Billy’s Antiques and Props Moves Out with a Bang
Friday night there was a closing party for Billy’s Antiques and Props. The big tent on Houston just past Mott has been an East Village landmark for what seems forever: no word on what’s going to replace it, but whatever that might be, it won’t be an inimitable hybrid marble orchard/curio shop that did double duty as impromptu homeless shelter on especially cold days. Happily, this isn’t a case of a neighborhood institution being forced out by greedy gentrifiers: landlord and tenant appear to be friends and are parting on good terms. As a friend of the store remarked during the closing festivities, Billy Leroy and his wife Lorraine Leckie can cherrypick the inventory for decor for their home, and it’ll still be available for sale (and their theatrical and film clients will still have plenty of goodies to choose from).
There was also music to fit the occasion: it wasn’t a sad event. Kelley Swindall opened, playing acoustic guitar and backed by a nimble bassist who played pulsing melody lines, essentially doing the job of a lead guitarist. Swindall is an engaging performer with a knack for a catchy tune and a choice turn of phrase. She swayed across the makeshift stage, bobbing and weaving, most of the time with a big grin on her face, feeding off the energy of an edgy crowd. Her songs have a southern warmth to them, whether bluesy or more country-flavored; she’s also a casually compelling singer who can let a phrase trail off mysteriously or add just the tinge of a smoky, bluesy rasp or wail on the more upbeat numbers. She did Folsom Prison Blues and actually made it sound fresh, along with several originals including a bouncy song about a trouble-plagued roadtrip that could have been Sheryl Crow but without the tacky corporate focus-group spraycan polish.
Leckie was next, backed by her band the Demons. She’s got a new album with Anthony Haden-Guest due out this year (his lyrics, her music) – if the set’s creepy, hypnotic opening number, seemingly told from the point of view of a serial killer, is any indication, it’s going to be characteristically intense. She played that one solo. The band then joined her for a too-brief run through the northern gothic anthem Ontario Sky and a little later a suspensefully lurid version of the even more gothic, metaphorically-fueled Four Cold Angels. Despite the chill of the evening, Leckie threw off her leather jacket, moved to the piano and then led the band into an epic version of a newer tune that lead guitarist Hugh Pool brought down to long, mournful washes of sound before attacking the fretboard with a scorching, anguished, unhinged noise-blues assault straight out of the Dream Syndicate school of guitar-torture. As a sendoff for the store, it made a good funeral pyre. Leckie closed with a hushed version of William, dedicated to her husband, a sad but hopeful Patti Smith-ish narrative about two fuckups trying to pull their lives together. How much actual autobiography is actually in that song, we’ll never know: it was an affectingly resonant way to close a long, emotionally-charged chapter and then begin another.