New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: music venues

An Allusively Haunting New Album and a Low-Key Neighborhood Gig by Dark Songwriter Jaye Bartell

Gothic Americana crooner Jaye Bartell sings in a deadpan but rather guarded baritone. He plays with a ton of reverb on his guitar, whether with a steady clang or more sparsely. His songs don’t typically follow any kind of predictable verse/chorus pattern. On his latest album, In a Time of Trouble, a Wild Exultation – streaming at Bandcamp – he often just vamps along on a couple of major chords, vintage Velvets style. Which has a lulling effect…until he gets to the punchline, or the suspense in his hauntingly imagistic narratives builds to breaking point. Bartell is off on a long European tour next month; fans of dark lyrical rock in his adopted Greenpoint neighborhood can catch him Friday night, Dec 28 at around 9 at Troost.

Throughout Bartell’s work, the devil is in the details. “Think I picked a bad time to have a good time, hanging upside down,” he muses in the album’s opening track. “My confetti is stuck in the garden…the water’s coming higher than the edges.” Definitely not a wild exultation,

“Come walk in the dead grass,” Bartell instructs, “I have come to ruin you; I have come to room with you,” he announces, somewhat hesitatingly, in CawCawCaw. He leaves the monologue without a response: is he that heavily symbolic bird, or talking to the bird, or somebody else? That sensibility is what draws you into his songs. And he keeps you guessing – even as an image jumps out at you, it could be a red herring.

Angel Olsen sings calm harmonies in Give Erin a Compliment (So Kind). Both the vocals and the song’s country stroll bring to mind the late, great Joe Ben Plummer and his band, downtown New York cult favorites Douce Gimlet. The sparse arrangement of Wilderness – just a couple of jangly guitar tracks, lightly brushed drums and simple bass – is much the same. Like everything Bartell does, it works on many levels. Somewhere out there in the woods, “There must be somebody warm enough to mistake for love, somebody cold enough to just take some.”

The album’s most chilling number is Swim Colleen. Shifting back and forth between waltz time, Bartell keeps the suspense going most of the way through. On the surface, it’s a beach tableau, but of course there are unexpected depths:

Scream at the waves
The waves scream back
There’s no ship coming in
There never has been
Swim, Colleen, swim

Army of One is Bartell at his most self-effacingly wry  – does General Superego have it in for loafing Private Ego?  Contrastingly, Mercy seems to be pretty straightforward – it’s akin to Jonathan Richman, or Lee Feldman at his most faux-naive. Bartell builds another brooding waterside scenario in the otherwise gentle Ferry Boat: it’s easy to imagine Nico singing it on Chelsea Girl.  

“I can’t think of anyone else with whom I’d ever go out of doors,” Bartell insists in  Out of Doors – but who wants to date an agoraphobic, right? The methodically swaying, Laurel Canyon psych-tinged Feeling Better Pilgrim is much the same – this guy may be ok, but a lot of people (water imagery alert!) aren’t. The final cut is If I Am Only For Myself Then What Am I, which, with delicate glockenspiel in the background, offers a sliver of hope. E

Earlier in the fall, at Bartell’s most recent gig at Troost – his home base between tours – he sang much more powerfully, even dramatically, than he does in the studio. This acoustic set mixed up some of the more low-key numbers from this album and a couple of sepulchral tales from his fantastic 2016 release, Loyalty. But the high point might have been an absolutely chilling take of the Brecht/Weill classic September Song, reinvented with more than a hint of noir bolero. “That was magic,” one spectator in the crowd murmured afterward. 

Ariana, Irving Plaza’s Mysterious Queen of Greed

This conversation may or may not have happened: three employees at Irving Plaza last night have a quick tete-a-tete about how to deal with a reviewer from this blog who’s waiting to get in.

The reviewer, who was assured a spot on the guest list by a band publicist, apparently isn’t on it. Apparently, that is. From outside the ticket window, the lists are clearly a mess. So the snafu is plausible – but things like this happen once in awhile, and there’s invariably a way to fix them.

