It’s Too Easy to Be Cynical
It’s amazing that despite the blitzkrieg of gentrification that’s hit this city over the last ten years, good music in New York simply refuses to die. Granted, it’s getting pushed further and further to the fringes, but that’s where it always starts. You could say that we’re going back to the future. Saturday night the orange “closed by court order” sticker was still stuck on the security gate at Uncle Mike’s titty bar downtown, but mysteriously the place was open. Inside, there weren’t many customers, but Ingrid and the Defectors, a punk band with a Farfisa, were onstage and they were good. The kind of punk they play isn’t paint-by-numbers, singsongey Warped Tour punk, and it isn’t hardcore either. It’s a throwback to the early 80s, with a nod to Blondie and the heavy powerpop of the era. Behind the mic, Ingrid projects a sullen defiance, letting the band handle the pyrotechnics, the creepy slinkiness of the vintage organ giving them a sound that instantly sets them apart. The songs were tight and catchy, with simple, slashing lead guitar lines; it was fun watching the guitarist build a wall of noise by scraping his strings against the mic stand in front of him. One of the songs could have been the early Motels; another set a simple, jagged UK Subs style riff against a broodingly anthemic garage-rock vamp. In addition to originals, they played an unexpectedly majestic, anthemic cover of the Kinks’ Dead End Street and closed with a roaring, straight-up version of the Violent Femmes’ Blister in the Sun, the bassist keeping it simple and four-on-the-floor as the guitarist sent the famous xylophone riff flying through his distortion pedal.
Mark Sinnis was next. The last time he played here he was with his band Ninth House: that night, he shut his set down in disgust half an hour after the drunken sound guy had clocked him in the teeth with a microphone and then did an epic fail trying to work the PA system. This time out, Sinnis was playing solo acoustic, there was a new guy behind the little sound board and to their credit, they made the system sing. And Sinnis crooned his ass off. Following a loud punk band with a dark, Leonard Cohen-style acoustic performance may sound like the kind of horrible segue you find at places like Arlene Grocery, but this one worked. In his sepulchral baritone, Sinnis intoned one death-fixated song after another: a subdued version of the Johnny Cash-inflected Sunday Mourning Train (from his latest album The Undertaker in My Rearview Mirror); the bitter, ominous Fifteen Miles to Hell’s Gate; and a bunch of smartly chosen covers including an absolutely gothic St. James Infirmary and a low-key take on George Jones’ He Stopped Loving Her Today with a deliciously unexpected surprise ending. At the end of the show, Sinnis brought up Mark from Night Gallery to do harmonies on the most (and maybe only) lighthearted song in the Sinnis catalog, an Irish ballad, I’ll Have Another Drink of Whiskey (‘Cause Death Is Not So Far Away). Speaking of Night Gallery, their long-awaited new album is almost ready; they’ll be doing the release show on May 19 at 9 at R Bar.
A new wave-pop trio was next, three synths and a drum machine, foppish frontguy flanked by two girls. They basically played the same song over and over, same key, same melody. Nobody paid any attention until the guy started singing, “let’s do some cocaine [rhymes with propane]”, which woke everybody up. Half the time, he went off-mic and the rest of the lyrics were indecipherable, but maybe that was the point: the performance fit the subject matter.