Tuesday night we had an inspiring loft party in Williamsburg, Brooklyn filled with acoustic performances of songs from our upcoming album, "Dark Was The Night," which comes out next Tuesday. It was the party I dreamed about in college, filled with interesting young creative people talking, drinking beer, eating pizza and listening to great music. Of course, those parties never happened back then and the music we listened to was recorded -- not actual world class bands performing live in front of us.
The point of the party wasn't the party itself, but to capture the performances on video; shot by a mad genius French filmmaker, Vincent Moon, who has been a pioneer in making low key on line live video under various names, most famously his "takeaway parties," which have become the underground indie rock MTV unplugged for a generation reading blogs like Brooklyn Vegan, Pitchfork and Stereogum instead of Rolling Stone or Spin. I will post a few videos and a link to the whole party when Vincent has spun them into his own particular gold.
Another striking thing about the party -- and the current generation of gifted rockers -- is the absolute lack of pretense or difference between the performers and the audience. Everyone looked and acted the same, even if some of them, like loft owner Jonathan, taught 7th grade history on the Upper West Side, were there to listen and some of them were going to play violin drums guitar or sing. Everyone milled around talking and drinking modestly and every now and then a few of them would drift toward the large windows looking out toward Manhattan and sing a few songs. Even the drifting frantic digital video camera people seemed natural and part of the overall fabric of the night for a generation that Twitters and posts pictures of what they had for lunch on their Facebook page.
The first musicians to move toward the stage were three young men with ordinary scruffy shirts shoes and haircuts who moments before were an invisible part of the crowd. Their band is called Yeasayer, who recorded one of the best tracks on the album, which you can stream and hear for yourself by using the widget in my last post. On record the song is very dramatic, building from exotic layers of percussion into soaring plaintive vocals that settle into a melody and chorus you can't get out of your head. In another era this would be a hit song sung by young people around the world. The three guys sat casually on stools in a tiny circle with a few candles flickering around them along with the City lights outside. The lead singer leaned over and pushed play on an old boom box and the sound of chickens filled the room. The fellow to his left started playing a toy melodica (a handheld keyboard instrument with a tube you blow into that was made famous by the Jamaican Dub master Augustus Pablo) and the one to his right played a modest rhythm. Nothing you could actually call a drum pattern. Then they began to sing and shape the haunting song into something even more strange and interesting than they had concocted in the recording studio.
When it was over and the loop of clucking chickens cross-faded into the chatter of fifty people in a large room with a tin ceiling built a hundred years ago for factory workers to make some long forgotten stuff, the guys melded back into the crowd. Another twenty minutes or so passed and a few of the other folks who were milling about started to move toward the stage. The tall fellow, David Longstreth, had a guitar so everyone could tell something musical was about to happen, but he had such a worried expression on his face we couldn't quite tell. He was flanked by two attractive young women wearing jeans and tops that looked less like artists than most of the people hanging out in Williamsburg on the way to the loft from the Bedford subway stop. One of the women did have a nice fur hat that looked like her grandmother might have worn if she had gone to one of John Phillips legendary parties in Laurel Canyon 45 years ago. She sat down at an upright piano while David started to explain how the song was something he had collaborated on with David Byrne, who was touring at that moment halfway around the world in Australia and that they had never worked out the harmonies, much less played the song live. So he had the lyrics written down on sheets of paper and asked the audience to sing along. He held his guitar high on his chest like Pete Seeger at some civil right rally in 1965, strummed the opening chords and began belting out the song. It was infectious and everyone just joined in filling the room with a lovely sound.
When it was over, The Dirty Projectors began the song in earnest. It starts with an amazing vocal performance by Amber Coffman, whose voice charms and takes you by surprise at the same time. On record (which you can hear for yourself on the exclusive Huffington Report stream on my last post) it comes at you like some crazy deconstruction of a doo wop song by way of a new wave Talking Heads-era band circa 1975. In person, it was even more odd to see this sound burst forth from a young women who a moment ago was hugging the dark corners of the room. Everyone joined in the third verse and the song became a kind of glue between the people performing and the whole crowd, even if the worried look never left Longstreth's face. I felt as if I had finally gotten the idea of folk music and saw it reinvented in front of my eyes.
Another twenty minutes went by, people chatted, drank a little more and another cluster of musicians started to move toward the windows, set up real music stands and pull out classical instruments--flute, trombone, violin, etc. A very young man named Nico Muhly sat at the piano and began directing the musicians into the beautiful baroque arrangement he wrote for song "So Far Around The Bend" The National contributed to Dark Was the Night. The swirling patterns of flute clarinet and violin filled the room, transforming it from a indie folk fest to something different and more ethereal, as if this was a reinvention of classical music; using what made it the center of European culture for centuries and making it relevant to the present. Nico is a rising star and seems capable of doing that. He recently did the score for "The Reader," the movie starring Kate Winslet in a theater near you.
After the arrangement found its equilibrium, the musicians in The National gathered around them and added their drums, guitars and keyboards. In the center Aaron Desner and Bryce Desner, my friends who brought the whole album together, had a bemused look on their faces, focused but casual. Then Matt Berninger, the lead singer, put down a plastic cup, walked towards them and began singing the poignent poetic lyrics he wrote for the song Aaron composed. It's a song about a beautiful party girl lost in the swirling seductions of New York. The song itself swirled around the loft and took on the life of the party it was trying to describe.
Dark Was The Night is the 20th Red Hot AIDS benefit album. Please pre-order the album at http://www.amazon.com. It's great music for a great cause.