“I hadn’t played a live show with a band in like four years, almost, and I felt like this is the time,” said Cassie Ramone, the longtime Brooklyn indie rock guitarist practically grinning inside an oversized blazer that, with tights, completed her mockup of Britney Spears’ schoolgirl outfit circa “‘…Baby One More Time.”
Ramone was making her return in Bushwick, playing covers of the big Spears records over Halloween weekend, as part of a group gathered by one Charmaine Querol, herself dressed in an approximation of the pop singer’s bright, red latex. “We all love Britney equally,” reports Querol. She would know, as she had assembled what the club had booked as “Nevva, Vivian Girls + More,” the former a local band Querol drums for, which released a debut EP two years ago. The Vivians are perhaps more well-known – “for a time, it was the most exciting band in the city,” Jon Caramanica once wrote in the Times – but haven’t toured since before the pandemic.
On stage, the group would shred through a decade of the hits, going through multiple costume changes and achieving particularly profundity in a shoegazed-out version of “Womanizer,” which felt newly definitive, at least in a Brooklyn kind of way. Other notable performances that night included local Our Wicked Lady-regular Maya Lucia cranking out Kate Bush covers with a band dressed in bonnets, a nod to Bush’s somewhat forgotten hit 1980 single “Babooshka,” and a local glam rock project called Leone, performing energetically heavy metal takes on the No Doubt catalog. As one promoter mused, “It’s really a who’s who of these Bushwick bands.”
“I remember getting out of the station at Jefferson fifteen years ago, it was snowing and there was nothing. There was a warehouse, the subway station and Northeast Kingdom,” recalls Briana Layon, another of the group dressed in Britney garb. Ramone recollects her youth in nearby Williamsburg: “I had an arts studio on Metropolitan and Kent and I was paying 250 a month for it,” she says. “Now I feel like I’m on acid everytime I go there now.”
“The scene 15-20 years ago was very, very cool and I wouldn’t know if it’s cool now or not but it was really, really cool back then. There were less rules or something, which I liked,” says Ramone.
Enthusiasm, at least of the variety practiced by Mr. Caramanica, was in no short supply.
“There’s a lot of really cool music coming out of Bushwick right now. Very inventive songwriting, great lyrics, lots of heavy guitar and stuff happening right now,” reported Kaitlin Pelkey, one of the leading figures in an outfit formed during the pandemic called Big Girl, whose debut album “Big Girl vs. GOD” came out this past June out of a local label called Weird Sister Records. (“Sick and tired of the white dude music business machine, Weird Sister strives for a healthier label model to serve as a safer space for women, trans, and non-binary people in creative industries.”) A grab-bag of big, slashing guitar riffs, Pelkey told me “what we make is theatrical rock and roll, but officially we call it indie rock so we can get people in the door,” which perhaps explains the description of “Beths, Phoebe Bridgers, and Caroline Rose” on their bandcamp page.
The group was actually headlining the night, where for the second Halloween in a row, they would be singing the works of ABBA, an experience the band enthusiastically recommends, “It’s nice when everyone is singing the lyrics back at you, even if it’s ABBA,” says one. Last year, the six-member ensemble had put this one on on the far smaller confines of the Broadway, near the Bed-Stuy boarder. The move to Brooklyn Made, a new club built on Troutman Street by erstwhile Live Nation executive Anthony Makes, gives them more room to shake out and bongo relentlessly to “Dancing Queen.”
“They want to book more local bands, they’re really excited that they had two local shows back to back,” says Shannon Minor, who had put both shows together under a booking operationla she runs called Hot Cool Girl Presents. The night before had been a double billing of local psych-rawkers Castle Rat and Evolfo, the latter most recommended for their 2016 record “Moon Eclipsed the Sun.” The position gives Minor a certain eagle-eye view of what the local scene looks like and she’s hopeful this sudden interest from Makes can expand that scene from “the triangle of Broadway, Our Wicked Lady and TV-Eye.”
Playing for the first time there was Maggie Denning, singer for a four-piece outfit called Tetchy, repeatedly described as “grunge” and playing SXSW next year and last. Genre modifiers didn’t hold her group back, however, from taking on the catalog of Charli XCX, delivered via electro-metal versions of some of the last decade’s big volume-smashers, like “I Love It.”
Working by day at Columbia University on “a harm-reduction based treatment tool for folks living with HIV,” Denning says that the body and trauma are recurring motifs. An interview last year on the blog Post-Trash is headlined: “Dealing With Trauma, and More.”
“All my songs are really personal moments, snapshots of me and about really big feelings and all of that comes from trauma and grief processing places,” she says.
Photos taken by Andrew Karpan.
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