Miracles of Modern Science @ Southpaw 05/21/09

in shiny spacesuits. yeah!

Okay, people, I do have one thing to say: any band that takes to the stage wearing shiny spacesuits is pretty much going to get a vote from me. They may suck, but I’m going to say, ‘yeah’.

Luckily, Miracles of Modern Science, or MOMS (such lovely nerdy freakishness that makes me very happy indeed) happen to actually be talented.

What I particularly loved about them was they took to the stage (shiny, silvery, glittery spacesuits!!!) and played a bunch of instruments most people will never associate with rock or pop. Violin, double bass, cello and mandolin. Well, they also have a drummer, too, just to keep ’em all in time.

Seriously, this band really grabbed the crowd’s attention. They played catchy tunes, and had an infectious vibe that moved through everyone (not the swine flu).

Redolent of Ra Ra Riot and Arcade Fire, I thoroughly recommend you checking out Miracles of Modern Science next time they play.

Which, incedently is going to be Wednesday 08/12/09, at Union Hall, Park Slope. 9pm. Go. You’ll like it. Quite possibly love it.

Mr Neil Seal of Approval? 4 Stars out of 5!

Golden Bones @ Southpaw 05/21/09

golden bones!

I walked in to the middle of Golden Bones’s set. And I was struck by how…good they were.

I don’t mean I was expecting them to suck, but as the first band up, I figured they would be the weakest link in the line up. But they were far from that. In fact this was an evening where the three bands proved to not only be very different from each other, not only in sound, but in stage presence, but also gave forth a high quality across the board musical experience. Which, in my experience, is rare.

Golden Bones is a pared back band and sound. Reminiscent of the old school pub band. They don’t have bells and whistles or a look or anything to capture the audience, anything, that is , except for their sound.

Their sound grabbed you. It’s their hook, they don’t need bells and whistles. They captured the audience with their deceptively simple but infectious melodies and tunes.

Their sound is bluegrass, blues, 70s movie honky tonk, and a decent dash of country, but they blend it with something else that I can’t quite put my finger on that’s almost magical, that particular ingredient that pulls a dish together and makes it into something really special.

And that, my friends, is what I found when I listened to Golden Bones.

Do yourself a favour. Check ’em out on myspace, or, even better, head on down to Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn to hear them play every Friday for the rest of July.

Pete’s Candy Store. 709 Lorimer St. 8.30 pm. Free!

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.5 stars out of 5.

The Nightrats @ Southpaw 05/21/09

Before I launch into this review of one of the most innovative, exciting and fabulous bands running about the NYC area (well, I’m not sure if they run, but they do make some mighty fine music), Mr. Neil would like to say sorry for being so incommunicado.

Mr. Neil has been busy. This review and the other three following it, are, for want of a better few words, really bloody late. There’s no excuse, except for the fact I was busy. There are lots of sparkly bits and bobs and things to be…shined, in the Mr. Neil fiefdom. Sometimes these things are very important and they make the sharing of great musical experiences run quite late.

But I think we’re back on track.

ANYWAY, BACK TO THE NIGHTRATS @ SOUTHPAW!

OMG! The Nightrats!

Having a Thursday night headlining gig at an Indie Mecca spot like Southpaw was a great boon for The Nightrats, and I was excited for them. I got on my bike and trundled over to Park Slope.

They had two acts before them, Golden Bones and Miracles of Modern Science (MOMS). The bands were all very different, and for some reason that worked perfectly. The crowd grew as the night went on and by the time The Nightrats were ready to play, the audience was more than ready for them.

Last time I heard them, they had two other members. This time, it was just the two of them, Randy Frey and Chris McMillen… and old Mozart’s rusty squeezebox, supplying us with their samples to go with their songs.

Thing was, it didn’t matter. It just didn’t matter; in fact, it may have been more powerful because of this.

Whether it’s two people, or our two leading men and a whole ensemble supporting them, I’ve seen enough of their shows to know they are always true to their music while still being able to be free and organic in their musical growth and output on the night

I always go back to 50s Paris when describing them, but seriously, they invoke, no matter where they are, what the space or the mood and size of the crowd, an intimate musical experience that is at once pure art and fantastic entertainment.

The acoustics at Southpaw are great, but even if they weren’t this band would have still owned the crowd. People stopped talking and started listening when they took the stage.

They nailed it. The space was big, their musical style is intimate and yet they managed to fill the space with their sound and presence while still making everyone there think they were one of a few privileged people listening to something underground, hip, happening, ultra smooth-cool, and listening to it way before anyone else would be, for a while.

