Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday in Williamsburg: Dirty Projectors at East River State Park's JellyNYC Pool Party

On this beautiful evening in Williamsburg, we've just walked back - with a stop at the Feast of the Giglio - from a terrific JellyNYC pool party at East River State Park, highlighted by an extraordinary performance by the splendid Dirty Projectors. It was a great day.

We really miss the pool parties at an actual, if dry, pool, but we were ready to give the park a shot. And as we approached Kent Avenue, we saw something we never saw at the pool: a walking port-a-potty!

Sigh. It turned out it was being transported by people to an undisclosed location. Perhaps it was defective - like maybe it wasn't disgusting enough to meet pool party standards.

We got on the back of the line of people waiting to get in.

This thirsty woman went off the line to get the drink, and she'd end up having to throw more than half of it out because the gendarmes wouldn't let her bring it in.

As we moved up, we passed a special entrance for non-pool-party people and for those who hate hipsters.

We must look intimidating or pathetic, as we were the last person in a group to be allowed to enter. We looked back at those who had to wait a while.

There were standardized signs, and we noticed a bigger emphasis on preventing underage drinking than we remember at the McCarren pool. Whatever, we don't drink and never have, even though we're old enough so we could have at 18 - which is where we think the limit should be.

They still call them "pool parties" but there's no pool. Now the day after we were at last year's last pool party, the New York Times called it "the end of an era." (Our BFF, who grew up in Williamsburg, said she thought a real era had ended back in the Reagan administration when the pool was closed after almost 50 years of actual swimming. In water.)

The first people we encountered once we got in past the gate after being looked at - we had no bags to search - were this pair, asking for money so that the free concerts could continue. Few people gave. We think they may be from the wonderfully dedicated Open Space Alliance, whose volunteers staffed a table. They do good work.

Cobblestones freak us out because two of our baby-boomer friends have broken their wrists falling on cobblestones, in Manhattan and London.

As at the pool, there's dodgeball here too.

A sign says so. The space is enclosed and dodgeball fans watch their heroes through the fence.

The pool didn't have a basketball court, but the park does. It's enclosed too, for safety.

People have complained about the lack of trees at East River State Park, but that open access is helpful for concerts. The pool, we realized, was an enclosed space, and the park is much less confining, prettier, with better views - and random places to sit. (The pool, to be fair, did have steps.)

People of an artistic bent could design their own sneakers on two boards. We assume some smart manufacturer will steal the best intellectual property at the end of the day.

This is the spot where the beer and wine vendors are. At first we didn't bother to get a wristband when we walked in, because we don't drink.

On the north side of the pool party space, there's a grass strip, just next to the grass for the non-24-hour-party people. One thing that we noticed right away is that while twentysomethings and other young hipsters of course predominated, there were more families with young kids here and some more older people. Somehow it felt more welcoming to diverse ages.

There was no slip-and-slide, so water fun was confined to a man sitting with a hose and giving out little plastic water pistols so that people could shoot their friends with sprays of H20.

We got caught in the crossfire of this gunfight. "Sorry about that," said the gunman who made us a little wet. "No problem," we said, "it's only a flesh wound."

For some reason, most of the porta-potties were placed in the 21+ section. This necessitated us getting a wristband. We asked if the man checking our ID if we were the oldest person so far.

He said no, he was older than we are. He didn't check our June 1951 birthdate because we're sure he was our junior.

We're glad the sky-blue skinny JellyNYC balloon guys were there.

The beautiful skyline helps. Does this look like a scene from a horror movie? Horrible Creature Attacks Unsuspecting Clueless Teens?

Although only recorded music played for a long time, some people - maybe about 40 or 50 - sat down in front of the stage.

There were only a few people at the side space apart from the pool party at 3:30 p.m.

And the spaces really felt wide open at that hour.

Maybe even a little lonely. No one could ever be so alone at the old pool. We thought it was kind of nice.

Ooh, that skyline!

A man with a pistol stalks three innocent women. Well, relatively innocent.

An older man with a Rockaway Surf Shop T-shirt reads the shoulder tattoo of a younger guy.

Art students take over the sneaker design business.

There's a line for beer tickets. You pay for tickets, then you go buy beer with the tickets. We're sure there's a state regulation behind that. Or maybe it's just ease of doing business.

The 21+ area had a cocktail-party feel.

We found the toilets fairly clean before 4 p.m.

A lot of beer would be deposited here throughout the day, though,.

We were clueless, forgetting how to activate the water to wash our hands. "Step on it! Step on it!" shouted a passing park employee. We wondered why he wanted us to rush, then felt really stupid. But our hands got rinsed.

Till the day we die we'll still hear that little girl's sing-song "En mi casa toman Bustelo. en mi casa toman Bustelo . . . "

Does John Kerry (heart) waffles?

These people were working their buns off.

¿Dónde están los otros mosqueteros - Dartañan, Atos y Aramis?

Agua. Dos dólares.

We don't think the pool had picnic tables. The ones at the park made things homey.

It was kind of hot and a little humid in the afternoon sun, and the music still hadn't started after we'd been there over an hour.

We walked around some more as the recorded music played. Here the volleyball watchers assumed the stance.

We realize we still think like a lawyer. In this case, a personal injury attorney. In addition to the cobblestones, the broken cement everywhere seemed a bit too easy for someone to fall on. Especially if they'd been drinking.

And this wooden plank was sticking up at least an inch into the air. Easy to trip on.

And it's held together with duct tape?

