This week I had the great pleasure of seeing two remarkable performances in New York. They were about as different from one another as can be but were nonetheless both amazing in their own ways.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Beacon Theatre, NYC, 6/13
On Tuesday evening my wife and I drove into the city for a show we’d bought tickets for nearly a year before (while I was still stuck in Melbourne). Jersey girl is a huge Nick Cave fan. It’s safe to say Cave is to my wife what Springsteen is to me. It’s funny that I’m from Melbourne and idolise a rockstar from Jersey while she’s from Jersey and adores a rockstar from Melbourne (clearly this marriage was meant to be).
Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds were playing a sold out show at the vaunted Beacon Theatre on Broadway, an event too perfect to miss. For some reason, despite being a long time fan of his music, I’ve never seen Cave play live. The closest I ever came was attending a reading he gave when he released his first novel When the Ass saw the Angel.
It was therefore a pretty special event for me to be seeing him in NYC. After a fun meal at a crazy Mexican restaurant called Playa Betty’s on Amsterdam Avenue, we headed to the theatre and found our seats. Jersey had done us proud and we were in the orchestra section with a great view.
It’s an impressive theatre and seemed like a pretty perfect backdrop for what was to come.
From the moment Cave took the stage, we knew this was not going to be your average theatre gig. The entire audience left their seats the moment they caught site of him and rushed forward to the stage. It was literally stand up or see nothing and so all pretence of decorum was abandoned.
We had assumed that the main focus of the show would be his most recent album, Skeleton Tree which deals largely with the emmotions revolving around the death of his teenage son in a horrible cliff fall. It’s a very atmospheric album which lends itself to quiet contemplation and self examination. In that context the seated theatre venue had seemed quite apropriate but that wasn’t the gig we got.
Cave interspersed songs from Skeleton tree throughout the night but they served as the moments of quiet between raging storms. To everyone’s delight he pulled out songs from every period of his long career with the Seeds.
We were treated to stunning renditions of songs such as Red Right Hand, Tupelo, Mercy Seat, and Stagger Lee. And all the while cave strode the stage like a demented southern preacher crossed with a daddy long legs spider. The man is no spring chicken but his energy remains remarkably vital and there is still no compromise in him.
At one point he dragged a young guy up onto the stage and sang directly into his face. When he was done with this intense little piece of theatre, he simply walked away leaving the fella unsure as to what he should do; leave the stage or stay up there with the band? He shrugged in Cave’s direction and was told, “Do what you like”. Ten minutes later, there were thirty people up on the stage and that’s how the rest of the night went.
The audience having taken the stage, at one point Cave took to the floor and we beheld the humourous sight of people up on the stage taking pictures with their iphones of their idol down in the audience.
When it was all over, we left the gig in a state of semi-shock. The room had reached a near religious fervour over the course of the show. Cave is an arch manipulator and he had quickly recruited the willing New York fans to his church of soaring sounds.
Spike Wilner, Melissa Aldana, and Paul Gill, Mezzrow, Greenwich Village, 6/16
On Friday night, I travelled back into the city to meet up with my son and my good friend P from Melbourne. Both of them had come all the way from Australia to attend our wedding and, as P was flying out the next day, we decided to have an Aussie boys night out together in the greatest city on Earth.
The theme of the night was to be jazz. We had heard, from a musician friend of my son’s, about a club that has a great rep, Smalls Jazz Club in the Village and so we headed over hoping to get in (we hadn’t thought to book ahead). As it turned out, the set was sold out but we were told by the door guy that they had another club the other side of 7th Ave.
We made our way over and found the place, Mezzrow which was situated in the basement of an unassuming brownstone on W10th Street. We got in without having to wait and were led through to a table The place was tiny and we could hear the subway trains rumbling by beneath us every five minutes or so (you’d think that would have detracted from the music but, weirdly, it had the opposite effect).
Mezzrow is owned and operated by jazz pianist Spike Wilner and he was the man tinkling the ivories that evening. It was also his birthday so he had selected two very special guests to play with him. Melissa Aldana is a Chilean born saxophonist who can play like an angel struggling with its demons. And on double bass was Paul Gill.