I don’t call them rock stars, or rock star wannabes. They have too much talent, integrity and artistic vision for that (not that there’s anything wrong with being a rock star, or wanting to be, these are simply very different visionistic styles and also different musical styles. But, it is very easy when you’re on the stage to launch into ego-assuaging moves without thinking once about what you want to give, only wanting the accolades).

The Nightrats are artists who have that factor to appeal to the general public, once they catch on.

The thing is, I say listen to them now when you have the chance before you find yourself having to fork over many a pretty penny to hear them play. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  • The Nightrats are playing tomorrow night (Saturday!) at Public Assembly, in Brooklyn, at 8pm, sharp. It was meant to be in the back room, but now they’re taking the mainstage That’s 8pm, Public Assembly, 70 N 6th St, Williamsburg.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.89 out of 5 Stars.

Jesse Lent, Unplugged @ 25th & 1st, 25/04/09

Making sweet music for our earsby DJW

I happen to know of Jesse Lent, simply because he fronts one of my favourite NY bands, The Monte Vista, so when I was informed he was playing a solo acoustic (unplugged, if you will indulge me) show this past Saturday, I was both excited and apprehensive.

Excited because talent is always exciting. Apprehension, however, because some artists cannot provide that ‘X’ factor to something so honest and intimate.

And good acoustic must be honest and intimate. It must also be compelling. And we were in an outdoor setting, which sometimes doesn’t give a performer the platform to deliver the goods.

Luckily, Jesse Lent was more than able to deliver. He was honest, real, and yet larger than life. The thing you need to grab an outdoor audience. Lent commanded our attention through the organic flow of voice, instrument and the emotion he conjured through each song.

Lent‘s performance was Chris Isaak without all that angst, Dylan if he was born in the 70s, and also a splash of Neil – that crooner quality in his voice.

As I said, I love his band, but to be perfectly honest, I preferred him like this. It could be because I have a real love of this kind of music. Especially when it’s done this well. When it’s just the performer and their instrument, the ability to be organic and flexible with the sound, with your own mood and the mood of the room, is thrilling from the audience’s perspective. Think Nick Cave’s live acoustic performances (the man and his piano) in Berlin with his Bad Seed songs and you know exactly what I mean.

Playing familiar songs in an unexpected, fresh way is what keeps audiences coming back again and again. Even when you think you know what’s coming, each performance is injected with something new and that’s exciting.

Jesse Lent did just that. The Monte Vista songs I knew were presented to us in a fresh and new way. Lovely, unexpected, honest and real.

I can’t go without mentioning Lent‘s one cover song. INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart. It was fantastic. Lent owned the song, made it his without betraying the base truth of the song.

Mr Neil says, my hat off to you, young sir. Mr Neil also says, more solo shows, please!

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.75 out of 5 stars

Mr Macy Walks Alone – PT Walkley

another pilfering from someone's website. oh, when will it ever stop?by DJW

PT Walkley emerged from the Twitterverse and presented me with his new album along with the words “so proud of new album” (hey, twitter makes you tres frugal with words). And I must say, after listening to it, so he most definitely should be.

Mr Macy Walks Alone is like a complex novel or a poem, as in not only is it a concept album (one of those old fashioned things where the whole thing is like a story arc or at the very least, interconnected songs) that takes us on a journey, but it offers something new, deeper, more vulnerable and exhilariting and exposed at each listen.

For me, the most recent album like this is Kate Bush’s Ariel (which is brilliant).

It’s a strange and risky move, this whole making of a concept/story album. Yes, it’s a step back into nostalgia (if we can say the 60s et al, are nostalgic? Oh, my, why do I have the feeling we can? I know it’s not the drugs…) but it’s also done here and now, in a time when the masses have basically the attention span of a gnat.

However, like any good story, whether it be in bookish, film or music format, the good story will always shine through. Talent shines through.

And the beauty of music is you can choose to listen to it unfold as this artist wanted it to be, or you can jump around, listen and decide which songs you like and which ones you’re not so moved by, like you do on any album.

One thing, though, on the talented Indie stuff I’ve been listening to, is there is usually not much filler like on the (now dying) commercial offerings. You may not like something because it strikes a chord within you, but you are almost always left with that feeling of ‘it’s not my particular cup of tea, but it’s certainly very talented tea’. And yes there are a few songs on this album that really don’t do it for me.

However, I do find those songs sliding into their rightful place when I listen to the album yet again. In a concept piece, like a novel, like a jigsaw, they all have their place and they all work in a symbiotic way.

I think you definitely should give PT Walkley a listen or two.

There is a not-quite-folksy feel, a definite psychadelic 60s groove, a skittering of the Beatles, just for good measure. There’s even a hint of rag time in a couple of songs! Vocally he reminds me of Elliot Smith, James and even a little touch of Damien Rice.

