Someone mentioned to me in my first few weeks in New York that my restaurant job wouldn’t be advantageous for an aspiring music journalist, implying that I should be somewhere where I was more likely to make connections. After two months as a hostess, I have to say I highly disagree, as the majority of my coworkers seem to harbor creative passions. It’s been a blessing as far as a fast way to make friends in a new city, since we all seem to be in the same boat as far as trying to make a living while simultaneously attempting to “make it” as artists. But it’s also been a good gateway to information about what’s happening in the city, music-wise.
Last Saturday, June 18, I finally got to attend one of these musical events my coworkers have been talking about, when one of my fellow staff members invited me to the Deli Magazine Showcase at Brooklyn’s Spike Hill for the 2011 Northside Festival. We went solely for Ball of Flame Shoot Fire, whose lead guitarist Tim Good also happens to be a fellow employee.
When I asked my friend whom I’d tagged along with what exactly Ball of Flame sounded like, she paused before answering with a vague smirk. “You’ll just have to see.” The band took the stage early in the night, just after the giant “human scrabble” game for the festival was being disassembled outside on Bedford Ave. I understood exactly why she gave that description as soon as they kicked into the first song, driven by keys and brightened by a brass section of saxophone and trumpet.
The band’s sound was definitely as incendiary as their name, but not in the way that I’d have expected, which was hard, and if not at the very least, fast. They could almost be classified as a jam band, but their sound doesn’t conjure up thoughts of Phish or The Grateful Dead. Their set list featured tracks off of their first full-length “Jokeland,” and their latest release, “Pots and Knives,” some of which I got a 70s vibe from. Tim described one unreleased track, “The Old Ballad Singers,” as “country.” The performance of mellow, yet cheery songs was full of instrument changes, as Jess Tambellini put down his trumpet for a guitar, and Tim picked up a bass. The majority of vocals were provided in falsetto by keyboardist Winston Cook-Wilson, but Tim and Jess also took the mic a few times.
Onstage rapport was brief, but humorous, like when Winston said in a serious tone, “We’re trying a different angle tonight,” before pausing to clarify, “I don’t usually sit at this angle.” By the end of their half hour set, which closed with “Patience,” it was apparent why Ball of Flame was named one of The L Magazine’s “8 NYC Bands You Need to Hear,” in 2010. (And what a relief it was to have sincerely enjoyed their set, since it could have made for a very awkward situation at work the next day when Tim asked what I thought, if they’d put on a mediocre show.)
We left not long after their set to hang out with band members and their friends at a nearby apartment. I decided to leave around midnight since I was scheduled to work early the next morning, and a couple of people at this “party” were heading toward the same train stop, which I didn’t want to walk to alone. One of them had left their bag at Spike Hill, so the plan was to make a quick pit stop at the venue and then get on the L.
But after we arrived, someone mentioned to my forgetful new friend that the band about to go on was “one of the best live acts he’d ever seen,” and we had to see if that statement was really true. I figured I would stay for a song or two and head home, since I didn’t want to be tired during my shift the next day. But when Not Blood Paint took the stage, I knew I’d regret hitting the road more than the exhaustion I did eventually experience.
The band made a delayed but grand entrance, having previously been onstage before insisting the audience wait another 3 minutes so they could put jump off to put on monster-like black veiled head-dresses. The group crept through the audience before jumping back onstage with a golden vessel and making spooky ceremonious gestures. They then shed their veils to reveal matching Ziggy Stardust like white and red face paint and one sleeved sparkly mini dresses, paired with black tights and red arm bands, and kicked into songs displaying as much effort as they’d put into their look.
As their style would suggest, their songs easily evoke the title “glam rock.” Influences of Queen and Bowie echoed without being ripped off. The vocals were full of perfect harmonies, but also included the appropriate scream, being backed by strong drums, and impressive guitar licks. The lyrics were as hilariously theatrical as their outfits, such as one song about “not being cut out for the army.”
Right as they wrapped their last song, the group accompanying me looked at each other with awe-struck smiles and praised the one who had left his bag for leading us back to the venue at just the right time. As we left the crowd was chanting, “One more song!” That guy was not being hyperbolic about Not Blood Paint at all. Missing an extra two of hours of sleep was worth not missing that set.