Yesterday was my official day to celebrate my birthday, and the ladies and I marked the occasion after lunch with cake and gifts. The former was (and is, as some remains) chocolate with chocolate icing, and is delicious. The latter included DVDs (Blazing Saddles and Zappa doc Eat That Question), music (from the Green Pajamas), and books (including the sequel to one I picked up at Bouchercon and one from a fellow B’con panelist). The vagaries of store stock have delayed the arrival of two more gifts, but that just gives me more to which I can look forward. Meanwhile, the Spawn hooked me up with a Starbucks gift card, which will come in handy when the Starborg opens its Mondoville location next year, or for my other safaris in search of the wild frappuccino.
A little later, I set out for Real City in the company of my buddy, coworker, and erstwhile bassist Justin. Our first stop was the local used media emporium, where I found that they had a special — buy two used fiction books and get the third for free. Six dollars later, I had copies of Patti Nase Abbott’s Concrete Angel, Ian Rankin’s first novel The Flood, and an early Donald Westlake. Justin, meanwhile, acquired a copy of Joe Sacco’s graphic novel Palestine.
Our next stop was across the street at the Real City Mall, where we got dinner at Red Robin. Because I’m a loyalty club member, I took advantage of my free birthday burger, and wound up spending more on the tip than on my actual tab, which bothered me not at all.
From there, it was time for the main event. We went downtown to the Berries’ old home base of Art Bar, where our friends in Turbo Gatto and the New York Disco Villains were on the bill. We saw the NYDV crew on the sidewalk in front of the bar when we arrived, and they were gracious enough to comp my cover charge on the evening. Thanks, y’all!
When we got inside, opener John Watkins was doing his soundcheck, and Turbo Gatto drummer (and my fellow academic) Gina Ercolini was standing by the stage. Hellos and hugs were exchanged, and I was reminded again how much I like the folks on Columbia’s music scene.
Likewise, because the Villains have been working on a new album for the past several months, this was their first Art Bar show in almost a year. Their keyboardist/front man Clark Watson and I talked about 1) How odd it feels to do bar scene gigs at our age (I’m a little older than he is), 2) How much he regrets the Berries’ demise (as do I), and 3) an island off the South Carolina coast that is inhabited exclusively by rhesus monkeys whose ancestors had been used for biological research. (And if that isn’t a horror story waiting to happen, neither Clark nor I know what is.)
But then it was time for Watkins’s set. He did about a dozen original songs, accompanying himself on guitar. His songs revolved around jazzy chord voicings and quirky structures — they’re songs with a lot of left turns. The crowd was sparse, but appreciative.
Next up were Turbo Gatto with their customary set of high-energy cat rock. As I’ve noted before, the idea of a husband-wife band doing songs about cats may seem twee, but the combination of Kevin Jennings’s Fast Eddie Clarke-style guitars and Gina’s unorthodox but ferocious drumming have won them a following both around Real City and in other nearby markets. I’m glad to be part of it, and to get to hear “Space Cats from Outer Space” again.
Finally, it was time for NYDV to do their headlining set. They played their forthcoming album in its entirety, and when it comes out in the coming weeks, it’s going to be a lot of fun. The band’s songs revel in dark humor (like their “tribute” to Elvis, “The King is Dead”) and nerd culture (with songs about Godzilla, library rules, and Quasimodo). All of these are on the new set, and along with the rest of the crowd, I had a great time hearing them. As part of the night’s festivities, the band did one of my favorites (a song about a sinister ice cream man, which Clark sang in an evil clown mask) and even broke out a keytar (that emblem of 80s musical cheese) for a few tunes.
But of course, none of the band’s wit or theatricality would matter if they couldn’t play. And while the happy throng singing along with “My Picture with Nimoy and Shatner” might not be hip to it, the Villains are skilled instrumentalists and arrangers, capable of working in a wide variety of musical styles and feels. They’re great fun, with funny songs that bear repeated listens — but they also have chops, and to write them off as a novelty band is to do them a grave disservice. I hope to hear them again soon, and I hope I have the opportunity to share a stage with them again before long as well.
But by the time they had finished, it was about 1:45 or so, and Justin and I headed back to Mondoville, complete with an advance copy of the forthcoming album. I got home around 2:30, and was in bed by about 2:45. It was a good day, and I’m grateful to everyone — musicians, other friends, and of course and especially, Mrs. M and the Spawn — for turning the whole day into a gift.