Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Caryn's Top Five Live Shows of 2004

Please forgive me as I’m not as anal as my sister-in-arms Amy Phillips, who just so happens to keep a written tab of every single show she’s gone to since she’s worn braces. As a consequence, the dates may be a bit off on my rundown. But everything’s in the general vicinity of being accurate.

(In vague backward chronological order rather than order of importance.)

1) Patti Smith. Bowery Ballroom. New York City. New Year’s Eve.

Everyone should go to the annual last day in December Patti Smith-a-thon once in their lives. It’s the anti-Dick Clark Rockin’ Eve. You get Patti kicking it all shaman-like. Patti making out with her outrageously foxy and notably younger beau/guitar player. Patti inviting a cast of thousands on stage. This particular night she had Steve Earle with her and there were many stabs at explaining our collective political predicament. Patti Smith’s hunted howl somehow made it seem all that much better. Yeah, people have the power all right. Alas, it wasn’t the portent I’d hoped it would be.

2) Dizzee Rascal. Volume. Brooklyn, NY. February 7.

This was Mr. Rascal’s American live debut and the new (yet sadly short-lived) club Volume did it right for the Vaseline-tongued Brit. Instead of a stage, they had this huge pimped out flatbed truck which kinda made it theatre-in-the-round. When Dizzee went a cappella, I was sure that he was consorting with an alien. But was I that sister from another planet? Dizzee, can you hear me?

3) Kiki and Herb with The Last Town Chorus. Bowery Ballroom. New York City. February 14.

First of all, I saw Boy George that night. Be mine, be mine! All the Valentine a girl could need, really. Then, Megan of the LTC was funny as shit. She asked all sympathetically, “Who here doesn’t have a Valentine?” All these people raised their hands or hooted. “Good,” she said and waited with perfect dramatic pause. “Go fuck each other.” Then she started tapping out that morose code of hers on the lap guitar. Next, it was a visit to that pleasantly musky cultural waste processing plant lorded over by definitive operators Kiki and Herb. Yeeeessss…was the start of my last jam and here it is again, another def jam. For sure.

4) The Thermals. Three times in 2004.

Yep, I saw the Thermals three different times this year. Once, at Northsix. Another time opening up for Sleater-Kinney at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Lastly, at the Mercury Lounge. Thing is, most Thermals shows seem to be similar. There’s Hutch as MC Declarative, the bouncing bass of Kathy and the firm hand of Jordan on drums. Simple. Elegant. Fuckin’ A. It all goes by pretty quickly and by the end you feel like a snow globe that’s been run through the centrifuge. That shit’s good is all.

5) Rock-n-Roll Camp for Girls Showcase. Aladdin Theater. Portland, Oregon. July 29.

You know that old saw about how only 10 people went to the Sex Pistols show in Manchester (or insert some legend about The Velvet Underground here) but all of them started bands? I definitely got that revolutionary feeling at this show. Not so much that these girls would themselves go out and take over the world (but some of them were so good that they just might) but, rather, the mechanism behind rock camp is so right on that it is sure to change the course of music history.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Amy's Top Five Live Shows Of 2004

OK, techincally, it's six...

1. Vote For Change Tour: Bright Eyes, R.E.M., John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band / Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA / Oct. 1, 2004

Sigh… We were all so young and naïve back then, weren’t we? (Read full review in October archives.)

2. R. Kelly, Jay-Z (with Foxy Brown, Ja Rule, Mary J. Blige, Usher, T.I., Freeway, others) / Madison Square Garden / Oct. 29, 2004

For obvious reasons. (Read full review in October archives.)

3. Prince / Madison Square Garden / July 14, 2004

Morris Day and the Time were the surprise opening act. Sheila E. got a five-minute standing ovation after “The Glamorous Life.” It was raining that day. During the show-closing “Purple Rain,” the Garden was a sea of swaying umbrellas. No bad luck here.

4. Big & Rich / CBGB / June 23, 2004

The rapping cowboy was there. The little person was there. A CMT camera crew was there. Many ecstatic rock critics were there. The only thing missing? Gretchen Wilson.

