Archive for March, 2013

The Straw… She is Grasped

Posted on: March 31st, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

Thursday, April Fourth, is gonna be a fantastic night at the Sidewalk, featuring the likes of  Hat Puzzle, Barton Lewis, some chick named Debe Dalton… fun performers, each and every one. But the funnest of them all (sorry guys!) is the Grasping Straws, brainchild of one Mallory Feuer, who’s been Sidewalking for something less than a year. How do I know that? From the answers in the interview below. Read all about the artist and her act, so you can appreciate The Grasping Straws’ stunning show with more strident success.

When did you start writing songs? Other things?
I’ve always been singing, but I didn’t really start writing songs until I bought a guitar shortly after my 20th birthday.  I was very inspired by Jeff Buckley, so I decided I was going to make my 20th year the year I bought a guitar and got into music.

When did you start playing songs?
After I had written my first few songs, my boyfriend at the time used to encourage me to perform them for any friends who came over.  It really helped me get more comfortable playing guitar and singing in front of people.  One of our friends, Andy Choi of St. Lenox heard some of my music and told me about the Sidewalk along with some other local venues that hold open mics.

When did you find the Sidewalk? How?
The first time I went to the Sidewalk, it was to see St. Lenox perform in the Anti-Folk Festival last summer.  I remember he played with the Charles Mansfield Band, and generally being really impressed with the sound and the vibe of the venue.  I came in for my first open mic shortly after that.

How did you collect your Straws?
I started playing with Rob (the guitarist) over the summer.  I had written a bunch of songs by then, and I was looking for someone to help arrange them because I was unhappy with my guitar parts.  My brother recommended Rob, the bassist of his band, Nobody Takes Vegas.  One day, Rob and I were busking under the arch in Washington Square Park, and I called up my friend Oliver to come jam with us on his cajon.  I was always really impressed with my friend James’ saxophone playing, so when he asked me if he could be in the band, I was excited to see what he would come up with. James’ friend Jim is our most recent addition on the drum set.  April 4th will be his first show with us!

What’s your academic program?
I’m an anthropology major and a creative writing minor at NYU.  I chose anthropology because I think human evolution is really interesting.  I took my first creative writing class to fill a requirement.  I had no idea I would develop such a deep love for poetry.  I wound up taking so many poetry classes, the minor just sort of happened.

What do you plan to do after school’s done?
As my last semester at NYU comes to a close, I’m experiencing a great amount of anxiety surrounding that question.  I hope to be able to find a day job that is not entirely soul-crushing so that I can continue to live in the city and play with my straws.  You know anyone who’s hiring?

What the Hell Are the Spicy Draculas?(!!)?

Posted on: March 29th, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

Last Thursday night, I saw the damnedest thing.

I came for Bird to Prey, and for Robot Princess, and maybe, if I could stomach it, a little bit of Yossarian Feedback in conjunction with R.E.L.’s Hebrew School. I didn’t meant to see the Spicy Draculas. I didn’t want to see the Spicy Draculas.

I saw the Spicy Draculas, and I hope to God that someday, I will be the same again.

After having watched the bewigged, masked, powdered and puffed faux-German ensemble of rock, I am in little better a position to explain what I experienced than before. They were horrifying. They were pretentious. They were silly. They might have been trying to do Transylvanian accents, now that I think about it. What in God’s name made them think they could pretend to be German.

Their website (a link to an overstuffed bandcamp page) says that “We are a band made up of musicians of diverse backgrounds, coming together to form a super lazer of music that will lodge itself into your human skulls.”

My skull is human. How could I resist?

I can’t in good conscience encourage you to see this band… this thing. But I can’t pretend that they did nothing to me. I am horrified, and I pray that someday, that I will be redeemed.

Maybe you should check out them Draculas over at GanderTV (they go on around the 155.00 mark)

The Loss of a Beloved Stranger

Posted on: March 28th, 2013 by Jon Berger 1 Comment

I never met the man, and haven’t read any of his work, but Paul Williams – who just yesterday passed away –  connects to my Sidewalk experience in a couple of small but important ways.