Basically, if you didn’t listen to me when I told you to get your sweet self over to Southpaw a week or so ago, then you were dumb. This man is talented and his music is really quite beautiful. Lyrics and melody and vocals are all meeting quite wonderfully.

Give PT Walkley a listen. Go buy some music. If you’re out and about in NYC, and he’s performing, then go along.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.5 out of 5 Stars.

Filthy Boy

filthy boy, stolen from their myspace page. by DJW

When a band with the name Filthy Boy adds you as a friend on Myspace, you feel compelled to  check them out.

Filthy Boy, hailing from Mother England, are, according to to their brief bio on their Myspace page, a very young band. Aged between 16 and 17.

They don’t sound it.

With a voice that’s part Nick Cave, part Ian Curtis, with a little tinge of our old friend, Mr Tom Waits, singer Paraic Morrissey definitely commands attention and gives the aura of a man who’s lived life long and hard and still around to tell you all about it.

Their sound is part Nick Cave, and that slight tongue-in-cheek taste of The Magnetic Fields. They are definitely British, a throw back to the late 60s and early 70s, with a nice touch of grunge and a splash of almost (dare one say it?) honky-tonk thrown in for good measure. Like you’ve been transported to Texas in the midst of a kitschy Vampire film of yore.

While there are only three songs on their page, their music is strong and very listenable. So why not click on the link and give them a listen?

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3.65 stars out of 5.

Pauline Kyllonen

picture from her websiteBy DJW

I came across Pauline Kyllonen via Twitter. She sent me a link to her website and I checked it out.

I’m pleased I did.

Although there’s only four songs on her website, they’re a nice showcase of her talent. This Canadian singer/songwriter clearly has roots in country music. It’s that clear, simple weaving of story, melody and a voice that can communicate the emotional undercurrent of the situation being outlined in the song.

When listening to the music, I could see myself in a bar somewhere in the middle of nowhere, having wandered in in the middle of the day for a cold beer and stumbling across Pauline singing on a bare-bones stage.

Her voice is strong and clear, reminding me of Australian singer, Deborah Conway. A strong woman who won’t take any crap, but one who’s been through a lot, seen many things in her life and is willing to share.

The melancholy sounds bring Chris Isaak to mind, and they are the kind of tunes to listen to when sipping a cold beer or glass of white wine, most certainly on a balcony somewhere, alone, to immerse yourself in the images and emotions her songs conjure up.

I don’t know if Pauline Kyllonen is ever heading to NYC for a gig, but if she is, I’ll be there to check her out. If you’re in Canada and happen to be where she’s playing, you should check her out…

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3 out of 5 stars.

Upcoming Shows

listen up!

PT Walkley – Southpaw, Brooklyn, 8pm, April 17. This is something you shouldn’t miss! I have a review of his album coming soon.

The Nightrats – Zebulon Cafe, Williamsburg, 9pm, April 18. Again, please go. This is pretty much my favourite NY band. If you miss this, you shall regret it!

An Updating Note…

rock & roll stars, they start so young these days...By DJW

Greetings and happy Easter (egg eating)!

Mr. Neil has been conspicuously absent for a little while, but don’t fret. Mr. Neil has been listening to a lot of music you’ve sent in and prepping for a slew of reviews (it’s like swot week at uni…).

So, keep an eye out here, at this very category link, each week. For updates on bits and bobs and the new What’s Going On in NYC This Week? I’ll be listing gigs, shows and the like, so, if you’re a musician, in a band, an artist, and have something going on, let me know!

Let me know, and I’ll post where, when, and all those important details. Cheers. And don’t forget to follow us on twitter.

The Monte Vista @ The National Underground 03/27/09

The Monte Vista rocking out @ The National Underground

by DJW

This was my first viewing of The Monte Vista live and they did not disappoint (which is a good thing, because Mr. Neil does not like to be disappointed, since it’s always just so…disappointing).

After hearing their CD I’d marked them as a band to watch for. It’s a great CD, and they promised a good live performance, but they exceeded my expectations.

The National Underground’s cave-like space doesn’t work for every band’s style and vibe. But it suited The Monte Vista down to the ground. The space is small, but not intimate, and it’s the kind of place if you don’t have the ability to hold your audience then they will slip through your fingers.

The Monte Vista held our attention tight from the first few bars and the crowd moved in around the stage. The only other act with the same ability I’d seen that night was The Nightrats, and each for their own, distinctive reasons.

Good music is open, honest, vibrant, and those that hear it know it. No matter what umbrella it comes under, it’s that undeniable truth we all seek out.

I said it in my review of their CD, and after hearing them live, I shout it out. They have the soul of a Melbourne (Australia) pub band (which to those of you sadly not in the know, is a damned good thing).

