Posts tagged ‘The Bell House’

What I learned in 100 Days

May 5th, 2009

Here goes: the last and final “What I learned…” post. But this time, for the whole 100 days.

This is the most exciting time in music that I’ve ever experienced
And I grew with Motley Crue, Guns ‘n Roses, R.E.M. Metallica, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, U2, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Run DMC, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more. These are all legendary, amazing bands. But I’m telling you – right now this is the most exciting time in music. At least for my generation and those younger than me. Here’s why.

The old music model is broken, but that’s okay: the power has shifted to the artist. The Internet is killing majors, but fuck majors. You don’t need them. But bands need you, now more than ever. Bands may not make any money selling records, but they never did anyways. Fans have the power to keep music alive by simply going to see live music, buying merchandise (and yes, records) directly from bands. This has never been more true than ever before. Fans have direct access to more music than any other time in music.

Some might say there’s no quality control anymore. But fuck that. You are the quality controller. You decide. Any band that has access to a computer can record a song, put it on the Internet and let the people decide if it’s any good or not. That’s exciting because there’s more of it, and you can decide what’s worth your time.

Not only that, but look at the music itself. Take the genre of “indie rock” for example. Listen, I hate genre monikers like this (remember “alternative rock”?) but it’s exciting when one “genre” can be as diverse as to include bands like Belle & Sebastian, Matt and Kim, Sufjan Stevens, Feist and Blitzen Trapper, alongside Animal Collective, N.E.R.D., Kings of Leon, The Avett Brothers, Of Montreal, Bell Orchestre, Black Lips, Wolff, and Wilco.

The ’60s sounded like revolution. The ’70s sounded like rock and disco. The ’80s sounded like pop, new wave, DIY and glam. And the ’90s sounded like grunge and hip hop. So what does the ’00s sound like? All of the above and them some. And that’s pretty damn exciting

People like to see other people do things they couldn’t imagine themselves doing
People remained curious about this project from beginning to end. At first, I think they wanted to know about the music. Later when they asked me, “How’s the project coming?” I think what they really meant was, “How the hell are you still awake or alive or sane?

People like being a part of something
This goes for all the friends who joined me on the journey, the musicians, PR contacts, managers, etc who I met, plus the random people who emailed me and generous people who sent donations. When I started out, I hoped a lot of my friends would go to some shows with me, but I figured I’d do most of it alone. Boy was I wrong. Friends came out of the woodwork for this, and it was awesome.

I also tried to meet as many musicians as I could. I would approach them after their set to tell them what I was doing. About 98% of the time the response was really great. A few musicians blew me off, but fuck them. They were too self-involved anyhow, so who cares. I got to meet some great people. And they were as happy to be a part of it as I was to be doing it. See The Wrens entry for an example of how happy.

As you know I also took donations. These were not only a way to help me get through the 100 days, but for everyone to get involved and feel apart of the 100 days. Some were as small as $1, some got as big as $200 or $250, but I appreciated them all equally.

Finally, I was fortunate enough to get on a lot of guest lists. Sometimes that was a result of me unabashedly requesting it, but more often than not they were offered up by different contacts I made, or people who contacted me along the way. The generosity of PR folks, band members, band managers, label people and so on was helpful, humbling and appreciated.

The band (almost always) starts an hour after the venue says they will
Keep this in mind if you’re going to see a show in NYC, at the Bowery or Mercury for example. If they say the band goes on at 8pm, they actually go on around 9pm – or later. This is just how it is, at least in NY. Why? Alcohol.

Venues want to get you in and sell you as many overpriced drinks as they can before you notice that you’re waiting for the band to start. And they’ve gotten pretty good at timing it out. Which meant I got pretty good at timing when I needed to show up. Unless I wanted to see the opening bad, then I was screwed.

But, there are a few exceptions:

The “Early show”
These is the show before the show that’s scheduled to bring in the real crowd that night. The doors for these shows are usually at 6:30pm or 7:00pm, and the bands tend to start 30 minutes after they say they will.

