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's moody pop rock upbeat angst music on 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 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 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.


by LLI

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


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.

Zander Bleck & Studio E at The Canal Room 03/07/09

by LLI

The evening began with a $10 cover charge. Never cool, especially in this economy, but it was Saturday night in the city and my buddy’s birthday, so I shelled out.

Studio E was the opening band. I’d checked them out earlier on the interwebs whilst sipping a glass of cheap red zinfandel, getting all tarted-up at my apartment ( fine two glasses! and okay fine! One was a bit of a wine bomb. If you don’t know what a wine bomb is then make sure to tune in on Youtube to watch the upcoming behind the scenes segment covering this marvelous drink on The Neil Diamond Cooking Show!), and they seemed worth a listen

I was definitely down with their bluesy folky vibe and was ready to enjoy a chill show. It had been a while since I went to a laid back show and I was anxiously anticipating reliving my high school hippy days. Little did I know that I would be going back to that time and then some!

The band began and within 60 seconds of listening thoughts of 1991,’92 and ’93 jumped into my head….was I just drunk or did they sound like Rusted Root and a splash of Hootie? The music was infectious, I found myself liking it and I hated 90’s rock!

After a few songs they announced special guest Bridget Morrissey and up trotted a fresh faced American Idolish girl. This is when the show heated up. They played Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love”, Wilson Philips’s”Hold On”, and lead singer Jason started free styling TLC’s “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls !”, broadening the scope of their previous early 90’s hits and bringing them right up into the tragically hip late 90’s…..abSA-fuckin-lootly! Studio E was amazing!

Now, I was primed and more than ready to see what Zander was gonna bring to the table. I’d heard an electro track online that he did with Jaimie Fanatic and I loved it but I just couldn’t imagine him performing with a band. Plus, I’d heard flack on the streets that he was just a pretty boy because he models and as much as I suspected this stemmed from an ultra hater or a scorned ex-lover I secretly wondered if he was gonna pull an Ashley Simpson and fall flat on his face? Before I could stew on this negativity too long, the band came on, they looked great and immediately started to r-o-c-k.

Zander’s voice had a hint of nostalgia, like a fresh brewed sweet tea on a hot day. If you want to be transported out of the daily urban grind, come to a Zander show. His voice has just the right level and inflection that makes you want him to sing for you all night long. A tall confident presence on stage as the front man, the whole band gave off a good aura and Jayden and I found ourselves being drawn away from the bar (can you imagine?) and onto the center of the crowded dance floor.

The music was a great blend of classic rock with perfectly placed times of electronica. Zander seemed very comfortable on the stage as he teetered and danced around giving off a modern Steven Tyler vibe.

Zander Bleck is an artist with an edge, and I don’t just mean the edge on his stone chisled abs (but those are nice too). Definitely keep an eye on this one. Also, rumor has it that he may be performing live at Winter Music Conference (WMC) at Rok Bar, Set, Louey or Florida Room.

The Neil Diamond Seal of Approval Rating? 3.5 stars out of 5. For both.

Grand Morelos Diner & Bakery

their guacamole. also good... picture...not so good...

by DJW

While I still yearn for the days with this was called “Grand Morelos Bakery & Dinner”, I understand that even a gorgeously tacky 24 hour Mexican eatery has to grow up with the gentrification of the neighbourhood.

No matter how they have changed the decor, signs and take-out bags, one important thing remains the same: the food.

Delicious, cheap and real Mexican. You just can never go wrong with that.

Now, I will warn you, I have yet to make my way through the whole menu, and I keep far, far away from anything Tex-Mex, as well as anything plain-old American.

Why? Because I come to this place to eat real Mexican food. I wholly recommend the chilaquiles, tacos, tostadas, burritos, sopas, cemitas and the tortas (Mexican sandwiches)… Also good are some of the platters, but really, you can’t go wrong spending anywhere from a whopping $2.50 (tacos) to $3.50 (burritos). For me, the chilaquiles are enough to feed two people, and they’re around $7.95. Their hot sauce is also to die for…

What to keep away from? Well, I’m a food snob, so while I’ll eat their french fries (it’s an illness…) because I find them especially delicious dipped into the fabulous electric green hot sauce, I steer clear of the burgers and also the nachos. I never ordered the nachos, but have had friends do it and regret it…they’re not horrible, per se, but I think I can do without the culinary sensation of sliced American cheese on nachos.

