I tend to love New York bands. They are often the catalyst, or that city is the crucible, for what will explode across the globe and dismay the world with all of its grandeur and progeny. When I first heard there would be a “Cover the Crescent” event centered around the city that never sleeps I was sleepless with both the possibility of bands playing and the bands they would be covering. When I discovered the lineup on both parallels I was astounded. First and foremost, and this is just being honest—Television, Velvet Underground, Talking Heads…the latter two bands are in my top ten, the first in my top 40 easily. The final, crucial, oddly weird part of the evening: Billy Joel. That made the evening complete. It would make sense if the fourth band being covered was Suicide or Modern Lovers or Blondie—but, no, this added dimension to the night. While the Velvets had ended, Television and Talking Heads owned the Bowery, the punks, while in the suburbs, Billy Joel serenaded them with songs of the city—often about these sorts of people. It was a perfect evening of music. This kind of show may not change your life forever, but it sure can make you smile and dance for over three hours, maybe forget your troubles for a while.
Sweetbleeders opened the evening exploring the sounds of Billy Joel’s underrated 1976 masterpiece Turnstiles. I want you to read that sentence again. Okay. See, most bands, if given the chance to go hog wild with a Billy Joel set would do one of the three following things:
1.) They would play 52nd Street in its entirety
2.) They would play The Stranger in its entirety
3.) They would play a “Greatest Hits” set that includes most of 52nd Street and The Stranger, and may include some of Piano Man and must finish with “Captain Jack”
It is now clear (and has been for some time) that Sweetbleeders are not most bands. They decided to investigate the wonder of Turnstiles. Oddly, on a night subtitled “Escape From New York” they perform Billy Joel’s “I’m getting the hell out of California and back to New York album.” So from “Say Goodbye Hollywood” to “New York State of Mind” to “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Gone Out On Broadway)” and very nearly everything inbetween, Sweetbleeders played out the album that paved the way for Billy Joel’s most successful era. We were all the richer for this and you can check out the video below to give you a sense of their set.
I must admit that until that last Sunday Night I didn’t know the likes of Blues Oblique or the talents of Michael Krassner, Wil Hendricks, Shane Kennedy and Aaron Burke, but those four gentlemen brought proto-punk legends Television back to life as they careened through selections from the seminal masterpiece Marquee Moon. It must be noted that while Krassner certainly did justice to the vocals and poetics of Tom Verlaine, it was the twin angular guitar work with Hendricks that reproduced the selections to one of my favorite albums of all time, note for note. This was particularly resonant on classics such as “See No Evil” and the epic ten minute title track to that album (“We’ll take a break in about ten minutes,” Krassner quipped at the start of “Marquee Moon”). They even took a jab at the closest thing Television ever had to a hit, nailed it but, made fun of “Prove It” as possibly the only track on the album that may be less than genius. I was not prepared for a band I was unfamiliar with to brings these sacred songs back to life. Check out the video for “See No Evil” below.
Since I was, maybe, nine years old, when anyone has asked me what my favorite band of all time is, my answer has been the same: The Velvet Underground. Now combine that with one of my favorite local bands, playing a set of Velvet’s covers, specifically Wooden Indian, and I was damn near on cloud nine. I have to hand it to them Wooden Indian really played to their strengths and adapted their own shoegazing hazy vaporous style to consume the Velvets tracks—with a heavy emphasis on the third album. It reminded me of when Spacemen 3 would take on Velvets material and make it their own. This was especially true on the more hypnotic numbers like “Candy Says”, “Here She Comes Now”, and “Pale Bue Eyes.” It was the rocking versions of “Beginning To SeeThe Light” and “I’m Set Free” that particularly grabbed me and held my jaw dropped attention. Another great moment was Wil Hendricks joining the band to play the necessary extra percussion for a riveting “Sunday Morning.” Except for the sets brevity (perhaps only in my mind), I thought the evening had reached its peak.
I’ll be the first to admit that I couldn’t have been less correct. While seeing Wooden Indian playing VU was amazing, seeing the members of that band combining their talents with Blues Oblique to hammer out many of my favorite Talking Heads numbers, stole the show. Collectively, they covered the first half of the Talking Heads career with a magnificent energy and delivery that turned the entire Ballroom into a dancing celebration. Wil Hendricks manned the lead vocals for the early two hits that started the show, “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel” and “Psycho Killer” before Ross Andrews launched into the likes of “Life During Wartime” and “Once In A Lifetime.” Shane Kennedy smiled from behind the drum kit and said “You guys are all about to get really, really happy”—And we were as the band nailed “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)”. I was overwhelmed by the crowd response sharing my own sentiments and the show didn’t let up with “Crosseyed and Painless”, “Burning Down the House” and a special encore of “Heaven.” Perfect set closer, for a perfect night—It may not have been exactly Heaven, but it was pretty damn close if only for a few hours. You can watch most of the show for yourself below.