I think Crowded House, Hunters and Collectors, Paul Kelly, even Midnight Oil. I’m not saying they are the same musically as The Monte Vista, but they all share a realness, a commitment to their vision that’s not tainted by gimmicks, mirrors or names. Just no-holds-barred talent. Pure and simple.

The Monte Vista‘s high energy, no bullshit performance draws you in. Edgy, sharp and eminently watchable.

They are a band who are able to sound different live yet stay true to their recorded sounds. Edgier and darker than their CD, the intensity is a pulsating neon sign that belongs in a smoky, beer-stained bar, with people who know the score.

Their front man, Jesse Lent, is a rocker who has the fine distinction of moving from sub-genre to sub-genre without compromising his artistic vision. And the bassist and drummer know how to do the same. The band is smooth crooner melded with raw Iggy Pop honesty. Their grunge-tinged edge made the entire room rock out and the girls lean in.

The Monte Vista were pure single malt whiskey, straight up, from the bottle. Fire in the belly, uncompromising yet smooth.

I don’t know when they’re playing next, but if you haven’t heard them, check them out, both on their website, and on myspace. And then, head on down to their next show. You won’t regret it.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.65 out of 5.

The Nightrats @ The National Underground 03/27/09

The Nightrats using dark magic to transport you to Paris....

by DJW

When The Nightrats took the stage in their black Chairman Mao uniforms, it was a tiny nugget of dramatics that perfectly complimented their unique music to come. A great entrance is always welcomed and in a space like The National Underground, where the stage is a cave at the back of the room (and not elevated), this feat can be somewhat hard to do.

And, their little army is swelling (I knew it!). They have a drummer now. I was told he approached the band after their gig at Goodbye Blue Monday about drumming for them. That gig, if you remember (or care to go and read the review listed upon our hallowed pages), was a mere ten days ago, but listening to them play, you’d never realise – the drummer melded seamlessly into the band and they sounded as good as ever. In fact, it sounded as if he’d been with them forever.

It did, however, give The Nightrats a slightly more organic feel. Without having to rely on and, indeed, keep in step with their prerecorded drums, I felt there was more room to explore. It wasn’t better or worse; simply different, and that’s always a good thing.

But they did still have the samples that give them their vaudeville/Coney Isle edge, for which I am most pleased. In fact I can see them playing at one of those tacky places on Coney’s boardwalk on a rainy pre-season day, with a bunch of grizzled old men drinking whiskey…

The National Underground (the cave of a stage not withstanding) was still a step further away from my dream of the hole-in-the-wall Parisian hangout where they play for my delight (damn it), but The Nightrats took the space and made it all their own.

Being a band with an intimate feel working with a space that is not intimate at all (simply small), they were more than able to adapt to the space’s vibe.

Their sound was different, more spiky energy, something a place like The National Underground demands if you want to be able to keep your audience interested. And keep their audience interested, they did.

The sound was dark whiskey and melted ice with a splash of Brooklyn chutzpa added for a more robust flavour.

Still evocative, still addictive, still alluring, but more than able to stand up to whatever comes their way.

The Nightrats prove themselves to be a band that can work the vibe of the room as easily as if it were nothing more than air. They are a flexible, organic entity that can continually offer forth quality in familiarity’s cloak and yet always promise and deliver new gifts that surprise and delight.

Seriously. This is one extremely talented band. Their music is unique, addictive and hot. So do yourself a favour if you haven’t sampled The Nightrats. Give them a listen through their myspace link. Buy some songs – you’ll be more than glad you did.

They are next playing at Zebulon Cafe, 258 Wythe St in Williamsburg, 9pm, April 18.

Be there or you’re gonna kick yourself (also you’ll be square, man, SQUARE.).

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.65 out of 5 stars (and they are all golden.)

Swoon & Mike Borgia Downstairs @ The National Underground 03/27/09

Swoon

swoon's moody pop rock upbeat angst music on stage.by DJW

While we’d actually come to see both The Nightrats and The Monte Vista (Mr. Neil is in command of a very small troop division), our early arrival introduced us to Swoon.

Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get with early arrivals, but this was a pleasant surprise.

Swoon have a nice brooding pop sound that seemed to suit the National Underground space very well. Especially since the space has its own nice, dark, brooding quality going on.

Singer Minnie Cho’s understated voice is, like the melodies, pleasing and delicate, but with an intriguing edge. And it provided a nice counterbalance to the grungy guitars.

Swoon‘s crowd was small, but enjoying the show, which is always a good sign.

For me their vibe was tinged with an ’80s and ’90s edge. Grunge meets Tiffany. It was as if someone had morphed aspects of Nirvana to parts of The Bangles, and that band was now cheerfully wandering along the road of teen-angst with a pop-melodic beat (and we should throw a piece of Brit-pop in for good measure).