Europe
Shows start on time in Europe. I learned this one the hard way when I missed Ben Lee at La Fleche d’Or. But it wasn’t just France. Shows in England started at or near the listed time, too. Just a word to the wise if you’re gonna see a show in Europe.

Random, unforeseen bullshit
You show up hoping to see the band that starts at 10pm only to find out that they pulled out and aren’t playing. Or their timeslot got swapped with the band at 9pm. Or the band that was supposed to play at 8pm didn’t show up, and so each band got bumped up an hour. All of these happened to me, and it pissed me off, but what can you do?

Beer is only as good as the tap it comes out of
I drank a lot of beer over 100 days, which is why I’m not drinking any for another month or two. But I didn’t do this for me. I did it for you, the readers. Ok, that’s what I tell myself. But either way, I did it, and now I’m here to report back.

Here is your guide to the best/worst beer taps in NYC: (from worst to best)

Mercury Lounge: Shitty
The PBR is the worst, but it’s also the cheapest, which makes it tempting. Don’t do it. It tastes and smells terrible. The Bud Light is ok, but I would step it up if you’re at the Merc.

Bowery Ballroom: Just ok
Stella isn’t bad here, but can be a bit average, and lose some of the sweetness it should have. And it’s $7, which is bullshit, so they should clean the taps and figure a way of making it worth the price.

Webster Hall: Not bad
Plastic cups suck, but the beer wasn’t bad.

Pianos: Pretty Good
I drank mostly PBR cans at Pianos, but the times that I drank from the tap, I got a Stella and it was pretty decent – mostly because it comes in a glass, not a plastic cup.

The Bell House: Good
Didn’t really drink too much from the tap here, the cans are too cheap ($4), but the one time I did, it was good.

Cake Shop: Good
The music room may be a dive, but the tap beer is good.

Rockwood Music Hall: Good
Pretty decent, but I’d suggest getting a glass of wine instead. They pour them pretty deep.

Music Hall of Williamsburg: Very good
Probably because it’s new, but all the beer I drank here was good.

Le Poisson Rouge: Very good
I hate the stupid mandatory 20% tip if you use your card at LPR, but it’s a new enough venue that the beers come out of the tap tasting delicious.

Joe’s Pub: Excellent
It’s a nicer and more expensive venue, so naturally, they care about their bar.

Going to shows alone isn’t as bad as it seems
Before this project, I would go see a band alone, but not that often. And I’d feel sorry for myself, and hate that I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and waaaaahh waaaaahh waaaaahh… Then I realized, seeing a band can be like seeing a movie. Once it begins, being alone is fine. You shouldn’t be talking during the music anyhow. Granted, some bands are a lot more fun to see with friends. But don’t let the fact that no one else wants to go keep you from going. Just go.

Get to know unknown bands
It’s only natural to want to blow off bands you’ve never heard of before. You’ve never heard them, so why would you care? That is, unless you need to see music every single night, like I did. And sometimes there’s a night where you don’t know who to see, so you have to pick a band at random – as I did. And you know what you’d find out? It’s worth taking chances on unknown bands.

Music will never cease to amaze me
The fact that I can find live music in downtown Hartford, CT on a random Monday night amazes me. How I can still see Les Paul, the 93-year old man who invented the solid body electric guitar, every Monday night, have him flick me off for a picture and meet him afterwards amazes me. The fact that I can be asked on stage to perform with a band that’s been together for over 20 years, to a sold out crowd in NYC amazes me. And the fact that I can see 100 consecutive days of live music and still love music amazes me.

Thanks for reading. Now do yourself a favor and go buy a ticket to see a band, right now.

4/24/09: Headlights w/The Love Language @ The Bell House (92/100)

April 25th, 2009

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I think they were just trying to get rid of the beer and booze leftover from our Founder’s Day party at work earlier in the month, since this email went out around noon today:

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So naturally, we all pretty much gave up on getting anymore work done for the day at exactly 3:35pm. That meant a long, hazy night ahead. I was going to see Headlights at The Bell House, but probably not until after 11pm. I was actually going to try and get there a bit early, since my friend Francis was getting there to check out the opening band, The Love Language. Any band Francis is checking out is good enough for me.

