This was my third time at Bowery Electric this year. The first was for Tommy Stinson (which was this summer and I still haven’t written up yet) and then to see a friend’s band, Pale Moon Gang (which I’m not going to write up), and then finally to see James Chance and the Contortions two days after the election. I’d never been there before this year and the first thing that struck me was that the club reminded me of CBGB in the best way. It’s like they took all that was good about the club and got rid of all that was bad, while keeping all the fun. Like CBs the club is very loud but unlike CBs the sound is very good. The street level is a bar with a small stage in the back. The club is downstairs – another small stage with a small area in front and then behind that a raised area with a small bar and a railing that you can lean against and get a good view of the band.
I had left the house late and thought I would maybe miss the opening act. It was a record release party scheduled to start at 7:30pm and I got there at 7:40pm. I figured because it was a record release party that that was the reason for the early start time. One opening act, then the headliners, and then home early. Boy, was I wrong. Not mentioned on the website, or anywhere else that I read, was that the night was going to be filled with bands releasing new albums and the headliner wouldn’t be on until after midnight and it turned out I didn’t get out of there until 1:30am. Luckily I had a great spot right up against the railing so I had something to lean on all night and I had a perfect view of the stage.
About 8pm, three very young kids came out – Logan X. Logan X is Sam Braverman (guitar/vocals) and Sam Braverman is Logan X according to his site. He introduced Brandon (electric bass) and Asher (drums) by first name only. Braverman explained that they’re usually a fun-loving band but they were depressed because of the election. I think one song was called “Killing Time.” For one of the songs Braverman said, “This is the part of the song where I yell bullshit and it’s different bullshit every night but…FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU DONALD TRUMP!” They were an okay band. Braverman was obviously the guy and I didn’t get any sense of them as band at all, which I guess is the way he wants it. Also, he mostly just yelled or mumbled.
There weren’t many people in the club but more came in as the night went on. But no matter how many people there were the crowd was subdued. People were still reeling in shock from Tuesday. There was one woman next to me who was also there to see James Chance and was just as confused as me that there were so many other bands and we wondered just when was James going to come on stage. The club filled up as the night went on. There was a young person (I thought it was a guy but “she” is the pronoun used on her Wikipedia page), Dylan Mars Greenberg, dressed in a pink/blonde mullet, bow in her hair, short white sleeveless ruffled blouse, black half-slip, black tights with the blue threaded ribbon and bows in the front instead of the back, and boots, video recording all the bands. She was not only in front and on the side but also walked on stage to get different angles. I thought that was unusual. During Chance’s set, one old guy walked up to the stage and yelled at Greenberg to get off the stage and Chance, who looked furious, told the old guy, “This man is here with my consent. You get off the stage. He’s 19 and has directed five feature length films. How many have you directed? He’s an artist.” I guess Chance was having difficulty with the correct pronouns (unless I misheard since I was assuming that she was male).
The sound person was playing a lot of old songs over the sound system between the bands – Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Ramones, Mott the Hoople, Patti Smith, Billy Idol, and the New York Dolls among many others. There was some satisfaction to singing “No future!” along with the Sex Pistols whether I believed it or not.
The next band was Bueno and they’re from Staten Island, which their last names indicate: Mike DiBenedetto (guitar), Luke Chiaruttini (vocals), Joe Imburgio (bass), AJ Pantaleo (drums), and Mikey Gagliardi (guitar/sax). Chiaruttini kept jump, jump, jumping. And when he wasn’t doing that he was singing or talking mostly unintelligibly – even worse than the singer in the first band. Also, he wasn’t a very good singer. I thought he was gay, which I have no reason to mention except that during James Chance’s set, instead of listening and learning, he was standing on the steps to the green room with a girl and they were making out hot and heavy.
The room was filling up with twentysomethings. There were older people at the start who I’d thought were there for James Chance but they may just have been relatives of the first two bands. But there were enough older people who stuck around so I didn’t feel completely alone.
Next was the Tomás Doncker Band led by Doncker (lead guitar/vocals), who is also the owner of the True Groove label. Doncker’s roots may be in no wave but this band was pure funk, soul, and blues, which he calls Global Soul. His latest album deals with race relations in this country and could not be more relevant. “The Mess We Made” starts “Martin and Malcolm must be broken-hearted” and the song “The Revolution” begins with “I’m calling bullshit! While the revolution’s looking for corporate sponsorship…” There was excellent playing by the musicians James Dellatacoma (guitar), Mike Griot (bass), James “Whoop” Coley (drums), Nick Rolfe (keyboards), and Mark Henry (a digital stick that seemed to be able to duplicate different horns and reeds). Some of them also contributed vocals. There was also a female backup singer in a red coat and black beret.
Unfortunately, no amount of good funk and soul or political lyrics could get this crowd dancing or excited. Doncker seemed angry when he would get a tepid response and would tell us, “This is not fucking Boise. It’s New York City!” He went out into the audience to try and get everyone excited and that got the crowd dancing and clapping a little but even he seemed defeated after a while and blamed our response on the election. When he called out for us to applaud the first two bands and we didn’t clap loud enough he repeated the request so we would clap with more enthusiasm. Many of the people hadn’t been there for the first two acts. And when Doncker first said their names, I had no idea who he was referring to because the lead singers in both bands mumbled so badly that I never did catch the names of their bands when they were performing. Doncker’s music included a tribute to Howlin’ Wolf that went from blues to funk and James Brown. And we heard some Funkadelic too. Doncker has a great voice and he’s a great guitarist.