Swoon held the attention of their crowd and they are definitely a band to check out.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3 out of 5 stars.

Mike Borgia

Mike Borgia rocking it old school. You know, with an acoustic guitar.by DJW

Mike Borgia performed between The Nightrats and The Monte Vista, and he apparently was a last minute fill in for the night, which is never an easy thing (but always, as any artist knows, a great opportunity).

A paired down, bare-bones presence on the stage, Mike Borgia played acoustic guitar with (in a throwback to another time) accompaniment from a double bass. While the feeling was somewhat reminiscent of folk, as in a quiet, listening space is seemingly demanded (I remember being shushed and given the evil side eye at a Bob Dylan concert in Canberra…), which with the crowd didn’t seem to be quite right, Mike Borgia isn’t folk.

His music really did warrant a close listen, and he had elements of an edgier Dallas Green, and his vocals, arrangements, guitar and honesty reminded me of Paul Kelly, a favourite of mine.

His voice had a lovely, clear emotional scale to it which makes him someone almost designed (when playing in this intimate way) for a small place, somewhere with a crowd that is sitting down and sipping their cocktails or coffee, a crowd that had come to actually mellow out and listen.

All in all, Mike Borgia is definitely worth your while checking out. His sound on his myspace page is at times different, which promises for a versatile performer, which I always find most positive. My only beef with his myspace is there are only snippets of songs (a fine marketing ploy on his behalf), so you’ll have to mosey on along to one of his performances or download some songs. Mr. Neil will check out another performance when he plays in town.

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3 out of 5 stars.

Bushwick Country Club

my very fave seat @ bushwick cc. pilfered from their site.by DJW

The Bushwick Country Club (of which I’m a certified member, although I couldn’t tell you where my membership club card may be lurking…) is my favourite neighbourhood bar.

I don’t visit it enough, although it is a place where a few of the bartenders do, indeed, know my name (this, however, is due to a certain friend screaming it at the top of her lungs in her very distinctive muppet voice one illustrious eve, and their enjoyment of imitating her whenever I walk in).

Bushwick Country Club (in Williamsburg and not Bushwick), sitting on Grand Street in Brooklyn, is a lovely, dark hole in the wall with some excellent aeroplane seats (my favourites) amongst the mishmash of furniture. There are games to play, a photo booth (drunken fun to remember your night by), and there is a very large backyard where you can, in the warmer months, play mini-golf.

The owner John, is a highlight. He is a master of witty banter and comebacks and will, when you tell him a woeful or tragic story, invent a shot (like the blue balls he created for a friend once) or offer forth his own views on your dire situation.

There are a band of regulars who hang out there, but it can get crazy during the summer and especially late on a Friday or Saturday night. Being the kind of barfly who likes a more intimate vibe in a bar, I prefer to visit during the quieter hours. Although it can be fun summing up the various hipster kids that drape themselves about the place on busy nights.

Drinks are well-priced and there are always drink specials, and specialty drinks. During the warm months, you must try one of their frozen vodka and cherry slushies, or the ubiquitous Jim Beam and Coke slushies.

I’ve always found there to be a good or at least interestingly bizarre conversation to be had within the hallowed walls of the Country Club. And, occasionally, someone to make out with his there to be had for the taking (so to speak).

They serve for your delight those evil but delicious cheese puffs as bar snacks, as well as have the occasional BBQ. In fact, they offer wondrous deals for your celebratory or wallowing purposes: if you bring enough people with you, you get to drink for free – this is something one can never go wrong with during such times.

Do yourself a favour and pop on down to the Bushwick Country Club. It’s neighbourhood watering hole at it’s very finest.

Bushwick Country Club. 618 Grand Street, Brooklyn (at the corner of Leonard St).

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Downstairs @ The National Underground

disco-dancing empty beer mug?by DJW

While I think I visited the upstairs part of The National Underground for about three whole minutes (which makes me somewhat unqualified to offer forth a review), the downstairs certainly knows how to rock your evening for you.

It’s a small space, with a couple of booths in the back, right at the side of the stage – the perfect spot for the talent of the evening to hang. The bar is at the back, a nice place to sip your beverage of choice whilst checking out the music.

It’s a dingy, dark spot that for some reason reminds me of those tiny hole-in-the-wall nightclubs that seem to populate certain country towns in Australia, especially during the ’90s. But that could just be me.

There is plenty of standing room, presumably under the assumption people are going there to watch the music, rather than natter with their friends or the nearest drunk.

The stage is a cave with strange, low lighting that still manages to showcase the talent of the evening very well.

