Chilling to the bands: The Crane Building "Grey Area" at Liquid's Winterfest '07 ((photo: Josh Marowitz)


reviewed by
James Rosenthal

We were there to see the Bunnydrums and to support InLiquid which we did by eating some great food and buying loads of raffle tickets (though our attempts at trying to win a Bunnydrums T-shirt and CD were in vain). We lost every single raffle and, in the end, I had to buy my daughter a Bunnydrums t-shirt. Suffice it to say, she likes bunnies and was so patient (while her old man watched the bands that had released records in his formative years) that I was convinced she deserved a reward. We were both impressed by the band from Brooklyn, Bell Hollow, and I bought their CD after the show. It is now serves as an excellent reminder of the event. Their sound is atmospheric and jagged at the same time and harked back to the early eighties. Doesn’t everything? I didn’t realize how much until I recently played an Echo and the Bunnymen record. Love that baritone. I know I really shouldn’t be into Interpol and Editors (should I?) but it is like reliving the glory days where we all wore long overcoats with Joy Division buttons. I asked the Bell Hollow singer if he’d heard about the exciting Philly/Brooklyn cultural connection. He had not.

It was also interesting to see the new show at Nexus because it included an image of yours truly giving the finger. Now, when was that taken? This flag piece on vinyl was produced by none other than the charming and talented director of Nexus, Nick Cassway, for a show that included all the members of Nexus and displayed a great variety of work. They surely seemed to be responding to their new space in a dynamic way. Called Newton’s First Law, it addressed his ideas about uniform motion never stopping. That is quite a complex topic pour moi but it looked good. The show may have been a little hard to interpret at one go, but was certainly making all kinds of interconnected statements.

The Ice Box space had MFA grad work up from my alma mater, RISD, so I gravitated there to see if there was any continuity in teaching style over the decades. I assumed all my professors were dead but gallerist Larry Becker corrected me: “What about Dale Chihuly and Jamie Carpenter?” I was only kidding, but apparently, the truth is that they are not all dead. We agreed that the inimitable Richard Merkin was still alive and his colorful work often livens up articles in the New Yorker magazine. Richard Merkin was my painting instructor one year at RISD. He was known mostly for being on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album. It’s all true -- he was a friend of the cover’s designer, artist Peter Blake. During this discussion, a wave of nostalgia came over me and not all of it pleasant. I went off thinking that some people have a completely different conception of what an artist is and should do with their life. My professors were proto-Me Generation and they took both narcissism and experimenting to an extreme. They preached an elitism. As a student, I didn’t get it, but some of my peers did. They dug themselves, sported black drainpipes, and the lucky ones spun their work into careers teaching. Of course, most didn’t make it. I sure didn’t.

Mr. Becker also told me that he represents the lead singer of the Bunnydrums, David Geirk, which I didn’t know. Nor did I know that Mr. Geirk works for Pace Wildenstein in NY. I know this is gossip but, wow, I was impressed. It must be a luxury to follow two callings that are meaningful to you. I will definitely check out his next show at Becker gallery. As the band played, my mood improved a bit and I saw that Music and Art are still strongly linked.

The art from the MFA grads at RISD looked fine in the Ice Box space and I’m challenged to say what yardstick I should apply to it. It could pass for a contemporary group anywhere except for the decidedly strong bias for painting. It was not cutting edge because that would involve some distancing from the traditional compulsion to paint, which is decidedly archaic. Imagine that, expecting students to be cutting edge. When did art have the same attributes as Rock and Roll? Obviously, in some quarters it can be said that a contentious backward glance is a sort of forward looking position. Sounds like an age old problem actually! One guy was really doing a thorough impression of Philip Guston and who better to emulate. Elsewhere, there were many topical tropes going on; faux naif, minimal abstraction, middle of the road fantasy stuff and a few sort of biomorphic things. There was even some serious straight painting with a hint of implied narrative. When I say straight painting, I refer to brushwork and impasto that takes into account the total history of painting all at once. It is not easy to do without looking derivative but why can’t a student be derivative now and again? The most contemporary thing was the colorful cut-out pieces of foam or plastic stuck to the wall. There was another free standing version on the floor. Work like this is commonplace, very 21st century, but I liked it because it was so unassuming. A wild Goya-esque etching of a demonic sex scene stood out as something that could have been produced in any generation in the past 200 years but it had a visual something going for it, clever borrowing but not full scale rip-off. I left thinking I’d like to look at the work again and see the CVs more closely.

Back to the music performance. The Bunnydrums were good, but Bell Hollow, in retrospect, stole the show. While they played, I admired the cool Epiphone bass and my daughter checked out the black clothing with bits of chrome. The singer was charming and wore admiringly tight NY-style drainpipes. It nice to know that certain standards are being kept in Brooklyn, New York. Next up, the Bunnydrums. It wasn’t all the original members – not that I would know – and they were joined by the amazing Byard Lancaster, a jazz player with many credits to his name. They announced they would keep the show subdued because of the overly ‘live’ room. That was a good idea; it was only 4 pm in the afternoon, after all. Byard started with a crazy soprano sax solo version of Over the Rainbow. The band joined in with reverb-y drums and distant ringing guitars and there it was, that arty downtown rock I’ve always loved. The jagged guitar thing mixed with warped jazz and the odd tape/computer loop. You can’t go wrong. There’s no verse/chorus but a compelling twisting groove is produced which they chant over. I like it when people get a chance for a second time around. We stayed for the whole set and then found out we lost the raffle. All in all, a swell afternoon.

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