With the promise of a free show and a chance to see a new venue, I couldn’t resist the urge to head out to Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg Tuesday night. If you haven’t been there, and you’re wondering about its name, well yes – it is a bowling alley. With its 23,000 square feet, 16 bowling lanes, a swanky lounge area, and a sizeable performance space, Brooklyn Bowl certainly is a strange and wonderful place. Did I mention that it also holds up to 600 people in the show space? Or that it uses wind-powered electricity and LED stage lights? Or that the building dates back to 1882? Crazy.
Sure, it’s kind of a weird concept: listening to a band play while bowling (or while watching others bowl in the adjoining space), but it’s also kind of sweet.
Photo: Adam Macchia
The line-up Tuesday night was also exciting. Two buzz-artists – Kurt Vile and Small Black – were on the bill. Kurt Vile had been floating around in my consciousness since this past Spring (1), and I recently downloaded the Small Black EP and enjoyed it (2).
When I arrived at BB at 9:45 for the 8:00 show and saw no one on stage and very few people in the pit, I was initially worried that I had missed one or both acts, but no more than 30 seconds later, Small Black walked on stage and people suddenly flooded the floor as if on cue in a movie.
Small Black performing at Cake Shop for CMJ Photo: Kyle Dean Reinford
Though they haven’t been around for long, the guys in Small Black seemed right at home on stage, but unlike some other bands (Crystal Stilts *ahem*), they did not exhibit a holier than thou air at all. They just seemed genuinely happy and comfortable with their surroundings as they bobbed along on the roomy stage in time to the music. Small Black is a strange hybrid of the pre-produced electronica scene and dreamy, scuzzy lo-fi indie pop. Yes, they use a drum machine, but they also incorporate live drumming over the synthetic-sounding beat, which was a strange… but satisfying combo. The Brooklyn quartet sounded good and made it all look effortless and fun.
Initially, I admit the English major in me was a bit miffed by the odd construction of their name (Two adjectives? Really? Small Black… what?) But it grew on me. Maybe their choice of a name was a joke. After all, the Color + noun (especially black) formula seems ubiquitous now. (3)
Next up was Kurt Vile.
Take a good look at the photo above. Notice it only features half of Vile’s face. Still, this is pretty much more of him than you’ll see during the course of one of his shows. Vile hides behind that head of hair of his as he quietly sings over his banjo/guitar. Often, Vile plays with a band – The Violators – but for this show, he was solo.
In demeanor and appearance, the Philly native comes across as an awkward teenage loner growing up in the early 90s, but his music is anything but grunge or punk. It is more akin to a weird mix of Southern roots music and psychedelic folk. At times, on his most recent album, God is Saying This To You, he sounds like a wise and weathered troubadour. But playing from that humongous stage at Brooklyn Bowl, he seemed out of place. His is the music you should hear in a small, intimate venue. Maybe you’re sitting at candle-lit tables, or maybe you’re even seated Indian style on the floor. Heck, for the full effect, maybe you should hire him to play on your great Uncle’s dilapidated porch in Louisiana. Suffice it to say that the sound of the bowling pins crashing in the distance was suddenly distracting, and the cavernous space surrounding Vile on stage was just weird. The guy has talent. Heck, he’s signed to Matador. I just hope that the next time I see him, it’s in a more appropriate setting.
(1) See how here.
(2) Small Black is also a nominee for the “Best Hope for 2010” category in Pitchfork’s end of the year poll.
(3) The Black Dice, Black Keys, Black Mountain, Bright Black Morning Light, Black Sabbath, Black Eyed Peas, Black Kids, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club