Buying Beer & Talking Music In Years Gone By

beer+monitor

Until I checked Instagram this morning, I hadn’t realized that Eagle Provisions in Park Slope was shutting down. I got the news via a photo posted by Rosie Schaap, and it affected me more than the all-too-familiar “this beloved business is calling it a day” narrative generally does. I spent a whole lot of time there for a few years running: a friend of mine once lived around the corner from it, and he and I did a podcast called Radio Free Brooklyn (long since defunct, with the archives similarly gone). It involved the two of us talking music of all kinds, from odd experimental pieces to grindcore to blues records to hip-hop. It’s the reason that I can now cite Impaled Northern Moonforest in conversations, for one thing.

It also proved essential to my education in the ways of craft beer. Long story short: we’d generally split a six-pack purchased from Eagle; we tried very hard to never pick the same beer twice, and at our peak, we were recording a show every week. That was a lot of beer, but it was also a lot of good beer, which made a huge difference. I haven’t been inside Eagle in a long time: most of the folks I knew who lived nearby have since moved elsewhere. And I realize that the lament of someone over something having vanished feels potentially hypocritical when they (i.e. me) haven’t patronized said establishment in a long time. Still, though: this is less about the loss of the place than the bittersweet feelings associated with a very particular time gone by, and all that emerged from it.

The beer was pretty amazing, too.

Views and Trees and Anniversaries

View from partway down the block

Fifteen years ago today, I moved to Greenpoint. I’m going with the 16th because that was the first night I actually slept here: there’d been some movement of things in the preceding days, but this was, for me, where it all started.

When I first moved in, the street on which I live was lined with newly-planted trees; I assume my block had been affected by the longhorn beetle infestation that struck the neighborhood a few years earlier. For years, I kept thinking, “Yeah, the trees will grow back eventually.” At some point not long ago, I realized that they already had. There’s probably a lesson to be learned in there; right now, I’m just grateful for the view as I look down the block. Small things.

2011.

It’s just after 4 in the afternoon as I type these words. The snow that’s spent most of the last week clogging the streets and sidewalks of my small corner of Brooklyn has begun to melt, aided by the morning’s rainfall. My windows are cracked a bit, letting some fresh air into the apartment. Soon enough, the dough that’s currently sitting in a countertop food processor will be placed into the oven and the apartment will fill with the smell of baking bread.

There’s an LP playing on the stereo in my living room. It’s from a duo called Reading Rainbow, and its title is Prism Eyes. Mostly, though, I just keep returning the needle to the beginning of side A, so that I can listen to the song “Wasting Time” again and again. It’s just about perfect, as noisy pop songs go: infectious and simple and magnificently catchy.

“Feel the sun is on us now/ I feel fine/ No one else can show us how,” they sing as the song ends. It doesn’t seem like a bad motto to take with me into this newly-born year.

In Which Good Food Gets Its Due

Recently, my friend Megan has been running the kitchen* at the Greenpoint record store/restaurant Eat; earlier this week, they received some press coverage from the Times. Which, given that the food that they make could rightly be termed “delicious,” is a fine, fine thing. I’m particularly gladdened to see Ligaya Mishan’s review make mention of Eat’s white bean crostini, which has damn near brought tears to my eyes when I’ve had it.

*-this is in no way a technical term.

brooklyn eating: eat records

On Saturday, I went along with friends to Greenpoint’s Eat Records. A friend of mine recently took over running their kitchen, and I was curious to see what the new setup was like. The last time I’d been there, the balance between cafe and record store was much more significantly in favor of the latter. Things have changed since then: the actual music selection has become more concentrated and is now entirely vinyl in nature, while the seating — now polished-wood benches — can accommodate larger groups. It’s an interesting shift, but one that makes sense given the emphasis on food there now.

How was the food? I’m not the most unbiased observer, to be true, but I was impressed: a good combo of eggs, fresh tomatoes, bacon, and feta; deviled eggs with just enough spiciness to make things interesting; and a fine cup of coffee. Alex opted for a melon soup which I tried as well — good, rich consistency without losing the essential, um, melon-ness. And even on a crushingly humid morning, their back garden managed to feel comfortable.

live: the dutchess and the duke, james jackson toth; union hall, 09.01.08

Union Hall is around four blocks from Gorilla Coffee in Park Slope, and on nights when my supply of coffee is low and I find myself bound for the venue in question, I’ll generally make a stop beforehand for a freshly ground pack. And so on nights when I find myself standing in Union Hall’s performance space without company, as I was this evening, it leads to a strange sensation: an overpowering smell of coffee even as you drink your beer.

The show began with the usual, a pre-show mix of assorted songs-of-the-moment from the last year or so. On one of the benches lining a wall, a fellow in a blue shirt warbled along with the Dirty Projectors, his girlfriend amused or appalled. It was hard to tell whether he sang out of devotion to the group in question or ironic contempt. (Ah, Brooklyn.) The lights dimmed slowly, leaving the stage barely illuminated. That wasn’t where the first of two bands was headed, though — The Dutchess and The Duke walked to the area just in front of the stage, picked up their instruments, and began to play.

The unamplified set isn’t something you see all that often. I was towards the front of the crowd, and I suspect that Union Hall is about the largest possible venue where this could work with even those towards the back of the room having no difficulty hearing the set. In contrast with the directness I’d seen the last time I saw the group, this set was more laid-back. Though every nuance of Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison’s playing was audible, the duo (along with Shayde Sartin, from Toth’s band, on percussion) occasionally laughed, dispensed “bless you”s to audience members who sneezed, and came close to cracking each other up more than once.

“I Am Just a Ghost” may have been the highlight: Lortz began the song singing just above a whisper and ended it kneeling, face pointed upwards, at a volume just below a shout. And “Scorpio”, from a seven inch on hoZac Records, may be the prettiest song the group has written to date. Throughout, with a few brief exceptions, the crowd was silent — not an easy feat to accomplish around these parts.

It might have been the contrast in styles, but when James Jackson Toth and band began to play, the roar of notes through speakers sounded huge. The last time I’d seen Toth play was a few years earlier, opening for John Vanderslice and still using the Wooden Wand alias. That set was acoustic and abundant with fire and brimstone; this set brought with it a different kind of haze. Toth’s Waiting In Vain is full of segues to paranoia, to smoke-filled rooms and uncertain memories. (It’s not far removed from The Gutter Twins’ Saturnalia — well-written, ecstatically played rock records that document aspects of life I’d rather avoid if at all possible.) The five-piece setup roared throughout the set, and with four of the five contributing vocals, the layered arrangements heard on Waiting translated to the live setting much more closely than I had expected. And while the maddeningly ecstatic “Beulah The Good” wasn’t on the evening’s set list, I left impressed.

from local shops to octopi: assorted monday afternoon links

One: China Miéville: not only a kickass writer, but also the go-to guy for octopus cover art.

Two: Visited Dandelion Wine, a new wine shop in my neighborhood, yesterday. Seems like a nice enough place — this writeup has more information.

Three: On a deeply geeky note, this discussion of the Watchmen trailer made for some chuckles.