The prices really haven’t changed much in the past eight years (and hopefully they’ll continue to stay in the I’m bloody broke but I can afford to eat here range), so it’s really affordable to pick up something, or stay in and eat. And, in this economy, it’s always great to have somewhere you can actually afford, aside from the local soup kitchen.

It’s also open 24 hours, which is a godsend for all you drunken boozers stumbling home in need of sustenance before counting your sheep. I’ve been there at 4.30am, being bought beers by a bunch of Mexicans. And they were way more polite and gentlemanly about it than any other man that eve. Of course, that’s not the reason to go there after the bar closes. No, you go there to eat some delicious food before bed.

Oh, and while I have not partaken of their breakfast menu (I’m sorry, but I love me a morning tostada), I must say their coffee is delicious, cheap and strong. Perfect for battling the morning after hangovers.

If you want great Mexican food at recession prices, then check this place out.

Grand Morelos Diner & Bakery, 727 Grand St, Brooklyn, Between Graham Ave & Humboldt St

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

Beta Beta @Trash Bar 3/4

beta beta, another pilfered pic. mr. neil did not manage to take photos of this band.

by LLI

Beta Beta was the last band of the night and it seemed they were more of a bridge between bands rocking-it on stage at Trash Bar and when the stage morphs into the hottest karaoke night on the south side of Williamsburg.

Beta Beta was simply stated. A girl with a mic and a DJ on the side of the stage.

As they were setting up I heard the girl (Adeline) call out to the sound board she was waiting for her laptop to boot up. Cool I thought, what are these cats gonna do? They finally started and she began careening softly into the mic, reminding me of an electronically music inspired Liz Phair.

Yes, Liz. (Oh Liz! I thought that I had lost you in the 90’s but now, just like Amazing Grace, have been found. Of course, this time you’re Asian and have a DJ not a band…) Wait, where was I? Oh, yes…

Adeline was a solo force and the front runner of this show. She stood alone under a spotlight, facing a crowd that had drastically thinned (due to open bar ending and it being a school night). I sensed a nervousness and self-consciousness in the first few songs. She stood close to the mic, clutching it throughout the performance in a way that made me want to know what she was thinking, and that drew me in, it made me want to know.

The DJ in the corner (Parizit) kept it real by not letting the beats stop and soon she began to open up. She shed that kind of self-awareness that comes with suddenly realizing you’ve been thrust under a spotlight in a room full of strangers and melded with her music.

They were a fun duo and worked well with each other. Gracefully flowing from song to song, it seemed as if the old saying of ‘practice makes perfect’ carries some truth behind it. I give them props for doing their thing, as humbly as they did it just felt right and they came through with some serious modern force. Performing to inspire and inspire they did.

Drag the mouse over the pic to link to their page and have a listen to their music!

Neil Diamond seal of approval 2.5 stars out of 5, and an “A” for Awesome Effort!

The Beach Project at Trash Bar 3/4

myspace pilfering rocks...stolen from their page.

There is something to be said for going to shows on time. There are so many little details you get to take in. Highly recommended (only when open bar is provided): SHOW UP TO SHOWS ON TIME!

I noticed the lead singer of The Beach Project earlier in the night because she was wearing hottie-for- hot-hot-pants (not that I was looking but I couldn’t help but notice). She stood next to me at the bar and asked the bartender for a water, I sensed that she was not just an overdressed patron but a LEAD SINGER and about to go on! She appeared friendly but serious, responsibly keeping a supply of H20 nearby for quenching her cords during the show but obviously not high up enough to have a manager to get her water (man I love this indie shit, it’s so real, so now, it’s so what you make of it….and she seemed to be making the best of it) or, maybe she was just getting a goddam water and I’m looking too into it? I don’t know I don’t care, I’m just saying.

I was now anxiously awaiting for her band to go on (but of course I just stood there and tried to play it cool…b/c you know I am cool…well, that’s what my mother says, anyway). Not only the hot pants but she had on what looked like some sort of self created butterfly extreme plung V neck.

