rtb suggested we check out Vandaveer because a woman she follows on Instagram is a big fan and rtb’s and her musical tastes overlap. I’d never been to Union Hall and I’d always wanted to check out this Brooklyn club. Plus the price was only $10, so even if I didn’t like the band, it was not going to be a loss.
Union Hall is in Park Slope and to travel to there from Queens I usually go through Manhattan and it takes over an hour. But I figured out a way to get there directly from Queens and it took less than an hour and I was thrilled with myself. So I was in a good mood already when I reached the club. When you enter Union Hall you can see a long bar on one side and floor to ceiling bookshelves on the other side (filled with books) with two couch filled nooks. There’s a fireplace that opens to one of the nooks on one side and to two bocce courts on the other side. Downstairs is the live music. Like some other clubs, they’ve got a gender-neutral bathroom – one room with full door stalls. The room is a small low-ceilinged basement. The stage is one end – with a stern Victorian woman’s portrait on the wall – and a bar on the other end. The bar has a diorama behind it with stuffed fauna and flora. There’s a pheasant in flight.
The room reminded me a bit of Mercury Lounge. It’s smaller than Mercury but it’s set up the same way with benches on the sides. rtb was sitting on one of the benches and the room was empty when I got there. mollyT joined us later (she was shooting in the neighborhood).
We stood when Matt Duncan got on stage. Usually at Mercury Lounge I stand on the bench to be able to see but didn’t think to do that at Union Hall until rtb got up on the bench to take photos. But for Duncan’s set I stayed on the floor. He has a pop/rock sound and I don’t know if someone should get him a rhyming dictionary or if the one he has should be taken away from him. There were a lot of beach/peach, devil/level, alright/fight rhymes at the end of the lines. Although I didn’t think much of the lyrics, I really enjoyed the music a lot. Those are the type of melodies I enjoy. His second to last song was Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town.” For the last song he invited Rose Guerin (Vandaveer – singer) to join him. Duncan mentioned a few times that he and Vandaveer were good friends. He borrowed Justin Craig (guitar) from Vandaveer (and These United States). Stephen Trask on keyboards, Dan Sylvester on drums, and Timmy Mislock on guitar are also listed in Duncan’s tweeted thanks. rtb immediately recognized Trask from Hedwig and the Angry Inch (music and lyrics). Duncan, Craig, and Mislock were in the Angry Inch band on Broadway. Duncan played electric bass.
There was a lot of talking going on while the musicians were on stage. It’s not unusual during the opening acts but usually it quiets down for the headliner. This time the conversations were even louder than usual throughout the show. I’ve never understood why you would pay money to see musicians and then talk throughout it – sometimes having to yell to be heard above the music. Almost every club has a bar outside the room where you can talk without being disturbed. There was a lot of shushing during Vandaveer’s set and late into the set after a particularly quiet song the shushing increased. Someone told the talkers to go upstairs. There was applause. It did not stop the talkers.
Vandaveer is Mark Charles Heidinger (acoustic guitar) with other musicians. Guerin contributes lovely harmonies. Other These United States members join Craig (electric guitar) – J Tom Hnatow is on pedal steel and guitar and Robby Cosenza is on drums. The electric bass player and keyboard player were introduced but I don’t remember their names. The music is alt-folk or indie-folk. It reminds me of The Head and the Heart especially on the song “But Enough on That for Now” – maybe it’s the male/female harmonies. The music can be jumpy happy like The Head and the Heart and it definitely leans in the folk direction. It can also be a quiet or sad (murder) ballad. Most of the songs played were from their new album Wild Mercury and a highlight was the title song when Heidinger asked for the disco ball to spin and told a story about going into the void. My favorite part of the night was listening to Cosenza, who is an excellent drummer.
For Vandaveer I decided to stand on the bench to get a better look and sometime during the set I felt a tug on my sleeve and the bouncer was telling me to get down. So instead of looking at the backs of strangers’ heads for the rest of their set I decided to sit. I wasn’t going to see the band anyway. The basement ceiling is so low that the stage can’t be higher and it’s a shame – it’s a good sounding room but the sightlines stink unless you’re tall.
I enjoyed Vandaveer. I can’t say I am as enamored of them as so many of their fans are but I did like them enough that I’d see them again.
By Carene Lydia Lopez