Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wednesday Night at Brooklyn Bridge Park: Union Hall Presents Secret Science Club, Comedian Dave Hill, Tiny Masters of Today, Headlights & French Kicks

We were unable to go to previous Wednesday evening Music at the Bridge events this summer because we were teaching at that hour, but we're really glad final exams were on Tuesday so we could attend last night's final show of the season, curated by the great Park Slope venue, Union Hall and its ace producer/promoter Skippy McFadden, one of the best bookers in the business.

We got to the city-owened Brooklyn Bridge Park at the foot of Washington Avenue and then walked along the shorefront to the Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park. The show took place under the tent in the Tobacco Warehouse, built by the Lorillard family in the 1870s as a tobacco customs inspection center at the then-bustling Brooklyn waterfront. Saved from demolition in 1998 by local acitivists, the facility was repaired and stabilized. Now roofless, the warehouse makes a huge, column-less outdoor public space.

There were ten tables filled with people drinking and eating the good stuff from the Brooklyn Brewery and Rice on Washington. The vegetable burrito was tasty and priced to sell, even to cheap semi-retirees who attend only free cultural events and even try to cadge free stuff from media sponsors like last night's The Onion.

After thoughtlessly lingering in the most spectacular portable bathroom we'd ever seen (it had cold A/C, a mirror, a real sink, and even a print on the wall, the facility looked even better than our Dumbo Books HQ's john: all credit to Comfort Elite Restrooms), we got close to the stage and plopped ourselves down on the rubbery-comfortable floor between a group of picnicking NYU students and some tattooed parents and their toddlers.

Marianna Koval, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservatory, spoke first about how the dream of 20 years ago is finally being fulfilled into what will eventually be an 85-acre park stretching along the waterfront from north of the Manhattan Bridge down to Atlantic Avenue. Before too long, we need to get to the temporary park by Pier 1, where Marianna said you can see all four waterfalls, but eventually it will be spectacular.

The evening's MC, thanks to Union Hall and Skippy, was a delight: Dave Hill's bumbling, faux-sincere, offhand persona made the interruptions between the acts really entertaining. Even - or maybe especially - his throwaway lines were funny, and he was able to get away with comic profanity despite the presence of little ones (after 8 p.m., he felt free to use the F-word, as when interrupted by a howling baby, he said, "Get that fucking baby out of here," but in a nice way, helpfully adding, "Be a good parent. Jeez." (He never did bring out the threatened C-word, but then we left a little early.)

Union Hall's Secret Science Club isn't a secret anymore, and those monthly shows at the venue fill up fast with hipsters who can't get enough of physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and alcohol. (The true Secret Science Club fanatics who think that too much science is never a bad thing - none of them have jobs in the Bush administration, of course - left the park early to get over to see even more scientific demonstrations in Park Slope.)

We had the pleasure of watching Rutgers' David Maiullo and his student cohort Ben show us that, yes, learning physics can be fun. While he didn't make his hair stand on end the way we recall old Prof. Dillard doing in our Integrated Science 1 class at Brooklyn College in the fall of 1969, Maiullo and his liquid nitrogen shattered a banana, grapes, a hot dog and sundry flowers along with our illusions about -130 degree temperatures.

He first explained the principles he was trying to convey - like every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and then amazed us by rocketing himself through the parted audience on a cart, using only a fire extinguisher as energy. He also did the old quick jerk on a tablecloth filled with dishes that don't move, used the liquid nitrogen to blow rings around us, and after Ben made a Dave sandwich by putting the 200-pound scientist between two beds of nails with the Tiny Masters of Today standing above him acting as a human panini pressers, asked us for the scientific explanation of why he wasn't hurt.

"You're invincible!" some annoying kid shouted out. That too, but the real answer was because the weight of his body was spread out over many nails so that each nail has little weight pushing onto it. We can only say it's a good thing the nails were not placed further apart and that a man is not a balloon.

