Sunday, September 07, 2008

Unforeseen Musical Directions

If, as Kurt Vonnegut said, "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God," then what can be said about unexpected concert tickets at the last minute? That's what happened to me on Friday night as I found myself taking in the Airborne Toxic Event at Roseland Ballroom, a group that I had never, ever heard before at a concert venue that I had never, ever been to.

Turns out my friend Steve had an extra ticket to the show. For the last few weeks he had been jacked up about seeing Airborne Toxic Event and since his taste in music is almost a mirror image of my own, I jumped at the chance to see some good live rock & roll in what some still call the Big City.

We had less than zero interest in the first band going on at 8, so instead we hit a midtown bar for a cold one, getting back to Roseland just in time, literally as the band took the stage for their first song. One thing the band had going in their favor was that the name Airborne Toxic Event was taken from one of my all-time favorite books:
"The band takes its name from the postmodern novel White Noise, by Don DeLillo, which won the National Book Award in 1985. In the book, a chemical spill from a railcar releases a poisonous cloud, dubbed by the military as an “airborne toxic event.” This serves as a metaphorical device for the novel’s themes of mortality and media consumption, as the protagonist Jack Gladney is forced to confront the prospect of his own death."
ATE was actually second on the bill, with Scottish band The Fratellis headlining. The Airborne lineup was your standard 2 guitars, bass and drums, but the 5th member happened to be an electric violin player, a modern day Scarlet Rivera if you like, who also played keyboards and tambourine. Something about the arrangements as well as the lead singer's raspy vocals immediately reminded me of Arcade Fire, judging by the 4 or 5 songs that I know of that band.

After about the 3rd song, the singer mentioned that the Roseland air conditioner had stopped working that very morning, and indeed the place was not only like a sauna, but served the exact same purpose as one, drenching band and audience alike in a sheen of sweat, yet unlike, say, a packed rush hour subway platform with no AC, somehow this felt just right. The lead singer/rhythm guitarist, whether intentionally or not, had that Joe Strummer chopping at the guitar strings while backing away from the mike stand move down pat, but I guess if you're gonna emulate someone as a rhythm guitarist, Strummer's not a bad monkey to ape.

Airborne Toxic Event only has one album out, so the set lasted for just short of an hour, then a long break of 40 minutes or so before the main act, the Fratellis, hit the stage. We took the opportunity to get some air in the lobby, where I saw something that may turn out to be an amazing coincidence.

I had passed by the place hundreds of times, but had never set either foot inside Roseland Ballroom, which was a famous ballroom dancing place from the 1920s until the '60s. It's a huge, cavernous place, pretty much kept intact from those old days.

Here's your irony alert. I had just spoken to my friend Anthony on my way to the concert about an hour before I met Steve, his brother Matty and their friend John in front of Roseland on 52nd Street. Tony mentioned that our old friend Urb had pulled up in front of his parents' house in Astoria and said hello to his dad last week: "Hey, Mr. Trentacosti, remember me?" Now, I've known Tony's parents for years and years, and I know his mom's name is Mary, but I couldn't remember his dad's name. That's what I was thinking as he told me the story.

Just a few short hours later, I'm drinking a beer and checking out the scenery in the lobby when something on the wall catches my attention. It's a neat little tribute with the names of all the couples who first met while dancing at Roseland and then got married. About halfway down the first column I see Mr. and Mrs. John Trentacosta, 1953. Yes, it's spelled slightly differently, but I know from experience that long Italian names like Trentacosti or long Greek ones like Eleftheriou and Vrakipedes from my own family are usually off by a few letters whenever someone else is writing them down for posterity. I know the year 1953 is about right, because that's around when my folks got married and they were about the same age as Tony's parents. I have a call into Tony right now and we'll get to the bottom of this.

Anway, I knew even less about The Fratellis going in than I did about Airborne Toxic Event, and came away less
impressed by their shambolic brand of neo-glam. Oh yeah: their lead singer seemed to have his own Marc Bolan thing going on. Not that they were terrible or anything, just more 1970s derivative and somehow less memorable than Airborne Toxic Event. Yet the capacity crowd clearly felt otherwise, with most of the young'un's in fact there expressly to see the aforementioned headliners The Fratellis. As if to prove it, great numbers of them could be heard singing and even on occasion chanting along with the band in something very close to unison. Let's say by all indications they got their money's worth.

Monday Postscript: Heard from Anthony this morning and, yes, his parents did meet at Roseland in 1953. His dad must have been some ballroom dancer, because two years later they got married and they're still together more than a half century later. You have to admit me seeing their names still there on the Roseland lobby wall Friday has to be classified as one helluva New York coinky-dink. I do have a cell phone pic by way of documentation, just in case there are any skeptics out there.


Johnny Starr said...

I am skeptical, Tony's dad is named Mike, not John

Wardens World said...

Turns out John Trentacosta was Tony's uncle. According to Tony, his dad took his mom to Roseland for their second date. Still a good story...