On the drinking front, Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy's No. 43 hosted the "Battle of the Belgians" at his cozy, subterranean East Village bar last Saturday. This festive event pitted Belgian-style American beers against their authentic counterparts. It was a close (metaphorical) fight - actually, everyone was having way too much fun for there to be any real sense of competition - but there were a number of worthy contenders. American breweries dominated the taps with Sixpoint's Belgian Rye standing out in particular for its bold but smooth flavor. Equally impressive, not just for taste but for its colorful name, was Flying Dog's Raging Bitch. Standing near the bar, one of the day's simple pleasures was watching the sly smile that would come over fellow drinkers as they asked for a taste of this Maryland brew.
The Belgians were stationed at tables around the perimeter of the bar, along with plates of local cold cuts and cheese from places like Coach Farm. The simple presentation made it easy to grab a bite on the way to our next taste. Many of the brewers served their own beer and were eager to talk about what we were drinking. Brian Strumke of Stillwater stood out not only for the complex brews he makes both stateside and in Belgium (available at Whole Foods), but also for his bottles' equally intricate labels. The home brewer-turned-brewmaster was singled out for an award as the five-hour event drew to a close, a fitting end to a satisfying day.
On the music front, trumpeter Steven Bernstein put together a lovely tribute to Bob Dylan last Sunday, focusing on his days with The Band. the core band included Medeski, Martin, and Wood's John Medeski and Dylan's former guitarist Larry Campbell who opened the show with "This Wheel's on Fire," an apt description of the powerful seven-piece band that backed guest singers throughout the night. Medeski relished organ solos, executing them with the precision of a seasoned improviser, while Bernstein as bandleader kept everyone on the same page. The result was a nuanced and rich sound that evoked the energy of the Dylan's famed Rolling Thunder Revue and the soul of The Band's farewell concert, The Last Waltz.
Of the many highlights, Fiery Furnaces' take on "Odds and Ends" stood out. Eleanor Friedberger looked like she stepped out of a time capsule from the '60s as she took the mic, and proceeded to bring us back to the fiery power of Janis Joplin. She spazzed about onstage, less moving to the music than actually feeling the current overtake her body. John Wesley Harding squeezed another Dylan and the Band collaboration ("Something There is About You") between two versions of "Baby Let Me Follow You Down." While the set skipped over many of his Dylan's best-known songs, a few slipped in. Unfortunately, Jolie Holland botched "Ballad of a Thin Man," flubbing the lyrics despite holding them in her hand. Thankfully, though, she was followed by the New York Dolls' David Johansen who brought rock star swagger to "Million Dollar Bash" and the rousing finale of "Quinn the Eskimo" that had us humming in our heads on the train home.