Ok, now enough about the ambience and outfits, let’s get to the music. What can I say, besides ultimately lovely vocals! Peaceful, soothing their music reinforced an almost lost belief I had about of finding goodness in life. They were sharp on point electoro pop, candy shop hotness. They had a real ’80s vibe and there were touches of Kate Bush and Bjork in both her vocalisation and her theatrics. The band had the crowd into them.

Definitely a band to check out.

Neil Diamond Seal of Approval Rating? 3.75 out of 5 stars. Mr. Neil is very fastidious about his rating system.

Like Trains & Taxis at Trash Bar 3/4/09

When Like Trains and Taxis appeared there was something about them that didn’t gel for me.

I noticed the lead singer/keyboardist (whom I suspect is also the songwriter and the force behind the band) when he came in. He was snappily dressed, if a tad stylized.

As they started to play the music,  his personality shone through. He was bright, bubbly and believed in his songs. Hey, his outfit fit the sound down to the ground.

The problem for me was the music didn’t seem to fit the base grunginess of the trash bar. Their songs reminded me of Sesame Street. But Elmo rather than Oscar the Grouch. Maybe it was the lack of dope smoke in the room or the fact that open bar had ended but this band didn’t really do it for me on this fine eve.

There was nothing wrong with the music. I found myself infected by the last song by Mr. Elmo’s upbeat tunes and happy voice. But it didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the band. In my opinion the drummer and guitarist were dressed for rehearsal and that made them jar against the singer’s style. With this kind of music, image is a big part of getting the audience into their space and perhaps if the others had been more Sesame Street or Avenue Q and played in that old school band way then I would have bought into it.

The act here is as important as the music. Make it happen. That been said, I’ll totally check you out again but don’t count on me trucking across town or paying steep covers for yo’asses.

The Neil Diamond seal of approval rating? 2 out of 5 stars.

Introducing The Nightrats (Night Rats)

the night rat's very own art, pilfered right from their myspace page

the night rat's very own art, pilfered right from their myspace page

by DJW

Of course, I’m meant to be doing something else, so naturally I’m trawling the internets for things to do instead.

I stumbled across The Nightrats (Night Rats).

With only a handful of songs on offering on their page, I found myself instantly liking them. Their music is the kind of laidback, quirky, catchy, deceptively simple instacool that other bands would kill for (and, come to think of it, probably do. Can someone look into suspicious band deaths?)

I feel they really have their own vibe going on, and for some reason I think of Paris in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and I feel the urge to be in a hole-in-the-wall place thick with smoke and the crowd of those in the know before anyone else of what is the It Thing. Actually, they also want to make me wear a beret whilst smoking a cigarette in a cigarette-holder and foraying into beatnik poetry. But that’s probably just me and my issues.

The point is they have a great sound. I’m on my third round of listening to their musical groove and the velvet vocals really do bring an intimate and pared back vibe that keeps giving on each listen.

For me, personally, I am reminded of a pinch of Nouvelle Vague, a smidgeon of Mr. Dylan, a teaspoon of Leonard Cohen and of course, their own sound.

This is the kind of band that will make you all smug when the other peons finally discover them. My two favourite songs from their page? “Alligator Man” and “See You When I’m Stronger”.

Plus, anyone who writes the lyrics “I dreamed of velvet Elvis ” most definitely gets my vote. And, Mr. Neil’s!

Go to myspace and check ’em out. And go see them play.

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

Skin God at Trash Bar 3/4/09

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Hello world!

Well, hello, everyone and everything.

This is Mr. Neil here. Mr. Neil loves all sorts of things, including quirky events, music (especially Neil Diamond!), eating, drinking, reading, and maybe even rock climbing (but only after an apple, thyme and vanilla Martini – Mr. Neil read about those today and is most excited…).

So! If you’re a musician/band, have a restaurant, a book you’ve written, a blog, a bar, club or some event you want to promote, let us know. Mr. Neil would love to do a review and let the world (at least NYC, but Mr. Neil is most definitely not opposed to travelling to all kinds of glamorous and exotic locales, especially if there is some kind of glittery aspect involved…).

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