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.