Disruptive Juxtaposition

Saturday, July 09, 2005

I Heart the Nooey Pibble

A.K.A. the New York Public Library. Finally I have found, at the George Bruce branch of the Nooey Pibble, a free WiFi connection. Which means the search for and sending out of job applications can continue. This fact elates me. I'll probably make this a regular spot - 518 W. 125th Street, between Amsterdam and Broadway.

But as I've been here for the last three hours, quaffing ceaselessly from the fountain of the Internets, I need to get up and go home.

I sat down this morning to write a poem about New York City in all its assorted danger, its chance calculus of meetings both amusingly serendipitous and tragic. I know, know, that Law & Order is the framework on which to base this poem, to be called "Law & Order." But its ambitions defeated me. It'll have to stew for a while, I now realize.

Question: should one begin a second poetry MS (to be called Safety Culture) when the first poetry MS (called Food Bed Gospel) not only hasn't been published, but contains only a few poems that have been placed? Food Bed Gospel is in pretty good shape, and the poems it comprises are in circulation; no doubt some will soon strike home. (For better or worse, I haven't had such confidence in the work before, and I take that alone as a promising sign.) What's more, I've got dozens of poems that don't belong in FBG, but definitely correspond with each other. I think I answered my own question.

Concert Review, Clem Snide at Castle Clinton

Most rock bands don’t have to predict the constitution and mood of a live audience; typically an act will know more or less exactly who’s in the crowd and what they’re keen to hear. Clem Snide, for example, can typically rely on a stable of muscially-informed wearers of glass with thick black rims, equally willing to boogie to Johnny Cash or Jay-Z. The band deserves credit, then, for forging through the crapshoot of enthusiasm offered up by last night’s concertgoers at Castle Clinton. The seated crowd of twenty-, thirty-, forty-, and fifty-somethings applauded, smirked at choice lines, and far too rarely came to their feet. Given the audience’s motley-crewish unfamiliarity with his Nashville-hipster brand of wiseass country, frontman Eef Barzelay acted the gravelly, Tom Waits-ish impresario. Before launching into “The Sound of German Hip-Hop”, he murmured, “Don’t be scared of this next song. It was all [dramatic pause] … a dream.” Barzelay’s one-man play-acts helped entertain the polite rabble whenever the songs came up short.

Which was rare. Almost without exception, Snide worked through its set with impeccable performances and an audio setup that complemented Barzelay’s nasal phrases surreally well—his sung barbs occupied an ideal register above the loping country / driving rock beat, helping each of his arch turns of phrase sink in with a stand-up’s knack for le mot juste. Multi-instrumentalist Pete Fitzpatrick, the ever-less-secret ace in the band’s sleeve, wielded his tuba, worked a dobro, and once with a flourish pulled from behind his back a bow—to play his banjo, of course—as an archer does an arrow. Some songs were given unexpected washes of feedback and noise, as though the band’s been treating latter-day Wilco as a canonical text. Only at the end of a tight performance of “Something Beautiful”, the band’s hilarious paean to romantic rage, did the sonic fireworks fade: Fitzpatrick was caught unready with his array of pedal effects and began to twirl his dials too late. Barzelay kept the beat by ad-libbing from Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” – “Got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.” As a gamble, it paid off.

Such absurd juxtapositions and covers—they’ve convincingly covered “Beautiful” by one Christina Aguilera—are some of Clem Snide’s more unique strengths. If the band hewed at times too closely to cuts drawn from the mediocre End of Love, compensation came in the form of new interpretations—album closer “Weird” received a full-throttle rock treatment—or flat-out barnstorming force, as with the shout-along workout “Fill Me With Your Light”—a subpar effort for the band that, live, charmed the audience with its sheer exuberant noise. By and large, Clem Snide has honed the performances of its A-listers unto perfection. See for example the deafening, arena-rock intro to “Don’t Be Afraid of Your Anger,” complete with synchronized on-the-beat jumping; see the skifflish riffs of “Long-Lost Twin” in which the shuffle of the brushes leads logically into Fitzpatrick’s sharp, eloquent lead guitar. This is a band that ages well; they’ve learned to deliver their eclectic goods with precise and consummate craftsmanship. Which was borne out, in the end, by the audience; even if they didn’t jump to their feet, they were all enraptured by Barzelay’s wordplay. Which, by the way, improves with each new song he sings: stay tuned for their next album which, Yahweh willing, will include the heartbreaking new numbers “Born A Man” (in Barzelay’s words, “a song about the end of the world you can dance to”) and the possibly-untitled song written from the perspective of a hip-hop honey from one of Nelly’s rap videos. The latter, given a solo acoustic performance, resounded with its repeat-and-fade mantra of “Don’t hate me ‘cause I know just what this world is all about.” That goes for Clem Snide as a whole; however fey, however often they crack wise, their music in the end both charms and informs, heartens and moves.