“By day Kelsey and I are friends; by night I am a fan,” Denise Barbarita said of her fellow Morning Papers band mate just following the end Pillow Theory’s set, guitarist Kelsey Warren’s other band, on July 10th at the Lower East Side’s Mercury Lounge. After witnessing Warren’s impressive set, it’s understandable why Barbarita speaks so gushingly about her fellow musician.
Warren got in touch with me nearly a month ago, introducing himself, as some of you may remember from my fifth NYC blog, as the Morning Paper who breaks strings. His message was to alert me of the impending release of the band in which he front’s “Meltdown” EP, which was digitally dropped July 11th, and this past Sunday’s release party show.
I got to the Mercury Lounge just after 7 p.m., where I found Warren preparing for his set and hanging out with a couple of friends next to a counter displaying free mini pink and green frosted cupcakes for the celebratory occasion. After introducing myself, we briefly chatted about venues on the Sunset Strip, before opening act California King took the stage.
As a lover of raspy voices, I immediately took a liking to this band when I heard front- man Mike Mills melodically howling into a mic with a pink feather boa wrapped around the stand. His soulful growl, which seemed to crack at all the right moments, perfectly accompanied dance-worthy rock music, even if the thinly filled floor didn’t feel like moving much at that point.
By the time Pillow Theory took the stage, the house had developed a significantly larger crowd, as the band kicked into “Miscommunication,” a track that didn’t make the cut for “Meltdown,” but is featured on the latest Black Rock Coalition Compilation.
The first time I heard the five track EP weeks ago in un-mastered form, I was immediately reminded of Living Colour, so it wasn’t surprising at all when Warren recently said of their 1988 record Vivid, “ That album changed my life.” Apparently guitarist Vernon Reid is also a fan of Warren’s as he described Warren as “one of my favorites,” in a 2009 article for Soul Summer. Reid was also responsible for hooking the band up with producer Ron Saint Germain, who worked with the group on “Blipsters and Buppies.”
The second song of their performance, and first single off “Meltdown,” seems to be a critique of a certain pretentious group with an affinity for thick black framed glasses, stating in one verse, “Subculture revolution, Subculture prostitution, By any means necessary.” The first half of their set showcased other tracks off of “Meltdown,” like the sensual “Warm the Blood” and the distortion heavy “Tongue.” The EP translates well live; the only major difference I noticed was that Warren exercises his power of scream more frequently onstage.
Though the band’s hard rock sound would have fit in with music scenes of decades past, it became clear that Pillow Theory is existing in a modern music industry when Warren announced that rather than purchasing discs of their new release, fans could buy “download cards” for $5 at the merch table.
The latter part of Pillow Theory’s set was dedicated to their 2008 debut “Outpatience,” which was produced by another noteworthy name, Steve Albini. By the time the band closed with “Ritalin,” the more mobile audience was heavily grooving (especially Barbarita, who grabbed me and our friend and fellow journalist Will Helms to head bang with arms over each other’s shoulders.)
I left fairly soon after the band exited the stage since I was supposed to be at work early the next morning. I figured it would be an uneventful day with nothing worth writing about, as Mondays tend to be my slowest shift at the restaurant. But at the end of a relatively dull day, as I stood watching the door, contemplating what I would say in the above review, I saw smoke and flames start to pour out from underground.
Apparently the black clouds and fire were the result of some electrically caused manhole fire, but my first thought was, “what the hell just happened with the subways?” as I rushed to the back of the restaurant, frighteningly pointing at the windows. Our manager instructed us to stay away from the windows as the other hostess went to call 911, where she was placed on hold before being connected to the fire department. It didn’t take long for the customers to bolt out the side door, as did our bartender and one of the waitresses.
The odd thing was that at no point did I see anyone on the streets run away from the rising smoke and flames. Most just carried on with their business and some even walked toward the fire to snap pictures. Apparently, as I later overheard one fireman say, manhole fires aren’t unprecedented in this city. I guess it’s like to New York what earthquakes are to L.A., though the stinging in my eyes that I felt as smoke seeped into the building made me almost feeling the ground shake.
One fireman eventually barged in with an axe and headed downstairs, where it was even smokier in the kitchen. Soon two more followed and ordered us out of the building. The other hostess and I ran to the front to grab our bags, which we both knew wasn’t a good sign of our survival instincts. (She later joked, “but I’m not due for an upgrade on my phone yet!”)
Luckily no one was hurt, and no one had been crossing the street when the underground caught fire. By the time we made it out onto the streets we were all laughing it off, but the time we were stuck in the restaurant had me very nervously shaking, with a slew of terrified, but in retrospect, kind of ridiculous thoughts running through my head.
This included thanking God I had ended up staying an extra ten minutes after my shift was officially over, since I would have been on the street inhaling massive amounts of smoke, rather than watching the drama from behind the closed doors. Next I thought, “Well if this is it, at least I had a good last meal,” since it’s one of our bartender’s last week, and my hostess friend had baked some amazing cheesecake brownies. My favorite, though, was “I better not get hurt; I have tickets to see Patti Smith on Thursday!”
Fortunately, I survived, and will indeed make it to my hero’s free show at Castle Clinton tomorrow, so my next blog will be a report of what I’m sure is going to be an epic night. Until next time, good vibes everyone, and New Yorkers, be careful around the manholes!