As the writer waits in the hallway, the trio quickly forge a plan, in between customers. “Why don’t we just let this guy in?” asks one of the girls at the window. “He seems pretty legit.”

I don’t buy it. He just wants a free ticket,’ the other girl responds.

To this band? Seriously?” the first girl laughs. “Nobody that old listens to this kind of music.” She thinks about it for a second. “Maybe he just wants to pick up on teenage girls!”

You never know,” the second girl responds. She’s been working the window all night and the stress is etched into her face.

You know what, let’s blame Ariana,” chuckles the security guy, whom the first girl called when she figured out that the reviewer was expecting the courtesy of a press ticket, snafu or no snafu.

Yeah, Ariana!” the second girl brightens. “It’s ALWAYS her fault!”

The security guy motions the writer over, explains that it’s Ariana’s decision to refuse entry – and that she refuses to leave her lair to discuss it. “If you want, you’re welcome to buy a ticket if you want to go in.”

The reviewer’s been waiting for about a half an hour now and running out of patience, contemplating how much other work on the blog could have been accomplished in the time it took to make all this not happen. But instead of doing something productive, he’s standing in the entryway to Irving Plaza trying to explain that it makes more sense to cover the show, presumably providing some positive coverage for a venue that badly needs it, rather than going home without a story to file.“So Ariana wants me to pay twenty-eight bucks so I can give her some good press?” the writer asks with a sneer.

That’s right,” the security guy says. He’s the latest of several employees to offer that reponse, strongly, affirmatively, without any prompting.

OK, look for the writeup tomorrow,” the writer says, trudging out, rolling his eyes.

The second girl winks at the first girl, who winks at the security guy, who raises his palms and highfives both of them. “Ariana!” he laughs, points to the exit door and gives it a playful kick. He peers out, making sure the reviewer’s gone. “SUCKA!” he hollers.

All of this, of course, is based on the assumption that Ariana is fictitious. It’s the name the employees came up with, getting stoned together before work one night – an Oz they can blame everything on in the event a customer has been shortchanged. After all, when you google “Ariana” and Irving Plaza, you get back hundreds of pages of content farms and scalper sites referring to an Ariana Grande concert there once.

Or, maybe there really is an Ariana in this faded corporate music Oz who actually did speak with somebody and told them to tell this blog’s writer exactly that: buy a ticket or go to hell, a policy that doesn’t exist at other venues for obvious reasons. For example, it took the intervention of the house manager at both Jazz at Lincoln Center and also at Bowery Ballroom to arrange for last-minute press tickets in the case where somebody messed up and didn’t come through with press list or tickets to shows that were scheduled for review here.

Publicity jobs tend to be a revolving door.  Publicity work is tedious and tough and unrewarding and sometimes gets passed off to interns. And in those cases, when there’s an opportunity to drop the ball, somebody invariably does. That’s old news to people who work at Lincoln Center or Bowery Ballroom – and they know which side their bread is buttered on, and in both instances, hooking up a nonplussed reviewer not only reduced the possibility of a bad review, but actually scored them a rave each time.

But Irving Plaza sure as hell isn’t Jazz at Lincoln Center and it’s not Bowery Ballroom either. One’s a world-famous nonprofit and the other’s a flagship in an independent empire that manages to stay afloat while others are going down fast. Irving Plaza is owned by Live Nation, the McDonald’s of music venues. Being part of a chain, they obviously have an across-the-board policy that the employees either are afraid to deviate from, or they simply don’t give a damn. Ever try bringing something back to the counter at McDonald’s or White Castle if it isn’t up to even their low standards? Good luck with that.

And here’s where you just have to laugh. Maybe it was the publicist’s fault, maybe it wasn’t – the CYA attitude of the Irving Plaza staff doesn’t exactly project competence. But there’s an elephant in the room, and if you’ve read this far you’re undoubtedly wondering why, in a city full of amazing music, someone from this blog would spend a Saturday night not at Barbes, or the Jalopy, or Palisades, but at…Irving Plaza????

