Tuesday, May 14, 2013

New York City, YEAH!

Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: None
Reading / Watching: Brilliant book on New York's essential five years of genre-making music, 'Love Goes To Buildings On Fire' by Rolling Stone writer Will Hermes / Back in Blightly, getting our Brooklyn fix with the second season of 'Girls'
Hair Day: Under a hoodie. Best kept out of sight.

I've had a wondrously fulsome two weeks flitting about North American cities - initially solo while Andy worked his book publisher chops. It was a whistle-stop tour to Toronto, home of my early childhood (I was there ages 3-5), and thus I had a proper heart-pang when I saw the CN Tower spike perforating the wide blue sky. Rather than a suburban house on Bayview Avenue, this time we stayed in the uber-cool Drake Hotel. I didn't have time to investigate much of the town as all-new, grown-up Kerry, but Queen Street West was one long hipsterdream of vintage shops, boutiques and places selling raw carrot cake with maple syrup cream cheese icing and mushroom lattes. YES! The waterside was lovely, and I came across my ideal exhibition at Powerplant: Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop And Aboriginal Culture -  contemporary responses to Native Canadian traditions/mythology, featuring custom-made bikes, light installations, massive murals, and THIS very cool Cree/English/video/speech/song piece (intro only here):

To a week and half of neck-craning, eating and gig-going in New York! I made a concerted effort NOT to do all the obvious sights, but to absorb the city through a lot of street-pounding, and general hanging out. Here are some highlights:

Ginger potato hash at haute-Indian Devi with Andy's lovely workpals; crunch-and-melt falafel from a stall in Central Park, where we talked to the English football-obsessed server; divine Ukranian pierogi, borscht the colour of an East European vampire-bite and stuffed cabbage at my favourite East Village hang out, Veselka's; decaf lattes by Brooklyn Roasting Company, fresh from the grinder in Dumbo, home of Girls actress/writer/director/producer all-round heroine Lena Dunham!; polenta, poached eggs and home fries for brunch at Olea's in Fort Greene; a garlic wurst on rye which stared me down at Katz' Deli (Harry, Sally, etc).

We happily saw that Oli, who we'd met playing with Laura J Martin in Oxford last week, was in town with his main band, indie-folksters Stornoway; he invited us to their secret rooftop gig in the McKittrick Hotel, abandoned in the 1940s and recently opened up by Punchdrunk Theatre. We caught James Blake at Terminal 5 in the mid-West Side - he was pretty cool, some nice rumbly bass, but I felt it was a bit samey... I crammed in four bands at the Mercury Lounge: the three gorgeously dewy girls of Paper Bird (bluegrass harmony/pop/folk), who deserve to be Mumford-famous; the slightly disappointing, given her comparisons to Joanna Newsom and Sufjan Stevens, Dana Falconberry; Empress Of, talked up as the new Grimes, mixing power-pop balladry a la early Madonna, ribcage-splintering bass and ebullient electro; and the silly Doldrums, who stoked initial excitement by using only a mic and a suitcase full of gizmos, but ruined it all with crap songs delivered in a needlingly whiny voice. We also caught a night at the Glasslands Gallery in Brooklyn, featuring some indie-doom from Creep, wonky-pop with a Frank Zappa-meets-Jarvis Cocker frontman from The Flinstones, and yowly gloom-electro from Exitmusic, headed up by the actress who plays Angela Darmody in Boardwalk Empire. Finally, I played my own teeny You Are Wolf gig in Williamsburg's Goodbye Blue Monday!
New York gives off a damn good indie bookish vibe, and, partly for Andy's work, we scouted many a fashionably literary temple, and dreamed ourselves around the tomes. Housingworks was the best; we went to a brilliant event called 'Ask Roulette', in which two people are divided by a screen. One asks the other a question about themselves. The other answers, and then gets to ask a new person, picked out of a hat, their own question. I got picked, got my hair compared to Grace Jones', and ended up telling 30 people how terrified I was of cows and once got stampeded by them. It's a brilliant wheeze - wordy, human, and witty. We want to do our own London version!

The Highline, of course; around the gorgeous Prospect Park on a hot sunny day; and an epic hike from Brooklyn's Greenpoint past the Brooklyn Navy Yard, through Dumbo, over Brooklyn Bridge, through Downtown to the West Village. I also popped to Washington D.C. to see my old university friend Stu, and tramped enthusiastically through the whole city catching the sights.

At least in Manhattan, and in complete contrast to London, many people really want to talk. They got the jaw-jaw good there.

On the subway, a man asked to take a photo of my Beastie Boys t-shirt - he said that they were his favourite band, and we chatted about MCA. He asked what I was listening to, predicting Pantera; he was a little disappointed when I let him hear my headphone, and said that Roy Ayres was far too mellow for him. A waiter in a Queens diner told me it seemed like yesterday that it was 1994 and he was dancing to the 'Sabotage' video. A guy who ran a bike shop said the Beasties were around when 'MTV was MTV, y'know?" We went to MCA Day in Brooklyn, which celebrated the life of Adam Yauch, who died a year ago. Check the kids' tribute gallery!
I played chess in Washington Square with one of the hustlers, retired 60 year-old Joe, who persuaded me to play two games with him, one without his queen. He still won $10 out of me. He was a charmer, who sat there every sunny day, or else went and watched action movies, and told me my husband must be a dream to have married me...
At the Mercury Lounge, I found myself earwigging next to a guy who performs with the Wainwrights at their annual Christmas show, who was chatting to country/folk star Anais Mitchell, who it was hilarious to hear say that her current project was singing British ballads that are all 'a bit too long'. Ha ha!

A guy in the lift up to the rooftop at the McKittrick's compared hair product notes with me, and said he wouldn't normally be seen DEAD in the Meatpacking District (it was OVER a decade ago), but that it was for a friend...

The ethereally calm St Paul's Chapel, next to Ground Zero, which has become a monument to the memory of the victims of 9/11; being invited in to a Raw Chocolate Party in Downtown; Andy busted into an art fair full of chained concrete babies and sheep with telephones for heads; the gloriously calm and unkempt community garden of the Sara Roosevelt Park; the amazing Pratt Sculpture Park in Brooklyn.

I'm pretty happy to be back in London, though this cold is just outrageously affronting. The city feels like the shorter, wiser, wittier, friendlier older brother to Manhattan's tall, gym-buffed younger sibling. I'm looking forward to getting stuck into my second chamber opera of the year - this time a wild-swimming themed affair to open the Tete a Tete Festival in August! MaJiKer has also being whizzing through the mixing of my You Are Wolf debut album, woo hoo!

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