But first, work beers. Then after work beers. Then more beers after that. Then a $25 cab ride from the West Village to Gowanus, Brooklyn. That’s one unfortunate side effect of the end of this project: I’ve gotten lazy. I’m even taking cabs back and forth between the LES and my apartment, and that’s a 10 minute walk. I’m clearly running out of steam.

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I arrived at the Bell House a bit later than expected, with a nearly dead iPhone and a healthy buzz. Met up
with Francis and his posse pretty much right away. The Love Language was already on, and I was liking what I was hearing. And there were a shitload of people on stage. I guess it was Love Langauge and Headlights, doing it Broken Social Scene style with like 10 people up there. It was good, catchy, carefree indie rock – which apparently not a lot of NYers cared to listen to tonight, sadly. The venue was pretty empty.

But who cares. I was glad to be there. The band sounded great, and Headlights was due up next. They hit the stage around midnight, I think. Maybe a bit before. I have their record Some Racing, Some Stopping and it’s pretty good, but I truthfully don’t know them that well. And sometimes, that’s the best way to go into a show: no expectations.

And they were good. The place may not have been packed, but they brought their sweet, indie pop like it was. I was digging it. I mean, again, not the greatest band in the world, but you could do a lot worse. The guitar and bass players switched instruments, which I always like. They even played a song with nothing but accordions and keyboards. I think. Or was it jsut the guitar player playing the accordion? Can’t remember (see beginning of this entry for clues as to why).

At the end of their set Love Language returned the favor from earlier in the night and joined Headlights on stage. Then the band called it a night. And soon afterwards, so did I.

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4/10/09: The Wrens @ The Bell House (78/100)

April 11th, 2009

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I’m having a really hard putting this show into words. I mean, how do you begin to write about being invited on stage to play a song with The Wrens at their sold out show on a Friday night in NYC? Seriously, what words can communicate that?

The words “thank you” come to mind first. Thank you to The Wrens. Thank you to Naomi for passing along my email to the band. Thank you to Kevin for getting in touch with me and offering to give me 5th Wren status for a night. Thank you to the rest of the band for letting me step on your stage. Thank you to the crowd at the Bell House for being so awesome.

What a fucking experience, let me tell you. But first, let me show you:


Video credit: Dave Pinke

This is what this project is about. Not me living like a rock star. But connecting with music. And you don’t get much closer than becoming the 5th Wren for a night. You don’t get a much better experience than looking out on a crowd that’s going crazy, not for me, but for the band, and the moment, and just how moving music can be. And that’s the thing: music is more than what we listen to. It’s what moves us. Not just to the beat. But the moment. Ugh…see? This shit is hard to put into words. But let me keep trying.

Let’s back up to the beginning.

I got out to Bell House in time to catch the last few songs of the opening band. The place was pretty crowded, but not as packed as a sold out show seemed like it should be. But don’t worry, it filled in. The opener finished up, and then I took a spot in the front row, waiting for The Wrens to take the stage. I’m not gonna lie, the butterflies were rustlin’ a little in the stomach knowing I’d be up on that stage in no time. Excited, but nervous.

Kevin (bass) told me they would call me up during the song “Hopeless” so I listened to it about a million times, but knew right when I stepped on stage, none of that would matter and I’d forget everything. And I was right. Damnit, I keep getting ahead of myself.

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Ok, so toward the end of their set, Kevin addressed the crowd with a shout out to the 100 bands project, and said they were going to bring me on stage as the 5th Wren. He said at some point, I’d come up and dazzle the crowd with my Elton John like skills on the keyboard. I don’t know about that, but I do that when I hopped up on the side of the stage, the crowd went nuts.

Man, that’s the kind of reaction I could get used to. Now I know why these guys have kept it together for 20 years. The energy you feel being up there is amazing. On stage, I took a seat next to Kevin as he began the intro keyboard/vox for “Hopeless.”

