Concerts have been a go in New York City for a little while now. Their return on an appreciable scale was first and quietly signaled by rough-and-tumble DIY venues (some of them really people’s backyards) throwing small shows in early June or so, often sheepishly asking for proof of vaccination at the door. Then, perhaps less than a month later, more sizable spaces like Brooklyn’s Our Wicked Lady and Elsewhere (both notably brandishing rooftops) and Manhattan’s The Bowery Electric started to let people into their 200+-capacity spaces, to let those people not wear masks, let them kiss and dance and whatever, usually but not always with proof of vaccination required as well. Fellow Sputnikmusic compatriot ArsMoriendi and I, neither of us from NYC but both sorta equidistant to it, had to check this new (but really actually old) phenomenon out.
Or, well, that’s kinda how it happened. Above all and in the first place, we were stoked to see a Facebook event advertising the first “post”-COVID show of a band whose hyperactive, glammy and psychedelic debut LP we together hawked on this very site, with some minor notable successes. The album is called Long Haired Locusts (2020); the band is called Godcaster. We had heard they were awesome live, and proof of their dominance in the arena of live performance was everywhere on the Internet (check out this clip, awesomely shot by one Santo Donia, of a 2019 show in New Jersey), and even felt like it inhered in the math-y, frenetic hooks that make up Long Haired Locusts, which was recorded, after all, direct to tape. Ars and I both felt that Long Haired Locusts was one of the most promising debut albums of last year, full of musical ideas both mindblowing and kinda silly and performed by a bunch of mid-20s virtuosos ready to back up their unbridled glam fantasies with technical facility and panache. We were very excited to see what they could do.
Sipping on a couple of frivolously-named and -themed drinks around 7PM on a Thursday night at Evil Twin Brewing NYC, about a four minute walk from the venue, we also possessed a growing awareness that we were in the midst of a bona-fide Moment for live music–and not exactly an unequivocally positive one, but instead one fraught and mangled with the questions of safety and personal responsibility that attend any event that claims a “return to normalcy” in the wake of 2020 and the horrifying peak of the pandemic.
I don’t know whether to say these concerns were assuaged or heightened over the course of our night at TV Eye on Weirfeld Street in the neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens–just a couple minutes’ walk from the border of the neighborhood known as Bushwick in the borough of Brooklyn. (Bushwick is regarded more widely as a neighborhood in which DIY and indie music cultures unfold than is Ridgewood. Queens, by the way, happens to be well over 10% more vaccinated than Brooklyn as a whole, although I don’t think a comparison of Ridgewood and Bushwick, to take just one example, would stratify the same way.) If someone even just a couple months ago showed me the pictures I have posted below for your perusal and told me how cool the indie music concert they just went to was, I might frown upon them. That is, in essence, the existential rub that I want to soberly address, at least somewhat, in this piece of writing. But the concert was nevertheless pretty cool.
Each of us flanked by one other friend (gotta give a big shoutout to my man John) and asked by a doorman to provide our over-21 ID (but not proof of vaccination), Ars and I moseyed on into TV Eye around 8PM and found ourselves somewhat intoxicated. (Y’know. By the environment.) TV Eye seems like a bit of a throwback to Brooklyn bars and indie venues of the early 2000s, perhaps most prominently Williamsburg’s infamous Union Pool, which–still open!–is also essentially divided in three: a bar, an outdoor space, and a venue. This nominal resemblance to other well-established venues might have earned a demerit from me had I visited before the pandemic hit; on July 22nd, 2021, though, it felt like a warm and nostalgic welcome back into the grand tradition of concertgoing south of Manhattan. We saw the set times posted above the venue space’s door (first band at 8:30) and figured that despite the combined $25 or so of cash in our pockets we might as well relax and enjoy a drink (a 12 oz. can of Miller High Life costs $4 at TV Eye, for what that’s worth) in the outdoor space before the show started.
Not much happened in the intervening half-hour: the outdoor space was fairly empty, perhaps even eerie in a manner that seemed apposite to the uniquely 2021 experience of waiting for a band to go on for a concert you’re not ever one-hundred percent sure you should be at in the first place.