Speaking of balloons, did we mention how the Tiny Masters of Today always make us want to party? Seriously, we have liked Ivan and Ada so much since their music was brought to our attention by Louise Crawford at Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn a couple of years ago, when the Masters were even Tinier. On our MySpace (a place for friends) page, we made "Stickin' It to the Man" our theme song, or whatever you call it when the music automatically (if very, very slowly) plays when someone clicks on you.

As David Bowie said of that song, "This 2:43 minute slice of detached cool comes across like Suicide crashing a Shaggs rehearsal. How can you resist: 'You say yes, I say no. You say stop, I say go. You say up, I say down. You say smile, I say frown. Stickin' it to The Man, stickin' it cos I can, stickin it to The Man, every day.' Genius."

They finally did play it (ninth song) after doing some more recent stuff. Ada first said it was depressing and asked us all to get up. It's amazing to watch adults immediately do what a 14-year-old girl suggests (Dave Hill later said that Ada had a lot of balls to do that and he thought it was obnoxious but then backstage she'd been trying constantly get smokes from him. A joke. Less funny was "They're, what, 14, but they party like 16-year-olds.")

Joined by a dynamite older guy (like maybe a real 16yo) on drums, the brother and sister from the Slope who are like total idols of everyone in England, played an amazing set. If you don't think songs like "Hologram World," the vid of which was directed by Karen O, are 1000% genius, then you are probably brain-dead. Seriously. Hey, Mr. DJ, turn on their music before it's too late.

The two toddler boys near us were totally rocking out, with the bigger brown-haired getting so enthusiastic that he knocked down his littler bro like seven or eight times. And the little kid, maybe less than two, kept getting up and hopping around again.

Some people, we guess, find TMoT's music a bit loud and monotonous. But if you're gonna be that loud, we say the more monotony, the better. And we're not kidding about that. There's something hypnotic about what Ada and Ivan do, like it triggers something in your brain. We are certain the science guy from Rutgers could explain it.

And if you think we're nuts, here's Mary Beth Shine writing at For Idle Hands to Do:
I had not heard of the opening band, "Tiny Masters of Today" prior to last night, and I'm more than happy to report that they should have been the headliners. . .I found that a bunch of 12 year olds (well, the drummer looked maybe 16 or 17, and I'm still unsure if it was a boy or a girl, like the old Barbarians song goes) rocked harder than Sonic Youth, and were a whole lot more fun. To be fair, part of my reaction was "holy shit, they are so young, and so skinny, and who are their parents?" There is a novelty factor there, but it wore off and the music took over. . .They even did a brilliant cover of House of Pain's "Jump Around." At one point Ada asserted herself, asking the audience to stand up, because seeing all of us sit down depressed her. Nearly everyone stood up. Kim Gordon move over, I want to be as cool as Ada!

After walking around the water's edge (the grass smelled great, and picnickers were enjoying the twilight view of the three bridges between Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as two waterfalls - if only something could be done about the Verizon building on the horizon), we knew we really needed to go home, but we told ourselves we'd stay for Dave Hill's next funny-guy routine (worth it) and a song or two from Headlights, a band from Champaign, Illinois (apparently there were half a dozen in the audience from that town, too). We ended up staying for Headlights' whole set.

More than most bands we've seen, Headlights genuinely looks like they're enjoying themselves onstage. You can check out their haunting boy-girl harmonies at this NPR video of them performing "School Boys" at Union Hall last month. Even the crankiest oldsters - and there were a sprinkling in the audience last night - can appreciate their classic pop Brill-Buildingesque sensibility. And by the end of their set, they had two exuberant little girls about 9 or 10 dancing energetically to some of their faster songs.

Then we really did have to go, being pretty much oldsters ourselves. So we missed the night's headliners, the New York City-based French Kicks. The Village Voice wrote, "With catchy choruses, assured self-production, and lyrics that lean on nobody's pen, it won't be long before people start comparing other bands to French Kicks, instead of the other way around." Hopefully we can catch them another time.

But we're glad we caught the last show in this summer's Music at the Bridge series. It truly was a glorious evening in a beautiful setting.

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