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.
113 Ludlow St.
Ameranouche spent their first New York gig criminally ignored by their audience in Mehanata’s lodgelike bar. To be fair, there were significant distractions—there was video of topless girls washing cars projected on the opposite wall, and a disco downstairs—and at least the band focused intensely on their Django Reinhardt–derived tunes. Anyone who bothered to listen was rewarded, especially those who happened to catch their wonderful second set, during which they were joined by three additional acoustic guitarists for five guitars’ worth of gypsy jazz.
Note to Ameranouche: Never compete with topless car-washers.
376 9th St., Park Slope
French artist Féloche and his band mixed vigorous mandolin and stand-up bass with unexpected sounds from the pink-dreadlocked Lea Bulle, who played the accordion, piccolo trumpet, and samples that sounded like a kazoo. Féloche kept things light with dancing, bad attempts at jokes, and introductions to what song the “urban bayou band from the suburbs” would play next. Awkward stage presence aside, he created a fun, carnivalesque update on Cajun music.
Féloche could pass for: a Mary Poppins character.
30 Lafayette Ave., Ft. Greene
The catholic taste of Dana Leong and his collaborators was on full display at BAMcafé, with a live Stevie Wonder remix, a cover of indie band Firewater, and plenty of rapping. Equally impressive was the diverse crowd it got moving—a mix of gray curls, flowing caftans, dapper Fonzworth Bentley–style suits, and quite a few zip hoodies. Even a group of local teens who wandered in a bit confused found themselves mesmerized by the lyrical stylings of M.C. Core Rhythm, sticking around for a solid ten minutes.
Number of instruments Leong played between emcee stints: three—cello, trombone, and keyboard.
Rockwood Music Hall
196 Allen St.
Tim Blane and his Boston-based band played an upbeat set that could have passed for an early John Mayer concert. Two audience members were overheard saying he should try out for American Idol. “Better than Jason Castro,” said one, and that’s about right.
Transparency of rock-star ambition: very high.
The Living Room
154 Ludlow St.
Gloria Deluxe seemed to have a song for everyone who’s been in prison, or molested, or dropped out of high school. The bad news for her was that such people don’t patronize tastefully appointed yuppie venues like the Living Room. She’s clean, out of prison, and can play a well-tuned accordion and piano, but most of the audience left during her performance.
Overwhelming emotion throughout the crowd: pity.
(Best With Beer)
THE BROOKLYN PLAYBOYS
A small army of unshaven Park Slope Food Coop–member types were thumping their feet at the Brooklyn Playboys’ fast fingerpicking and twangy three-part harmonies. It was a feverish mash of mandolin, banjo, fiddle, upright bass, and guitar. Everyone in the twentysomething crowd seemed to know someone in the band, and soon the packed bar developed a very strong human smell.
Chance they’d be understood in Manhattan: slim.
HUNGRY MARCH BAND
757 Fulton St., Ft. Greene
One block into its march down South Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, the band had swelled from about twenty members to dozens of stroller-toting, corn-on-a-stick-eating families. The band proper included horn and drum sections (with instruments that looked more steam-punk than shiny), plus twirlers, pom-pomers, a hula-hooper and a break-dancing gorilla. Their music was all original, the band uniforms recycled.
Could easily pass for: a traveling circus.
HYPNOTIC BRASS ENSEMBLE
425 Lafayette St.
The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble performed their first set in primary-colored T-shirts and the second set in white suits and patent-leather shoes. The music also jumped around, with a freestyle mix of songs that might be called “hip-hop-influenced marching-band blues.” With four trumpets, two trombones, a flügelhorn, and a sousaphone, the band blew the hell out of everything they played.
Mistake of the evening: covering Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop The Music.”
253 W. 125th St.
Abraham, Inc., can play, whatever you actually call the music they make. Front man David Krakauer’s klezmer-inspired clarinet melodies sounded surprisingly at home over the funk laid down by the band, which looked loose and played tight, mixing razor-sharp horn licks with intricately composed runs. The audience was dancing in the aisles during the encore, as Krakauer loosed an impossibly dense cascade of notes, with everyone clearly enjoying this bizarrely successful musical mash-up.
Grooves: tighter than their pants.
162 Ave. B
A four-piece composed of somewhat unkempt (but legitimately unkempt, not male-model unkempt) dudes in jeans, the Izzys play tight, melancholic roots-rock. The group’s early-seventies-Stones influence was obvious, but with a set that varied from Gene Autry covers to up-tempo power-chord rockers and jams that occasionally swelled into Guitar Hero territory, it wasn’t oppressive.
Biggest distraction: ugly fish paintings decorating stage.
