Woodlawn, NY— This place is under water, KO'd by the second rainstorm of the week. The river has overflown and taken over the highway, a beautiful sight that I intend to explore up close in the AM if it has not receded, but a fucking nightmare for my life as a commuter. The trek to work this morning was bad but coming home was nearly intolerable, sanity saved only by Mordecai, Sandwich, and The Best Show on WFMU. Sleep has been minimal over the last few days and a curious combination of Peet's coffee, Anchor Steam Beer and a collection of Templars tracks from their splits are what's keeping me going 1 It's sad to think that it was not too long ago that I could pull off a late night followed by a 6AM start without a hitch; alas, it's gotten harder with every new gray hair. Still, it's worth the pain.
During Wednesday night's benefit for Showpaper at the Old Firehouse2, Sic Alps had some technical issues to deal with. The process of setting up the backline shared by their tourmates Magic Markers was prolonged when the mixing board that they run their vocals through was fried. As the smell of burning circuits permeated the air, I quipped that at least we were in the right place to deal with a fire. Hilarious.
Eventually the Alps abandoned their attempts to fix the mixing board and turned things over to Magik Markers, who had been slated to go on next. Firmly in the camp of "heard about but never heard", I was curious to see how the Markers held up to their reputation...or whatever bastardized version of their rep has made its way to my old-man ears. Of course, what played out was not at all what I was expecting. Instead of a sloppy burst of noise, I was assaulted by one of the tightest rhythm sections I've had the pleasure of witnessing. Ever. They were accompanied by a gal on guitar who convincingly played the part of idiot savant. She fumbled over the guitar as if she had no idea what she was doing. But that was clearly not the case, as she manhandled her instrument. Enhanced by a bevy of electronics and pedals, Magik Markers belted out a dichotomy of mess and proficiency, its form defined by the machine-like duo but personality owned by the structured chaotic guitar. I've been converted.
Back to Sic Alps, a favorite in our household for a dog's age. These guys have added a member, a second guitarist whose role is presumably to enable his counterpart to not play the guitar and concentrate on singing without losing any of the tune. It's OK by me. But backing up... The band lost their mixing board and had to go to Plan B and send their vocals through the house PA. The soundman was walking them through their check. "Guitar please." Strum strum. So on. "Kick drum." The band stood there looking at each other for a moment. After blurting out "Fuck it, let's just go," the drummer leaped onto his stool and immediately launched into an incredible drum solo to kick things off. Keith Moon incredible. Animal incredible. A moment of brilliant turmoil which gave way to a robust set.
The Sic Alps accomplish what few others do in combining lush melodies with breakout explosive jams. They teeter on the edge for a spell and then explode–bodies flail into the microphones, drums assaulted. Pick up the pieces and set things up enough to do it again for 3 minutes. Long enough to get in one or two memorable hooks, to leave an impression most folks are incapable of, then a burst of energy before cleaning up and moving onto the next memorable hook. A fantastic set.
Thursday night we headed out to see Marc Maron at a taping of his WTF podcast. I encountered Maron's show not too long after joining the podcast culture (which was, admittedly, years after the rest of the world jumped in). With fond recollections of his standup via Comedy Central, I anxiously dove into the series. It has become more obvious with each successive episode, but Marc's podcast is not standard fare. He probes deeper, with more introspect, than any of his peers and in the process not only gets his guests to open up but talks about his own life with more honesty than most can muster in therapy. And we can relate–this set was preceded by a cast of dozens approaching the stage in eucharist-like earnesty to deliver presents3 to the host. Thank You's for talking about your life with the honesty that we find hard to reflect upon ourselves.
Marc's panel for this taping (the second of two that night) featured the charismatic Sarah Vowell, Chuck Klosterman, Eric Drysdale, Fred Armisen, and Bill Hader. Hilarity ensued, really. As first panelist up, and by definition the longest guest on stage, Vowell initiated a lively conversation about the history of Hawaii, then kept up with comically timed comments and yawns during subsequent guests (after various audience members felt the need to chime in with absurdly trivial additions to the conversation, she announced "it feels like we're sitting in a room with the internet"). Hader's tale of Danny McBride's stoned trek in a car service stole the show. As was told, the real-life Kenny Powers defied his limo driver's order not to smoke marijuana en route. When confronted, he acknowledged his gaff, accepted his banishment of the service, and made arrangements to meet his pals at Denny's on foot. Game, set, match. Kenny Fucking Powers!
1 Sad to say, but the artwork on many of the Templars records is as bad as the music is good. I need to start collecting these records exclusively as test presses. Sleeveless by design without the weight of "missing" part of the package.
2 Aka DCTV, a media arts center housed in a historic former fire station. The exterior is ridiculously beautiful and ornate, while the interior resembles a vacant school gym overtaken by invasive student artists (think overhead projectors + paper mache2a). Sadly, no firepoles in sight.
2aSeriously, they could not leave the paper mache 8-sided die alone. Every few minutes someone would readjust the position of this artifact. That it was opaque, and thus barely being projected onto the wall very effectively, did not seem to factor into the equation.
3Oddly enough, the most memorable gift of the night was the most generic: a Whitman's sampler. I think the grandma of boxed candy reminded us all of plastic-covered couches. Which is just funny.