I whipped out my digital camera and began to film it, but then handed my camera down to a guy standing in the front row so he could shoot this for me (Thanks Dave). Turns out, he works in digital content at MTV, so I picked a great guy for the job. And, his friend Maryanne was snapping still shots (thanks for the pics).

As I waited for my moment to shine, Jerry (drummer) handed me “Flat Stanley” that he had the crowd hold up earlier to take a picture for his son. It was Jerry’s birthday, and earlier the band brought out a cake. Just an FYI. Anyhow, it was very sweet and I was honored to hold up the Flat Stanley for the front row to take shots of.

When the song got going, Kevin stepped away from the keys, and it was my turn to step up. I moved my chair forward, tried to mimic the chords I watched him play during the intro, but then realized that would never happen. So I took my limited knowledge of the keys and just hoped I didn’t fuck up the song. Which was entirely likely since I couldn’t hear a single note coming out of the keyboard. Oh well. Hopefully it at least looked like I knew what I was doing.

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I jammed on the keys for most of the song, looking up and actually not being as freaked out by the crowd as I thought I might be. Toward the end of the song, Kevin tapped me on the shoulder and got me to jump up and down with him, and the crowd went wild! A fucking dream come true, right? There I was, with the Wrens, jumping up and down at center stage at a sold out show. I pumped my fist in the air, gave Kevin a big hug, waved the rest of the band and jumped off the side of the stage into a crowd of people slapping me on the back, congratulating me.

Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.

As the crowd cleared out, I met some nice people who asked about the blog, and congratulated me some more. I chatted for a bit, then stopped by the merch table and introduced myself to, and thanking Jerry (drummer) and Greg (guitar). They were so nice, and thanked me for making their band a part of the project. Then I popped backstage to thank Kevin and Charles (guitar/vox). I asked them if I invited them to the 100th Day event I’m throwing, would they join me. They said they would – ending the best experience of this project so far.

Thanks again guys (in case I haven’t said it enough already).

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The 5th Wren

April 10th, 2009

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Ok, things just got interesting in the 100 Bands project. Check this out.

I did my thing where I try and get in touch with a band I want to see. This time, the band was The Wrens, who are playing at Bell House tonight. The show is sold out, so I wanted to know about getting on the guest list. First I got this response, from their publicist Naomi:

Hey Nick,
I heard back from the band, and we will be able to get you on the list for the show. Kevin from the Wrens loved the project and asked that you introduce yourself at the show. Have a great time! Good luck making it to 100 days!

Then I got a separate email from Kevin, in the band:

Nick,
How are you?
My name is kevin and i’m the guy who plays the bass in the wrens…..
First off, i just think your idea of a 100 days of music is beyond cool…. such a clever idea…. looking forward to meeting you on friday as well….. i know Naomi has set it up that you are on the guest list..

Listen, i have another idea for you and your rock journey… we do this thing called the 5th wren… its where someone joins us on stage for a song and plays a bit of the song… it would be a lot of fun to have you be the guest on friday…

trust me… it is BEYOND easy… as a matter-o-fact… all you have to do is literally “tap” three white keys on the piano…. if you play piano then great.. but if you can’t…. then it DOES NOT matter…my motto is, if you can point, then you can play piano………. also… i will mark the keys so you will know which ones to press…. we can also give a shout out to what you are doing….

it will be during the song Hopeless which we usually play towards the end of the set…. let me know what you think and i’ll give you a few more details….

best
kevin

Really? I’m playing a song with a real band on a real night, in front of a sold out crowd? I haven’t heard back again from Kevin today, but I’m getting nervous already. Check back for the full story

3/6/09: The Bird and the Bee @ The Bell House (43/100)

March 7th, 2009

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Rock and roll makes you lazy.

Now I understand why bands grow out their hair, don’t shave and are generally unkempt. There’s just no time or motivation. I mean, I haven’t done my dishes in over a week. I dropped my laundry this week and it was over 30 lbs. I’m a few weeks late for a haircut. And the last time I went to the gym was about a month ago. I’m thinking about going tomorrow. Prediction: Not happening.