Basically, if you’re popping in for a quick drink, then this isn’t the place for you. Of course, this isn’t the place to be doing that anyway. This is a venue for live music, pure and simple, and for that, it’s great. For me, the drinks are a little pricey, but I assume this is because many people don’t come there to drink, but to watch the music, and like all music venues, there is a drink minimum, because the bar has to make money. Meeting the drink minimum, however, is never a painful thing.

A highlight of the evening was chatting with the charming and driven Dan Herman, booking agent for the evening (for NYC Gigs, an agency that puts out consistently high quality shows of musicians with a New York area fanbase, and judging from his booking of two of Mr. Neil’s favourite NYC bands, this is very much true), and advocate of hot indie music. Herman believes in getting these bands exposure, not only through live venues, but also on his Radio Crystal Blue, an online radio station devoted to indie music. It’s definitely something to check out. As he said to me, “[tonight is]…a great evening of quality music.”

And he wasn’t wrong.

Downstairs at The National Underground is a mecca for new bands – there’s live music every night. So check it out for yourself. And if you see any of Mr. Neil’s favourites are booked for any night in the future, then do yourself a favour and head on down to the Lower East Side for a night of fabulous music, guaranteed.

Downstairs @ The National Underground, 159 E. Houston St, at the corner of Allen St, Manhattan.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3 out of 5 stars.

Sweet Ups

random pilfered sweet ups picby DJW

Coveniently located a mere half block from my humble abode, Sweet Ups is pretty much my lazy person’s bar of choice.

Perhaps not my favourite neighbourhood bar, but its warm, velvety interior, muted lighting and black booths are most definitely inviting, especially on a cold eve.

I remember when the bar opened. It was like a small piece of the East Village had landed firmly in the ‘Burg. While this part of Williamsburg has gentrified itself over the past five or so years, Sweet Ups has become a popular hang out for the cool young things on random nights. Go in there on a Saturday night and it might only have a few people, or it might be jammed to the rafters…it’s always a bit of a gamble.

Basically, I prefer this place when there are not too many patrons, because it’s the kind of space that suits intimacy. And that it can do very well. I like to call it the make out joint, because, for some reason, I’ve done that a lot there. Not my fault, it’s not like I’ve gone looking for such shenanigans, but I think it’s something in the air….or the drinks…or the boy…

Beyond it being perfect for public displays of affection and the odd discreet grope in the corner when no one is looking, the intimacy vibe of the place goes beyond mere aesthetics and into the realm of practicality. While the ladies bathroom is pretty and quaint and roomy, there’s only one. Not so much fun when the night is crowded and there are people lined up to use it. Also, Sweet Ups allure is largely the booths. Nab one of those and you’re sitting pretty, even on a crowded eve.

The velvet bordello-like wallpaper not only adds to the charm, but offers drunks something to stroke (that won’t get them arrested). Sweet Ups also has a back yard area where people can smoke, chat and sometimes nosh down on BBQ offerings.

The drinks aren’t the cheapest in the area, but for what I drink, they’re doable. Speaking of drinks, definitely try one of their drink specials. All the juices are freshly squeezed and the combinations are always interesting.

If you’re a bit of a crowd-a-phobe, then check this place out early in the evening to be on the safe side. This will work in your favour since they have a delicious 2-for-1 happy hour, which always makes this little black duck happy. And recently they’ve extended their hours. They now open at noon, which is perfect for those of us experimenting with the real artiste life (namely, boozing it up in the afternoon). Especially if you’re into beer (or even if you’re not!) since their amazing daytime drunkard special is $1 pitchers of their in house Sweet Ups beer. $1 pitchers! Everyone has to love recession craziness like that. Why aren’t you forming a line daily?

All in all, Sweet Ups is cozy and a fine place to drop by for a drop of your favourite tipple, or even a bit of a snog with a cute someone…

Sweet Ups, 277 Graham Ave, Brooklyn. Between Powers and Grand St. (take the L to Graham Ave Stop)

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 3 out of 5 stars. (4 stars if it’s the right person kissing me.)

Money Makes You Boring – The Monte Vista

the monte vista let loose to roam the wild brooklyn streets!

by DJW

When I get handed CDs of bands I know absolutely nothing about, there’s always a nervous anticipation about it. You hold in your hand something new, something loaded with potential.

Of course, that potential can go either way, it could be horrible, or it could be great.

Lucky for my precious ears, Money Makes You Boring by The Monte Vista landed firmly in the latter arena.

I liked them from the opening of their first song. The Monte Vista’s rock-pop vibe is all at once their own and also tinged with a bite of the Beatles, a sliver of Cake, a shot of Nirvana, a shake or two of the whole indie vibe over the past decade or so, and, for some reason for me, just a crushed crystal of Pete Doherty and his bands.

