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‘Where’s the Band?’

Providing yet more evidence of Dashboard Confessional’s continuing influence, this package tour presents the frontmen of several emo bands (including Saves the Day and the Get Up Kids) in trés-sensitive solo-acoustic mode. Expect left-field covers and lots of singing along.

Sat., Jan. 21, 8 p.m., 2012

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Saves the Day

Saves the Day showed a new lineup and a new attitude with 2011’s Daybreak, a record replete with power chords and a “keep on keepin’ on” vibe. A digestible blend of Weezer and Simple Plan, the band remains as catchy and angsty as ever. Sure, their songs are predictable and could form the soundtrack of a late-’90s teen movie, but they also offer a comforting mix nostalgia and earnestness. As long as there are depressed high schoolers doodling lyrics in the margins of notebooks, Saves the Day has a place in today’s musical climate.

Tue., Nov. 15, 6 p.m., 2011

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Leading Reverend Billy Into Sin

“Let’s face our contradictions right up front! We all sin and we all forgive each other,” Reverend Billy, founder of the Church of Stop Shopping, preaches to me outside the Voice building, where we are meeting because the reverend has agreed to join me for, believe it or not, an afternoon of shopping.

Since I am a member of my own personal Church of Never Stop Shopping and Billy is famous for his bombastic anti-consumerist proselytizing, I suspect he will view me with a combination of contempt and disgust, but how wrong am I. He may believe fervently that, in his words, “the shopocalypse is upon us. . . . Who will be $aved?” and he may spend every minute of his waking life organizing anti-spending crusades at places like Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret, but today Billy himself is exactly like the weakest, most craven among us—he really, really wants to buy something.

Maybe this is because it’s freezing and he’s just not bundled up enough. “I’m missing a layer,” he says. “When you buy things in thrift stores, it’s hard to control the kinds of items you’ll find.” He’s wearing a shirt and sweater covered by a very nice gray wool jacket that he admits he appropriated last summer when he found it draped over a motorcycle in the West Village. You stole it, Billy? “In our church, everyone is a sinner and we forgive each other!” he thunders cheerfully.

It’s been a big year for the reverend—he’s got a book out (Kurt Vonnegut gave him a blurb, he tells me proudly when we stop by St. Marks Books, where Billy begs the clerk, without much success, to display the book more prominently), and he’s the subject of a documentary entitled What Would Jesus Buy?, which chronicles Billy and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir on a national bus tour. It’s a long way from Bill Talen, East Village performance artist and poet, to tongue-in-cheek anti-capitalist faux-clergyman. Or maybe not.

Where are we headed? Not to the Astor Place Kmart, surely, though when I admit that I have made friends with that behemoth and now venture in frequently for Martha Stewart towels and three-packs of Hanes panties, Billy says sadly, “I go there, too. They’ve got better prices—but you know it’s that old conundrum: It’s cheaper because the stuff is made in sweatshops.”

Though not everyone loves Billy—Starbucks has banned him from its stores following his frequent raucous visits, during which he has placed his hand on the cash register and tried to exorcise “the beast of the evil within it”—he’s quite the star in the East Village. “Hey, Billy, saw you last year at the Continental! I have you as a MySpace friend,” one guy says. Another fellow introduces his little daughter, who is carrying Anya Hindmarch’s “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” tote. Inside Loves Saves the Day, a vintage store that has somehow resisted waves of gentrification and survived on the corner of 7th and Second, another side of Billy fully emerges.

“This place excites my memories,” he says, gleefully pawing though the racks of old clothes. I tell him I feel the same way about Saks Fifth Avenue, and he is stunned: “You’ve got something on your body from Saks?” (Gee, guess it doesn’t look it.) Ignoring the pirate hats and Howdy Doody night lights, the reverend makes a beeline for a double-breasted ’70s-era jacket. “What do you call this color, Lynn?” Ocher? Mustard? I venture, adding that the back vents are still stitched, an indication that no lounge lizard has ever worn this garment. “Wow, I’m lucky to be shopping with a fashion editor. Hallelujah, amen!” Billy booms. (He’s been studying with an opera singer so he can really crank up the volume, since the cops keep confiscating his bullhorns.) Spying a looming Mickey Mouse doll, Billy explodes. “Mickey Mouse is the Antichrist! Mickey Mouse is Satan!”

