Thursday, February 10, 2011

At Home She's a Tourist

 (Photo courtesy of Metromix. Thank you for sending the link via Twitter!)

Nights like these remind me why I'm not ready to give up on New York City.

It started with dinner with my partner in crime, John, at Porsena, the new Italian joint in the former Mingala space (aliva shalom) on East 7th St., opened by Sara Jenkins of Porchetta. Service was kind of spotty, but the food was worth it. That braised octopus salad followed by spicy lamb sausage ragu and pistachio panna cotta is well worth an occasional Weight Watchers point annihilation let me tell you. I even spotted Top Chef's Gail Simmons waiting for a table as we left.

This was leading up to our big plan of the evening, to see Gang of Four at Webster Hall.

Back when I was 16 and living in suburban CT, I heard "I Love a Man in Uniform" on WLIR, the radio station out of Long Island I listened to religiously despite patchy reception so far away. It was dance music, I guess, but dissonant and difficult, like jumping out of a cake and realizing you're at the wrong party, but you go with it. I needed more! Off to Rainbow records of Ridgefield I went. Sadly, they were out of the album I thought I wanted, Songs of the Free, but the guy behind the counter insisted I not go home without a copy of Entertainment, their first, and best, record. He was so right. My life was never the same since.

Entertainment, as someone said this week, is ANGULAR. Crunchy guitars. Funky bass. Syncopated drums. Sour chords. Ten point vocabulary words. Politics. Anger. Heartbreak. Cacophony. And somehow it all comes together to create something at once sonically beautiful, with tangible melodies gluing it all together. The minute the record finished I turned it over to play again. And again.

This was 1987 and unfortunately, much like many of my most admired bands of the time like the Clash and Bauhaus, they had pretty much broken up by the time I came to them. They reformed briefly in the 1990s, but I was told they sounded far too commercially polished and would break my heart if I saw them play in that incarnation, so I didn't see the tour. Then a few years ago, the original members got together for a reunion tour and I had to see it. They did not disappoint. All the raw, focused energy was there, as though they were still living in 1970's and 80's Leeds under Thatcher, and they stuck to their most respected early material.

Gang of Four has a new album out, Content, and only two original members remain. There are some decent songs on it, including a rare paired down slow track that sounds good on them. But to me, most of the rest of the album plays like an attempt to recapture their old glory without fully trusting their now advancing ages and experiences. Still, last night's show was wonderful. They played some new tracks but the vintage material like "Ether, "Anthrax,""Not Great Men," "At Home He's a Tourist,""Cheeseburger" and "To Hell With Poverty" ("...we'll get drunk on cheap wine!)" really got the house shaking. The audience responded with incredible respect. Not a lot of contact (except for this one Nancy Spungen wannabe) considering the incendiary nature of the songs. They even played "Man in Uniform" to my surprise and delight, and ended the last encore with my very favorite, "Damaged Goods" ("...I'm kissing you goodbye!").

 (another courtesy of Metromix)

During the show I found out my dear friend and brother-once-removed, Jason, was back from Milwaukee after two weeks away and lots of friends were gathered farther downtown at the Village Lantern to see our pal Joe Walsh perform with his jazz quartet. There was just enough time to hop in a cab and catch bits of the last set. So glad I made it. Jason had just suffered a big loss and I missed him. Plus I somehow always never make it to Joe's shows (nothing personal, kid, you know I love you). Hearing him croon standards like the best of 'em and hanging out with great friends was the perfect way to hunker down and close out a frigid NYC night.

Sure, I'd probably have a decent job and more affordable bang-for-buck housing if I could gather my courage to leave this town for a new life. But then how could I ever have nights like these? As Gang Of Four ask in "All We Want": "Could I be happy with something else?" No, because I still have "...the hope that does not fade."

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