5. Tie: Scout Niblett / Buffalo Billiards, Austin, TX / March 19, 2004 and Joanna Newsom, Antony, Devendra Banhart, Vetiver / Bowery Ballroom / June 21, 2004

This is what I wrote about Scout Niblett in my South by Southwest wrap-up for Kitty Magik:

“She sounds exactly like something I’ve heard before, and that something is Cat Power. But the British singer/songwriter/guitarist/drummer was a million times better in concert than Chan Marshall. For one thing, she finished every song. And she wasn’t afraid to scream at the top of her lungs or beat the shit out of her drums. The greatest thing about Scout (real name, Emma) was how much joy she appeared to be getting out of making music. Her playing was extremely rudimentary and awkward, and she resembled a wide-eyed child who has just discovered the wonders of rock and roll. It was so refreshing, after watching so many artists go through the motions, or just look like they aren’t having a good time up there. Why even bother, right? Scout’s performance reminded me that music is magic, an idea I have been forgetting about more and more often these days.”

Now, will somebody PLEASE put Scout Niblett and Joanna Newsom in a recording studio together? Just think of the magic these pale, frail freak-folk pixies could make together. Maybe it would come close to the thrill of experiencing Joanna, Devendra, Antony and Vetiver doing Joanna’s “Three Little Babes” together.

(I should probably take this opportunity to mention Devendra’s performance at WBAR’s annual WBAR-B-QUE in April. He only played for about 20 minutes, but during that brief time, I finally “got” what all the fuss was about. The mid-afternoon sun was bathing the Barnard cafeteria, Devendra was wearing his trademark hoodie, and a couple of children were crawling around the stage. I felt like I was on a commune.)

Honorable Mentions: Mary Lou Lord on a street corner during South by Southwest, Cex, Hasil Adkins, Friends Forever, Bright Eyes at the National Lawyers’ Guild benefit, The Blow, Dead Milkmen reunion, OVO

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Joanna Newsom, (Smog), Weird War / Bowery Ballroom / Dec. 18, 2004

I pretty much hate the Christmas season, for the most part, what with all the terrible music and the electricity-wasting lights and the senseless shopping frenzy. But little gems like the “It’s A Wonderful Next Life” Drag City Christmas Party sometimes make it worthwhile. The Bowery Ballroom was decked with wreaths and lights, and Drag City had made up these leaflets explaining how Christmas is really a pagan holiday and rock ‘n’ roll can only be played by African-Americans… or something. It’s very confusing, and involves cartoon drawings of Joanna Newsom, Bill Callahan, and the members of Weird War. Nevertheless, it was quite charming.

The show was a round robin, meaning that the acts rotated after three songs. There were three rounds plus an encore, so everybody did ten songs total. That was just the right amount for (Smog) and Weird War, but I don’t think I would have been satisfied with even twice as much from Joanna. Yup, I’m one of those people—I worship her little elf ears and kiss the ground her fringed suede boots walk on. This was my second time seeing her (the first being that amazing tour with Devendra Banhart and Vetiver earlier this year), and I still can’t believe THAT voice comes out of THAT body. And those fingers! I feel like I’ve got ten big toes attached to my hands when I look at her. Joanna modeled the latest in forest nymph chic, changing outfits and hairstyles with every round. She played a good amount of songs that aren’t on The Milk-Eyed Mender, but, alas, no “Three Little Babies.” (My skin is still recovering from the goosebumps that one gave me at the last show.) The stage was completely dark except for an amber spotlight that shone on her and the harp.

At one point, Joanna paused to thank Drag City for being so good to her this year. No, honey, you’ve got it all wrong. They need you more than you need them. Didn’t you notice how half the crowd went down to the basement bar when you weren’t on stage?

I was excited for Weird War, since I’ve never seen Ian Svenonius live, and he’s a legend and everything, and supposed to be an electrifying performer, right? Well, he’s still got mad charisma, but the glory days have passed him by. He’s sort of a parody of himself now, doing that whole “political” white soul brother shtick to death. I predict: one day, Ian Svenonius and Jon Spencer will be touring casinos and county fairs together.

