Monday, April 02, 2007

New Wave Nostalgia

Last Friday a friend asked me what I was doing for the upcoming weekend, so I told her that I was going to a club in Brooklyn to see a bill that included the Speedies and the Neighborhoods, a few punk bands I had seen back in their/my heyday, and I jokingly called it an exercise in pure nostalgia. Little did I know how fitting that description was, because when we stepped into Southpaw, the small club in yuppified, hipsterized Park Slope, it was indeed a true time warp, with most of the patrons sporting spiky or shaggy haircuts and wearing skinny ties, buttons, badges and other authentic-looking accouterments from the new wave era. All I had was my leather jacket and the actual memories from that time period.

The concert featured six bands on the bill and was the second of four nights of what Southpaw was calling a Power Pop Festival. We were really there only to see the last two groups: the Neighborhoods, the legendary Boston trio who would be going on fifth, and then Brookyn's own Speedies, who would close things out. I had seen the Neighborhoods at Hurrah’s waaaa-aaaay back in March of ’79, my very first punk show...mind-blowing, life-altering...and judging by the youth of the crowd, it had to be a first for a lot of kids that night. The Speedies were best known for a handful of singles, including 1979’s terrific Lemme Take Your Foto b/w No Substitute. I don’t think they even had a whole album to their credit. The Neighborhoods also were best known for a single 45: the tremendous No Place Like Home b/w Prettiest Girl released in 1980, which features great lines like:

"Mom and Dad are so frightnin'
Every day's a crisis
Dad comes home and he's nervous
The air's so thick you can't breathe!"


"My best friend is my hi-fi
At Thirty-Three and Forty-Fi-Yi-Yive!"

The Neighborhoods did release a few albums, including 1987’s overlooked
Reptile Men, but nothing that matched the blistering intensity of that initial single.

Johnny Star had done his research before the show, reading the group bio on the Speedies Website and discovering how the band members had gone on to have interesting careers after they dissolved around 1981. One guy made a lot of money working for Apple Computer, where he helped design the QuickTime video system; the drummer became a lawyer and then a judge; while another member became a photographer and a professor at Yale University. Also, Hewlett Packard bought the rights to Foto and plans to feature the song in an upcoming TV commercial campaign. Surely not your typical postpunk-breakup story! But then again, after playing in a few fledgling bands of my own, I grew up to become whatever it is I am, while Johnny Star became a NYC fireman, and various other friends from that scene went back to school or became chefs, limo drivers, carpenters' wives…

The first four bands were of varying quality, but one group, the Baby Shakes, did stand out: three young Asian girls in matching black&white outfits playing loud&fast/melodic Ramones-style songs and looking exceedingly cute in the process. I took some cell phone pics but alas they’re pretty blurry.

Also ran into Lyn at the bar, who was part of the New York new wave band The Comateens back in the day along with Nik North (nee Nick Dembling), who I worked with later at the Wall Street Transcript. Just another of the night’s funny coincidences I guess but it seemed to all make sense.

It was just like old times as we took our place in the crowd near the stage, sweating and laughing and singing along with everyone else. There’s still nothing quite like the rush of good live music. Between sets I would get some air outside, grubbing smokes from the young hipsters, reminiscing with older former punks nearer my own demographic, and checking out the hot young punk chicks dressed in their carefully cultivated customes of spandex, leather, fishnet stockings and spike heels. Still works for me.

My one little nit to pick is that the Speedies managed to cram around 10 songs into their set, but somehow overlooked my favorite, No Substitute, with the catchy but cynical Buzzcocks-like chorus,

"Girls in love they don't exist!"

After their set we caught up with Allen, the Speedies drummer and now a Supreme Court judge, outside the club. We busted his balls about the band not playing No Substitute, but he said the band didn’t have time to "re-learn" all the old tunes in time for their first show in almost 30 years. True, the beginning of No Substitute does have an intricate drum intro, but still... It would be like seeing Grandmaster Flash live and they decided to play The Message but not White Lines! Unacceptable.

While the Speedies’ set was very sloppy but fun, the Neighborhoods, with all three original members alive and intact (no small feat given the passage of time), sounded almost as tight as they did nearly three decades earlier -- bouncing around the stage with the same manic energy that characterized their old sets. Unlike the Speedies, the 'Hoods rightly played both sides of their best-known single, as well as the best song (Pure & Easy) from Reptile Men. It was a night where everything seemed to come full circle.