But I wasn’t too lazy to head out to Brooklyn to see the Bird and the Bee @ Bell House. And thankfully, tonight turned out to be a piece of cake. I left and was back at my apartment in just under two hours. That may not seem like a snap of the finger, but it felt like it. I guess that’s what happens when the subways aren’t all fucked up, like they usually are these days. Stupid MTA.

I caught the F train right away, got out at 4th Ave and was at the Bell House in no time. After 43 days, my timing has become impeccable. I walked into the club tonight right as the Bird & the Bee hit the stage. Seriously, at the exact time. Damn, I’m good.

The B and B are a fun, cute lounge/disco pop act from L.A. They are Inara George (The Bird) and Greg Kurstin (The Bee), and backed up by singers/dancers/musicians in matching baby doll dresses, with choreographed moves. They have a couple records, but still cover classic songs from Hall and Oates and The Bee Gees. My mind tells me this is sort of cheesy. But my ears miss hearing these songs – they remind me of my childhood. (And that I was going to see Hall and Oates this Sunday, but waited too long and now it’s sold out. Damnit)

Truthfully, this didn’t feel like a Friday night to me. I was on the guest list for the show, and had a +1 that I couldn’t give away. (I guess free music in Brooklyn isn’t enough of a motivation.) So, Rolling solo for a fairly uneventful show made it feel more like a Wednesday. I don’t mean to sound like whiny complainer. I’m fine with going to shows alone. But it just feels sort of sad and pathetic to do it on a Friday. Especially when you have a +1 and the show is in the middle of nowhere.

On the other hand, my impeccable timing this evening made it work out just fine. I caught the train, rolled into the club, watched the band, snapped off some shots, split, caught the F train, and was back at my place in a lot less time than expected.

As I was leaving, I overheard someone excitedly say it was the best show they’d seen in awhile. Did I miss something? Listen, it was fun show and I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. Definitely not one of the best shows I’ve seen. Which got me to thinking, have I seen so many bands that I’m no longer impressed? Am I becoming numb? Or do these people just never see live music? I’d like to think it’s the last one.

Yea, I’m going with that.

2/22/09: Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine @ The Bell House (31/100)

February 22nd, 2009

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Sundays suck. 

I don’t want to go out and see music on Sundays. I don’t want to do much of anything on Sundays. I guess that’s why I didn’t have any plan of attack for today until late last night. I was in denial. Why couldn’t there be more midday shows on Sundays? I mean, I couldn’t go do jazz brunch again – that would be a total cop out. So I scoured the venue websites trying desperately to find something earlier than 6pm, but nothing. Until…wait…there’s a 2pm show at Bell House? And it’s Robert Schneider from Apples in Stereo? But why is he playing under the name Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine?

Damnit, it’s children’s music. Shit, they’re probably not gonna let me in, like the kid rocker event at Pianos. Fuck, I better control my swearing, because I just bought a ticket to the show. 

Fast forward to Sunday, 2pm. 

I’m out of the R train in Gowanus and headed toward Bell House – hoping they don’t turn me back for not bringing a kid. Luckily, they let me in. I hope there are other people at the show without kids. Luckily, there were. Albeit, not many. But I manage to befriend one: a woman named Christina who works in talent relations for Nickelodeon. She was there scouting Robbert Bobbert. I was there knocking out a 2pm show.

How is the Bell house different from when I saw Ninjasonik and Japanther here a couple weeks ago?

First, there were kids running around everywhere. Wait, no that’s pretty much the same (just add 10 years). The merch table had brownies, cookies and cupcakes for sale, alongside CDs. Juiceboxes for sale at the bar. A free coat rack for parents to hang their coats. And tables and chairs set up around the stage. Come to think of it. This set up isn’t too bad. I mean, I’ll take a beer over a juicebox. But other than that, I’m cool with the rest. 