Just so you know, we’re not talking the miniature musician subject of the Still Alive – this guy is not. What this Paul Williams is  – was – is the creator of Crawdaddy, the seminal sixties rock magazine. A huge Philip K. Dick proselytizer, Williams founded the Dick Society. He wrote dozens of books and various subjects. An accident almost twenty years ago produced a brain injury that developed into early onset dementia.  All evidence suggests he was a great man.

His death makes a widow of Cindy Lee Berryhill, perhaps the first AntiFolk act to get a national record deal, possibly the person who coined the phrase AntiFolk, maybe an early inspiration for Jewel, and absolutely the leader of the Garage Orchestra and a very talented songwriter. She’s one of the notable names of the first wave of AntiFolk in the early eighties, releasing Who’s Gonna Save the World? in 1987. She was just in town last weekend for a Williams event at Boo-Hooray Gallery, and then a show at some other club.

To my knowledge, Williams never wrote about AntiFolk, but the creation of the zine scene he help produce – first with Crawdaddy and then with his efforts in championing science fiction – was how fanzines like AntiMatters, Urban Folk, and other scene zines (AU Base, Elephant Shoe, AntiZine… the list ends) came t0 be. Without he, there would be no me.

It’s the text that first attracted me to the scene. I’ve told people before that the first time I entered the Sidewalk, I was entranced as much by the articles taped to the walls telling me about the wealth of history the scene already had. It was that attraction to the available words that made me want to be part of the community, and years, later, made me want to tell its story. After many years, the Sidewalk is again presenting the story of the musicians of the club, with the recent online galleries and the framing of posters over the years. It’s about time.

And the idea of  chronicling pop music in a significant way? That’s Williams. All him. He defined me, helped defined our scene, without our  knowing it. His loss will be barely felt, despite this stranger’s importance.

Berger on Fries

Posted on: March 27th, 2013 by Jon Berger

I don’t believe I’ve successfully promoted my utter disdain for sweet potato fries, but, then again, a lifelong vendetta should not be completed too soon, and if my war with the yam ended prematurely, what else would I have to live for?

So, rather than trash talk a food that people (dumb people) at the Sidewalk seem to enjoy, let me offer an infinitely superior alternative: Cajun fries.

Back before the club closing in March ’11, they were on the menu, but with renovations came changes. Clearly, the most significant was the loss of the Cajun fries on the Sidewalk menu. I cried – until I realized that the spices were still available, and, if you ask your waiting staff with a wink and the appropriate code phrase (“I’d like Cajun fries, please”), you’ll get what you want.

Let me emphasize: the Cajun fries are what you want. They have bite – but not too much. The fries at Sidewalk are usually pretty crispy, but if there’s some sog to them, the fries more effectively soak the spices, and get even better seasoned. I more then recommend these delicious taters – I command you to buy them. If you don’t…

Let’s not go down that road, all right?

Shamed Self-Promotion

Posted on: March 26th, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

I was kicking myself for missing Cindy Lee Berryhill’s only in town gig at some other club. I’d totally forgotten about, but luckily, I got a strange sort of replacement. Instead of seeing the the San Diegan who was a former part of the East Coast AntiFolk world, I got to see a former San Franciscan who was a former part of the East Coast AntiFolk world. Miwa Gemini, performing with her own little garage orchestra, started off the open stage. An exciting percussionist who hit pretty much every service he could find and a pretty young trumpet player joined Miwa as she sang songs about, I don’t know, Grizzly Rose? It was exciting – I’m sorry I missed Cindy Lee, though.

Nate Flaks – a miniature Brian speaker on piano – promoting his 3/29 show with The First Law. He told a lame joke but played some good songs. I’ll be communing with my god instead of going to the gig – but you may be luckier.

Bird To Prey also promoted her 3/28 show with the Spicy Draculas – who have never played Manhattan before. In response to her set, everyone around started doing bad British accents, all the worse since Miss To Prey is Australian. Why do people gotta be so ignorant?

