These past weeks when I wasn’t watching the “gospel according to Wynton,” as one friend aptly described Ken Burn’s Jazz show, I was checking out a few of the bands here in Brooklyn. Pete’s Candy Store on Lorimer Street off of McCarren Park has become a very desirable spot for musicians to play, drawing well-known acts like Rufus Wainwright and a host of interesting new, and some not so new, local bands. You are actually in a 1920s-feeling candy store/soda shop that’s been stylishly converted into a club with a small stage for bands at the back, a beautiful bar in front by the plate-glass windows, and intimate tables throughout. The bands I saw there and at other spots in the neighborhood certainly reflect a healthy diversity and high quality that belies what some cynical Manhattanites might dismiss as dusty and been in Brooklyn too long. But at Pete’s Candy Store, I saw some great music being made by local bands such as Sway Machinery, NoBySCo, and the Reverend Vince Anderson, to name but a few.
Sway Machinery, a trio featuring Jeremiah Lockwood on vocals and guitar, Sean Kupisz on bass, and Tomer Tzur on drums, are definitely one of the most unusual lineups I’ve heard in a while. The songs are centered around the biting finger-style, Telecaster licks of Jeremiah, whose influences sound heavily John Lee Hooker-inspired, but with a distinctive Ashkenazi sensibility. Something about his stage persona brings to mind Elvis Costello, circa 1977, or an edgy, dyspeptic Buddy Holly, but in this case it’s as if a search is being made for the square root of the blues and it’s found in Eastern Europe. Rockabilly meets the Lower East Side schtetl. The three musicians trade inventive lines in the Hassidic tradition, but thankfully the feel is in the garage, not fusion. Definitely check these guys out at the nearest opportunity.
NoBySCO might qualify as a sort of Brooklyn underground instrumental supergroup. Standing for North Brooklyn Sound Cooperative, the group was founded by drummer Damian Leibold with Daniel Carter, a trumpet player well known for his free jazz playing, but who now no longer plays with them. The group plays free head arrangements reminiscent of Albert Ayler or Archie Shepp, but with rock instrumentation. Dann Baker of the legendary longtime psychedelic/power-pop group Love Camp 7 plays his ‘60s Jazzmaster up front, sometimes playing bass, always providing solid melodic lines and a groovy bottom. Tim Noe and Gordon Trubey, both interchanging on guitar and sax, were initially in the Bloomington, Indiana band, the Dancing Cigarettes, a group whose sole album is in the “seminal” section of Kim’s Music & Video in the East Village. (They also are in a combo called BirdBrain with singer Yvette Perez that plays Pete’s as well.) The two of them, with the drummer Damian—who plays with a great Mingus-like feel, yelling out changes—create an exciting cacophony that has as much rock sensibility as free jazz, especially with Dann Baker’s Kinks-ish, soulful chops behind them. Sometimes it feels like a meeting between Booker T. & The MG’s and the early MC5 or the Stooges, circa Funhouse. Not a bad way to spend the evening accompanied by a few fine pints of ale, or whatever else strikes you.
On Sundays at Pete’s Candy Store you can check out the Reverend Vince Anderson & His Love Choir. The Reverend Vince, who is on vocals as well as keyboards, is an intense performer who describes his music as “dirty gospel” in the tradition of Blind Willie Johnson, with a little Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, but he says he’s got more heroes than he can count. The Reverend’s music comes from a deep spirituality while reflecting both his delta swamp gospel roots and his urban present. From Fresno, California, the Reverend came out east to become a Methodist minister but lasted all of three months in the seminary. Playing gospel music in bars, his moniker stuck, and now as a self-ordained minister he’s performed 21 weddings, 9 baptisms, and a funeral. The Love Choir is Paula Henderson on sax, Torbitt Schwarz on drums, and Andres Villamil on bass. They provide a sultry groove (I thought early Roxy Music at times) behind the Reverend’s exhortations delivered in a style akin to Captain Beefheart meets Little Richard. Sometimes the Reverend will walk out into the crowd mid-sermon to get the audience into the show. It’s a passionate performance that’s got to be experienced.
The Charleston on Bedford Avenue has long been the old standby venue in the neighborhood since well before the days of trendiness, and there is one weekend night each month in particular that must be seen. For a few years now, two bands have been playing together, honing their crafts in front of a small, devoted live audience. The Moths are Tim Reedy on vocals and guitar, Kerry Law on vocals and guitar, and brothers Tom and George Rigney on bass and vocal, and drums, respectively. They have a crunchy power-pop sound, with Tim and Kerry’s two-guitar attack. Tim’s roaring Gibson SG, playing (and looking) like a fiery combination of Neil Young and Richard Lloyd against Kerry’s brittle, sharp, cutting Telecaster chiming angular shards of chords in a sputtery style that is reminiscent of Pere Ubu, Wire, the Gang of Four. Tom and George lay down an irresistibly tight, propulsive rhythm section, while the three vocalists sing weird, poppy harmonies that sound like a cross of the early Who and the Pixies. This is a real rock show, with Benny the owner playing the psychedelic light show during the “freakouts” that sometimes recall Television in their CBGB’s peak. On one memorable night as the show ended in a maelstrom of feedback, Tim Reedy finished himself off by pulling every last string off of his guitar. Pure rock poetry.
The Highwaters are a really original quartet that features Shay Lynch, songwriter, guitarist and singer, who has invented different guitar tunings for many of his angular yet melodic tunes, with three inventive musical associates: Marianne Jensch plays evocative, sometimes jarringly dissonant lines on violin; Joe Dessereau drums with a sense of color and texture, and can rock authoritatively; while bassist Peet Cenedella energetically weaves through the music in a fluid counterpoint to the melody, always providing a bedrock underpinning to the sound. This is a melodically intrepid group that can really build up an emotional tension, songs take unexpected turns, but the music is always scientific and always grooves, never becoming indulgent. Shay Lynch’s fragile vocals and weird chord patterns bring to mind Camper Van Beethoven, with an eclectic sense of arrangements and structure, yet with a wry melodic wit like Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett. The Highwaters can be deadly live, building up emotional energy like the Velvet Underground or Yo La Tengo. Their stage presence is a study in contrasts, as the tension in the music builds, Joe and Peet bound around like banshees, whipping the tune into a frenzy while Shay and Marianne riff impassively against each other. At the end of the evening, you’re emotionally spent.
These are just a few of the many excellent bands and musicians flowing out of North Brooklyn at the moment. We seem to be in the middle of a blossoming movement here not only in the art world, but in music scene as well. This hasn’t been the case in New York with this intensity since the Hoboken scene in the ‘80s and of course the Punk movement from the Lower East Side in the late ‘70s. With places such as Pete’s Candy Store, Galapagos, Black Betty, the Charleston, and now Sin-é providing venues for new local music, a vital and diverse scene has developed with an audience ready to accept it. Check it out.