Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sunday Evening at the McCarren Pool: TV on the Radio

This report by Richard Grayson first appeared on Jeff Bryant's blog Syntax of Things (go there for the original links) on Sunday, July 29, 2007:

It's 7:35 p.m. and I've just walked home the seven blocks down Lorimer Street from the McCarren Pool, where for the last couple of hours I saw an amazing free concert by TV on the Radio, a band I like so much that I made sure to mention them in one of the stories in my last book.

I walked over there around 5:30 p.m. after nuking a burrito and Boca burger for dinner (I can't cook but I can press buttons) when I came home from, yes, another poetry reading (which, he threatened, he would write about tomorrow). It had been raining very hard earlier, and I thought this Sunday's concert might have been canceled (an organization called JellyNYC has been running free concerts every Sunday this summer and last year, and so far this year I haven't missed at least a few hours of any of them). They never really announce when which band will appear. So some things on the web said 2 p.m. for their appearance and TVOTR's MySpace page said 8 p.m., which I knew couldn't be right because the concerts don't go that late.

I guess I lucked out. There were several thousand people there when I got there, but only three people were ahead of me on line to be seached (oddly, one guy appeared to be about 70) and I found a place where I could get a clear view of the band from the railing at was the deep end of the pool (at the right, facing the stage). There I could stand under my umbrella -- it was still raining lightly -- and not poke anyone's eye out.

Most of the crowd, of course, stood in front of the stage in the drained pool but there appeared nowhere to go on the pool steps in front of me without getting soaked by about four inches of rainwater. A little boy and his mom were splashing in it, as were a young hipster couple, and most people didn't care about getting their feet drenched, but I was just as happy back where I was.

TVOTR did a really long set of some songs I knew and some I didn't. To my ears, they all sounded great. I don't have the critical vocabulary to talk even semi-intelligently about music; I just know what I like, what makes me happy. And I was totally happy just standing and listening and, yeah, swaying (but mostly to avoid back distress).

It was really good of the band -- which does have neighborhood Williamsburg/Brooklyn connections -- to appear for free. Last night I walked up to the pool but just stood outside to see what I could hear of the Sonic Youth concert, which cost $34 a ticket (same two Saturday nights ago with Cat Power).

I always enjoy the pool scene on Sundays. But today was special.

Two weeks ago, after we went to the pool after attending the last day of the Giglio feast about eight blocks away, a friend I know from my undergrad and MFA days at Brooklyn College said that when he was a teenager there was an old man in his neighborhood who listened to the same kind of rock music he and his friends did, and they made fun of him for trying to be like a kid again. He said the hipsters at the pool probably were ridiculing me, too.

Maybe. I've heard that most people's musical tastes are fixed in their early years and that unless they're in the music business, they basically stop following new music after 25 or so. (Mistaking me for a record company exec or producer may be why at hip-hop show I went to in Miami a couple of years ago, three audience members asked if I'd take their own CDs and listen to them.)

Here's an interesting radio show dealing with the subject of older people listening to "younger music." I'm not sure if there's any way those of us from a useless generation can win.

I actually don't think anyone at the pool noticed me at all.

Like me, they were mostly paying attention to these guys:

Thanks for the free show.

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: For someone who can discuss the music intelligently, I defer to Darcy James Argue's Secret Society:
TV on the Radio make records full of densely layered vocals, savagely untamed guitar sounds, and almost impenetrably thick sonic constructs. This is not the kind of sound that can be reproduced live (at least, not without relying heavily on prerecorded samples), but the band compensates for the absence of studio wizardry by rocking really fucking hard.

The Gerard Smith (bass) - Jaleel Bunton (drums) back line is fierce. Where the grooves on the recordings have a kind of studied abstract sloppiness to them, at yesterday's free show at McCarren Pool, everything was stripped down and locked in tight. Hearing the straight sound of frontman Tunde Adebimpe's vocals without the studio multitracking effects makes you appreciate what a great singer he really is. Same goes for Kyp Malone, whose falsetto backing vocals on record are kind of nasal, but live are pure and sweet, even a bit Curtis Mayfield-y. The rainy-day crowd sang along with almost every word.

TV on the Radio represent everything that is good and right about the Brooklyn indie scene from which they emerged -- they are restlessly experimental but grounded in irresistible melodies. They draw on a staggering variety of influences, but they blend them all so skillfully that the individual ingredients of their sound are barely recognizable -- it just sounds like them, and they don't really sound like anything else. They manage to appeal both to devoted indie rock hipsters and those whose primary musical interests lie elsewhere. Their music is abstract and artsy but genuinely connects to people on a visceral level. And, as I believe I mentioned, they rock really fucking hard.

This hit was one of those rare shows that made me feel good about the time and place I'm living in.

Me too, me too.

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