Psychedelic Rockers the Sleepy Hahas Survive an Aborted Manhattan Debut

by delarue

Even with the threat of rain, the hookers were out in full force Thursday night. They were on every corner all the way down First Avenue from Fourteenth Street to Houston, sometimes a gaggle of them, some of them solo, mostly women, although there were guys out there too. Must be Fleet Week.

A giant sinkhole had devoured much of the south side of Houston between Ludlow and Orchard in the wake of a water main break earlier in the day. The Lower East Side bedrock has been shaved past the bone over the past decade to make way for sewage and gas and water lines for all the latest “luxury” condo towers. You can only have so many plastic surgeries before there’s nothing left of your face – same deal with the infrastructure.

A couple of blocks further south in the former Bar 11/Annex space, now split down the middle and called Tammany Hall on the south side of the divide, a lesbian folksinger serenaded a handful of tourists, rasping and gasping her way through Tom Petty covers and a handful of less melodic originals. Who was that late 80s Janis Joplin wannabe who had David Crosby’s test tube baby? That’s who this girl sounded like, a cliche on wheels.

Buffalo psychedelic band the Sleepy Hahas, who do a more jam-oriented take on the kind of heavy pop that Twin Turbine were playing around these parts ten years ago, made their Manhattan debut afterward, getting about twenty minutes onstage before being kicked off. They’re a lot heavier live than their new, sarcastically titled album Dull Days would suggest. Frontman/guitarist Pat Butler wore a Black Keys t-shirt and brought a pedalboard that looked like it was going to shortcircuit any second – which might or might not have happened. Bassist Ron Hensberry had an Abbey Road album cover shirt and a fuzzbox, which he used for his slowly loping, Geezer Butler-influenced lines, until one of the bartenders came up onstage and after a lengthy discussion, he ended up turning down. Which wasn’t necessary since he wasn’t competing with anyone sonically. It was Steve Tripi’s drums that were amped so high in the mix – not that this small space needs to amplify drums at all – that the guitar ended up being pretty much inaudible for most of the set.

So it was cool to hear Tripi swing his way through the changes, methodically, and tersely, and with a good deal of suspense, and hear Hensberry’s melodic waves of bass rise and fall, fuzzed out or growling and snapping. And when Butler hit his volume pedal, he suddenly appeared in the mix, a tantalizing hint of how this band might sound if someone was actually in the sound booth and trying to get the mix right instead of going AWOL the second the band hit the stage.

Butler started out with a vintage Gibson hollowbody and quickly switched to a gorgeous Rickenbacker for the rest of the band’s abbreviated set. They opened with a hangover anthem, I Hate My Body and It Hates Me Too. Their second tune went in a catchy, vintage Blues Magoos garage-psych direction. They worked a swaying, trip-hop-influenced groove on a couple of numbers, keyboardist Phil Shore tirelessly playing a loop that he easily could have put into a pedal – but he must think that playing it live is more fun. Another good sign. Meanwhile, the coked-up club promoter played air drums and banged on the railing behind the abbreviated seating area past the stage. Yet it was obvious despite the distractions that this band is incredibly tight, they know what they’re doing and are more fun to hear the more you hear of them.

And they drove all the way down from Buffalo for twenty minutes onstage. Dudes, if you never play Manhattan again, that’s understandable. Then again, not every venue here will dis you this egregiously. Maybe next time you should try Brooklyn and play the Acheron or St. Vitus where people are more likely to appreciate you.