This tight little trio proceeded to blow our minds with a set of amazing renditions of classic jazz standards and some original composition. All three musicians were exremely tallented players and I was keenly aware that to have seen jazz of this quality in Melbourne it would have been a very pricey ticket indeed (we paid just $25 dollars).
And the icing on the cake was that our Mezzrow tickets gave us entry into Smalls, so we wandered over after the gig and caught the end of a set there. I’m not sure who we saw there but it was equally enjoyable (though the room was uncomfortably packed and very hot).
By the time we got back to our digs in Brooklyn it was about 2am and we were exhausted (I’d been going since early the previous morning) but we’d heard some amazing jazz and were basking in the glow of it all.
So there you have it, two very different, very excellent gigs in one week. Who knows when that opportunity might come along again?
Yesterday, I visited the grave of a US President. I had not set out to do that, it just kind of happened. I was spending some time in Princeton, just wandering around with my trusty camera and decided, on a whim, to visit Princeton cemetery.
There I discovered many interesting people interned within the grounds. The biggest surprise was Stephen Grover Cleveland 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Cleveland was the only President ever to be elected to two nonconsecutive terms. He was also the only President thus far from the great state of New Jersey.
His grave in Princeton (surrounded by his loved ones) is a fairly humble affair considering the high office he held.
So humble, in fact, that it neglects to even mention that he was President.
I did a little research and decided that this was a President that, in most regards, I could have gotten behind.
Cleveland was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs, Free Silver, inflation, imperialism, and subsidies to business, farmers, or veterans on libertarian philosophical grounds. His crusade for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era. Cleveland won praise for his honesty, self-reliance, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classical liberalism. He fought political corruption, patronage, and bossism. As a reformer Cleveland had such prestige that the like-minded wing of the Republican Party, called “Mugwumps“, largely bolted the GOP presidential ticket and swung to his support in the 1884 election. – Wikipedia.
Cleveland was far from the only historically significant person burried in that place. I spent a couple of hours nosing around the tombs and found several other persons of interest.
Burr was a colonel in the Revolutionary War, Vice President under Jefferson, and famously fought a duel with Alexander Hamilton (in New Jersey, where conviction for illegal dueling didn’t carry the death penalty). Hamilton died of the wound he recieved from Burr. Interstingly, the duel was fought on the very spot where Hamilton’s eldest son was also killed in a duel just a few years before.
Beach was an American-born bookseller/publisher who actually lived most of her life in Paris. There, between the two World Wars, she became a highly regarded expatriate figure. She founded the famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, and published James Joyce‘s controversial book, Ulysses. She was also a supporter of Hemingway in his early writings.
William Drew and Maria Louisa Robeson
Paul Robeson was a famous Princeton-born African American singer and civil rights advocate. A huge influence on such artists as Harry Belafonte and Sydney Poitier. He was highly regarded in Australia where he came in 1960 to tour and, whilst there, performed for the workers at the construction site of the Sydney Opera House. This was the first ever performance at the Opera House.
His father, William Drew was the minister at the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in Princeton and he and his wife are buried there.
Gallup, creator of the Gallup Pole, was a pioneering statistition and journalist. His monument is strange in that I could not find his name upon it. His family members were all reresented but where I expected to find George’s name there was only this;
As I continued to explore, I discovered there were, among the tombs, a large number of Princeton University Presidents and Professors (not such a big surprise) as well as quite a few Civil War Generals and other high rankers (even a Confederate Brigadier General).
I looked for a long time for the stone which marks the resting place of Helen Dukas who was for many years Albert Einstien’s personal assistant but was unable to locate it.
Cemeteries are always interesting places but, for me, this one was particularly fascinating. I left feeling very pleased that I’d taken the time to get properly aquainted.
This Sunday past, Princeton held its forty-seventh Communiversity Arts Festival. This is one of the largest and longest running street festivals in the USA. I arrived fairly early and watched with interest as those involved prepared for their big day.
A large section of Nassau and Witherspoon Streets were closed to traffic around 11 am and stalls and stages began to appear with remarkable alacrity. Soon the entire area was thronged with people and the festivities got quickly underway.