Words and Pictures by Rachel Balik
Tommy Tavern's is an anomaly in Greenpoint, a neighborhood gentrifying faster than you can say "is the G train running this weekend?" It's more dive bar than you'll find almost anywhere; the kind of place where your vodka tonic is a glass of rubbing alcohol topped with a splash of stale sugar water. Two dollar Schaffer's are the house specialty and the only thing in the place that has been replaced or cleaned in the last decade is a shiny digital juke box, which spews Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, and if you're lucky, Queen. At the back of the bar is a door that could lead to a closet but instead opens into a amorphous room painted in haphazard crimson. Inside is the bar's bathroom, and a "stage". When I entered, the lead guitarist of the night’s headliner, Pop. 1280, was collecting money at the door. The vibe in the room was pretension-free. Everyone was just waiting for the music, noticing little else.
When it started, it became clear that the raw, ambivalent space was a perfect cocoon for the aggressive, acute and omnipresent sounds of the four bands. The White Suns kicked off their set with noise music that was different than any I'd heard before. The three band members operated in a violent dance of rhythmic interplay with nearly melodic undertones, and the performance was controlled chaos; wild but sharp. The tone shifted with the Chickens and Hot Guts, both Philadelphia-based bands that truly capture the essence of post-punk, piercing through current murk of new-wave pop allegedly reminiscent of Joy Division. Hot Guts filled the dank space with undulating, echoing vocals and the Chickens alighted the walls with staccato and danceable machine-generated drumbeats.
The ballooning energy was suspended in the static air when Pop. 1280 began playing. They started simply, sliding into a viscerally wrenching performance marked by the earthy vocals of Chris Bug and the grinding, whining guitar of Ivan Lip. The bass of John Skultrane channeled eerie irksome drudges of every day life and Andrew, on the drums, reminded us what a throbbing headache entails. When the four parts come together, and the band emerges, somehow we're reminded of why, despicable as it is, we're willing to accept that we're alive. The band has a strange ability to go on the attack without acknowledging the presence of its victims. Chris Bug thrashed off-stage and surfed the room, but somehow, although fully in the crowd, was never with the crowd. The band played as though on the verge of breaking the sound barrier, but couldn't give less of a crap whether they ever do. Fortunately, it was enough to drown out the Whitney Houston in the front room.
The show ended abruptly but impassively, as Ivan Lip staggered upstage to knock over the drum. The crash was more peaceful than the underlying music. When the lights came on they seemed to signify the end of just another nasty New York dream.
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