Why does he hate the rodent with such virulence? Is it because this whole Reverend Billy business has its roots in the Disneyfication of Times Square, where Billy first set up his pulpit in the late ’90s? “A therapist once told me Mickey Mouse is really my father, and my dad does have a big grin and prominent ears,” he says. “Actually, I like my dad, but we’re very different. He’s a Dutch Calvinist from the Midwest.” Like many parents with truly wacky children, the reverend’s dad appears to have come around: “When my picture was in The New Yorker, he sent a copy to me, laminated.”

In the end, we have no luck at Love Saves the Day. We head east, past the Chase bank where the Second Avenue Deli used to be. “I blame myself for this!” he says. “We should have been all over it, protesting, but it went up so fast. We have to enact anti-chain-store legislation.”

But not everything is so bleak. In fact, suddenly Billy’s message seems to be captivating all kinds of people, a turn of events that has left him frankly astonished. “I started out talking to entrenched ironists about forgiveness and gratitude.” But then his words—campy and over-the-top as they may be—began reaching a different audience. In one burst of interviews, he recalls, a questioner from a right-wing apocalyptic magazine was followed by a writer from Hustler and then a reporter from CNN. He shrugs. “If committed evangelical Christians are buying less,” he says, “then that’s a good thing.”

Well, I’m certainly not buying less, I think to myself. Since Billy is getting colder by the minute (plus, though he doesn’t say so, I sense he is dying to buy something), we go over to 10th between First and A, where a brand-new consignment shop called Matiell opened 11 days ago.

“This is the spot!” Billy says as soon as we enter. Two seconds later, he is on his knees, not praying but rifling thoughtfully through a low rack of sweaters. When he finds a knitted polo with a Barneys label, he pops it on and loves what he sees. “Wow, jeesh, wow! This is from one of those yuppies I’m always badmouthing from the pulpit. Wow, only $20!” He fingers another pullover and I notice him sneaking a glimpse at its Boss label. “I can’t stop—I can’t stop shopping!” he wails at the top of his lungs. “I’m glad Spurlock, who produced my movie, isn’t in this store! I can confess to you, Lynn, but I don’t want it on the silver screen!”

He takes another gander at the mirror and proclaims, “Woo-hoo—it’s Billy time on the avenue! What we are seeing here is depraved sin.” Alas, the Boss garment is three times as much as the Barneys sweater. Billy wants both but buys only the cheaper one, planning to discuss the situation with his wife, who is the director of the Church of Stop Shopping. “I’m gonna talk to Savitri about this one. It’s such a beauty,” he says. “It’s so handsome.”

We’re about to leave when Billy notices a pair of thick, soft trousers. “Wow, lemme try these on!” He drops his pants—he’s not a shy guy—and says, “I think I’ve got permission to get a good warm pair of pants.”

Yeah, but do they have to be Versace? I say, eyeing the label.

“They’re a perfect fit! Oh my God, I have to buy these,” he says. “I just don’t care about my reputation. You think they’re warm? Oh, man, feel that—it’s brilliant—I gotta have them. I’m wearing them! Oh, it’s terrible! Eighty bucks! Wait, I can’t get them over my boots.” He tucks them in, then checks the mirror like the most hardened fashionista and sighs, “OK, I’m vain. It’s a different look, but it’s good.”

When the owner asks him if he’d like a shopping bag for his purchases, Billy is horrified—it probably wouldn’t do for the head of the Church of Stop Shopping to be seen in the East Village with bags of new clothes. As we head out into the chilly twilight, I ask Billy, now snug in his Versace pants, his Barneys sweater secretly sequestered in his backpack, if he is having the best time ever. I mean the whole season, what with the book and the movie and all, but he misunderstands. “Oh, yes!” he crows. “The fun of shopping!”