Private basement apartment
255 McKibbin St., Williamsburg
For a show that saw the insular East Williamsburg/Bushwick scene open up a little bit, Y-Love’s raps of U.N.I.T.Y. were a nice fit. Pogoing Rastafarians watched alongside beer-swilling hipsters while Y-Love killed the set rapping in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Packed into a space no bigger than a subway car, this motley crew got so rowdy that they threatened to ruin the paintings from that afternoon’s art show.
Quality of unrest: more riot than revolution.
THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM
98 Meserole Ave., Greenpoint
The Gaslight Anthem plays a blues-tinged, uplifting pop-punk: Hearing the crowd sing along to the chorus of “I’da Called You Woody Joe” (“Let it out let it out let it out / You’re doing alright”) in what seemed an unpromisingly dingy Polish club was a transporting experience. The band also covered “Lean on Me,” and the good-looking lead singer smiled a lot. He had excellent teeth.
Percentage of audience that sang along: 25.
158 Ludlow St.
The sound at Piano’s is better than other smallish spots for up-and-coming bands, which helped Local Melons’ carefully plotted compositions. Though they self-identify as a “garage” band on MySpace, that seems more an aesthetic distinction—they certainly dress down and play loud, but their front woman–guitarist mixed dark-edged shredding with sweet, high vocals in a manner that doesn’t really fit in any genre category.
Lingering question: Pretentious or adventurous?
TALL BLACK GIRLS
93 Second Ave.
Lit Lounge’s narrow downstairs music dungeon was packed with rabid fans of this high-tempo, heavy-riffing female foursome who are somewhat tall but definitely not black. The “girls” part could also be questioned, as the lead singer announced during the show that she was about to turn 30. She then sprayed the crowd with beer.
Her winning personality: part punk fury, part come-hither.
484 Union Ave., Williamsburg
ChairmanRace were lackluster in their attempt to conjure hair-metal’s heyday, and the screeching noises emitted by the amps kept the crowd a safe fifteen feet from the stage. The lead singer made multiple references to the tambourine her band members had mistakenly left at home, though it is doubtful its presence would have made a discernable difference.
Success of female lead singer’s stripping strategy: limited.
This premiere performance included fur vests, leather pants, black face paint, a large papier-mâché skeleton of a tyrannosaur, a smoke machine, a chalice, and a large silk-screen zebra tapestry. Gimmicky? Yes. Bad? Not totally.
Chance they’d lead a hair-metal revival: low—more likely to revive Dungeons & Dragons.
REALLY LOUD MUSIC
(Best With a $2 Beer From a Cooler)
The Market Hotel
957 Broadway, Bushwick
USAISAMONSTER is the kind of band that will play in your friend’s toolshed (as long as there’s sound equipment), so it’s not surprising to find them at the ramshackle, impromptu space of the Market Hotel. The duo’s heavy, disjointed prog-rock sent an enthusiastic crowd flailing at every tempo change, and inexplicably inspired a few to folk dance. The crowd favorite, “No More Forever,” climaxed with drummer Tom Hohmann’s singing Chief Joseph’s famous words of surrender just as guitarist Colin Matthews switched into overdrive and sent the crowd’s scuzzy hipsters cavorting.
Matthews most closely resembles: Thor, Norse god of thunder.
The Market Hotel
When the Stooges’ “Loose” was played over the PA before Awesome Color’s set, it could have been a buzz-kill. (The band’s records offer not much more than adept Stooges worship.) But their performance at the Market Hotel was a visceral, dizzying experience, the pace unrelenting and the volume extreme enough to constitute a health hazard. Midway through the set, a friend of the band hopped onstage to do his best Iggy impression, but it was a mere formality—these erstwhile Michiganders had already done their hometown heroes proud.
If the band were manufactured by General Motors it would be: a 1970 Pontiac GTO.
Death by Audio
49 S. 2nd St., Williamsburg
Film School’s dreamy, reverb-heavy sound produced more bobbing than full-on dancing (excluding the obligatory guy oscillating wildly in the middle of the room), but it’d be a mistake to take the crowd’s stillness for apathy—the band had everyone’s attention from start to finish. The rhythm guitarist threatened to take out a ceiling tile when he triumphantly lifted his instrument over his head in what looked like an aborted guitar smash, and the lead guitarist spent half the set hunched over his amp, willing feedback brilliance. It’s a credit to DbA’s sound system that the set didn’t devolve into a pile of sonic mush.
Recommended for: your friend who has stopped smoking weed and now needs to fill that vacancy in his life.
152 Ludlow St.
Though the crowd had dwindled by 2:30 Sunday morning, when Holy Hail finally took the stage, those who remained still managed to match the band’s enthusiasm and satisfy their dance-punk jones. Exploding into the first song, “Big Guns,” the lead singer crouched down to the floor and let out a screeching wail to shock the audience awake. Then she and the keyboardist rap-sung girl-boy duets over danceable synth-pop, a fresh take on Luscious Jackson circa “In Search of Manny.” Holy Hail’s guitars-on-the-dance-floor style may feel dated, but even unfashionable genres need their torchbearers.
