“The Best Way to Help the Poor Is Not to Be One of Them”
Last night at the Union Palace Theatre, on Broadway and 174th, where Reverend Ike has preached his uplifted gospel of prosperity to upper Harlem for decades, there were not many poor people. Instead, wandering around the neo-Arabesque gold stucco delirium of a 1930s former Loew’s movie palace, were about 2,000 middle-class, well-meaning white hipsters and would-be’s, all strolling, dazzled and dazed amid the TajMahAlahambra decor, waiting for 2005’s favorite band, Bloc Party, to take the stage.
Turns out that Bowery Presents, the local upstart bookers who fill Mercury Lounge, Bowery Ballroom, and Webster Hall, have added Reverend Ike’s palace to their list of venues. A lot more hipster Saturday night shows will be coming to B’way and 174th on Saturday nights, just a few hours before the Harlem faithful fill the red velvet seats. A time lapse of the seat occupants would be an NYC palimpsest indeed.
But last night was one of the first shows, and the three bands on the bill: Sebastien Grainger (formerly of DFA 1979), Albert Hammond, Jr. (of the Strokes), and Bloc Party (NME’s best band of 2005) did not disappoint. They all delivered perfectly competent, perfectly presented, perfectly non-transcendent guitar-perfect rock ‘n’ roll.
While Grainger (above) delivered prog-rock style with deadpan earnestness – yes, evidently you can quote Rush stylistically entirely without irony now – his bassist flipped his flat and silky locks over his face and stood spread-legged, proud with his guitar, as countless guitar gods in paneled suburban basements have since, oh, at least 1979. Were there some Def Leppard licks in there? I sure fuckin’ hope so.
Albert Hammond, Jr. (above)- another case of ecstasy of influence, just as the Strokes made famous. Melodies, beats, guitar lines – all expertly and exuberantly rendered, – popped up, reminded you of someone else & some other time, and raced away. Hammond and his three companions on guitar flooded the Union Palace with a Kinks-like underbelly of British music hall rhythms, supported a bit of Ray Davies’ like storytelling, then called up the sublime Icicle Works’ “Whisper to a Scream,” only to segue to some Beatlesque flavor with a little Oasis frosting.
Bloc Party (above) entered to adoring screams and bit of a mosh pit. Tho’ I HATED their new album A Weekend in the City on first listen, they did a hell of lot better job on that stuff live – giving their new guitar rock sound a lot more convincing treatment live than on the new CD. East London’s handsome Kele Okereke pulled a girl from the audience to dance, in a truly tired turn on a truly tired concert stunt. Their older dance-rock material from Silent Alarm, like “Banquet” and “Like Eating Glass,” got the same “hard rock” treatment – “Like Eating Glass” wound up as the set-ender, as a weird, joyful, rocker shout-out by the audience, despite lyrics like “it’s so cold in this house. . . like drinking poison, like eating glass.” It was all a long way from their first hit, “The Marshalls Are Dead,” and their Chemical Bros. collaboration.
No matter. The secondary vocal and guitar player wound up on a second drum kit for that song, and the show ended right on time, right at the right pitch of excitement. They were good; I wouldn’t see them again. Just a little too processed, just a little too groomed – they had just a little too little roughness. They were just too nice.
“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
Um, not, if you’re a rock band.