The clock ticks a bit past 2:30, and I’m already halfway through my second Coke when Bobbert finally hits the stage. He’s dressed in a white lab coat, flanked by a huge boom box, easel and bubble machine. It seems half the show is going to be learning, the other half will be music. But not in that order. Or any order, just all jumbled up…I’ll shut up now. 

At first, the kids seem into it. He’s got their attention as he runs through his schtick for the show: Awesome Inventions. They are basically things that already exist, but he’s renamed in order to get the kids to tell him what they’re really called. For example, he shows the picture of what he calls the oscillating string-o-phone, waits a beat, and then a bunch of kids yell out that it’s a guitar. He agrees that’s a better name, then picks up his guitar and sings them a song with it. And so on, and so forth.

The total show was around 40 min at most, maybe closer to 30, which was perfect for me. But I couldn’t help but thinking, a bit of a rip off for the parents considering tickets were $15 each (not sure about the kid cost) for such a short show. But hey, it got me home before 4pm, with day #31 under my belt, while the sun was still up.

Today, Sunday didn’t suck that bad.

2/6/09: Japanther & Ninjasonik @ The Bell House (15/100)

February 7th, 2009

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I wish I was 21 or 22 again, in a band like Japanther or Ninjasonik, or at least friends with them, or a huge fan who went to all of their shows and jumped up on stage and sang with them, then dove off the stage, crowd surfed my way back up on stage, or hit the mosh pit and then climbed back up after a while.

But I’m 32, so I just hung around the edges of the madness and watched it with a massive smile on my face. It reminded me a lot of the 90s, at least the stage diving, mosh pits and crowdsurfing – but different. This wasn’t about angst. This was about fun. It looked like a huge group of friends playing a show at a venue, but acting like it’s their basement.

It was my first time at this venue, The Bell House, which is way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere in Gowanus, Brooklyn. But the actual space inside is great, so worth the trip. 

When I arrived Ninjasonik was on stage – along with about 30 of their closest friends from the audience. It was amazing. They would sing their songs while the “audience” danced on stage, then dove off it, grabbed the mics from them, sang along, and pretty much became part of the the whole show. A bunch of times throughout their set, Ninjasonik would yell out “We are Ninja-fucking-sonik…!” and then the crwod would yell, “We are sonik…fucking…Ninja!” And that’s what this was all about: having a great time as a group. 

When they were done, Japanther set up their gear toward the front of the stage, making it smaller so they could be closer to the crowd. They put up a handmade “Japanther” backdrop, set up their telephone receiver microphones (a bit much), and then took their time, dancing to whatever the DJ was spinning while getting their shit ready to play.

After awhile I was getting a bit anxious. I was flying solo tonight, it was Friday night – and yes, I was probably one of the oldest people in the place. So needless to say, I was thinking, “Get on with it, you art school punk ass kids.” (in my best Clint Eastwood voice)

And that’s the thing. As fun as it was, I can’t completely kiss Japanther’s ass. There was definitely a heavy dose of pretentiousness going on. From the singer’s ironic fanny pack and tank-top, to the guy who introduced the band dressed as an ’80s Gold’s Gym wrestler (complete with Zubaz and mustache, and yes, another fanny pack) to again, them using old payphone receivers as microphones,  and the hand painted sign backdrop – it definitely felt like an art school project on stage. Which makes sense since that’s where they formed. But the pretentiousness didn’t feel contrived in a way an uber cool hipster band would. It just felt like young art kids doing it because why the fuck not – and not taking themselves too serious.

This was Japanther’s first show back in NYC after coming off tour. But they didn’t seem tired out from touring. And how could you I guess, when it’s more of a party than a performance. At one point you couldn’t even see the band buried behind the audience dancing on stage. It just seemed like a dance party with music cranking from the speakers. 

It was over around 1am and while I was yawning every five seconds, I was happy I ventured all the way out here. Before I left, I let the singer of Japanther know about the project. Telling him I’m going to see 100 days of consecutive music and I was on day 15. To which he said, “Keep the streak alive.” 

I’m trying, man. I’m trying.