“It’s like we’re slowly waking out of a dream, but the key word is slowly,” Ron Gallo said on Friday, in the middle of his last set on a busy week. It had brought him twice to the roof of Turk’s Inn, a kitsch Middle East-by-way-of-the Middle West eatery that, like most of the neighborhood, has been quietly shuttered most late nights in Bushwick over the past year. But as music festivals and Broadway shows have begun to announce detailed lineups for the COVID-less future to come, Turk’s Inn — through its music venue arm, colorfully called Sultan’s Room — is among the small collection of venues that have jumped the gun and have already started throwing concerts on their roof, which sits above the still-closed venue below where acts like Hop Along singer Frances Quinlan and Big Thief guitarist Buck Mill have stopped by since its opening in 2019.
After a few weeks running local bands like the Brooklyn retro-rock act Native Sun and a local funk singer named Jachary, Sultan’s Room quickly progressed to touring acts of regional interest. It’s an idea of normalcy that remains rare in the city, where live concerts have been officially permitted since early April but few local venues have taken up the call. Neighboring venues like Elsewhere have run vigorous virtual concerts but kept their roof open primarily to quiet DJ acts and seated campaign events. After the State Liquor Authority shut down the House of Yes last year, Kae Burke, one of its co-owners, told the Journal last month that it’s “not financially viable” to book shows amid the current capacity restrictions, which would not permit “high energy physical interaction.”
But the problem didn’t bother Gallo, who scored an indie radio hit a few years ago and has managed to have something of a busy pandemic. Shortly after it started, he secured a plug in Rolling Stone for a series on home concerts he had started on Instagram Live called ‘#staythefuckhome.’ Now he was one of the first to leave home, playing no fewer than three shows over as many days between Bushwick and Philadelphia. After he departs this one, he will play outdoor shows in Columbus and then Nashville.
The shows in Bushwick were split into two a night and, like most of the few concerts held over the last month, they very quickly sold out. While venue owners may be wary of how and when to open doors, it seems there remains an active audience that’s excited to hear music from their seats. There was still a striking ordinariness to show, nonetheless, as if nothing had changed at all. In lieu of stamping hands for entry, with the same gestures, someone at the door was checking temperatures. “It’s like only offices are closed,” one man told them.
Delegated to their socially distanced tables, the atmosphere upstairs was less like a rock show than a gentle evening of entertainment not unlike the wave of rooftop stand up comedy shows that have quietly taken over the Bushwick night sky. The record that Gallo was touring on had been recorded at home over the course of the pandemic and was a departure from the Nuggets-style garage rock that he had taken to music festivals back in 2017. There were loose acoustic jams, vaguely tropical beats and a song called “CANCELED!.” According to a press release, he was joined on stage by his “now-wife and collaborator” Chiara D’Anzieri, who had also opened for Gallo and records under the sobriquet Chick Pee, which will be putting out a full length record sometime later this year. Gallo’s record had already been released — ‘PEACEMEAL’ on New West Records — and had been the product of “a period of reinvention via self-embrace.”
The material was oddly fitting for an evening of sitting down, waiting in line for drinks and then sitting down again. Its aggressively conversational lyrics felt indicative of a pandemic spent listening, rapt, to a fearful interior monologue. Midway through, when Gallo switched to playing some of his older material, some members in the audience suddenly started grooving hard in place and others stood up at their tables and remained there for the next song or two before awkwardly sitting down.
As for the Sultan’s Room, the shows are going on. Rubblebucket frontman Alex Toth has two sold out shows over the next week and the former lead vocalist of a disco act called Escort, Adeline Michèle, will be playing next month to an already sold out crowd.
“It’s nice to re-enter society,” Gallo said before leaving the stage.
Top photo credit: Andrew Karpan
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