A night out in Williamsburg

No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,
Posted 30 May 2010 in Music, Travel

On my first night back in New York earlier this month, I decided to try something outside Manhatten. In all the times I’ve been to New York I’ve managed to do a bunch of sightseeing, I’ve caught a series of pretty good gigs, but I’ve always stayed in the comfort zone of the areas I know. So I figured that I’d head over to Williamsburg and see Real Estate at Monster Island, supported by a bill of fellow New Jersey bands. I caught the L Train over the river and spent five minutes standing on Bedford Avenue trying to figure out which way to walk. It was already dark by the time I arrived, with rain steaming up my glasses and adding weight to my clothes. Bedford Avenue itself is just awesome; a lively, colourful thoroughfare with great cafes, bars, foodie hangouts and record stores. Turning south, and towards the East River, Brooklyn became quiet – I strolled through deserted streets, becoming slightly disconcerted by the remote route I was taking.

In the end, Monster Island was pretty hard to find. Essentially an unmarked, unsignposted basement in an old factory building down by the river, I only found it by anxiously circling the deserted looking building a couple of times ’til I spotted some kids so conspicuous in their hipster attire that they could only possibly be looking for the same place. They swanned up to a big metal door and strolled straight in. Feeling stupid – I’d walked past it a couple of times – I followed them in.

The venue was terrific; a sweaty, brick-lined bunker styled as a venue in only the most cursury of ways, it contained a bar which was essentially a plank of wood propped up on stool, a huge sofa so knackered that one collapsed to almost floor level when one fell back into it, and a little stage accompanied by an enormous, floor-rattling PA system, tonight playing nothing but antique African funk and psychedelic rock. Feeling slightly awkward for being on my own, but nevertheless excited to be in such a strange, intense little venue, I ordered a beer and waited patiently – and for quite some time – for the first band to come on.

Liam The Younger were dreadful at first; heavy, directionless garage rock for three or four minutes, then steadily better and better from that point on, to the point where I was grinning like a maniac by the end, my good humour compensating for me the sheer shock of the volume right up next to the speaker. The band, led by the pissy, prissy and titular Liam, played a purposeful, skilled and bad-tempered set of loose indie rock, somewhere between Bob Dylan and late Pavement. Between songs Liam stared annoyed at his bandmates, poured sarcastic scorn on the audience, and played some mesmerising songs. Very excited about this guy – he had that classic indie rock chip on the shoulder, cf Malkmus, but could really write and play. Great stuff.

Up next were two band who were impressive but nothing amazing. Big Trouble played noisy, dextrous dream pop, but they seemed to be intent on reproducing the early work of the young Boo Radleys; an odd choice, given they had the power to think bigger. I amused myself by working out which song from ‘Everything’s Alright Forever’ they were re-working on each track, and singing the original lyrics along loudly. Family Portrait, pictured below, were much better, but not my sort of thing at all – heavy surf-rock mixed with garage rock and pysch. Expertly performed, but I got rid of Nuggets box-set years ago.

Real Estate made up for it. Their music is wonderfully vivid; extremely pretty, harmonic, hypnotic compositions which I witnessed open mouthed through a sudden fog of pot smoke, the room shimmering and throbbing before me. Their trebly, tremulous guitars wash over everything, but their success is achieved by the shape and balance of their songs, which are actually driven by a really accomplished rhythm section – psychedelic indie with a lovely even keel. They’re capable, too, of really lovely turns of phrase, which always helps.

“Suburban dogs get afraid when it rains,
Suburban dogs bark at slow moving trains.
They’ll run from your house and come back the same day
Suburban dogs are in love with their chains”.

Show over, and a touch effected by the sequence of beers and the sweet, arid scent of the air, I stumbled out into Brooklyn and strolled euphorically through the streets, by now getting absolutely hammered with rain. Somehow, eventually, I found myself back on Bedford Avenue and soon after awoke, smiling, totally refreshed (but slightly mystified how I got back) in my hotel room, with Manhatten once more washed clean and sunny.

Add Your Comment