After their set, Doncker turned to the female singer and introduced her as the “high priestess of soul.” She took off her coat and beret and she was wearing a black tank top and leather pants. Marla Mase has released five albums and according to her Facebook page, her fans call her the Goddess and she has been dubbed “Patti Smith with Groove” or a “female Jim Morrison.” I didn’t see or hear any of that. She was obviously moving on stage in a way that some might consider sexy but it did not translate that way to me. And her voice didn’t impress me. Rather than soul, her music definitely skewed more towards a punk. Some of the songs she sang were “Dreamland,” “Truth Comes Down,” and “Everybody Dies.”
Mase remained on stage but moved to the side and Doncker and the band continued to be the house band for the next two artists. Phoebe Nir is young although not as young as she looks unless she graduated college while still a young teenager. Her first song was “Lust for Life,” which she sang as if the song was “Walking on Sunshine.” She wasn’t wearing any makeup and she looked like a Nick at Nite version of a punk rocker – striped shirt over a torn short dress, one small tear in her fishnets, and sneakers. One song had a call out to “I Got the Music in Me” and another (or maybe the same one) had a lyric that went something like, “Hey Mr. Cop looking like a movie star/Won’t you fuck me silly in your bulletproof car?” Her voice was good but her material and her delivery were not doing her any favors. It was like watching a bad imitation of punk (and I don’t mean new wave). I’ve taken a listen to the pieces of songs on her EP that are on iTunes and the production on the cd works much better with her voice but it’s still not something that I would buy. She sounds like a poor woman’s Rachael Price. A very poor woman.
Next was Davey Jones (Lost Boy ?), who performed with the “Finnish white soul devil” Artur Uronen on lap steel guitar. Both brought the energy level up slightly higher in the room. Jones sang “Cocaine L.A.” and at the end of his set he invited Sam Huber from the number one funk band in Finland (Eternal Erection), Braverman, and Chiaruttini to sing a song for the post-election debacle, “Funky Dollar Bill.”
The band and singers all left the stage and then the Contortions started coming in to set up. Drummer Richard Dworkin was wearing a fedora, suit, and trench coat. He took off the coat to play. Doncker was back on guitar, this time wearing a silver sports coat. Bassist Eric Klaastad looked like he was wearing a black jacket with sequins that an Upper East Side matron would wear and paired it with Joey Buttafuoco pants. The trumpet player Mac Gollehon was wearing a silver patterned jacket. And saxophonist and singer James Chance was wearing a suit. “People buy dope with Tide. It keeps you clean.” And we were off. As soon as Chance and the band started playing, the room started moving and dancing. We were out of our election funk and replaced it with musical funk. Chance sang and played and would do his James Brown steps, although not like he used to. I saw him at CBGB a very long time ago and was fascinated by his no wave sound – avant-garde music that experimented with noise and dissonance. It skirted the boundaries of jazz, funk, and punk and was so different than the punk normally heard in that club. In Chance’s hands the noise becomes melody and the screaming becomes crooning.
Original members of the Contortions went on to form the Bush Tetras and Raybeats. Another toured with John Cale. And some members of James White and the Blacks (another James Chance band – and at least once he was James Black and the Whites) formed Defunkt. James Chance has also performed in Europe as James Chance and Les Contortions with French musicians. Other bands that Chance played in were Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (with Lydia Lunch), The Flaming Demonics, James Chance & the Sardonic Symphonics, and James Chance and Terminal City.
In a sarcastic tone – “…in the White House where all the statesmen are. Let’s give him a chance. We’re all Americans. We’re all united.” And then, almost under his breath, “The devil incarnate.”
Chance performed a heartfelt rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” He could sing softly or yell just like the old days. Also, like the old days, early in the set he went into the crowd and pushed people around. “Almost Black” makes fun of racial stereotypes. He started it with “Can’t say the n-word. What does that mean? Liberal fascists.” Another old song was “Jaded.” He performed the “first rock and roll tune in praise of Teenage Jesus” – “I (Who Have Nothing),” a song that has been performed by many people including Tom Jones, Ben E. King, and Shirley Bassey. It was a nice mix of the old and the new. Other songs from his current album were “The Flesh is Weak,” “Disciplinary Action,” “Home is Where the Hatred Is,” and “Melt Yourself Down.” And when he yelled out, “Contort Yourself” and finished with his signature song, the crowd went wild.
Chance went slowly up the stairs to the dressing room and the band was packing up. Some people (me included) kept clapping for an encore but it seemed like the band was finished. Then someone started yelling for us to yell for an encore and many of us did but the night was over.
There’s going to be a compilation album released next year called Now New York that will feature (some? all?) of the artists that performed in addition to their individual albums, which came out this month. The Brian Eno produced No New York compilation is what made the no wave scene – music and art – famous.
I could hardly walk up the stairs myself after standing for so long. Walking down the Bowery so late, I was remembering what it used to be like. There was always a crowd outside CBGB and later outside The Great Gildersleeves but the rest of the street was empty. Now it was filled with couples and singles leaving and going to expensive bars and restaurants. In the late 1970s/early 1980s the only people I would see on my walk to either Delancey Street for the J train back to Queens or to Sixth Avenue for the PATH to Hoboken to my second apartment or to my first apartment in the West Village were people sleeping or passed out on the sidewalk. The Bowery was flophouses and restaurant supply stores. Everything is so different. It’s nice when I can go back and not only remember the old times but experience them again in some small way. I wouldn’t want to be 19/20 years old again but it’s a fun place to visit.
By Carene Lydia Lopez