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Disco inferno: From unifying safe haven to creepy dystopia

Music critic Peter Shapiro’s Turn the Beat Around opens with a graphic depiction of New York in the ’70s that could make even the most hardened city dweller cower behind the nearest gentrified storefront. The Bronx is getting leveled by flames; all five boroughs are being torn by racial and social unrest; Son of Sam is on the loose. Add devastating municipal cutbacks, stagflation, and a crime rate galloping faster than any Giorgio Moroder bassline ever could, and you have the recipe for total meltdown. Or disco. Or both.

It’s tempting to cast disco as the ray of light in this grim urban dystopia and the discotheque as the safe haven where all the bitterly divided races, sexual orientations, and ethnicities could gyrate under a single unifying beat. Shapiro certainly offers that democratic point of view—and his book, which gives equal ink to “The Hustle” and to underground party-starter David Mancuso, is wholeheartedly populist in its approach. But Shapiro is quick to point out disco’s less-than-utopian aspects too. It could be a force for exclusion (look no further than the A-list-infested confines of Studio 54) and for creepily nihilistic excess (see the mechanized coke spoon at 54, the life-size Donna Summer–shaped cake transported via ambulance).

Turn the Beat Around will inevitably draw comparisons to Tim Lawrence’s Love Saves the Day
. Although they cover several of the same characters and events, they’re wildly different. Lawrence’s finely tooled passages are flecked with technical details, like the specific placement of Mancuso’s beloved Klipschorn speakers. Shapiro bypasses most of this for another kind of audiophilia— rapturous passages describing the way songs feel, including a dazzling reading of “I Feel Love.” That particular tidbit, which takes up almost an entire chapter, is worth the asking price alone.

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King of Clubs

The party space, with its huge mirror ball and DNA strands of multicolored balloons, combines Alice in Wonderland with astrophysics. “City, Country, City” percolates through five stacks of Klipschorn speakers and sounds so live that, if you close your eyes, War could be playing in the same room. As the percussive tempo builds, dancers regress, screaming and whooping as they execute spinning-top turns and syncopated jazz flicks. It could be 1974, but it’s 2004. After an agonizing hiatus, the Loft is back. And party host David Mancuso is refusing to change with the times.

The Loft began life in 1970 as an unnamed, one-off rent party when Mancuso, an antiques dealer, decided to put on a Valentine’s Day bash in his ex-industrial home to supplement his irregular income. In a reference to universal love and psychedelic enlightenment, the party invites were inscribed with the words “Love Saves the Day,” and Mancuso ended up spinning records from midnight until six in the morning. “The idea of being a DJ never crossed my mind,” he says. “I only did it because I was with my friends and we were all into the same music.”

At the end of that first night, Mancuso’s guests—a definitive cross-section of New York’s displaced citizens—made it clear that they wanted more of the same, and within a couple of months the host had succumbed to the inevitability of a weekly party. By the middle of 1971, the events were being referred to as the Loft. “I wasn’t looking for a name,” says Mancuso. “But people started to refer to my space as David’s Loft. It was a given name and I accepted it.”

Mancuso’s subsequent influence on the dance underground is hard to overestimate. The Tenth Floor, the Gallery, 12 West, Reade Street, the Warehouse, and the Paradise Garage were modeled on his private-party template. Club kids such as Nicky Siano, Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, Tony Humphries, and David Morales fell under his aural spell before they proceeded to embark on their own turntablist adventures. Even fellow DJs treated Mancuso’s venue like a place of worship.

Mancuso broke unconventional records like “Girl You Need a Change of Mind” and “Soul Makossa,” yet he was always more of a party engineer than a DJ. He put together the best sound system in New York, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on audiophile technology. He treated his dancers to a sumptuous buffet of energy-enhancing food and fruit punch. He decorated his post-industrial living spaces in the style of a make-believe children’s party. And he defended his house party setup as if his life depended on it, defeating the Department of Consumer Affairs in a precedent-setting battle over his right to party without a cabaret license.