Bill Callahan did his solo acoustic (Smog) thing, bathed in that same amber glow. His voice is so lulling and soporific to begin with… and the sound at the Bowery is always crystal-clear… and I’d just been through a week of holiday parties…. and….zzz.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Team Spider / CBGB's 313 Gallery / Dec. 17, 2004

Is Team Spider just another gimmick band, or a radical repudiation of hegemonic ideas about age? (Looking at their website, they appear to be a combination of both, not to mention an activist collective and a television show.) What we have here is an average ska/punk group—scruffy, long-haired guitarist, bassist with lip piercing and knit cap—fronted by an eighty-year-old man. He shouts slogans like “Bush Bush Bush! Bomb Bomb Bomb! The Constitution!” and tries to get the audience to shout along. At one point, in between songs, the guitarist jokes, “exploit the old.” It didn’t look like exploitation. The elderly man was having a great time. Why shut octogenarians up in rest homes when they would rather be rocking out?

(Team Spider was performing at the release party for a book called Let Fury Have The Hour: The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer, recently published by Nation Books. Hey, look who wrote a chapter—me!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Pixies, Broken Social Scene / Hammerstein Ballroom / Dec. 14, 2004

I could lie and say that this was the best concert of my life. I could say that it was totally worth the ten year wait, and the fifty dollar ticket. That they blew the roof off and set my hair on fire. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first person to say it.

Honestly? It wasn’t that great.

They played everything I wanted them to play, and more—even “La La Love You” as the final encore, dedicated to David Lovering’s mom, who was in the audience. (Frank Black thanked her for letting them practice in her basement, and then said something like “Who knows? We might be back there soon.”) Lots of stuff from Trompe Le Monde: “Planet of Sound,” “U Mass,” “Subbacultcha.” Doolittle and Surfer Rosa almost in their entirety. Joey Santiago did some cool tricks during his “Vamos” solo where he hit the guitar with a drumstick, and then unplugged the cable and hit it against his head to make fuzzy feedback noises. Everybody in the band seemed content. Kim Deal even called Frank Black “Charles” at the end.

But … I don’t know. It wasn’t exciting. Yes, Frank/Francis/Charles screamed like he was trying to push the last few remaining hairs out of his scalp, and David Lovering’s flamboyant arm movements reminded me of a magician’s.* But they just kind of stood there and played. Kim lurked in the back for most of the set, facing the drum kit. They barreled through song after song like it was just a job (which, I suppose, it is.) I didn’t feel any magic. The audience was way more excited than the four Pixies—I almost wish they had brought the woman going batshit-crazy in the row in front of me up on stage to dance.

I literally slept through Broken Social Scene’s set. Like, drool was dripping out of my mouth and onto my coat. Not because their set was particularly bad, but because I hadn’t slept the night before. In between dreams, I did notice that they brought out the girl from Metric, who spent most of the time doubled over in that classic hardcore singer I-am-feeling-this-so-much-my-body-is-going-to-split-in-half pose.

Also, I didn’t notice any of the sound problems that Douglas mentioned in yesterday’s post, but that may have been because I was sitting in the first mezzanine, not standing on the floor.

* Thanks to Monk, I now know that David Lovering IS a real-life, honest-to-goodness magician. Or rather, a "scientific phenomenologist," as his website says.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Pixies, Mission of Burma / Hammerstein Ballroom / Dec. 13, 2004

by Douglas Wolk

"You like that band, right?" said my friend's date at the Mission of Burma/Pixies show at Hammerstein Ballroom last night after Burma went off stage. "What do you like about them?" Well, I said, they've got amazing songs, which you couldn't hear tonight. And they have an unbelievably great guitar player, which you couldn't hear tonight. Also, they have an extra, offstage member who does really interesting subtle things to their sound with tape manipulation, which you couldn't hear tonight.

The problem was that the Hammerstein's sound was way, way, WAY too fucking loud, and mixed so badly that all you could hear was vocals and the bassiest drums in the kit. Clint Conley clearly couldn't even hear himself--he sang the entire first verse of "Academy Fight Song" in the wrong key. I love that song, but I love the one that starts "walk into my room/ask me tricky questions," not the one that starts boom-a-BOOM-a-boom-a-BOOM-a-boom-a-BOOM-a. If there was any dust on my clothes before the show, there's not any more.