Abigail and Les, for the second week in a row, wowed the crowd with their expert stylings. Between their two songs, she sang and violined, he played recorder, and they both pianoed. Starting with accomplished blues before an expert original song, they promoted their Saturday show entitled “Heart’s Journeys,” which’ll start the night. That’s one I won’t miss!

The Stanford Harmonics, ten-odd college students, hit the stage to do a choreographed and evocative a Capella reading of “House of the Rising Sun,” totally failing to capitalize on interest in their mini-set. When I asked how I could see them while the West Coast kids were in town, four of them couldn’t know. Kids today – completely unaware of self-promotion.

Jonathan Berger spent too much of his performance railing against the amateurishness of the professional-sounding Harmonics for failing to promote, and was followed by Stefan Weiner, who promoted his show at another club, just what you shouldn’t do. Best part of that one two punch Berger was followed by Weiner. You can’t make this stuff up (or if you did, it wouldn’t be very interesting).

Later on, Viking did a little cover song called “House of The Rising Sun,” seemingly unaware that he was not the first Animals-lover of the evening. Would he have made a different song choice had he actually stayed in the room to listen to other acts? Would he have kept his clothes on? We may never know. Let’s just hope he won’t be misunderstood.

Chicken Leg lugged his amp on-stage and dedicated a song to Cannonball Statman – a song about Cannonball. Distorted and loud, the Leg’s track sounded like a brief biography of this latest of AntiFolk sensations.

A lot more happened, which you would know if you had been there. Were you?

AntiMatters (again)!

Posted on: March 26th, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

After the history lane rant vis-a-vis the historic greatness of Michelle Shocked, I thought I’d unearth the AntiMatters issue that spoke of the 1998 shows and their direct AntiFolk relationship. You can find the issue here.

In fact, you can find a lot of issues there. Peter Dizozza, mad musical theater scientist, has been steadily plugging away at digitizing those fanzines of yesteryear – and all with no thanks. I didn’t mention him at all when I plugged the issue last week – why am I such a dick?

There’s a host of issues available at the Cinema VII site, as well as a host of issues you might uncover, if you take a gander at the wider site. It gives you one of the best insights into the twisted genius of Peter Dizozza, who’s been a dedicated Sidewalker about as long as AntiFolk’s been associated with the club. You should check him out.

But first, you should read AntiMatters.

“I’ve Still Got Game”

Posted on: March 25th, 2013 by Jon Berger

Everyone’s weighed in, it seems, on Michelle Shocked’s public break-down. I think Steve Espinola was the first to remind people, in the OJ Music forum, that Shocked was identified with early AntiFolk at the beginning of her career. Steve stated, “…she was a part of the earliest Antihoots. I suppose that, like Beck, various music communities claimed her as their own after she rose to prominence, but the fact remains that she was the first of those, passing through the ‘scene’ as it were, to break through nationally.”

Of course, that was before Steve’s – and my – time in the AntiFolk trenches. But like Steve, I found Shocked early on. She was one of the first acts I loved that was AntiFolk, well before I knew there was such a thing. Short Sharp Shocked and Captain Swing were pretty fantastic albums that I uncovered in college.

Steve described her as “a major inspiration when I was trying to get up the guts to play my songs for people, simply by her being bold and courageous and different and GOOD in an utterly oppressive and repressive decade. There was no one like her in the late 1980s, at least in the mainstream media to which I (and most people) had access.”

To me, Shocked represented the soul of AntiFolk, even though I wouldn’t hear that phrase until the next decade.  But in that decade, Shocked played a series of shows at CBGB, where, through victory in a songwriting contest, both Steve Espinola and Dina Dean (now Rudean) had the chance to open for her. Steve related: “She was very, very kind to me many years ago. The largest show I’ve ever played as a solo artist was opening for her in front of several hundred people at CBGBs.”

I was at those shows, and they were transcendent. Combining her rock and folk impulses with a clear gospel tradition played by a decidedly multicultural band, I found the series of shows (I went both for the night that Steve opened as well as for Dina’s) to be moving, powerful, and almost life-changing. After the first show, I was trying to figure out how to act on the feelings produced from her incredible gigs (performing songs from the demo album Good News), until a real good week of TV got me back to my regularly scheduled life.