The party host also demonstrated a sixth sense for pioneering new neighborhoods in which to throw a party. Noho had yet to receive its designation when Mancuso moved into 647 Broadway in the mid ’60s, and when the collapse of a neighboring hotel forced him to look for a new space in the summer of 1974, he moved to 99 Prince Street, overcoming the vociferous objections of once bohemian locals en route. “Soho vs. Disco” is how Vince Aletti, writing in the Voice, framed the clash. Disco won.

Mancuso’s next move was calamitous. As his 10-year lease on Prince Street drew to a close, he decided to swap the cobbled climes of Soho for the virtual war zone of Alphabet City, hopeful that outright ownership of his new building on 3rd Street between avenues B and C would help him “leave the landlords behind” and ensure the future of his beloved party. Die-hard devotees—especially Loft women—balked at the area’s notoriously heavy drug traffic and endemic crime, however, and even Mancuso became edgy when federal and city plans to rejuvenate the area evaporated. “I lost 65 percent of my attendance overnight,” he remembers.

Mancuso struggled in his 3rd Street venue until he was forced to close in 1994. The itinerant host then tried his luck on Avenue A, followed by Avenue B, where a shimmering 28th-anniversary celebration contained the promise of rebirth until a fractious landlord forced him into yet another move—this time into rented accommodations that were too tiny to hold a house party.

The onset of AIDS, the inexorable rise of the drum machine, and the hostile tenure of Mayor Giuliani contributed to the impression that Mancuso had fallen out of sync with history. But then David Hill, co-owner of London-based Nuphonic Records, offered to release a compilation of Loft classics, and Mancuso, who needed the money and was impressed by Hill’s perfectionist drive, agreed. The album, David Mancuso Presents the Loft, became Nuphonic’s bestseller and triggered a wave of publicity for the club.

As Mancuso’s legendary status came into focus, invitations to play in Japan, the U.K., Italy, and France poured in. On each trip, the roving “musical host” (Mancuso’s preferred description) broke with conventional DJ’ing practice by agreeing to work with just one promoter and play just one party per city. “Most DJs walk into a gig and do a one- to three-hour slot, and that is it,” he says. “To me that is a fart in a windstorm. I like to help build a party from scratch and create a musical direction.”

Mancuso recently started to put on parties in what has oddly—given its history as the international capital of disco—become the toughest terrain of all: New York. Hiring out a hall near St. Marks Place, he has been attracting the young (mainly Japanese kids) as well as the old (veterans of the Broadway Loft). His 34th-anniversary party in February was a sellout, and last weekend’s Memorial Day party was equally successful.

Loft babies believe that Mancuso is once again putting on the best party in the city. “The best dancing experiences I have ever had have been at the Loft,” says DJ-producer Nicky Siano, who, having drifted away from the New York dance scene in the early 1980s, has made a fairly astonishing comeback himself. “The atmosphere at David’s parties is second to none.”

For some, the Loft has begun to show its age. “I admire David’s active avoidance of the spotlight, and his parties still have an underground feel because of that,” says a comparatively young DJ. “But the majority of the crowd is the same as it was 20 years ago, and they want to hear the old favorites.” Others wonder if Mancuso’s refusal to use a mixer is anachronistic—and if it would be possible for him to pump the sound system just a little bit harder.

But if so many new records don’t measure up to the old, if mixing technology encourages spinners to focus on the micro-detail of how two records blend together rather than the broader canvas of the dancefloor journey, and if clubbers are suffering from unprecedented levels of tinnitus as a result of repeated ear beatings from second-rate sound systems, what is Mancuso to do?

The Loft host’s obsessive pursuit of the perfect party has emerged as a precious antidote to the increasingly stagnant status quo. “The Loft is unique and irresistible,” says veteran DJ-dancer Danny Krivit, whose 718 Sessions are one of the hottest parties in the city at the moment. “It’s about good friends meeting in a homey setting and listening to excellent music on a great sound system. The Loft is timeless.” Mancuso has become not so much an idiosyncratic dinosaur as a prophet from the past who is pointing to a new-old future. Just by standing still.


Tim Lawrence is the author of Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-79 (Duke).