This was one of the loudest shows I've ever seen--right up there with My Bloody Valentine and the My Dad Is Dead show in '92 or so where I think I permanently lost a little of my high-end hearing--and this time I had my earplugs in the entire time. Look, people: Roger Miller from Burma has to wear pharmaceutical-grade earplugs and rifle-range earmuffs and be separated from Peter Prescott by a Plexiglass barrier and stand next to his amp instead of in front of it, because dumb-ass sound design like this has wrecked his ears. The evidence is right in front of you.

And if I'm paying fifty dollars for a rock show, I had damn well better be getting good sound. That means paying somebody to go to a whole bunch of different parts of the audience area during soundcheck--including where I was standing, about 35 feet from the stage--and make sure that you can hear something other than drums, even if that means turning certain things DOWN a little. The Pixies stopped their set after two songs because the monitor mix was so bad they couldn't hear themselves either; when they came back, they were clearly having a good time--Kim Deal and Black Francis even got into a fake fight about doing an encore, and after he agreed to do one more song ("Debaser"!!), she launched right into "Gigantic" and he had to go along. A lot of their songs start with very specific drum parts--but the ones that don't took a minute or two to identify, because they were just huge shock waves coming out of the sound system.

I had a ticket to see the Pixies again on Thursday, and I had to cancel--there's no way I'm doing that to my ears twice in a week. Don't even think about going without your earplugs.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Move Against AIDS 2004: Return of the Dance-A-Thon / Javits Center / Dec. 11, 2004

“Dance” and “marathon” are words not usually associated with someone like myself (i.e. an out of shape, pasty-white geek with no rhythm and even less stamina). Nevertheless, due to some serious peer pressure from Caryn and Daphne, I found myself at the Javits Center last night attempting an approximation of what I believe the young folk these days call “shaking that thang.” All in the name of raising money for AIDS research.

Beverly Bond started the evening off by spinning “We Will Rock You,” a song that even I know is better suited to baseball stadiums than dance floors. But then she switched to “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” and all was forgiven. Her set consisted of mostly current hip hop hits, with the occasional Prince or Michael Jackson song. I tried to get low with Lil Jon, get my eagle on with Nelly and lean back with Terror Squad, but from the looks people were giving me, I don’t think I was doing any of them quite right.

Does anybody remember what 3LW’s hit was? Me either, and that’s after watching them perform AND reading their All Music Guide entry. They did a little dance to “Goodies”, lip-synched a couple of tunes, and performed something called “the down south booty bounce.” One girl wore a one-piece jumpsuit that zipped up the front. It looked like baby pajamas. Another wore a tank top with a pocket over each breast. Yikes. But even with those outfits, watching them bounce around made me feel fat and lazy.

Then one of the Queer Eye guys (Jay, maybe? I’ve never watched the show) introduced Danny Tenaglia. Not really my thing. We vacated the dance floor after listening to Madonna say “ladies with an attitude” over and over a thousand times, and took a break. When we returned, Tony Touch was spinning more hip hop hits, which meant “Lean Back” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot” again, as well as New Edition’s “Poison” and the same Prince song (“Kiss”) we’d heard earlier.

But Tony had a little surprise for us. No sooner had I finally worked myself into some sort of groove, then he suddenly dropped “Seven Nation Army.” Everybody kind of stopped what they were doing and looked around awkwardly. “This is the least sexy thing I’ve ever danced to,” Daphne said. Then “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on. I couldn’t hear what she said next, but I think it was “Oh no wait, I take that back.” The crowd seemed pretty pumped for “Teen Spirit,” though. Everybody jumped up and down in unison.

When Wilson Cruz came on stage, I got really excited, so I yelled “Ricky! Ricky! Ricky!” He introduced Kevin Aviance, who, from far away, I at first thought was Grace Jones, then RuPaul. He was wearing a feathered headdress and a feathery coat, a corset and a thong exposing his rock-hard ass. I was overwhelmed with the urge to get down on the floor and do sets of butt crunches right there.

