The New York Burlesque Festival blows into town this weekend for the amazing 15th year in a row. Did festival producers and co-founders Angie Pontani and Jen Gapay ever think it would survive this long? “I don’t think I ever even thought about it!” says Pontani. “In the beginning we were lucky to go year to year. Looking back, I can’t believe it’s been 15 years and how much burlesque has grown and changed. It’s been an amazing evolution to have a front row seat to.” Gapay adds, “I remember joking with Angie about the festival’s 20th Anniversary during the fourth or fifth year, and I don’t think either of us were expecting the scene to last this long, but I’m sure glad it has!”
Posts by Bradley Spinelli:
Watching New York nightlife, it’s always wonderful when a performer you admire and enjoy goes from scrappy potential to screaming success. Lady Rizo, an inspiring singer and hilarious re-contextualizer, appears back at Joe’s Pub this week with victory in her step to celebrate the release of her new album, Indigo, which at first spin runs the gamut from Broadway tunes to Kurt Weill to neo-soul to a noir soundtrack.
The Red Room above KGB— the former black box that you were probably dragged to by college friends doing DIY theater in the early aughts— has become a swanky, prohibition-themed bar. Every bit as tuxedo as the KGB is shirtsleeves, it boasts warm lighting and art deco details, with a tiny stage and a copper bathtub. “The Green Fairy” event showcases a monthly absinthe tasting paired with era-appropriate entertainment: August’s episode features live piano by Chris Johnson, absinthe history by Kellfire Bray, and Nelson Lugo on the Victrola during breaks. Ticket prices drop for those in “vintage, evening wear, unmentionables or intimate attire,” encouraging you to help create the ambiance.
Even on Memorial Day weekend, when half the city seemed to be out of town, Gramercy Theatre drew a boisterous crowd to see Honor Among Thieves supporting Ten Ton Mojo. The scene was something out of a different New York era, with denim, leather, and tattoos more than well-represented, dudes throwing devil horns, and a whole lot of yelling. Honor Among Thieves has a decidedly old-school sound, straight-ahead rock and roll, what could be called pre-grunge or post-grunge and particularly appealed to the ’80s metalheads in the crowd. If the “Brooklyn Sound”—wall-of-reverb, loud-QUIET-loud, introspective grunginess—has become so ubiquitous in the past few years as to become the landscape, a band with the balls to un-ironically throw up a slamming cover of a Stone Temple Pilots song stands out.
Michael J. Seidlinger and I met a couple of years ago at a bookstore event in Greenpoint. As the publisher of DIY press Civil Coping Mechanisms, the reviews editor of Electric Literature, and a published writer in his own right, he spends a lot of time dropping by events at bookstores. The next time I saw him, he was on a Brooklyn Book Festival panel with Salman Rushdie.
This month, Seidlinger is conducting #FollowMeBook, perhaps best described as a social media experiment. He created a bunch of impossible rules for himself, but the gist is: one month to get from New York to California, staying only with social media connections who can host him for free—no hotels!—without ever staying anywhere for more than two nights. The idea spun out of conversation with writer/editor Janice Lee about a road trip to nowhere, and grew until it became an idea for a book whose social media obsession dovetails nicely with Seidlinger’s recent novels The Strangest and Falter Kingdom.
“We all signed N.D.A.s,” before gearing up for the highly-anticipated reboot of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Kyle MacLachlan told the Times.
While reboots are dime-a-dozen, the fervor surrounding the Twin Peaks redux—Quadruple Peaks?—has put a seal on the project far tighter than anything around the White House lately. In inverse proportion, the tie-in zeitgeist has exploited every angle, from Showtime’s public chalk art at BAM to MetroCards.
I caught the Austin band Sweet Spirit by accident at last year’s SXSW—I had dropped into an early-morning show by Sharkmuffin, and got caught up in the crawfish boil happening out back. On stage was a very large group of people wielding both electric and wind instruments, wearing eclectic outfits, looking like a white Sly and the Family Stone. The weird thing was that they kind of sounded like that, too. My notes are full of question marks: “some wild giant band, a 9- or 10-piece,” “horns, serious instrumentation,” a track that went from nothing, with quiet vocals “to slamming, with giant vocals/horns chord,” and a “drama queen” for a front-woman. “Arcade Fire? Pop? WTF?” What the foxtrot, indeed—what I didn’t know is that Brit Daniel of Spoon had already discovered Sweet Spirit, and they had landed the SXSW gig without even a record to promote. They then toured with Spoon and were quickly going from unknown to notorious.
We live in a truly bizarre time. Without getting into politics, isn’t it weird enough that O.J. Simpson’s ’90s saga crushed the critics as both a documentary and a primetime drama?—and that the riptide beneath the drama owes more to misogyny than to race? Time travelers from the ’90s would be shocked by what happened to the Kardashian family, yet might note that the attitudes towards women is at about the same temperature as it was back then—only way more trendy. That’s the bizarro-world twist: It’s trendy to talk about it, trendy to protest against it, and—even more upside-down—it’s trendy, in certain circles, to say that “grabbing them by the pussy” is no big deal. Time travelers from the ‘70s are laughing at us.
Who needs another rock band? Well, pretty much everybody, by the look of it—they just keep popping up in Brooklyn, the “Brooklyn sound” shows no sign of fading, and the kids moving here for college and starting bands show no sign of cutting it out, either. Which is by and large a good thing—most bands don’t make it, and almost none of them stay together long enough to produce more than a couple of good records, so keep ‘em coming.
The Britanys deliver simple, satisfying garage rock that properly pays respect to Iggy Pop, with vocals that are surprisingly mature, like singer Lucas Long must smoke a lot of cigarettes.
Annie Hart’s SoundCloud page says, “Putting all the synthesizers in my basement to good use,” which is a wonderful description of what she’s quite obviously doing—with emphasis on “good use.” Her low-fi, gossamer sound is like starched sheets stretched tight over brittle rock candy drum—resonant, tender, and not too sweet. The tendency towards fuzzy, underwater tones is cut by her clear voice that breaks through and pulls in the daylight.