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Books

Tim Lawrence’s disco culture tome is one of the sharpest books on dance music to date, striking a balance between you-are-there club descriptions, socioeconomic analysis, and musical critique. The U.K. author conducted over 300 interviews with early DJs like Francis Grasso, label owners like Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records, and journalists (including the Voice‘s Vince Aletti), for insight into the world he was not a part of, but nevertheless makes vivid.

Lawrence reveals David Mancuso’s Soho Loft parties as the genesis for numerous dance music prototypes: the DJ as shaman, the expertly rendered sound systems, the record pool, and the private invite list. He also adeptly navigates the social split between New York downtown’s underground (as epitomized by the Gallery) and uptown’s mainstream (Studio 54), which continues today.

The book’s one fault is a lack of suspense. Love Saves the Day, like the clubs and records it covers, is cyclical. The stories of each club mirror each other, often differing only by name. He describes the short life spans of ’70s nightclubs, noting that “Venues almost invariably attracted and then lost their core crowds . . . sometimes because a better alternative opened up in another part of town.” Or they were shut down “because city governments decided that enough was enough”—bringing to mind the late-’90s cabaret law scuffles with Giuliani.

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Listings – 2/10/2004

Drum’n’bass hasn’t been the “It” genre in a while, but that doesn’t bother Roni Size, who was once the genre’s “It” boy. Size, along with his Full Cycle and V Records mates, has been operating in his own world, where fractured beats set to a quick-speed time still rule the dancefloor. They bring the funk better than any of the other d’n’b crews, who are still concerned about spooking everyone out with scary basslines and rocky horror shows. The diminutive DJ-producer with the super-sized breakbeats returns to the city for the first time in over five years, visiting the only large venue that aims to please the kids who actually, you know, like music. With MCs Sweet Pea and Risky. Thursday @ 10, Avalon, 662 Sixth Ave, 212.807.7780


With New York’s club scene struggling with laws and lawmakers, it’s no wonder there are so many retrospectives coming out in the form of books and movies, taking a look back at the golden era of house music in New York City (roughly the early ’70s to the early ’80s). In celebration of one such book, Tim Lawrence’s Love Saves the Day, the 718 SESSIONS posse comes together for a group history lesson. DJ Danny Krivit paves the way with the tunes all night long. Sunday @ 6, Deep, 16 W 22nd, 212.978.8869

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God Bless the Child

Todd Graff’s charming boutique film Camp celebrates high school misfits whose means of musical rebellion isn’t indie or emo or undie. Kids excluded from hip teen iconoclasm—too smart for Staind and too ill-shod for Saves the Day. They’re kids who adopt an adult gay male aesthetic—who use show tunes as jock-hipster kryptonite. But while Camp cheers its troupe of outcasts, it also laments the way the world-weariness they’ve copped prevents them from dealing openly with day-to-day adolescent bullshit.

At 19, cabaret wunderkind Nellie McKay hates conformity and hypocrisy at least as much as Linkin Park do. Most of the songs on her debut extol being different. And she is different, even somewhat touched, really. Between a wardrobe that interprets ’30s glamour as ’80s office wear and a repertoire that flips from ethereal vocalese to ersatz Latin ragtime, from baroque swoon to ferocious Eminem approximations, Nellie McKay is certainly not about being hip. A compatriot of East Village quirk merchants like the Trachtenburg Family and Regina Spektor, she was raised in bohemian Harlem by her mother, an actress who palled around with Abbie Hoffman. She lived in Olympia and the Poconos before returning to NYC, where she abandoned music school for gigs at Fez. Sony sent her to record Get Away From Me with Geoff Emerick in hopes of minting a new darling for the NPR set.

Most interviews mention McKay’s fame-lust. You get the feeling that if you stood in her way she might boil your bunny before you could say “to-mah-to.” And at a recent Housing Works bookstore benefit, this one-girl charm offensive beguiled her target audience with a sidelong smile and middle- brow patter, looking radiantly kooky in black tights, middle-management pumps, and a red brocade waistcoat with a fur collar—which, after a prompt by her mom, she assured us wasn’t real.

