An unCMJ night at XPO 929

What can I say about the re-vamped XPO 929 that I couldn’t say about the former Party Expo?  Well, there’s a chandelier.  And the walls are black!  Matte black. As if everything was covered in gaffer’s tape.  There’s a pool table.  There’s what I would describe as a clear “standing-pod” off to one side, in which you could stand if the mood struck.  But most importantly, there’s large bar running the length of the left wall.  That’s a huge improvement for anyone who visited the old Party Expo in it’s waning prohibition days, a time when patrons were viciously foo-fooed for BYOBing but then fuck it you’ve already bought a six pack of tall cans so like secret frat boys or teens at a Young Life retreat you periodically sneak off to the bathroom to shotgun a can or two. 

Tonight, the guy at the door was nice enough to lay a couple drink tickets on me so I hit the bar first.  Glancing around back there for the beer selection I can’t help but notice the prominent microwave / toaster oven setup whose use was to remain unclear throughout the night.  Remembering the folding sign out front said something about beer and shot I order that. Dude hands me a Rolling Rock (kudos, no joke I love RR) and a little cup of what seems like vodka but what I later learn to be Soju, a low proof Korean liquor that’s a creative if not very tasty way around not having a proper liquor license. So I’m all set.  I know where I am, I have a drink, and I’ve been so caught up in the microwave/pod vibe I hardly noticed there’s a band playing.

I tune in for a minute but it sounds like stripped down late period nu-metal or something that could come out on a compilation CD next to Powerman 5000 so I don’t necessarily want to.  I try to take a look at the stage hoping for some visual inspiration, but my view from the bar is blocked by a cowboy hat.

I rule out a potential western-wear resurgence when I realize this guy’s prolly 50 and not in a “I’m 50 and cause I did too much acid I now live in Bushwick” kinda way.  More like a dad 50 kinda way.  Broadening my scope to the crowd it seems like somebody invited their whole family.  Over yonder you got hippie pants mom and creepy vest uncle.  This one guy with a receding pony tail is vibing with a notably kinetic and earnest dance and when I look back in front of me cowboy hat dad is going all bobble head.  This is probably the most genuine enthusiasm I’ve seen at a Brooklyn venue in a while, especially during the early ‘text your friends and update Facebook’ part of the night.  Highly refreshing fare.

The aged audience wasn’t a huge surprise since I knew the bill included The Wharton Tiers Ensemble.  There’s a video on their website where you could determine as much about their fan base. Wharton himself was born in 1953, but seeing him you wouldn’t know that: dude has been blessed with that Iggy Pop been there done (all) that but somehow youthful complexion.  There could be a bit of the fan boy clouding my judgement as well.  While I can’t verify the musical resume of cowboy dad, I know Wharton Tiers engineered and produced some massive records out of his now defunct Fun City Studios.  Notables include early Sonic Youth, all the Dinosaur Jr. records that you care about, Helmet’s punishing 90s output, and multiple works with composer Glenn Branca.  That’s the shortlist; his Discogs entry is huge and warrants further investigation.

The ensemble takes the stage around 11PM.  Maybe he does this at every show, but it feels spontaneous when he sets up his drums at the front of the stage with his back facing the audience.  He’s got the kit setup in about 2 minutes, and watches with a congenial puppet master’s smile as his acolytes assemble in a ring before him.  There are 4 guitarists and a bass player, all of whom are rapt in brow furrowed tuning and plugging.  Earlier sets in the evening (like a lot of sets in 2012) were laced with backing tracks and short on musicians, so it feels almost theatrical to see so many people on stage.  Taking them as a crew, I instantly think…bookstore employees!  It’s an apt description.  They seem like highly educated outsiders, bound together by a certain camaraderie, who are all wearing relatively baggy jeans.

The band launches into a tight, driven groove that sounds like a punked up version of the campy 60’s Batman theme, and  whatever the group lacks in sharp style they make up for in performative flare. There’s this one searing chick with a cool Berlin haircut and hot red SG who’s got the perfect power straddle.  One guy with long hair (if this were a bookstore he’d be the D&D fanatic) has a whole arsenal of gape mouthed rock faces and well timed hollers.  The bass player hitting notes with little Pete Townsend flourishes and hopping around Wharton’s drum set.  Just to see 5 people on guitars without shame or pressure of being the alone on stage, totally “rocking” in their own distinct styles is pure entertainment.   And like any good drummer, Wharton spends his arms akimbo and constantly head banging.  He’s super solid, and he owns every aspect of this group.  After a few songs it really begins to sink in that this is an engineer’s band.  Hearing the mix of 4 guitars on 4 different amps and is like hearing the live version of a Steve Albini record.  There’s a really snappy electricity that demands attention.

This is an “un” CMJ showcase but when Wharton wraps up and headliners ZZZs take the stage in their black centric, beautifully styled outfits I start to feel the potential “buzz” cloud amassing within me.  The band is great.  The guitarist plays squelching noise leads over a really solid backbone.  But in the wake of the purity of the Wharton Tiers experience, I’m left feeling like any approach to them would be too whorishly CMJ to be appropriate.

A couple songs in and it’s getting late now for a Tuesday, after 1AM anyway, late for a show.  The old folks have mostly cleared out and made way for lone, wandering men in leather jackets.  The desperate wolf desire is thick, leaping out towards these girls.  I’m getting creeped out and anyway Rolling Rock and Soju doesn’t make a very good dinner.  Hungry and with no word on the mysterious toaster oven, which would finally come in handy, I’m homeward bound.


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