I can’t remember the sequence of events for the rest of the night, but here’s what happened: Ricky took his shirt off. Alan Cumming talked about using “con doms” (yes, he split the word in half like that). Rosie Perez gave a shout out to all the breeders in the house. Some guy breathed fire on a side stage. Martha Wash sang “It’s Raining Men” and some other song. Rosie Perez praised Martha Wash by dissing “all those non-singing bitches” (uh oh, 3LW!) Peter Rauhofer and Junior Vasquez both spun the same Destiny’s Child remix. (Apparently, it was a big deal that Danny Tenaglia and Junior Vasquez were on the same bill, since they hate each other or something.)

Then we went home and I used WebMD to diagnose myself with Plantar Fascitis.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Robert Quine Tribute / CBGB's 313 Gallery / Dec. 4, 2004

Robert Quine might not be one of the most famous figures to emerge from the original NYC punk scene, but chances are, everybody reading this owns at least one record he played on. The legendary guitarist was a member of the Voidoids, bootlegged the Velvet Underground, and collaborated with Lester Bangs, Lou Reed, Lydia Lunch, Tom Waits, Matthew Sweet, Brian Eno, among countless others. Quine committed suicide in May, and a bunch of his friends and admirers gathered at CBGB’s Gallery to remember him.

I went to the tribute to support Jason, who became friends with Quine after conducting an interview with him in 1997. Jason told the story of when he first met Quine, how he asked Jason what his birthday was, and immediately told Jason what the number one song was on the day he was born. Apparently, this man had an encyclopedic knowledge of music history that we can all aspire to accruing one day. He also was a bit of a curmudgeon until you got to know him, and then he was a loyal friend who loved to make mixtapes to educate people about his favorite artists.

A parade of NYC punk luminaries, including photographer Roberta Bayley, journalist John Piccarella (accompanied by his thirteen-year-old son in a Pavement t-shirt, on guitar!), producer Hal Wilner and Voidoid Ivan Julian talked about their relationships with Quine. Thurston Moore played a John Fahey-like solo acoustic piece, Yo La Tengo played a bluesy, droning song, and Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell, as well as Jody Harris and David Hofstra, played duets. I had to leave in the middle, but James Chance, Richard Hell, Legs McNeil, Gillian McCain, John Holmstrom and many others were supposed to talk.

Is it appropriate to say that you had fun at one of these things? Because I sure did. I learned so much about Robert Quine, I felt like I had bathed in his spiritual essence. I got to see some big-time musicians at their most raw and vulnerable.

When I die, can somebody organize one of these things for me?

OVO / Local a.k.a. RockStarBar a.k.a. that bar at South 5th and Kent that has a different name every time you go to it / Dec. 3, 2004

This is why I do it. This is why I risk health, sanity, social life and employment to go out multiple nights a week and stand in a dark room full of drunk strangers. This is why I keep coming back, disappointment after disappointment, over-hyped dance-punk band after over-hyped dance-punk band, ringing eardrum after ringing eardrum.

Because I might stumble upon something like OVO.

A man and a woman, both from Italy. They have matching brown burlap dress/robe things on, and matching serpentine dreadlocks. She looks like Ari Up, he looks like Tim Harrington. He is wearing a Mexican wrestler’s mask, she is wearing a homemade version of the same. She holds a guitar and lets it feed back, occasionally strumming it. She wails and speaks in tongues (or maybe Italian). He attacks a flimsy drum kit that falls apart after a few songs. He moves to a chair in the middle of the room, with a bucket in front of him and a pair of cymbals under his feet. He taps on the bucket with his drumsticks while stomping on the cymbals. She breaks out one of these things. He kneels down in front of a bass guitar, which lays on the ground. He drums on the guitar, which is wired to a delay pedal. The room becomes an echo chamber. A kid grabs the bucket and starts dropping it in time with the beat. Two others join in with their chairs. Everybody else is stomping their feet. The girl takes out a violin bow and starts sawing away at her hair.

