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.

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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.)