Monday, May 4, 2009

Music at Has Beans, Brooklyn, May 2, 2009

Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos
Flyer from Internet

I was told the Saturday, May 2nd show was to start at 5 PM. Even says so in big letters on the flyer. Anthony K, who is in three or four groups these days (most with his cousin Ricky Wells, including Kung Fu Grip, as he was listed on the flyer), invited me through Facebook. Didn’t know anyone else on the bill other than Object, but it has certainly been a while since I’ve seen Anthony, and for Object it is even longer, so I decided to go for it.

For once the train was efficient (even though they’ve been working on the wooden staircase in my station for over four months…how long does it take to lay a plank? But I digress), and I ended up getting to the Has Bean coffee shop at 620 Fifth Avenue (basically behind where the Prospect Expressway meets the Gowanus/Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) at 4:30. No one was there yet, other than customers with laptops, and the very nice woman behind the counter who said she didn’t know much about it, but it was probably going to start 6 or 7 PM. So I did what came naturally: I had a coffee and read the Arts section of the Sunday New York Times on Saturday. Found out that England had just picked its first Poet Laurete after over 300 years.

Of course, while I was waiting, I also checked the place out. Has Beans definitely has its charm. There was no stage area, but the tables in the front were moved to make room by the window (which always made the most sense to me rather than having the performances in the back, because you want to attract people). The width of the room was approximately the height of my apartment’s ceiling, about 10 or 11 feet, and it was probably three times that to the counter, with about 10 square 2-person tables (and free wifi). It was a nice space for a show, and I want to thank them for taking the chance.

The promoters came first, being artist-type Lyssa Lovelyss (who runs Rusted Conceptons bookings, fanzine, and CD compilations) and laid-back Vin, who also make up the group Generic Kitty. I love it when musicians set up showcases for others and themselves, like the Nerve! did at Peggy O’Neil’s (KeySpan Park, Coney Island), Monty Love at Dock Street (Staten Island), or Anthony and Ricky – when they were a duo known as Good Grief – did at Limestone (Boro Park). Usually the groups are more eclectic and it feels more personal. Between smokes, Vin set up the small PA system (basically an amp, a stand, and a microphone), and ‘Lyss looked bored and indifferent, while two kids in her charge (including her 10 year old sister) ran around the place.

The first band to show up was Vanderveer St, (is it St. or Street?) from Queens Village. While two members were playing acoustically, the whole band (and parents) was there in support. They looked so familiar, and I wonder if they were in previous bands I’ve seen before. Guys? Then Object arrived, and I sat and talked with them for a while, catching up with Maria Schettino and Eric Kramer. Shortly following it was Ricky Wells, who was momentarily preceded Anthony K and his significant other, Desiree Taranto, along with a jolly crowd of followers. The conversation continued with them, as I’ve known many of them since they were teens. Joseph Baginski arrived just as the show was starting, and Dead Leaf Echo, a Brooklyn band, did not show up until much later, having gotten lost.

[Vanderveer St.]
The first band to play was Vanderveer St. Starting around 6:15, two members of the group, vox/guitarist Billy Kupillas and bassist Thomas O’Brien, came up first, both with guitars. It seemed that their intentions were that they were just going to have fun, and they did. And in doing that, so did the rest of the audience. There was banter and joyful insults back and forth between Billy and the rest of the band who sat in the back, and everyone had a good time. They obviously were winging it, because they’d be in a song and realize that there was a drum solo, but no drums, so they shouted out, “Drum solo!” in the appropriate places, and paused. And Thomas’s bass solo sounded all the stranger on the acoustic guitar, but in a good way. VS were a good start. I also admire that they stuck around for almost the whole show.