Sounds like a total mess, right? It wasn’t. Bands like !!! and Out Hud need four times as many people and instruments to work up that kind of groove.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Danielson Famile, Kimya Dawson / Northsix / Dec. 3, 2004

Kimya Dawson is quite possibly the only person in the whole world who can get on stage in a big furry skunk costume, accompanied by a percussionist dude in a dress and bunny ears, as well as a doll also in a furry animal costume, and make me want to cry. It’s not just that her songs are sad. It’s that there’s so much hope and love and goodness in her lyrics despite all the sadness. That just kills me, because I wish I felt that way. I wish I believed that a few chords on a beat-up acoustic guitar could change the world. That hugs and kisses will conquer shock and awe. But I just can’t.

Kimya’s performance hit me particularly hard because I’d forgotten how much I like her. I hadn’t listened to any of her records since I wrote this, which was nearly two years ago. But that fragile little voice is like a cup of warm hot chocolate.

Daniel Smith’s voice, on the other hand, is like a bucket of ice water in the face. Near the end of his set with the Danielson Famile, he asked the audience to join him in a sing-along, and everybody just laughed, because no mere mortal can sing that fucking high.

Bon Scott, Justin Hawkins—you guys are Barry White compared to this dude. Even Mariah Carey kneels before him.

Now, if you were blessed with a wail that could make rabid pitbulls cower in fear, what would you do with it? Why, you’d get your siblings and some friends together, dress everybody up in matching white medical scrubs with their names sewn on them, and you’d be a Christian folk-pop band. As All Music says, “They sound like Captain Beefheart's Magic Band joined by the Partridge Family at some roadside revival along the Jersey Turnpike,” and, well, I can’t really come up with anything to top that.

The Danielson experience can’t quite be conveyed with mere words. There are synchronized hand gestures involved, as well as two drummers, a violinist and a banjo player (The latter being none other than Sufjan Stevens, who lurked in the background and was referred to by Daniel as “Steve.” Due to shoddy mixing, I couldn’t hear him sing or play at all. But I could drown in his dreamy blue eyes.)

All that doesn’t even cover half of the craziness going on that night. Before the Famile’s set, Daniel came out to talk about the handcrafted art objects he makes, “Great Comfort Stuff.” On sale at the merch table: Greeting cards saying you’re sorry. Gift wrap. Soap. Heart-shaped blinders. A wooden heart containing miniature body parts. That last one will set you back $400. But hey, this is ART. This guy was in the Whitney Biennial!

Halfway through the Danielson set, the rest of the band left the stage, only to be replaced by a giant cloth tree. Yes, a tree. Daniel climbed inside of it and played a brief set of songs from his new-ish solo record, Brother Is To Son. I kept waiting for some sort of Spinal Tap moment where the tree would collapse or catch on fire or Daniel wouldn’t be able to get out, but it didn’t happen.

And people think Marilyn Manson is weird?!

For an encore, the Famile lead the crowd in some Christmas carols. Everybody seemed to know the words except for me and my friend Katie. This reminded me of when I was in the school chorus in fifth grade, and I would always hum instead of singing the references to Jesus, because I thought that the Jewish God would get mad at me.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Dälek, Rothko, Nov. 30, 2004

Dälek make the angriest music in existence today. Angrier than Wolf Eyes, Merzbow, dead prez, Paris and The Great Kat going at each other with chainsaws. They’re angry at hip-hop, they’re angry at metal and they’re angry at noise, so they try to kill all of them at once. No wonder their only fans are Decibel magazine’s core demographic. This is quite possibly the only band in the world that could make a record with Faust and have it end up sounding less hard than their usual stuff. They’re angry that everybody forgets that Jesus was black, but fuck it because Christianity will steal your soul anyway.

When you listen to a Dälek record, you only pick up half of the rage. You can’t tell that part of the wall of noise is coming from DJ Still blowing air into the needle as he scratches a record. Or that MC Dälek might weigh 300 lbs, and he’s wearing an XXXL Ol’ Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.) t-shirt that’s tight on him. You can’t see the sweat pouring down his face. You can’t feel the bass in your chest, feet and nose (well, maybe you can, if you spent much, much more money on your speakers than I did.) You can’t see how confused hipsters who came just for the free Red Stripe are attempting to dance to this music. Because you can’t dance to this music. You can only cower.

