Soulwax tore the house down last night. Show of the Year So Far… but before I get to that, as usual, a digression.
The last time I tried to go to a Polish club in Greenpoint was the summer of 1998 and the bouncers at Club Europa wouldn’t let my friend Andy in because he was wearing shorts. We ended up at some other bar where, it turned out, we also weren’t welcome and all the patrons chanted "get out!" while "Hit the Road Jack" just happened to be playing on the jukebox. "Listen to the song!" yelled one of the many solo drinkers in the place as we skulked out.
That was what went through my mind as I walked over to Studio B, a former Polish disco on the desolate corner of Meserole and Banker, that’s been turned into a hipster disco — though the only change I’m guessing is the music played and the talent booked. For example, tonight was Soulwax (the live band alter-ego of Belgian mashup kings 2 Many DJs) and upstarts The Klaxons, who I’d seen on Tuesday at Club Midway and was hoping would play with better sound.
I showed up around 11:15 to find a couple different long lines and little organization. Having weasled my way onto a guestlist, I asked the bouncer what the deal was; he told me to go to the end of the big, long line. I did, but then thought better of it and went back up and asked a girl who was also working the line who let me in right away. Then I find out I’m not on the list (from what I was told, I was far from the only one) but I was able to pay and go in and not have to stand in the Big Long Line.
Anyway, Studio B. As mentioned a paragraph or two earlier, it felt like a Polish disco though it was now quite the scene, reminding me of what I thought, before I moved here, NYC clubs would be like. My impression was formed entirely from Bright Lights Big City and Less Than Zero (and yes I know that was set in LA). It was huge and the chemical smell of smoke machines was pervasive in the air.
The Klaxons had just taken the stage as I walked in and I’m happy to report the sound was indeed better than at Club Midway. Way better. But I’m not sure it helped. Playing on a proper stage, with good lighting and a good PA showed just how young and inexperienced a band they were. I now think the Midway show was better — smaller, more in-your-face. Part of the problem for me was the drummer was too far back on the stage and you couldn’t see him. It just zaps the energy. They finished their half-hour set with "Gravity’s Rainbow" which finally got the crowd going. No doubt they’ve got some good songs, but as a live band they’re just not there yet.
In contrast, Soulwax have it down to a science and had the packed room bouncing the entire time. Despite having and liking both 2004’s Any Minute Now (who can forget the fantastic video for "E Talking") and last year’s electro-heavy Night Versions, I had zero expectations going in. But dear god, what a show.
While musically doing a different thing, Soulwax rival LCD Soundsystem in their ability to bring electronic music to life in a live setting. Or to put it another way, they absolutely rocked. (How many ways will I write a variation on that statement? Read on.) Why did it work so well? A perfect blend of skill, material, presentation and volume.
Looking like cricketers in matching white outfits, the band came out silently and immediately got down to business. Mastermind brothers Stephen and David Deweale manned vintage analogue synths, with a rock-solid rhythm section beside them. No problem seeing the drummer here — his kit was at the front of the stage (why don’t all band’s do this?), set up sideways, facing the rest of the band. (Also a LCD Soundsytem parallel; along with using the same kind of old-timey vocal mike.) Soulwax then proceeded to play Night Versions in its entirety. No stage banter. No breaks between songs to tune instruments or fiddle with keyboard settings. Just an hour-long, nonstop dance party. The light show was simple but effective, with yellow and white strobes going off from time to time. Classy.
Did I mention the crowd was going bonkers? As my friend Dorrit put it, paint was peeling off the walls and faces were melting. I was up near the stage and at first I thought it was just the front rows, but then I turned around and the whole club was going mental. It was one of those trancendent, in-the-moment happenings that can make even a rock purist believe. (Not that I am a rock purist.)
Studio B’s smoke machines helped a lot too.
It also made one aging, drunk blonde believe she was at Flashdancers. This woman climbed on the edge of the stage, initially sitting on the stage-right speakers beside the drummer. She would kick out her leg and slide her hand suggestively up it. Eventually she stood up and started gyrating and, for one jaw-dropping minute, dropped her pants and waved her thonged ass at the crowd. I mean, as long as she was enjoying it, right? But… yikes.
Lots of cameras at the show but so far no pictures to be found on Flickr. This crowd shot swiped from Skaterdays photostream.