Full disclosure: the band that was scheduled for review in this case is actually pretty good, in a funky, psychedelic way, especially if you’re in the mood for that kind of stuff. And if you run a music blog, and you claim to be knowledgeable concerning this city’s dozens of music venues – and you haven’t been to a certain venue in almost a decade – isn’t it being responsible to check out the place to see if it’s changed at all, or if it’s still the same old hellhole?

Maybe Ariana, if she in fact exists, did the right thing: protecting her turf, keeping someone with a big mouth and poison pen outside the gates so as to prevent word getting out about how much the sound, and the booking, and the staff at Irving Plaza all suck…and how gross the bathrooms still are after all these years. After all, at the McDonald’s of music venues, you expect the people who work there to piss on the floor.

Thanks for the Memories, Lakeside Lounge

Lakeside Lounge has been sold and will be closing at the end of April. After just over fifteen years in business, the bar that defined oldschool East Village cool will be replaced by a gentrifier whiskey joint, no doubt with $19 artisanal cocktails and hedge fund nebbishes trying to pick up on sorostitutes when their boyfriends are puking in the bathroom – or out of it.

Lakeside opened in 1996 [thanks for the correction, everybody] in the space just north of the former Life Cafe on Ave. B north of 10th Street in the single-story building between tenements that had previously housed a Jamaican fried chicken takeout restaurant. It was an instant hit. Owners Jim Marshall (a.k.a. The Hound, an astute and encyclopedic blues and soul-ologist with a great blog) and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (of the Del-Lords, and eventually lead guitarist in Steve Earle’s band) had a game plan: create a space that nurtures artists rather than exploiting them as so many venues do. And they stuck to that plan. Before long, Lakeside had become a mecca for good music. For several years, there was literally a good band here just about every night with the exception of the few holidays when the bar was closed. Artists far too popular for the back room would play here just for the fun of it: Earle, Rudy Ray Moore, Graham Parker, John Sinclair, the Sadies, Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby all had gigs here, some of them more than once. Dee Dee Ramone hung out here and eventually did a book signing on the little stage in the back, with people lined up around the block. Steve Wynn had a weekly residency here for a bit (which was amazing). The place helped launch the careers of countless Americana-ish acts including Laura Cantrell, Amy Allison, Mary Lee’s Corvette, Megan Reilly, Tom Clark & the High Action Boys, Tammy Faye Starlite and Spanking Charlene and sustained countless others through good times and bad. And as much as most of the bands played some kind of twangy rock, booking here was actually very eclectic: chanteuses Erica Smith and Jenifer Jackson, indie pop mastermind Ward White, punk rockers Ff and several surf bands from Laika & the Cosmonauts to the Sea Devils all played here.

As the toxic waves of gentrification pushed deeper into the East Village, Lakeside never changed. You could still get a $3 Pabst, or a very stiff well drink for twice that. Their half-price happy hour lasted til 8 PM. The jukebox was expensive (two plays for a buck) but was loaded with obscure R&B, blues and country treasures from the 40s through the 60s. Countless bands used their black-and-white photo booth for album cover shots. Their bar staff had personalities: rather than constantly texting or checking their Facebook pages, they’d talk to you. And they’d become your friends if you hung out and got to know them. Some were sweet, some had a mean streak, but it seemed that there was a rule that to work at Lakeside, you had to be smart, and you had to be cool.

But times changed. To a generation of pampered, status-grubbing white invaders from the suburbs, Lakeside made no sense. The place wasn’t kitschy because its owners were genuinely committed to it, and to the musicians who played there. It had no status appeal because it was cheap, dingy and roughhewn, and Ambel refused to book trendy bands. Had they renovated, put in sconces and ash-blonde paneling, laid some tile on the concrete floor, kicked out the bands and brought in “celebrity DJ’s” and started serving $19 artisanal cocktails, they might have survived. But that would have been suicide. It wouldn’t have been Lakeside anymore.

There won’t be any closing party, but the bands on the club calendar will be playing their scheduled shows. Ambel plays the final show at 9 on the 30th. Before then, stop in and say goodbye to a quintessential New York treasure.