McKay’s stylistically restless. “David” ‘s spunky variety-show verse, clucking on about clicking off Mr. Bush before slipping into a beerhall croon, leads directly to “Manhattan Avenue,” a smoldering collage where our siren recalls her own mugging at age 10, marveling that “a mugger and a child should share the same paradise.” Just when you think it’s all jazz throwbacks, “Sari” raps over piano rollick, as McKay matter-of-factly elides rapid-fire chatter (“I’m sorry for the mess/The stupid way I dress”) with Sondheim-ish recitative. Who knew? What’s more, she’s got flow. And elevates teenage vitriol to cataclysm as relentlessly as Pink or Sum 41. Onstage, her sturm und drang at times recalls Tori Amos adding her own fragrance to Teen Spirit.

But there’s a nagging sense that Get Away From Me isn’t for Camp kids as much as for their parents—people trying to raise offspring who are fearless and literate. For left-leaners, McKay is a golden child. And she knows it. Sure, some Deanie babies felt pain over the death of Paul Wellstone and are mad that males have “started every war.” But too often McKay seems stuck in the zeitgeist of a 50-year-old—no references to “downloading” or “Britney” or The Bachelor, but rather to “yuppies,” the “Oxygen network,” and “David Hasselhoff.” When she drubs her boyfriend in “It’s a Pose” for his tiresome talk of “Peter Lorre/then a story ’bout AC/DC,” you wanna find her a date who isn’t Nick Hornby. But maybe these laugh lines’ll grub grins from the same download-averse dudes who moved so many units for Norah Jones.

Like Randy Newman, McKay’s not afraid to assume the personae of society’s reprehensibles: society ladies who take their coffee black, then notice, “Hey look, we’re bombing Iraq!”; a vixen who admonishes a lover to “salute the flag or I’ll call you a fag.” But unlike Newman or Stephin Merritt, her characterizations are short on nuance and empathy, and her literate wit isn’t (yet?) sharp enough to mask her self-congratulation. A sympathetic portrayal of a grief-stricken cat owner in the daffy, theme-songish “Ding Dong” contrasts with deep condescension leveled at the protagonist of “I Wanna Get Married,” who muses, “I need to cook meals/I wanna pack cute little lunches for my Brady Bunches/And read Danielle Steele.” [laugh at woman here]

But “Married” ‘s got some devastating images too, some killer melodic resolves, and transporting vocal brio. And though laden with hoke, McKay’s love song to her double, “Clonie,” carries a whiff of McGarrigle whimsy. “Waiter,” an ethereal Nordic disco-pop anomaly, swirls into harpy heaven and then dissolves into a wistful-robot turnaround on “nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina.” She’s refreshingly weird, all right. And you get the feeling that—if her narcissism doesn’t eat her lyricism—one day she may spring out of her sanctioned teacup, exploding like a supernova Alanis in a jagged little wig-out. And then, come away with her we shall.

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Books

As the title of a classic album by defunct foursome the Promise Ring, Nothing Feels Good defined an aesthetic that has actually become rare in emo: the celebration of feeling-qua-feeling. Today, fans of the platinum-selling Dashboard Confessional use indie rock and sprawling, cyber-social networks to help cope with—and sometimes further churn—mixed emotions. Greenwald, a senior contributing writer at Spin and acquaintance of mine, chronicles emo’s trajectory and how the Web has bolstered it. He focuses on teenagers who thrive on typically adolescent turbulence, whether they find it by joining kid-id-driven online communities like makeoutclub.com or downloading Saves the Day songs.

Which is not to say that Greenwald gets any of this, including the Promise Ring, wrong. I was just knocking his book’s title. While dry for those not interested in Blake Schwarzenbach’s mid-’90s personal turmoil (which, as an unreconstructed emo boy, I find fascinating) or Chris Carraba’s after-show antics (one beer! staying up past three talking quietly!), the book will engross young fans and the culturally curious with its blend of filthy gossip, detailed research, sturdy analysis, and—most important—empathy. The music and message boards of today’s messy teen lives rarely make this much sense.