worked group of 35-year-olds.
No review here other than to dutifully record the guitarist theatrically reeling against speaker cabinets, randomly fanning his Telecaster with an insouciant and discordant musical flip-off accompanying a side business of placing his red-rimmed sunglasses over his eyes only to tear them off and discard them in seeming disgust.
And it would hardly be fair to review Irish metal/folk perpetrators Flogging Molly as I took them in from the comfort of my own cage (or terrace or patio) a few blocks away. Molly played with sufficient volume to induce gastric-reflux disorder from a good half-mile away, but I was only three blocks distant. To call them energetic would be to call the IRA enthusiastic; musically they were solid as brick and tight as a thong. When I asked a random pedestrian coming from that direction if he had seen Flogging Molly and got an affirmative answer, I then asked if I had indeed heard a flute, and I had. An accordion? "Yeah, one of those," and he mimed playing one. And how many guitars did I hear? It seemed like a full dozen, but that can be done electronically. "Must have been, like, 40 or something." I was willing to bet it was no more that 29, but I thanked him.
As I write this on a Saturday night, I just received a visit from my new musical partner, Isaac Curtiss, who asked if I would like to play on Sunday at a halfway house for convicts and parolees whom, Ike assured me, make an eager audience.
So a musical weekend it is -- uncontrived and unforeseen as it may have been, it is not unlikely after all. Music, believe it or not, is everywhere in this burg.