This post comes to you live from Hoboken, New Jersey. Thanks to a cheap Groupon-type deal on airfare, I find myself staying with in-laws for a couple of days. They live two blocks away from where Callie and I used to live, and literally one block behind the apartment where I first lived in 1996 when I moved to Hoboken from Manhattan. At the time, I was amazed how many Missourians were suddenly in my midst – my girlfriend, her relatives, my roommate, and more I’m forgetting. Little did I know I’d become one myself.
This is my first time back since the summer of 2007. Returning to the NYC area is always strange at first; then I quickly get re-acclimated. After all, I may have lived in St. Louis for nearly a decade, but I lived in the NYC/NJ metro area for 34 years, and partook in NYC’s many amenities since I was old enough to figure out the metro bus system.
I spent much of yesterday afternoon exploring downtown Manhattan. At the time I left, it was already way past gentrification into being an expanded New York University campus. The transformation is even more complete now. The architecture is just familiar enough that it doesn’t feel completely disconcerting to walk around, but there’s definitely a feel of a neighborhood past its prime. I did enjoy visiting Other Music for the first time in a long time. There’s a new Kim’s Video, and a truly terrifying record shop down the street that looks more like a Hoarders set than a place of business. There were CDs piled up everywhere, on top of each other, with no real attempt at sorting. I’m sure there were some gems within the rubble, but I no longer have the patience for that type of record shopping. Anyway, the whole place was giving me terrible claustrophobia. I left as quickly as I could.
Weirdly, St. Mark’s Sounds continues to exist. How, when almost every other record shop has closed, does this antiquated place still stand? I think I even saw the exact same 88-cent clearance CDs that I used to pass over in the 1990s.
From there I walked all the way to the West Side. I really wanted to check out the High Line, a city park constructed out of a disused railroad trestle. It starts in the meatpacking district, winds through west Chelsea, and terminates somewhere before Penn Station. I used to live on West 24th Street in a fairly tony building, but the neighborhood west of 10th Avenue was desolate. Outside of a couple of dance clubs, 10th Avenue between 14th and 34th offered nothing besides the occasional transvestite prostitute. Now, of course, it’s become a high-rent gallery district. The High Line completes the process. I walked through little gardens, past outdoor cafes and over formerly mean streets. This being NYC, of course the High Line was overcrowded, making it slow to maneuver. Still, when I got to my old street, it was just remarkable how the rest of the surrounding neighborhood had changed.
The afternoon was fading, though, and I had to be back in Hoboken for an early show at Maxwell’s. Usually, when I make these trips back East, I miss concerts by a day or two. This time, I was excited to see that the Trypes and Speed the Plough – two bands that emerged from the Haledon, NJ petri dish that also birthed the Feelies – were playing. I’ve been going to Maxwell’s since I first started college. At first it was simple pragmatism: the New Brunswick bars carded, but Maxwell’s didn’t. Very quickly, though, it became my favorite place to see and hear music. I haven’t been there than more than a decade, so there was something very comforting and familiar about walking though those double doors, paying my admission and getting a fluorescent hand stamp. Add a bunch of old friends, many of whom I haven’t seen since Y2K, and you’ve got the makings of a good night.
The Trypes recently received the deluxe reissue treatment via Acute Records, who released the excellent Music for Neighbors compilation. I’d even describe some of it, especially the four tracks that originally surfaced as The Explorers Hold EP, as equal to anything on the first two Feelies albums. Led by John Baumgartner on keyboards and spouse Toni on vocals and various other instruments, the Trypes perfected the fade-in/fade-out approach of the early Feelies, but took it in a more droney, raga-ish direction. Picture the Feelies’ The Good Earth crossed with George Harrison’s 1960s sitar experiments, and you’re close.
Tonight we got the “original” Trypes, with Marc Francia on guitar, Glenn Mercer on guitar and drums, and Elbrus Kelemet on vocals and bongos. In all candor, I’m not a fan of Kelemet’s vocals; he is a “lead singer” in a band that really works best when the vocals are just another instrument. That said, he was part of their earliest material, and it was a treat to hear him on such songs as “Foreign Doctors,” “Force of Habit” and “Belmont Girl is Mad at Me.” Later we got “Music for Neighbors” and “The Undertow,” which is best known as a Feelies song but which was first recorded for The Explorers Hold. The whole set was really captivating. Not without a sense of humor, either, as demonstrated by their shambling set-closer of the Doors’ “Love Street.”
Lianne Smith played after that: I used to go see her play in Shackwacky, a countryfied trio that also included Angel Dean. Tonight it was just Smith and an acoustic guitar, playing smart songs of regret in the vein of Aimee Mann or Amy McMahon Rigby. Good stuff, and very appreciated by the Maxwell’s crowd. The Baumgartners returned to the stage to close the set as Speed the Plough. They’ve always had a revolving lineup, and STP circa 2012 features the Baumgarnters’ son Mike, and Francia’s sons Dan and Ian. Perhaps due to the youthful element, Speed the Plough was way more rock than I remember them ever being. Really energetic and engaging, though, with new songs that should be well worth hearing on record.
Today? Something involving Brooklyn. We’ll see.