Saturday, July 7, 2012

Early Saturday Afternoon in Times Square: Zulu Wave and Upper West at CBGB Music Fesitval Free Concert

We generally try to avoid Times Square like dental plaque, especially on a summer Saturday afternoon when the area is swarming with tourists. Especially when the temperature is approaching 100 degrees.
But we got to Times Square at noon today (thanks, C train, for stopping at Delancey Street this weekend, making the trip from Williamsburg a lot easier) for the start of the free concert -- one of two today, the other at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park -- from the new CBGB Music Festival, which was in the news today for the stabbing at Webster Hall (making the violence at the McCarren Pool seem like kiddie's play).
We figured we'd stay for an hour or so, and though we knew we'd wilt before seeing The Hold Steady (whom we've seen in two free shows already), Superchunk, or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, we were happy to get there when the audience was relatively sparse, by Times Square standards amazingly so, given that we could just walk up to the first row of either of the stages at 46th Street and 51st Street.
And we were not disappointed, getting to see two really fine bands we were unaware of: Zulu Wave from Tampa (yay!) at the south stage
and then Upper West from the West 70s and 80s (also home! yay!) at the north stage.
We were very hot, however, and after an hour, needing fluid and air conditioning, took the subway one stop to our office. Hey, we are old enough to have come to where the south stage was with our high school fellow-dramafag best bud to see Gwen Verdon in Sweet Charity at the Palace in 1966.
Things have changed. Before global warming, summer in the city was hot, but not this hot.
Someone there said, "I can't imagine anything less punk than what's going on here,"
but of course CBGB back in the 1970s was not just about punk; they had a surprisingly wide variety of interesting-sounding bands and solo acts.
In the fall of 1978, Another Chicago Magazine came out with a story of ours and a contributor's note that mentioned our playing "lead guitar with A Small Band of Zionist Hoodlums, which recently played CBGB."
Anyway, the south stage had bleachers, although they were basically less than half-full at 12:30 p.m. and a bunch of people standing in front of and beside the stage who probably didn't come to see the music festival. We had to make our way through a gauntlet of pesky people imploring us to go on sightseeing bus or into "comedy shows" or chain restaurants or crappy supposed tourist attractions.
We preferred the old Times Square, when it was sleazy and you could meet one of your best lifelong friends there when he was 19 years old and you were his somewhat older, um, client. Well, some people like the Disney version. This CBGB Festival technical guy was smiling broadly. We guess they were paying him overtime.
However, this is not to take away anything from Zulu Wave, who played a really wonderful set, as they did on Thursday night in Rock the Park Tampa, at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, to us a more pleasant and prettier venue than Times Square, right by the Hillsborough River and near the art museum. Sigh. We miss Florida.

If it's possible to be both serene and dynamic -- getting to Times Square with $665 (from a $500 goal) on Kickstarter, Zulu Fest accomplished that today, in what must have been a very surreal atmosphere. Michael Barrow's lyrics introduce subject matter that ranges from shape-shifting African monsters to opressive government regimes.
Tampa Bay Times wrote (last year, when the band had a somewhat different membership):
Zulu Wave is a cool name for a group from Tampa, but it fits in a way you might not expect — singer-guitarist Mike Barrow actually hails from Johannesburg, South Africa. The group — Barrow, bassist Stephanie Adamo, keyboardist Ariel Cortes and drummer Dan Sullivan — has a thoroughly modern and polished indie-rock sound that calls to mind anyone from Silversun Pickups to Arcade Fire to the Airborne Toxic Event. The group has a three-song EP at the moment, but is working on a full slate of material for a full-length, which could come in 2012.
Cortes is the only member who hails from Tampa. The rest were all in bands around the East Coast (and the world, in Barrow's case). The lineup solidified about six months ago, right as all the members moved to the Tampa Bay area. . ."It just all clicked," Adamo says.
Zulu West clicked today. We made our way up Broadway past the previously mentioned buskers as well as tables selling stuff and -- more happily -- some excellent food trucks. Because it was so hot and humid, it felt like more than four or five blocks till we got to the north stage.
Upper West is new wave hip-hop by Dougie (Doug Gleicher) and JFink (Jesse Finkelstein), two guys who look about 20 and who grew up on the Upper West Side and met each other in lower school at Collegiate("lower school" was what it was called when we went to Franklin School on West 89th Street for tenth grade - "upper school" - in 1965-66), and we liked what we heard from their first mixtape, West Side Stories, released about a year and a half ago. But then we're kinda sorta from there, too, only in the 1980s, living around the corner from Dougie's parents. We hope Upper West gets a bigger audience.
And they were playing the CBGB Music Festival in fucking Times Square, and they also performed at South by Southwest (SXSW) earlier this year.
Their set today was energetic -- not easy in the swelter. Huffington Post reviewed West Side Stories this way (in part):
Upper West's new mixtape has earned a slew of positive reviews, and the group already has over 7,500 "likes" on their Facebook page. With the tracks on the new release, the duo pays homage to their roots: "Grew up on 72nd / moved up to 87th ... Grew up on fields of grassy gravel down on Riverside" are a few of the opening lyrics to "West Side Story," the first of the nine songs.
Listeners of the mixtape may feel a bit of déjà entendu: several of the tracks have hooks from familiar songs playing beneath the rap lyrics. "What We Do," for instance, is an adaptation of Beirut's "Elephant Gun," and "Slow Down" is a new take on Death Cab's "Marching Band of Manhattan." Most creative, perhaps, is the fifth track on the mixtape, "Seasons," which is an adaptation of the song "Seasons of Love" from the musical Rent. And children of the 80s and 90s should be sure to catch the intro to the track "Pride" ("I see pride! I see power!"), which features a recording from the best movie about any Jamaican bobsled team ever created. (Yes, it is Cool Runnings).
Upper West's "Slow Down" [is] a sure-to-be hit off their new mixtape (go ahead and skip to 1:06 for our favorite part). They say they're not "just another frat rap / More dudes with tank tops and snapbacks" in "What We Do," but after watching the video from their earlier single "I Won't Grow Up" (second video below), we're ...not too sure about that. What is certain is the fact that these guys are talented and will be sure to win the hearts of female first-years across the country.
Anyway, though we left early rather than faint from the combination of heat exhaustion and old age, we are definitely grateful we got to see Zulu Wave and Upper West and caught at least a little of the CBGB Music Festival.

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