Considering the perpetual rain this summer, there is no denying June gloom is here, or as my pal Tom calls it, “April hangover”. Although, it is discouraging having summer on hold, I’ve got to say a good alternative to partying outside is partying INSIDE, as demonstrated by the Northside Festival in Williamsburg this past weekend. Northside took advantage of the grey weather by utilizing neighborhood bars, restaurants, and galleries to host myriad musical performances (and we all know music, eating, and drinking doesn’t go out of season). Lists of bands were curated for and assigned venues to perform in so concert-goers could choose their own itinerary, sort of like a musical scavenger hunt. The cost was $35 for a badge that allowed access into any show hipsters could scurry to in time, an economical approach to concert-viewing. It was also an ingenious way to promote local businesses and introduce new places to anyone interested.
Overwhelmed by choices, I sat down at The Charleston with a beer and pizza (total: $ 4!) to map out my next move. I noticed others around me doing the same thing with varied approaches to decision-making but mostly by choosing favorite bands or watering holes. For my first stop, I hit up Tristen at Cameo Gallery; which is hidden behind several curtains and corridors inside the Loving Cup restaurant (which smelled delicious, by the way). I chose this band in the off chance that it was the only guy I have ever met named Tristen, but learned it was a couple guitar-playing gals with sweet songs and strong voices. Also sweet, they offered to buy everyone a round of whiskey, but I didn’t find out if anyone called their bluff.
Moving on I decided to stop at Public Assembly for a while. It’s a great performance space with large rooms, two bars, nooks, crannies, AND one room used to have a mote. I saw a range of performances from the enjoyable strumming of Palmyra, to the rocking loud noise of Weekend performing among the audience, to Arrington De Dionyso (Old Time Relijun), which produced impressive experimental horn and tonal sounds accompanied by projected illustrations of nude females and creatures as well as some arguably painful interpretive dance.
One show that piqued my interest was BELL, who confronted the crowd, “are you ready for tacos? I’m ready. Summer is about tacos.” I totes agree. Bell had a genuinely playful and friendly stage presence with Olga Bell’s Björk-like vocals, twinkly keyboard and computer tones, and occasional double drumming. It was melodic and playful music, perfect for dancing, prancing, wondering, and daydreaming to. Or anything to; infectious, loveable stuff. Love-a-Bell?
Afterward, I galloped over to the back room at Union Pool (a pool supply store converted into a bar with a photo booth and outdoor taco truck) to catch the end of Endless Boogie, if that’s even possible. Endless Boogie definitely lived up to their name, playing out the boogie and doing it well. All the dudes (and dudettes) in the crowd loved every minute of danceable, diggable, dark, grooveable rock. Plus, Paul Major has some enviable hair. Following those guys was the Philadelphia-based group The War on Drugs, which is the kind of music I moved to New York hoping I’d hear more of; melodic countryish sound with a little bit of grit and purty, distinct vocals. One of my faves of the night.
Later I decided to commit to a late-night because I knew burlesque was in store. I headed back to Public Assembly where Primordial Punk orchestrated an early morning of “Brown Girls Burlesque”, The Maine Attraction, body paint by Ruby Croak, and even more music. The burlesque did not disappoint! The first dancer performed out of a locker-like box with a slit over the eyes and holes for appendages to Siousxie and the Banshees until the box came off (but left the heels on). “The Maine Attraction” also put on a hell of a show, sporting a red lace-up corset (that came off and on and off again), and drawing lines up the back of her calves to suggest stockings. She engaged the whole stage with her provocative moves, leaving the audience thirsty for more, which is how it should be.
The next day I saved all my strength for one man, Bill Callahan. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the opening act Sir Richard Bishop and his Freak Araby Ensemble, who Callahan referred to as “intense”. They certainly were dang good-musicians providing the festival with some interesting much-appreciated flavor.
When Bill Callahan took the stage it became clear everyone in the audience had a crush on the man and hung onto his every word. He’s the kind of songwriter and musician that makes it easy to understand why so many people embrace music of the 90s and don’t let go. He’s still relevant today and there is a reason; the timeless songs, engaging story-telling lyrics, sometimes rocking sometimes melancholy, honest music that tugs at the heartstrings. Callahan has a kind voice, a genuinely warm soul. He and his band changed the pulse of the festival and ended the weekend on a perfect note. Everyone went home happy.
– Jennifer Serchia