Most impressive feat: performing fourteenth in an all-day music marathon.
289 Kent Ave., Williamsburg
About two dozen people (mostly friends, many of whom looked like school teachers) came out to support Meowskers, a surprisingly winsome garage-rock band. The drums-bass-keyboards trio had enough solid songwriting, falsetto vocals, and infectious conviction to rile the small crowd, and the band performed as if they were playing for an arena of screaming fans.
Degree to which their upcoming appearance on the Oxygen network is ill-advised: Off the charts.
Goodbye Blue Monday
1087 Broadway, Bushwick
Though Spidermums are from Kansas City and definitely sound-check the early-nineties “shoegazer” scene of alt-British rock, they still looked something like a young band from Bushwick, albeit with baggier jeans. The band crammed six musicians and an ungodly number of pedals onstage, filling the room with feedback that was sometimes discordant, often delightful—much like the teeming towers of kitschy trash and treasure that lined the venue.
Up for debate: clueless bumpkins or refreshing outsiders?
THE RUFFIAN ARMS
1041 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint
Punks and metalheads gathered in the back room of this Greenpoint dive to see the Ruffian Arms, a glam quintet led by an Amazonian redhead dressed in red-and-black fetish gear. The rest of the wildly attired band (male and female backup singers dressed as cheerleaders, a drummer in underwear, a bassist wearing some sort of faux-fur bikini bottom, and a guitarist in a full-body fishnet) matched their leader’s sartorial and musical enthusiasm, participating in bandwide cheers and pom-pom fights while their trashy, punky, rockabillyesque sound kept the room bouncing along.
At least deserves: an A for effort.
An extraordinarily angry metal group from Boston whose appearance—clean-cut front man and petite, brunette guitarist—belies their extreme angst as expressed in songs like “Aloha Jihad” and “Slaiden,” which was a simultaneous tribute to Slayer and Iron Maiden (obviously).
Amusing thought experiment: a joint concert with Destruct-a-thon and Old Springs Pike.
Private basement apartment
255 McKibbin St., Williamsburg
Toward the end of a long, very drunken night at the McKibbin dorms, two somewhat PBR-smashed emcees jumped onstage to rap along with their home-mixed set of beats. The guy on the left was too loud, and the guy on the right wasn’t too aware of his surroundings, but by that point neither was most of the audience, so it didn’t make much difference.
Number of reasons to stick around: Zero.
(No Refreshments, Please)
BROWN WING OVERDRIVE
228 W. Broadway
Although Roulette’s patrons varied in age, they all looked somewhat academic, focused, and very serious. Then three men walked onstage and threw a high-functioning temper tantrum. The near-epileptic improvisation included the use of a cowbell, birdcall whistles, chopsticks (played on sunglasses), a battery-operated fan, and squeaking sunglasses. The only vocal sounds were hiccups, sneezing, and lip-buzzing into a microphone.
Likely ratio of advanced degrees to size of the audience: Greater than one-to-one.
Ave. C at 2nd St.
The mood at this haven of experimental music was only occasionally broken by screamed obscenities from the sidewalk while Berkson took on a self-imposed challenge: performing solo versions of complicated pieces for piano and voice—by Schumann, Schoenberg, and others—intended for two musicians. The difficulty of tackling both parts at once showed in her sometimes-uncertain voice, but the shakiness proved transfixing rather than distracting.
Usefulness as a yoga soundtrack: Sure, why not.
LIZ TONNE AND SEAN MEEHAN
Issue Project Room
232 3rd St., Gowanus
Held in a sparely decorated loft space a few feet from the Gowanus Canal, this unassuming pair’s performance may have been the quietest in the history of live music. Tonne emitted vocalizations that sounded like a mix of squeaking machines, alien birdsong, and made-up languages. Sometimes Meehan rubbed a stick against a cymbal placed on top of a snare drum, and sometimes he crushed sand between the cymbal and the drum. He also had some forks sitting by his feet, but he didn’t use them.
Question: Are unused forks the experimental-musician’s security blanket?
Contributors: Christina Amoroso, Ted Barron, Molly Bennet, Elizabeth Black, Everett Bogue, Brian Crocker, Catherine Coreno, Joe DeLessio, Lori Fradkin, Ehren Gresehover, Bob Hammond, Kaija Helmetag, Kaitlin Jessing-Butz, Sydney Linder, Oriana Magnera, Nina Mandell, Ben Mathis-Lilley, Rebecca Milzoff, Carolyn Murnick, Tina Peng, Kathleen Reeves, Stevie Remsberg, Diana Sabreen, Lauren Salazar, Julia Simpson, David Stoelting, Julie Vadnal, Nina Weiss, and Jada Yuan.