Then, probably around 8:40, the post-punk power trio Patti went on. The first thing I noticed about Patti was the sheer volume; based on this concert and the sole YouTube video of them performing live (shouts to Jarret Wolfson), they’re a band that seeks to blow the fuckin’ doors off every time out. But they were really good, too: “angular,” “dissonant,” “vaguely danceable” and other such adjectives that describe the burgeoning “Brooklyn sound” of late (cf. Gustaf, Bodega, Palberta) fit well here, but Patti’s sense of fun with riff repetition and their great timing with regard to the pace of the setlist in its entirety allowed them to escape from their half-hour set unscathed by internal comparisons. The set was catchy, funky, and kept Ars and I on our toes; more than once, their evident intransigence toward the concept of ending songs “naturally” elicited a simultaneous laugh from the two of us. I found Patti’s 2019 LP Good Big (ugh) a bit frontloaded, but they tolerated no such structural slack as part of their live show–ratcheting through different emotions and tempos and melodic motifs, they were all energy, all the time.
After Patti, Ars and I re-exited the venue space and re-entered the outdoor space, at which point we both noticed the fact that, like, holy shit there are a lot of people here. Just look at that picture! This brief interlude stands out to me as the single most notable “Woah, is COVID ‘over’?” moment I’ve yet had in 2021. There were a ton of fuckin’ people in that outdoor space, for real.
Anyways, around 9:15 or so, Sunk Heaven comes on. I had “seen” a Sunk Heaven set once before, as part of a livestream event for the release of the aforementioned Brooklyn band (also a post-punk power trio) Palberta’s 2021 album Palberta5000. I didn’t like the set so much, and felt as if the odd, eyecatching flashlight-taped-to-drumstick-taped-to-metal-paddle-thing-taped-to-microphone instrument that Austin Sley Julian had invented limited him musically a bit, that it made the same sound over and over and that the sound it made wasn’t particularly appealing. This time I liked him better, and probably better than Ars did: shouting directly at the audience and waving that thingie scarily close to the rapt faces populating the front row, Julian was also able to commission out of his table of a billion noise pedals a sharp and terrifying series of squelches and screams. Engaged in some kind of horrific monologue which he simultaneously masks (through massive sheets of echo and reverb, and with his noise wand) and reveals (through his highly expressive performance style) in all its colors to the audience, Julian put himself out there 100% and left us alternately confused and engaged.
10:30, give or take ten minutes, brought the main event, as the quintet of keyboard (shouts to the MicroKorg!), flute/vox, guitar/vox, bass, and drums known as Godcaster stepped on stage and immediately ripped into their crunchy yet melodically complex single “Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth”. I was front row, standing right in front of bandleader Judson Kolk, and for the first couple of minutes I feared that the band had come out too loud and that their volume was leading to a flattening of their sonic composition. But then I realized that “Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth” is just really fuckin’ crunchy: noise is the point. The new songs, of which there were many, and “old” favorites like “Christ in Capsule Form,” “Sassy Stick Boy,” and especially the, uh, blistering outro to “Blister Intercom” fared much better to my ears. The hairpin structural turns of each of these tracks were presented fully intact (in their own fucked-up way); weirdness resonated on all possible levels, especially from Kolk, who stomped his feet and raised his fists like an angry wizard. Two thirds of the way through their set, Godcaster peeled off a quick, gorgeous and intimate duet between Kolk on guitar and flautist Von Lee on vocals and then deigned to slide bassist Bruce Ebersole onto a second guitar and insert an unknown-to-me bassist, turning them into a six-piece. Things proceeded to get even more nuts: a mosh pit, from which I, nested in my front-row perch, was graciously exempt but in which Ars got involved, formed almost imperceptibly; both Kolk and Lee dove into the crowd at different points; shit got, uh, social. Following a delectable encore of Long Haired Locusts‘ centerpiece “Don’t Make Stevie Wonder,” Ars and I found that we felt as if Live Music [Is] Back, whether we liked it or not.
Obviously, I do like it–live music sustained me first as a college student in Manhattan and then as a six-month resident of Brooklyn post-graduation; I went to indie concerts two or three times a week right up until the pandemic opened its gaping maw. I too hate masks and I want to go to concerts again, but it was undeniably jarring, even if in a subterranean manner, to see so many people, none of them passing any sort of test other than possessing a card that identifies them as over 21 years of age, hanging out bereft of masks or social distancing. If all this talk about DIY venues and “Godcaster” and the differences between boroughs seems too esoteric or location-specific, I’d invite you to think of this experience as a sort of embodied metaphor for or objective correlative to or at least some kinda document of the process of people everywhere trying to get over COVID. Or maybe I just wanted to write something again, to report back on a cool-ass concert I saw with a fellow Sputnikmusic member–to again hawk Long Haired Locusts, which is a barrel of monkeys if you can handle the quirks. COVID can’t have changed the fact that it’s not that fun to hear about a party you weren’t able to go to. But maybe, especially if I write it all down, this one will have mattered in some small way.