The tunes are the kind of catchy that stay in your head (in a good way) and you find yourself singing at unexpected moments. The slower numbers are voluptuously seductive. And then there are songs like “Beautiful Lawn”, that are so infectious they could almost be put into quarantine.

Their sound is indicative of bare-bones Melbourne pub (the stuff legend has been born of Down Under), the kind of places where an audience doesn’t care about names or egos, only the quality of the music. And we’re talking Melbourne, Australia, not Melbourne, Florida. Basically what you hear on disc is actually what you get live. Good, clean sounds and the only surprises will be good ones.

The Monte Vista makes great music. And great music is like coming home. It doesn’t mirror or copy something else, but when you hear it it strikes a chord deep within you that’s immediately right and familiar.

And that’s how it should be.

The feel is Neil Diamond temperament, the vocals are raw silk and chocolate. A crooner who knows the value of everything and also the cost. Bittersweet, uplifting, with that almost undescribable edge of an exceptionally well-written story.

It is, like all good albums, the kind of thing that gets better and better, and they hint at a great live performance.

Speaking of live, I am there on Friday night. That’s the 27th of March. at the National Underground in NYC at 10.30pm. So should you.

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval? 4.45 out of 5 stars.

The Nightrats at Goodbye Blue Monday, 3/17/09

it's the nightrats!by DJW

Nestled in deepest, darkest Bushwick (okay, on Broadway), Brooklyn, Goodbye Blue Monday is pretty much not the place I expected to be on St. Patrick’s Day.

GBM, a coffee shop/bar, a dark hole in the wall filled with a mishmash of books, garage sale leftovers and lighting by the local gypsies was not the underground Parisian hole-in-the-wall spot I’d wanted to see The Nightrats play in, but it has its own threadbare air of cool intimacy.

Perfect for The Nightrats.

This was my first viewing of them live, and I must say I loved what I saw. Slightly different to their recorded stuff (and so it should be), their quirky, intimate vibe remained, with the live vocals actually making it more so.

Randy Frey’s velvet voice invites you to lean in, immerse yourself in their music. The Nightrats don’t command or demand you with their presence, they beguile.

The three performers took the stage, dressed in black, Hugo Bossish uniforms (actually black replicas of Chairman Mao uniforms), and armed with guitars. They looked good, not gimmicky, presenting us with a persona that transformed them into a cohesive army of three (three so far in their nefarious underground army, but I’m watching closely…).

When they started playing they were accompanied by pre-recorded drums, beats, and sounds laced with those scratches and ticks of yesteryear recordings, which gave them an almost surreal, vaudeville and Coney Island on a cold pre-season day feel, where you eat fried food and drink whiskey with old sea dogs.

Tonight The Nightrats had a circa 1950s surfer movie sound to them. Well, if the surfer film had been made by David Lynch.

In fact, I could see Lynch using their music in a future dark, strange and compelling project, or even having the band play in the background of a dark and weird bar scene in said future film…

The music was tight, with a polish on the good side of slick and a beat beyond drums that comes from within the vocals and melodies that infects your veins and stays with you long after the last note.

The Nightrats have a sound dark like good coffee laced with bourbon and a live vibe that belongs in muted neon nights.

I’m most definitely excited about seeing this band at their next show. The Nightrats are one to watch out for and I recommend seeing them soon, before they’re discovered.

See you at the next gig.

(March 27th, 9pm @ The National Underground in Manhattan, NY)

Neil Diamond’s Seal of Approval Rating? 4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Trash Bar 256 Grand St.

trash1

by LLI

I don’t know if this review should be under Tucker or Trucker!

HA!

You think I jest you with this riddle, but “no!” you noble laureate I speak the truth!

The Trash Bar is actually filled up with tons and tons of real truck seats! They also have car seats, one seaters (the bucket) as well as the 3-seater (known as the bench seat) lining all the walls of the place. It’s great! I often go around and sit in the different styles of seats and re-live the glory days of my youth when I would be picked up and ported around town for free by my parents and my friends’ parents. I mean how cool were those days! We didn’t even know. Now-a-days it’s black cars or cabs that cost $$ and don’t have as cool seats.

Trash Bar also has lots of other things like a pool table, live bands and top shelf liquor. But don’t get too carried away and thinking you’re at the ritz, because around 10:00 pm, the fryer comes on and the tater tots come out! Along with a many other fine bar food selections. The smell stays with you so, if you just got a hot blow-out I suggest either some dry shampoo or perfume spray or another bar. Same advice goes for guys, if you are trying to tie one on and then make a bootie call and hit it with your lady of the evening, she may not wanna nuzzle you neck when you smell like you just got off shift at Micky-D’s. No offense to the place or the offerings of the fryer. I am just giving ya’ll the 411.

