My Thursday night began at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, where The Pitchfork Review was celebrating the release of their third issue. Jenn Pelly read an essay about her first forays into emo, which made me think of The Ataris for the first time since, if memory serves, I was sent a CD of theirs to review for my old zine. Mark Richardson read from a piece that appeared in the journal’s second issue, about listening to Sun Kil Moon’s Benjy; along the way, I realized that I’ve apparently been pronouncing Mark Kozelek’s name incorrectly since 1998 or so. And Lindsay Zoladz read about the device of using hashtags in song names, a titling move that seems doomed to backfire (or at least to tie the song in question to a very specific moment in time.) Taken together, the three pieces provided a fine survey of music writing, ranging in approach from the personal to the analytical.
(Being there, did I feel a little nostalgia for the Best Music Writing readings of bygone years? I’m not sure that I was conscious of it at the time, but looking back on it from the vantage point of a day, I think so. I’m certainly in that spot now.)
Once the readers were done, Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee played a short acoustic set. I’ve enjoyed her band’s music since their debut album, and hearing the songs in a pared-down style did nothing to change that. (See also: the pleasure of seeing someone play music in that space, which is always enjoyable.) From there, I headed up to the L train and made my way to Union Pool, to catch a set by Alvarius B.
I was a relative latecomer to Sun City Girls, the band in which Alan Bishop (aka the aforementioned Alvarius B.) played bass; they were a group whose name I’d seen referenced, but for whom I found seeking out their music far more difficult. When I did see their final album, Funeral Mariachi, at Sound Fix a couple of years ago, I picked it up. From there, I found myself delving into the music made by the group’s two surviving members, brothers Alan and Richard Bishop. This can be a mixed bag: pick an album by either of them, and it may well be bliss-inducing or experimental to an almost monastic extent.
That night at Union Pool, Sam Shalabi played an improvised set on the oud; then Byron Coley led a trio through a number of spoken-word pieces that, I’m assuming, had been written over the years. Perhaps I’m wrong, but that would explain the significant presence of Rudy Giuliani in one of them. Some were satirical; others invoked bygone urban geography and iconic musical figures. (One drew a comparison between Charles Mingus and D. Boon.) Alvarius B.’s set involved some consciously provocative stage banter–I’m tempted to volley out a James Ellroy comparison, in the sense that button-pushing played a significant role in the night’s proceedings.
In other words: the set did involve some beautiful moments, musically speaking; one of them was preceded by an introduction arguing that the song’s inspiration came from wishing violence on random people around him. Was it born out of a genuine sentiment, or was it more emblematic of a consciously nihilistic (or “nihilistic”) aesthetic? The employment of a persona–or, at least, the question of whether one is being employed–isn’t something one seems much at punk and indie shows these days. And that’s probably not a bad thing–the “I have a persona! Watch me shock you with what I say!” schtick isn’t something that prospers in abundance, and there’s a very fine line between keeping an audience from being too comfortable (an admirable move, I’d say) and simply offending them. For my money, last night’s set stayed in the former territory. After an hour and change, the give-and-take between the discomfort and the beatific music left me feeling the same set of emotions that first lured me into punk rock, albeit with a very different balance.