Soundtrack to Summer: New York City

08/30/2011

Soundtrack to
After the debauchery of D.C., I jumped on an Amtrak through the Chesapeake Bay of Maryland, the dense suburbia of Delaware and up through New Jersey (where my favorite Housewives live) into New York City.

I met a good friend at Penn Station, where he took me back into the subway to his apartment on Bleeker St. in Greenwich Village, referred to as simply “The Village,” because only a tourist would have to identify which one.

The next couple days I explored. Times Square: tourist marketing hell. Central Park, big but kinda boring compared to Golden Gate Park. Dive bars, museums, cocktail lounges, landmarks, restaurants… Really, why is everyone so obsessed with New York City? It is dirty, pretentious, creates uniquely terrible smells and it feels like you have to play chicken with other pedestrians just to walk down the street.

Before this trip I had never been to the East Coast. As a San Francisco bartender, I met my fair share of East Coasters. They are rude, aggressive, demanding, and they don’t have manners. My East Coast transplant friends refer to this behavior as “not fake,” whatever that means.

Conversely, ask any East Coaster about West Coasters and they would say we are lazy, unmotivated, and stoned hippies. I would say we know how to enjoy the finer things in life because we aren’t hardened by extreme weather, draconian drug laws, terrible wine, and general East Coast douchebaggery.

“Before this trip I had never been to the East Coast. As a San Francisco bartender, I met my fair share of East Coasters. They are rude, aggressive, demanding, and they don’t have manners. My East Coast transplant friends refer to this behavior as “not fake,” whatever that means.”

But, what makes a city pretentious is what makes its inhabitants fall in love with it. Pretentious city-dwellers earn their elitism through the navigation of daily urban dangers and idiosyncrasies. I mean, could you be a true San Franciscan without laughing at terrified tourists who stray into the Tenderloin from Union Square, not flinching when the bush man jumps out at you, having the ability to walk down any street without stepping in dog and human fecal matter land mines, pretending not to know where Oakland is or having a thorough knowledge of all the gay nightclubs? No.

Later in the week, a San Francisco bartender friend and two-year resident of New York and I sake-bombed before descending into the basement of (le) Poisson Rouge on Bleeker street to see The Globes and El Ten Eleven.

First sign of a great venue: they served Fernet Branca aka The San Francisco Treat or “Bartender’s espresso.” No where east of the Sierras had I seen a bottle of Fernet Branca. My heart and liver warmed at its sight.

Besides carrying Fernet, (le) Poisson Rouge was an exceptional venue. Dimly lit, yet visible. Air-conditioned, but not Antarctic. Seats along the edge of the room are elevated above the crowd, which is wrapped around a mostly-protruding circular stage, opening the room for the entire audience. No place was a bad place to see the show.

Openers, The Globes, a Washington State based new-wave grunge-raised indie group, was a moodier and enthralling complement to headliner El Ten Eleven. They were on tour promoting their newest release sinter songs EP, which was produced by John Goodmanson (who has also worked with Death Cab for Cutie and Blonde Redhead). The music is nostalgically true to its Pacific Northwestern roots, with traces of moody 90s grunge rock with a cleaner more modern organization and polish.

After The Globes, headliners El Ten Eleven took the stage. I had heard of El Ten Eleven on my Pandora account awhile back and I liked it, but was never particularly enamored enough with it for obsessive listening. Seeing them live drastically changed my perception of their music.

El Ten Eleven, which is comprised of Los Angeles bassist Kristian Dunn and drummer Tim Fogarty, is synthetic-sounding, organically crafted lyric-less rock. They play with entertaining yet not over-the-top enthusiasm that was both engaging and fun. Plus, the New York crowd moved a little bit more than the typical San Francisco one would, especially when they launched into a cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.”

Dunn played in front of a rack of guitars, some of them double-necked, and rows upon rows of pedals under his mic. He effortlessly hammered along with the beat, while simultaneously rotating guitars and tapping pedals to weave pulsating tunes that could probably have been created on a Mac but impressively aren’t.

They opened with a single from Every Direction is North “Hotcakes.” It felt like it could be the soundtrack to a video game race without even slightly bordering the tacky repetition that would entail.

Before I left New York I booked a boat to Ellis Island, my own great-grandfather Michaelangelo Orlando’s first stop in immigrating to the United States. (You know, along with Giovanni and Luigi and some other stereotypically named “juice-head guido” Italians I descend from.)

As we sailed past the Statue of Liberty it is hard not to take in the whole situation and remember that most of Americans, like my family, haven’t really been in the country for that long.

Once on the Island, we toured the National Immigration Museum, which much like the propaganda exhibit I saw at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., told the story of today’s political climate through early-to-mid nineteenth century historical artifacts such as racist political cartoons of the different nationalities crammed on boats funneling into the country through New York City. Not to get too political, but much like the “medicinal bourbon permits” on the walls at the distillery I toured in Frankfort, Kentucky (and knowingly passed on the Budweiser plant in St. Louis) I would say that the hypocrisies in United States history tend to repeat themselves as the nation’s underfunded schools continue to churn out generations of uneducated adults.

While waiting at Grand Central for my train to Connecticut I went down to the historic Oyster Bar and surrounded myself with some old red-wine drinking Italian men who I pretended to understand.

Then I boarded my train for the final leg of my trip: a whirlwind one week tour of New England.

El Ten Eleven: “Hot Cakes”
[audio: http://www.box.net/shared/static/unb1i6gptuholole3s1r.mp3]

The Globes: “Untitled”
[audio: http://www.box.net/shared/static/vc0j2s7nd2aiub0ffqmo.mp3]