Neon Lights @ The Delancey, 2-17-06
It’s hard now to imagine my concert-going experiences in high school. Back then, I wouldn’t see an act until it had reached Hammerstein Ballroom or Roseland if not full-on stadiums. Now and then, I might’ve ventured out to the exciting unknown of Bowery Ballroom or Irving Plaza. But that was pretty much the extent of the adventure. Nowadays, I’ll only head out to the Bowery grudgingly. Sure, the music will be largely worthwhile, but it’ll also come with claustrophobia-inducing crowds, your guaranteed sprinkling of drunks, bumpers and loudmouths, and bands that have already been documented, discussed and dissected out of their mystery.
I’m much more in my element now at an event like Neon Lights, a showcase lovingly steered by two dedicated bloggers. Jeff, of Merry Swankster, and Daniella, of Soft Communication, handle all the logistics and select a four-band lineup for their basement shows at The Delancey. They get DJs, they do the publicity, they pretty much earn a whole heap of indie karma for their efforts. Their last show, which featured Nerd Litter-approved bands Bell and The Ballet, occurred while I was living in San Francisco. But having relocated since, I wasn’t about to miss this new installment starring The Please Dept., The Muggabears, Apache Beat and A Sunny Day in Glasgow.
The mood for the night started out chill and laidback, with everyone getting ample room to breathe and strangers striking up conversations with one another. Three-dollar PBRs filled hands as ubiquitously as miniature flags at a Fourth of July parade. Nina Simone’s “I’d Rather Be Lonely” was playing over the intertwining dialogues. There was something refreshing and new about the mood, a hope and a willingness to hear the unheard and undigested.
Besides the agreeable atmosphere, the show’s most notable feature was that I enjoyed the bands in the order they performed. My high point was eight-thirty p.m. opener Please Dept., who managed the welcome feat of not featuring a guitar. They produced smart, playful pop approximately in the style of Spoon and/or The Blow. Their songs bounced and scurried elastically with energy and style. The piano arrangements were complex but light; singer Chris Hembree's nasality made his voice sound made for indie rock. By coming on first, Please Dept. came without expectations but ended up setting the bar for the other bands to meet.
Oklahoma's Muggabears impressed me too to be sure, with a wildly different approach. They opted for intense, piling on dark, heavy layers of fuzzy guitars. Singer Travis Johnson had the brooding makings of a rock god, his features seemingly conspiring to figure out how to get shit turned up even louder. The band's set dipped deeply into their upcoming EP, Night Choreography, and from the sound of things, I'm going to have to check it out soon.
After that, as more people filed in, as the drink special switched from beer to well, as the front row became bloggers exclusively, the music took a downturn for me. I had just pulled aside Daniella at the intermission to yelp, "If those were the first two bands, I can't imagine how good the next two will be!" effectively jinxing myself. Apache Beat was up first, again switching up the style. They were mostly fun and danceable, but for some reason, I wasn't having fun or dancing. There was just some essential component, some verve or vitality, lacking between stage and floor. It felt like an orator memorizing a speech perfectly but not being sure what all the words mean.
A Sunny Day In Glasgow
Likewise I should have been enjoying the last act, A Sunny Day In Glasgow, certainly the biggest name on the bill. But it also failed to connect with me. The double female melodies felt tentative, the music didn't grab me, and the performance was static. It proved a bit of a surprise that the band I'd ostensibly come to see was the least fulfilling and two I'd never heard would have the greatest impact. It's that kind of counterintuitive thinking I'm starting to see more and more often though. Soon enough, any of these bands could be opening at Bowery, the kinks largely smoothed out, the fanbase already congealing. But in that basement, things still felt variable and volatile, ours to nurture and unearth, for better or worse but always wholeheartedly worth a listen.