Scott Seward wrote a really great review of the last Dälek album in the Voice. Check it out here.

Badfish (A Tribute to Sublime), Zox / Toad's Place, New Haven, CT / Nov. 12, 2004

By MITM Southern New England Bureau Chief Ted Scharff

A hot Russian girl I work with invited me to come out to Toad's Place with her last Friday. A really great band called Badfish was playing, she told me. They play Sublime songs.

"Oh, uh… I'm not so sure I'm going to make it out tonight. Doesn't really sound like my scene."
"What, are you too cool to come out and dance with us?"
"No, I just uh… it’s raining pretty hard, and I'm kind of into a book over here."

A few minutes after disconnecting the phone, I started to think maybe she was right. I pondered: What had six years in New York City done to me? Here I am, brand-spanking-new in town, don't know a soul. A pretty girl asks me to go to a show with her, and I'm balking because the band plays songs that are too popular. Funny, I don't remember setting out to become a music snob. But could I really bring myself to pay $12 to hear people try to sound like a band that never did anything original in the first place?

Perhaps I could...

Hot Russian Girl's number was ringing out to voicemail, so I just headed over to the club in hopes of meeting up with her and her friends inside. Toad's Place was filled to saturation. I made a quick survey of the club. It has an awkward setup. The high school kids are corralled into the front/center stage area, separated from the rest of the cavernous room by a shoulder-high wood and plexiglass barrier. You can't bring a drink into the stagecrowding area, and the only way out to the perimeter of the room -- where the bar and pool tables are -- is to wrestle your way through the crowd to a single handstamp checkpoint.

ZOX was on stage. I caught the last two songs. Apparently, CT Ska is still alive, and it’s been moldering all these years in the fridge next to the stinky Blues Traveller cheese. They had an electric violinist (like Yahoo Serious!), and they actually closed with a hard-driving rendition of Pachelbel's Canon. Eight years ago, it would have made an angsty high school me cringe to see the Dave Matthews set take up the reigns of a scene once dominated by giants like Mephiskaphales - This attitude had little to do with the music, actually. It was a conditioned aversion born of deep subcultural rifts, reinforced by years of adolescent alienation and distrust. But as I said, that was years ago. I leaned against a pillar in the back, tapping a foot and sipping a beer. Zox jammed hard.

My phone buzzed between sets and displayed the hot Russian Girl's number. I answered it and was greeted by tinny crowd noise, and muffled conversation. It was the sort of call you get from people's ass pocket when they forget to lock their keypad. Again, I searched for her in vain. I made my way around the room and through the checkpoint to get a second drink. I watched a cute girl in dreads going crazy to recorded sounds of Odelay as I waited for the main act to take the stage.

The headliner, BADFISH, sounded remarkably like Sublime would without a synth and sampler. Granted, Sublime's music is not the most technically difficult to play, nor is their style the toughest to imitate. What was impressive was the combination of reverence and energy that Badfish put into their show. Every detail, down to the inflections in the vocals, was meticulously faithful to the album versions that have been floating down the halls of college dorms for the past 10 years, and yet for the entire show, Badfish maintained an almost heroic level of enthusiasm.

Badfish played for over an hour, which means they got through approximately half of Sublime's catalog. They covered some of the one and two minute tracks from the first two albums, including the Brad Nowell / Gwen Stefani anthem of desperate love, "I Saw Red" (featuring a female vocalist in a Sublime T-Shirt who materialized for just that one song and then vanished back into the crowd.) They even played "Hong Kong Fooey," from MCA's 1995 Saturday Morning Cartoons' Greatest Hits compilation (If you've never heard this, buy it right now (if only for the Helmet and Violent Femmes tracks)). Mysteriously, Badfish neglected to play "Date Rape." Maybe they didn't want offend the rapists in the audience.

What else could I do? I got drunk. I danced my ass off like there were no Yalies staring at me. I intermittently sang along. I shouted out the sampled bits of the songs while pumping my fists in unison with the rest of the crowd.

I never found the hot Russian girl. Later, I found out she had decided to go to a goth club instead. But I learned a valuable lesson: No good bands come to New Haven since the Tune Inn went out of business.