Actually, twice during the day, we slid slightly on these little pebbles. After that, we walked on the grass to avoid it.

With no live music yet, we were tired and disappointed and walked to the Bedford Avenue station to get the subway home.

So we missed Crystal Antlers. Let's pretend we saw them a year minus two days before:

And we didn't see hide nor hair of, nor did we hear, Magnolia Electric Co. But here they are:

At home, we did get to read the Sunday paper, take a nap, and eat a homemade early-bird special dinner.

When we returned to - oops, we almost said "the pool" - Dirty Projectors were (was?) just coming on and the crowd in front of them was big.

We think Dave Longstreth is a genius and we loved hearing the songs from Bitte Orca.

But we thought we could see better if we went around the grass, where people looked like picnickers.

As we made our way closer to the river, everyone seemed happy, though some people were talking rather than listening to the music.

That platform by the stage looked like a good spot to try for.

It was still pretty crowded, and people had to lean in to see the band.

But we could hear them really well, and their vocals, well. . . Since we're musically illiterate, we'll just say we'll agree with New York Times calling the new album
ambitious, with songs that artfully balance catchy melodies with abstract formal experimentation. At a time when even fans note that much indie rock is essentially conservative, juggling a handful of retro signifiers — Pixies meet Pavement, Spacemen 3 meet Kraftwerk, and so on — Dirty Projectors’ music defies easy categorization and is anything but safe.

We had a reasonably good view for awhile at the edge of the platform, when the two women in front of us wouldn't put their heads close together to chat.

Here's what someone there who actually knows what he's talking about, Andrew Frisicano wrote:
From the opening notes of "Two Doves" at 6:15, Dirty Projectors' set got off to a slow start (that opener being one of the most low energy songs on either of their last two albums). The band continued with new-album material before launching into a mid-set stretch of older songs. I was wondering how they'd rearrange the older material, it turns out they didn't. The band played the Rise Above and before material with their two new touring members (singer Haley Dekle and bassist Nat Baldwin) off the stage. The combination of "Fucked for Life," "Gimme Gimme Gimme," "Thirsty & Miserable" and "Rise Above" injected some much-needed energy into the crowd. In my opinion, the tension and drama in those is unmatched by anything on the (still good) new record.

From there, single "Stillness Is the Move" solicited cries of excitement and applause. That song led a straight shot through the Dirty Projectors' poppiest numbers, closing with a two song encore and Dark Was the Night track "Knotty Pine" (though without David Byrne there to sing his part like he did at Radio City and Bonnaroo).

(Andrew says this and more, of course, a zillion times better than we could.)

Now back to our usual banal comments: We left that concrete platform because we needed to pee. And we can critically comment that the portable toilets were no longer in the pristine state we'd found them early in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, we're about 55 years too old to have watched the band from our dad's shoulders. And our dad is about 55 years too old to be dumb enough to let us.

At the 21-and-over drinking section, the cocktail party still seemed to be in progress. Hey, that's nice background music, isn't it?

As the skies darkened, the skyline looked - um, different. Yeah, let's go with different. It's only a blog post, and no one comes to this blog for our writing.

(According to the Dumbo Books sales manager, they don't go to our books for our writing, either.)

You can see the figures of Dirty Projectors onstage if you look closely.

Even before they finished their haunting songs, people started to leave.

Soon a trickle became a flood or some other cliche.

Each one leaves looking determined and dutiful.

Well, actually, some looked a little drunk.

And some couldn't find their friends.

New York's Finest wisely blocked Kent Avenue off from car traffic as the crowds left the park.

What is it with guys in white T-shirts? Are they, like, fashionable now?

We decided to avoid the crowd on the Bedford Avenue subway station just to go one stop, so we walked down North 8th Street. One old Italian lady sitting in a folding chair said to another, "You know, they're pretty orderly." She'd apparently been expecting a hipster rampage.

By walking instead of taking the hated L train, we sure avoided any crowds.

But we couldn't avoid zeppole. That sign said in full, "We Use 100% Peanut Oil To Insure Anaphylactic Shock In Those With Peanut Allergies."

Weary from our walk, we joined these other old people on the steps of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. Back in July 1997, it was about 103 degrees out, so we had the bright idea to sit in the air-conditioned chapel for a little bit to cool off. We noticed more people were doing the same thing until it was too late: Mass had begun. So we cooled off for longer than we expected.

Of course we did learn that we'll spend all eternity roasting. Just kidding, Father! (As a kid, we loved going down the block on Sunday morning for Mass at Mary Queen of Heaven. No kidding: our first boyfriend was an altar boy whose ordination in Altoona we got an invitation to years later.)

Some sort of music was playing, and people in yellow leis were dancing.

This woman wore a hat in the shape of the Giglio.

Actually, we love the Feast of the Giglio. We spent some time there and will be back. But we had a great day at the pool, and although we joined wandering the feast and eating a zeppole, our old bones couldn't take any more wonderfulness in a single day.

Excess wonderfulness is a problem for those of us fortunate enough to live in Williamsburg. Of course some people will always be thirsty and miserable.

Oh, and if you were looking for genuinely incisive comments on the music, you can read Jill Menze, Mike Grimes, the irreplaceable Brooklyn Vegan (who also has clear photos) or Black Raptor, who also has excellent pics and mo' better commentary on the scene.

Or just read the New York Times like regular people and see Nate Chinen's review, "Vocals That Deliver a Jolt, as 'Ooh' Morphs Into 'Eh.'"

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