Trash Bar is great spot to go on those days when you miss driving and want to grub on greasy food and imbibe in some cocktails. Definitely an all are welcome spot. If you are feeling swankier, want to avoid the greasy post trash hook-up or even just want to rock your trucker hat to a fancier location head across the street to Larry Lawrence to get your Martini on! I am a fan of both places and find that generally anything on South Grand street is vibeing. More reviews to come. Please stand-by.

Big Push at Southpaw 3/11/09

by LLI

I walked into Southpaw on Wednesday night to a half full room with a few people thrashing around in a hardcore manner on the dance floor. What was this the show I was covering? Interesting. I proceeded in because I had gotten a tip to check them out and I wanted to understand the hype.

I turned to look up at the stage and there was a Rob Zombie like man with his shirt off slaying his guitar. Whoa! He had long hair and a beard and a few tattoos and there was another guitar player to his left (stage right) playing bass. He also had his hair in his face looking down at his guitar playing some serious cords. They were playing a song that appeared to be called “Big Push”, lyrics went something like “big push! big push!” The song made me reflect on what creative song writing and performing really was as they gave the strings on their guitars big push after big hard push. Deep thoughts, big pushes, metal. Hum…? I felt like I was stepping into a private rehearsal of two mechanics getting off their shift playing some de-stressing music after a hard day of work in the garage. Private, intimate, hardcore. I kind of liked it even though I don’t usually like heavy metal because it made me think and it also helped me numb out the normal stresses of my day.

Then, I noticed a third person behind them, but he appeared to just be standing there. I proceeded up to the stage through the mosh-pit to take a closer look. What I saw when I got up there was an empty drum set and a mannequin in front of it! The drums appeared to be coming out of the mannequins ASS! Yes, his ass. Now, that’s some hot shit.

I hit up the bar for a water (come on ppl, I can’t afford to drink at every show we are in a recession you know! plus I forgot my flask) and I rocked out the rest of the set. Unfortunately, due to my day job I missed the beginning of the show which was a bit of a disappointment. I wish I had been able to hear these guys introduce themselves and rip out the cords to their first song. I definitely wanted to go check out their next show and hear more than the last two songs!

After the show I was able to catch up with Krys, the bassist and find out a little more.

Apparently, it was their first show! He and lead guitarist Richie had been practicing for months and their third “band mate” the mannequin that they called Damien came on board because they had been having problems with finding a dependable drummer. So, they recorded their beats and charged forth! They soon hope to have Damien be more than just a mannequin and plans are in the works to pimp him out with a moving head with lights etc. kind of Terminator style. So, definitely stay tuned for their next show, it’s always fun to watch a new band progress especially when they seem to have a good sense of humor a robotic mannequin drummer and great stage presence.

Neil Diamond seal of approval is a ‘go-see’ with a rating of 2.5 stars.

Chin Chin at Union Pool 3/10/09

I was excited to see Chin Chin live for the first time. Up until this point I’d only hit them up on the You-Tizzles and I had an appetite to see what they could do live.

We rallied troops and began gravitating to the back bar at Union Pool. The list girl at the door was nice (a rarity) and in we went.

The music that the DJ was playing was great. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the funk, so I asked what he was rocking.

“Just a little foreplay,” he said with a wink. “You know baby, kind of like Prom night…”

I turned around to finish my lap of the room (I always like to come full circle) but I was stuck, the crowd had grown so thick. Thick, foreplay, prom night….I was starting to get really excited. For the show (so keep your mind out of the gutter, people).

The show started with their own version of foreplay…the Chin Chin‘s new video “Go There With You”. The video, directed by Brody Baker, was hot.

Their sound? My friend George described it thus: “If you melted an M & M on your nipple and someone licked it.” Right on. 70’s love power, George Clinton and The Parliaments funk-a-licious! Disco Biscuits (on speed and making Honor Roll)!

Toward the end of the show they took on a more Phish/Pink Floyd jam band tone and then came an amazing surprise when the drummer, Torbitt Schwarz, stepped away from his drum set and broke into a really deep hot guitar solo. A great way to close a show.

The sound is lush, polished to extremely shiny, and unabashedly retro. Think Shaft. Think shimmery bell-bottomed jumpsuits, disco balls and those excellent dance floors that light up. Think over-the-top funk ‘n’ roll. Their vibe is tinted with a sly tongue-in-cheek overtone, and they invite everyone in the room to join in.

And the normally cooler-than-cool Williamsburg crowd did just that.

Chin Chin possesses a tight, professional sound, and it’s obvious they’re having fun while doing it. Which makes a show always that much more enjoyable, no matter how much or, indeed, little, talent a band has. Luckily, Chin Chin has talent.

I am more than looking forward to their next gig. I hope to see you there.

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval Rating? 4.25 out of 5 stars.