Steve could verify, but I’m pretty sure this was April ‘98 – and even then, Shocked was mixing pop and heavenly father, though in a far more palatable stew.

I saw her perform solo last year at Joe’s Pub, and found her show to be quirky, with far more rambling talk than I remembered. She called her husband (who has painted huge portraits of important women for whom Shocked was writing songs during the show), and made lovey-dovey noises to him while we chuckled and waited for her to focus on us again. At the time, she reminded me of the crazy old neighbor who you can’t help but love. I decided it was because I hadn’t seen her perform solo before, but now, I see it all as foreshadowing of this impending breakdown.

Most people who have delved into Shocked’s behavior in the last few seem to believe that she’s troubled and unstable. I agree. It’s sad, certainly, but it takes nothing away from the astonishing work she’s produced. Her songs, her singing, her ability to perform, have all been magical. I have found her to be one of the more powerful acts I’ve seen, and I’ve rarely been as dumbfounded (in a good way) by those CBGB shows.

I hope she finds her way back to a more stable state, but even if now, I hope she finds her way back to New York. I want to hear what she comes up with next, and, like Ben Krieger wrote, “On the bright side, she will be *totally* available to play an antifolk festival now.”


Posted on: March 21st, 2013 by Jon Berger

Dave Foster’s show tonight as part of BoogWork on Third Thursdays made me realize: the first thing I published about AntiFolk (if publishing in xeroxed local fanzine counts {it does, DIY enthusiasts; it most certainly does.}…), was about Dave Foster. It was in AntiMatters, the zine on the scene – the scene being AntiFolk, back in the day when printing something out and passing it out to your friends seemed important – and not quaint.

AntiMatters was originally put together by  JT Lewis, Tom Nishioka and the boys from Muckafurgason. Mr. Scarecrow got involved, then joined forty thousand bands, so I started helping out. Then I took it over in a bloodless coup that everybody appreciated.

Forty issues later, I passed AntiMatters off to Tony Hightower, who decided to give up music rather than continue with the responsibilities.

The issues were filled with information about AntiFolk, at first, before the web offered much in the way of information. Then, it worked in conjunction with internet information – all without a real web presence.

We really should put up the issues somewhere.

Hey! Why not here?

BoogWork: Bubble!

Posted on: March 20th, 2013 by Jon Berger

Boog City, that esteemed East Village publication, puts together shows for its Third Thursdays series. This week, there’ll be a reading and then a writer’s training, and all during happy hour.

Most exciting to some old-timers (me!), though, is the return of Bubble to the Sidewalk Cafe!

Bubble, featuring the guitar and voice of Dave Foster, has been around the Sidewalk scene as long as I am. Foster played earlier AntiFolk clubs like the Chameleon, has supported acts like Mark Humble and Lach, and does one of the two best covers I’ve heard from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Bubble’s self-titled EP was one of the first independent releases I experienced in the world AntiFolk, promising a DIY aesthetic that proved to be life-changing. Though Foster gets out occasionally, the band’s a pretty important little project that hasn’t been around the world of the Sidewalk for quite some time.

It’s great to see they’ll be on the bill – and for such a different kind of event.

Bring a pen for the writing exercise, too. You just might learn something.

Posted on: March 19th, 2013 by Jon Berger

Hey, have you seen what’s going on over there?

How the hell does a foreign guy get a good old fashioned American URL all his own? What is UP with that?

While the focus seems to be on UK events (like anybody cares about that…), there’s been a pretty solid bit of interviews of US AntiFolk artists, mostly those that have some years under their belts.

Most recent thing I’ve seen (I don’t get online too much) is an interview with my old collaborator Grey Revell, who didn’t see fit to mention my name. Not unlike Andy Ras Vegas of the Sprinkle Genies, who somehow found a way to compare me to Joe Bendik (compare? Contrast? I don’t know. I don’t know words much).

Filthy Pedro seems to be the mastermind. He’s been over here on occasion. You should check him out – but it might be easier to just check out