The Atlantic Antic: Real Brooklyn

by delarue

The massive Atlantic Antic street fair on Sunday afternoon made one thing very clear: 99% of Brooklyn wants nothing to do with the Atlantic Yards development, the Brooklyn Nets or the shoddy new arena where they play – which is already rusting, since the developers who built it were too cheap to use good materials, or spring for a few cans of Rust-oleum. “Ratner building – douchebag!” Les Sans Culottes frontman Clermont Ferrand ad-libbed during the band’s version of Serge Gainsbourg’s New York USA, playing on the street a few blocks north of Sahadi’s. Out in front of Hank’s a little later, “psycho swing” band Tri-State Conspiracy’s guitarist pointed back at the rundown bar behind him and laughed: “Who would have thought, you’re not the biggest eyesore in the neighborhood anymore.” It’s not clear if the excellent gospel group out in front of the church a few blocks closer to downtown Brooklyn, or the mbira player a couple of doors down, or the funk or hip-hop acts past Hoyt Street had anything to say about the scam to seize private property in the name of eminent domain that paved the way for the neighborhood’s newest and largest eyesore. But it wouldn’t be a stretch. Meanwhile, Borough President Marty Markowitz, one of the arena’s most notorious shills, made the rounds, sucking up to the fair’s organizers, but the crowd paid little attention other than booing him vigorously.

But the music was great, and it was oldschool Brooklyn: no anorexic boys new to Bushwick standing slack-jawed, watching their former Evergreen or Hampshire classmates mumhling tunelessly over randomly awkward guitar chords. Tri-State Conspiracy mocked that element with their best song, The Clone, a slashing minor-key ska-punk tune:: “All your opinions match the crowd you’re hanging with…your voice is weak, yet you’re so authoritative every time you speak ,” their trumpeter/frontman snarled. A little earlier, Les Sans Culottes voiced the same contempt in Les Enfants Terribles, one of their more amusing faux-French garage rock numbers:

Ces precieuses ridicules
Avec leurs tetes dans leurs culs
Les enfants du parodie
Faisant pipi dans leurs lits

That translates roughly as “These ridiculous, precious parody kids, with their heads up their asses, pissing the bed.” Les Sans Culottes have been playing ferociously funny songs for a long time: they might have played the very first one of these Atlantic Avenue fairs back in the 90s. They still lovingly make fun of the French: Babar, baguettes and bidets each got a biting, minor-key song this time out, but lately the band has been shooting at larger game. The best song of their set was a savagely anthemic broadside directed at at a notorious French rapist: “C’est moi, le playboy international, un legend avec les initiels – ce ne’est pas un criminel, mais son client est Sofitel.”

That’s the genius of Les Sans Culottes – while their sometimes intentionally fractured French lyrics are very clever, evem if you don’t speak the language, it’s often easy to get the gist of them. Behind Ferrand (who took that name after a particularly egregious political scandal shook that part of his “native land”), harmony singers Kit Kat Le Noir and Courtney Louvre, bassist Pommes Frites, guitarist Geddy Liaison, keyboardist Johnny Dieppe and drummer Jacques Strappe romped through one catchy tune after another. Stealing riffs from Johnny Kidd, X, Dylan and Led Zep, the organ swirled and dipped, the guitar burned, the bass rumbled over a surprisingly tight swing beat as Ferrand and the two women made fun of hot girls, ungrateful ex-boyfriends, cactuses and French slang. The best jokes were so good that it wouldn’t be fair to spoil them. At the end of the set, the band played their biggest audience hit, Ecole de Merde (French for “school of hard knocks”); the mostly oldschool crowd gathered around wanted an encore, and they got one.

Tri-State Conspiracy seemed to have created the most spontaneous dancing of any of the Atlantic Avenue bands. Their crowd also screamed for an encore, and got a blistering version of Blitzkrieg Bop. Before that, the band blasted through a bunch of punked out ska tunes with murderous arrangements and solos from their four-piece horn section. Among the songs: a couple of sinister Dead Kennedys-flavored minor-key tunes; an undulating, creepy number about Bush-era paranoia; the viciously scampering Toss You Right Out of My Life; a couple of old soul hits, and a twistedly evil ska tune from the band’s 2001 debut ep. Who would have thought they would have lasted this long: they were good then and they’re even better now.

But the best band of the afternoon might have been the Middle Eastern group that played for what seemed all day near the corner of Hicks Street, backing an endless parade of graceful bellydancers. Oudist and bandleader Maurice Chedid played with a casually intense, edgy virtuosity alongside a terse violinist, a keyboardist who used a quartertone accordion setting on his synth when he wasn’t giving the dancers lush sheets of orchestration to sway and bend to, over the hypnotic beat of several percussionists. With several breaks for characters from the neighborhood taking turns stepping to the mic and saying their piece, the band ran through one vintage classic after another from Lebanon and Egypt, going all the way back to the 30s. One of the organizers even took a turn in front of the band, singing an innuendo-packed ditty that would have been risque fifty years ago. It’s groups of people like this who stand to lose the most as gentrification and the corruption that comes with it sucks the individuality out of New York neighborhoods and replaces it with a Ratnerville of parking lots and 7-11s.