Between the bands, Vin smoked and Lyss looked appropriately bored. I gave her my card, and she basically showed no interest whatsoever. Not sure if she was being “cool” or being cold. Kinda distracting. She watched and videoed the bands, but really did not seem to be present. Maybe it’s me…

[Anthony K, of Kung Fu Grip]
Anthony K came on next. He kept saying, in a self-deprecating way, “I’m not in the mood to do this!” to anyone who would listen, but he still did fine. I’ve seen him perform some acoustic stuff before, with Ricky, but he sounded alright by himself. While not as flashing a guitarist as his cousin, Anthony is more meat and ‘taters (though he’s a madman drummer when he plays). Funny thing is that when electrified, Anthony sounds like he could be in some Northwest post-grunge outfit, but when he plays the same songs acoustically, they translate amazingly well into singer-songwriter. He finished his set with one of my favorite songs of his, about his girlfriend (which reminds me, in spots, of Lennon’s “Julia”).

Through the first three sets, there was a table of older regulars in their 60s sitting behind me, who conversationally talked loudly over the music, and I wanted to turn to them and say, “How about a little respect for the music,” but they did not look like they would be receptive, and they obviously didn’t care. So, I took the high ground and respected my elders. If they were younger, I may have said something.

[Dead Leaf Echo]
Here’s where things began to get a bit weird. Two members of Dead Leaf Echo came on next, though I believe they were supposed to come on earlier, but were late, as I mentioned earlier. Up until them, everything had been acoustic, but they brought in four amps, an electric guitar with an elaborate foot pedal setup, and a huge synth keyboard. The music was ambient, in an electronica way, and while it was played well, I found it incredibly somnambulistic, and yet amazingly loud, especially when Mike D. pushed the petals. Liza B. didn’t really have much to do other than press a chord on the synth every bar or so, and sing a single note for a bar in a Linda McCartney quality. They seemed like nice people, but I was glad when they were over.

[Joseph Baginski]
The amp that Vin brought burned out, and Joseph Baginski’s guitar was buzzing, so it took a hell of a long time to sort it out. Finally, after about 45 minutes and it was dark outside, Joseph started to sing, and I winced. Yeah, he plays guitar right handed and upside down, but the man couldn’t sing on key to save his life, and the out of tune guitar didn’t help much. Also he mumbled all the lyrics like Dylan or Kobain (though I would assume Baginski would say the latter, since he had his hair dyed and cut very Kurt-like). The songs may have had deep lyrics, but I couldn’t tell through the tuneless vocals. Everyone I caught eye contact with gave me a wincing look, as if to say, “Ow.” I hope I don’t have to review any of his CDs going forward, and I didn’t introduce myself to him, as I did with Vanderveer St. or lifeless Lovelyss.

Happily, next up was the highlight of the night, Object. Damn, they’re a great duo. Eric Kramer is on guitar and vox, and Maria Schettino handles all the percussion, which was wide and varied this night. The songs are both melodic and complex; Eric has a way with words and can sing. This night was extremely special, as it was the debut of Maria on guitar as they both played acoustic for one number. She did great. When they play, even when the songs are about distressing subjects, they look like they are having fun up there, and it translates to the audience. They’re both very open as artists, and someone needs to record them more. By this time in the evening, the table behind me was minus the talkers, so it was even better.

[Generic Kitty]
Last up were Generic Kitty, made up of the couple than ran the show, Lovelyss and Vin. For the first couple of songs, Vin strummed guitar and ‘Lyss sat cross-legged in a chair and sang (while her two young charges sat in front and talked through most of the set). After a couple of songs, she picked up her guitar and they both strummed as she sang. The songs were a bit simplistic, but okay, in a soft, Kyma Dawson, post-grunge way. They were actually all right, though the vocals were a bit emotionless, even the song about someone the protagonist does not like (written by ‘Lyss with her 10-year-old sis). When GK started, the place had been pretty empty, but everyone who stepped out came back as they started, which in the small place pretty much filled it up, I’m happy to say.

After the set, I had a nice, short talk with Vin, and gave him my card, to which he sounded receptive. Despite my teasing about the hot and cold from the couple, I hope they produce more shows like this. Vin is from western New Jersey and ‘Lyss is from Brooklyn, so he will be coming here somewhat regularly, I would think. Given that, the opportunity for them to do more shows is a possibility. I hope they jump on it, which is good for them, and for the local scene. Everyone should check Rusted Conceptions out at

After some goodbyes to Anthony K and his crowd, it was off to the subway for a much longer ride home. But it was worth it because it was a good night.

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