On May 3, 28 reporters were charged with uncovering some good new music by the next morning...without any downloading or streaming. Forced to hit the pavement like the talent scouts of yesteryear, they checked out a combined 67 bands in one night. Below, we present their most interesting finds—the good, the bizarre, the bizarrely bad— classified on a booze scale, or by what beverages we recommend you order when checking them out yourself. And we highlighted four bands we thought were hands-down excellent.
(Best With Whiskey)
OLD SPRINGS PIKE
The Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey St.
The crowd at the Bowery Ballroom hadn’t come to see Old Springs Pike. Chances are it had never even heard the band, which has yet to put out an EP. But in a matter of minutes, this loud, energetic trio had made converts of everyone. Tight, soaring harmonies were set against old country twang as the band exuded a pure, childlike joy of playing as many instruments simultaneously as possible. Dressed in a black prom dress, front woman Heather Robb jumped around the stage like the unaffected younger sister of Karen O, banging on pretty much everything in sight, including a snare drum, keyboard, and glockenspiel.
Likelihood you’d leave depressed: negligible.
JENNY OWEN YOUNGS
The Bowery Ballroom
Her hair perennially falling over her eyes, Jenny Owen Youngs sang songs of self-doubt as if to friends in a college dorm. She’s a singer-songwriter straight from the school of Beth Orton—her voice just a touch shaky, her lyrics morose enough to convince legions of misunderstood girls that there’s finally someone out there who gets them. But onstage, a cocky assurance came through, and each put-down was accompanied by a jaunty melody played on acoustic or cherry-red electric guitar.
Lesbian-idol quotient: very high.
BABY SODA JAZZ BAND
394 Broadway, Williamsburg
Part big band, part jug music, with a dash of bluegrass, Baby Soda’s music sounds like an amalgam of everything your grandfather used to listen to. Tonight’s band members included a trumpet player, a clarinetist, a one-string bassist, and a banjo player who, during a few songs, would sing sans microphone, sounding oddly (but beautifully) like a female Skip James.
Unresolved: whether the band was more likely to jump freight trains or L trains.
SUSQUEHANNA INDUSTRIAL TOOL & DIE CO.
375 Third Ave.
A sharply dressed bluegrass trio well-suited for “A Prairie Home Companion,” SIT & Die Co.’s fifties boogies might make you wonder why you’d ever pay $10 to see a melodramatic rock band scream into a mike. The set was tight, the mustaches pencil thin, and the show a whole lot better than Rodeo’s frat-tourist crowd deserves.
Highlight: lead singer Michael McMahon’s hillbilly account of his “cowboy” being spotted in the bathroom stall.
SEAN KERSHAW & THE NEW JACK RAMBLERS
30 W. 26th St.
The crowd was blindingly white and disappointingly cowboy-free at this Austin-inspired barbecue joint. But Sean Kershaw’s Johnny Cash covers got it moving, and his original honky-tonk material included enough “looky over here” and “squeaky-clean and purdy” lyrics to launch an impromptu floor dance. The 11 p.m. “shot o’clock” might have helped, too.
Perfect for: closeted country fans.
PIMP THE CAT
The National Underground
159 E. Houston St.
Pimp the Cat was perfect end-of-the-night listening for the audience at this unmarked country-and-western bar, which boasts two floors of live music each night. The instrumentation was spare (guitars and drums, no bass), and the material was typically jammy funk-blues, but the execution was top-notch.
Educated guess: Bass player missed the gig because he was high.
A BUNCH OF GUYS AT A BAR
253 Conover St., Red Hook
A ragtag collection of local pickers gathered for an all-night hootenanny. There were no set lists, and the players (who made a good portion of the audience) called out the tunes. Things picked up around midnight, when mandolinist Fred Skellenger and guitarist Tom Feeley moved into a hard-picking rendition of Bill Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues” and a rousing cover of Ernest Tubb’s “Thanks a Lot.”
Musicians most closely resembled: Civil War reenactors.
(Best With Wine)
Oak Room Cabaret
59 W. 44th St.
Often first identified as Fiona Apple’s older sister, Maude Maggart is a star in her own right, and at the Oak Room, her warm, mellifluous alto saved modern cabaret from its campy indignities. The show was refreshingly informal, and the songs (all with the theme of dreaming) were interspersed with Maggart’s amusingly rambling dialogues. And if her approach to the old standards didn’t convince the audience that there’s new life in cabaret, her versions of Joan Baez and Muppets tunes did.
Worst reason to attend: quality of the food.