This week’s blog was originally supposed to be a review of Jay Della Valle’s May 19th gig at Hoboken, New Jersey’s Maxwell’s. Unfortunately, I’ve been heavily effected by the East Coast’s allegedly record breaking allergy season (as it seems have most other New Yorkers I’ve encountered), which culminated in a sinus infection two and a half weeks ago. I still haven’t healed one hundred percent, as I’ve been experiencing a lot of randomly debilitating dizzy spells.
Just a couple of hours before I was supposed to leave for Della Valle’s show, I was hit with this odd feeling that the ground had started to tilt. I attempted to plow through it, but eight blocks after I had left my house on the way to the Path train, I started to feel like I was going to faint. I felt awful since Jay had gone to the trouble of landing me press passes for this little blog, but there was no way I was going to make it all the way from the Upper East side to the first city I ever lived in. (I will be featuring Della Valle on a future story, so expect to read more about him later. In the meantime, you can also check out the band’s latest single, “We’ll Always Have Midnight.”)
These dizzy spells have been forcing me to turn down quite a few invitations recently, which is why I haven’t updated this blog, in what feels like much longer than a few weeks. I was pretty sure this was going to be the case Tuesday evening, as I sat in the waiting room of an Urgent Care clinic after a long day at work. I had been put on the guest list for a show by Denise Barbarita and The Morning Papers by fellow music journalist William Helms, (who I was connected with by another writer and new friend, Abdul Fattah Ismail). I told Will to offer my ticket up, at that point convinced I was about to be diagnosed with an ear infection, because I was sure I wasn’t going to make it through the night.
But after receiving medical attention and finding out I was just experiencing vertigo leftover from my sinus infection, I walked out of the clinic, not sure which subway station to head toward. Sure, I didn’t feel all that great, but I thought I would feel much worse if I spent one more night in my apartment, sulking over one more missed opportunity to enjoy this city. So I alerted Will that I was just going to pay the cover fee, and got on a Downtown bound F train.
I met up with Will just 30 minutes before the band was scheduled to take the stage at Greenwich Village’s Bitter End , a venue so historic, July 23rd was dubbed “Bitter End Day” by the city, as I read on a plaque next to the venue’s door. Will introduced me to the band’s drummer, Rich Kulsar, who kindly informed me he would have comp’d my ticket, had he known I was coming. It was no big deal, I assured him, since I had willingly given up my free ticket. The $10 cover price was already feeling worth it, as I listened to him and Will reminisce about Rich’s previous band The Fire Men, and their favorite New York venues, which either no longer existed, (like CBGB’s, or their preferred Coney Island High), or had changed too much for their liking, such as Saint Mark’s. (I, however, am still eager to visit the latter mentioned club, since it was the site of Patti Smith’s first show, and if you’ve read my first NYC blog, you’ll know I’m sort of obsessed with visiting landmarks mentioned in “Just Kids.”) It was the kind of conversation I had been craving.
Since Rich had mentioned The Fire Man had been a hardcore punk (eventually turned ska) act, I was surprised (pleasantly) at The Morning Papers’ opening song from their November release “A Beautiful Mess,” which sounded, for lack of a better term, “experimental.” Denise played her guitar with a violin bow between grand hand gestures that foreshadowed her delightfully relaxed stage presence. After the first song, she introduced herself with an easy way of remembering her last name (“it’s like margarita with a B!”), and later joked about being relieved that we had all survived Judgement Day on May 21, even if it meant we wouldn’t be getting 72 virgins.
The set ventured into a direction that was more distinctly rock with the second number, but played around with volume and tempo in the third song, which began quietly, before kicking into a heavy chorus. On the fourth song of their short but sweet set, Denise busted out an acoustic guitar as the rest of the band stayed plugged in, and exhibited a higher vocal range than on the previous tracks, which had featured a random growl. The Morning Papers seemed comfortable in every style they played, even when lead guitarist Kelsey Warren powered through a solo with a broken string (which I wouldn’t have even noticed, had Denise not commended him for soldiering through after the song’s completion).
When I got the chance to chat with Denise after the show, she commented that critics’ main complaint about her is that she needs to “pick a genre!” I found the group’s range to be their most impressive quality, though. To be good at a specific kind of music is great, but to me the true test of one’s musicianship is the ability to venture outside one’s comfort zone. Even if the execution isn’t perfect, I will always respect an artist who is willing to try new things. But Denise Barbarita and the Morning Papers do not simply try to do this; they completely aced that test.