The Redemptive Powers of Hot Empanadas and Warm Cookies (Alice Russell and Bonerama with Pimps of Joytime 6-21-08)

That morning was an incredible struggle. My head was pounding, my body ached, and I was exhausted. I spent a few hours trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again before my stockbroker departed and I caught a brief nap. I had to get something at Costco, so I soldiered off into the scorching heat to wait for a bus. After shopping, I wandered into nearby Socrates Sculpture Park, which was hosting some sort of Summer Solstice Celebration festival. While there, I heard a drum circle of children banging out a multitude of discordant rhythms, which sounded great while I suffered from a pounding headache. Technically, this qualified as my first musical event of the day.

However, the virtue of this detour to Socrates Sculpture Park was not found in the performance of 40 budding, little Tito Puentes with a John Cage sensibility. Nay, I found salvation in the form of Mama’s Empanada’s, a small tent that was serving up a host of the deep fried Latin treats. I saw exactly what I wanted in the Guava and Cheese Empanada. Now I don’t know what genius accidentally discovered the combination of sweet guava with mellow, nutty queso, but I’d like to shake his or her hand. Wrap those two up in dough, deep fry it, hit it with a little powdered sugar, and you have just what the hangover doctor ordered.

When this day began, I had lofty dreams of pursuing a multi-state, double-river crossing quadruple header involving two parties in Jersey and two concerts in Manhattan. The quadruple header is not nearly as difficult as one might imagine, but it does require a bit of preparation, efficiency, focus, and solo travel. (Gentlemen, I highly advise against attempting this with a girlfriend/wife/call girl unless you want to get dumped/divorced/sued between stops 2 and 3.) Unfortunately, I had broken my own rules and lacked both preparation and focus for this effort. Not only was I suffering from a relentless hangover, but I was also way behind schedule and only capable of moving slowly. An executive decision needed to be made, and I had to abandon to Jersey half of the plan, which was unfortunate because I knew that both parties would feature fine food and even finer friends. Instead, I took a little time to regroup before heading out for the first of two concerts.

The Hiro Ballroom is a gorgeous venue underneath the swanky Maritime Hotel. With its stylish Japanese motif, it appears to be a lounge for the beautiful and talented…yet somehow they let me inside.

Arriving at 8:45, I figured I’d be walking in late, but I actually opened the door at the perfect time, as Alice Russell’s band struck their first note. Initially, the scene was awkward because everyone was afraid to move into the middle of the floor for fear of blocking the views of the beautiful people sitting at perfectly stylish but naturally uncomfortable low-slung tables. Then Alice motioned everyone to come forward, so I shoved my ass right in front of those models, Middle Eastern princes, and their gay hangers-on.

As a performer, Alice Russell exuded an incredibly infectious charm. She’s a pint-sized woman with a powerhouse voice and excellent diction (which was required to spit out her often dense lyrics), and her smile and jovial demeanor really lit up the room. Everyone seemed to be having a blast in her slightly randy but cheerfully seductive presence.

Her band was comprised of a Buddy Holly look-a-like on guitar and a fiddler who sang backup vocals flamboyantly (as all fiddlers seem to do these days). These two were imported from Russell’s UK, and they were joined by San Franciscans on drums and bass, neither of whom missed a beat.

Her new tunes sounded tre funky, particularly “Dreamer,” and the audience had to be filled with fans-in-the-know because they reacted with ebullient praise when she mentioned her old band, Quantic, playing some great blaxploitation-sounding numbers from their repertoire. I particularly enjoyed the uptown funk strut of “Hold On Tight,” as well as the expected encore of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.”

This clip is from a different show, but it gives you an idea of what she’s all about:

While I’ve enjoyed but haven’t been blown away by Alice Russell’s My Favourite Letters album, I thought her live show was fantastic. She’s a very engaging performer with a nice set of pipes and some cool songs. I’ll be seeing her again.

I bolted from Hiro and hopped on the cross-town bus, exiting at 14th St. and 5th Ave. for a nice stroll through the Village. I knew I needed to eat something, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted, so I was on the lookout for something new. It arrived in the form of a sign that said “Warm cookies inside.” I went inside Insomnia Cookies (which is open until 3AM) and felt the uncomfortably warm air before ordering a chocolate peanut butter cup cookie to go. It cost $2 because it was a “specialty” cookie, but their regular offerings were reasonably priced at 90 cents apiece. The cookie was warm, moist, and just melted into a delicious clump of peanut buttery chocolate goodness. I’m so happy I found this place. I shall return.

I went into Sullivan Hall and caught the last song-and-a-half from Pimps of Joytime. It’s hard to fairly judge an act by such a short performance, but I heard enough fine music to pique my interest in seeing these guys play a headlining gig. Their sound was a unique mix of afrobeat, funk, reggae, and other global styles, and the decent-sized crowd seemed to be just as impressed as yours truly.

Here’s a video for one of their tunes:

At setbreak, I strolled around for a while and looked for the perfect dinner. With a desire to try something new but with only minimal hunger, I settled on The Creperie for the Grilled Vegetable Crepe, which included Peppers, Zucchini, Onions, Garlic, and Ricotta Cheese. It was quite tasty, although at $8 it was way overpriced for its meager portion and MacDougal Street home of typically cheap eats. Nevertheless, the line of people, most of whom were young women in tight outfits, proved that people apparently don’t care about the prices (as long as they live by the light of Daddy’s AMEX). I would probably go back to The Creperie again, but I’d opt for one of their numerous and more reasonably priced dessert crepes.

I went back to Sullivan Hall and walked in the door while Bonerama was finishing “The Ocean,” which you can hear now:

Bonerama was a band that we used to see all the time when they first began, but after a while, many of my fellow freaks and I began to tire of their endless Zeppelin and Sabbath covers, which eventually lost their novelty and became old hat. However, after the release of 2007’s Bringing It Home, the band hit on a creative upswing. I was very impressed with what I heard at Jazz Fest, and this night’s performance was no exception.

Truth be told, I’m probably not the greatest judge of the quality of the performance because I was completely exhausted by midnight and my eyes were redder than a baboon’s ass. However, the band was able to pick me up and get my butt moving, grooving, and secondlining, particularly on an excellent Meters medley that included “Cabbage Alley,” a completely original brass band spin on “Folsom Prison Blues,” and an uplifting “When My Dreamboat Comes Home.” I should also mention the fine first set sit-in by Roswell Rudd, who played a couple of swingin’ tunes, including Count Basie’s famously smooth “Lil’ Darling,” while bringing the onstage trombone tally up to five. Craig Klein said, “Y’all make sure you go to YouTube and search ‘Roswell Rudd.’ R-U-D-D,” so
here’s what you’ll find.

Thanks to the fine folks at Radio Johnson and taper extraordinaire Scott Bernstein, you can download podcasts of both Bonerama’s and Pimps of Joytime’s sets here.

I’m pretty sure the show ended close to 2:00, and I trudged into the subway, somehow managing to avoid falling asleep before my stop, which was a nice bonus and sufficient ending to a long day.

This entry was posted in Alice Russell, Bonerama, food, gluttony, music. Bookmark the permalink.

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