New Jersey Rules Brooklyn As Brooklyn Goes All Jersey

by BILLY GRAY · June 28, 2010

On Saturday I walked the length of the North Brooklyn waterfront as the Northside Festival brought me from the uppermost corner of  Greenpoint to the base of the Williamsburg Bridge on South 2nd Street. Music, movies, stuffed cabbage and a neighborhood on the edge (of what, I'm not sure) dotted the route.

Before I get into Saturday's trek, I've got to note Slow Club, a duo from Yorkshire who put on a spirited show for a modest but energetic crowd at Europa in Greenpoint on Friday night. White Stripes comparisons are inevitable given the bands' one man-one woman compositions, but Slow Club's music is sweeter and folksier, with the kind of gentle indieness that would have fit in on the Juno soundtrack. Good thing Charles Watson and, especially, Rebecca Taylor have the vocal chops and a smattering of uptempo songs to elevate the act above the more generic fodder that constitutes the hipster version of soft or "adult" rock FM radio. Also, thanks to Rebecca for telling the audience New Yorkers are infinitely hotter than the Brits and seeming to mean it!

Saturday began at Newton Barge Bark, an asphalt playground tucked away in the northwest corner of Greenpoint, along the East River. I regrettably missed Male Bonding's set due to my chronic laziness and inability to extract myself from my couch no matter the rewards that await outside.

But that's OK. Titus Andronicus was the main attraction of the festival for me, and I arrived just in time to see them take the stage under a baking hot sun. The ragtag crew from Glen Rock, New Jersey sounded sharp throughout their kinetic set of songs about Garden State malaise and the attempts to escape it through Keystone Lights and "Jersey cigarettes" that have "made a fucking junkie out of me." Northside-inspired realization that I am old #71: my heart was in my mouth as a crowdsurfer moved jerkily above the hot cement, a mere five feet away from a cracked skull! Lead singer Patrick Stickles seemed unfazed by the heat despite a slim face consumed by a Manson-esque beard. My only complaint was that Titus's set was too short and didn't even offer the hope of an encore as filler music wafted from the speakers immediately after their last song. But that's a regimented festival for ya.

It was 4:30 and I didn't have a set destination until 8pm at indieScreen. In the interest of time I'll point out the major highlight of my wanderings: the Polish Platter at Lomzynianka on Manhattan Avenue near Bedford (a fixie's throw away from McCarren Park). Not even the borderline oppressive humidity could detract from the hearty, decidedly cold weather glories of three pierogies, kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, bigos and mashed potatoes. And all for $8.

After waddling through the park and down Kent Avenue, past the street's gleaming and still-incongruous new high-rises with ground floor Duane Reades rubbing up against derelict warehouses and graffiti-covered DIY venues, I came to the brand new indieScreen. Todd Solondz's latest, Life During Wartime, headlined Northside's film program. Solondz is a Newark-born director who hysterically and darkly satirizes the same kind of suburban ennui Titus Andronicus glorifies and rails against in its music.

A theme had emerged, and a stroll through an increasingly suburbanized Williamsburg formed a nice bridge between its two components.

Life During Wartime had me and the rest of the packed crowd in stitches. Solondz scales back the black humor just a bit, going for more gray comedy. But the deadpan jokes kill, the performances are across-the-board impeccable (Allison Janney, Shirley Henderson and, in cameo turns, Ally Sheedy and Charlotte Rampling show especially brilliant comic timing) and the glossy south Florida backdrop gives the material more room to breathe than it had in previous Solondz outings like Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, whose settings and costumes overdid bleak New Jersey kitsch.

After the show Solondz sat down for a slightly cringe-inducing interview with L Magazine film contributor Mark Asch that proved some directors do read their own (bad) press and are not above hurt feelings. Solondz copped to being "weak" when it came to criticism but lightened up after a rocky start in which he stonewalled the reviewer by refusing to give a "reductive" takeaway message from his film. Moving on, he said of Asch's scathing reviews:

"I admire people who write passionately...and with such passionate contempt."

From there I hopscotched between Death by Audio and Glasslands, two of those scrappy DIY-ish venues who share a block with indieScreen and whose days, in light of the rampant (albeit largely still-vacant) new condo construction nearby, you have to assume are numbered in single-digit years, if not months. In a perfect example of Williamsburg's uneasy stasis between grunge and glam, a security guard (or landlord, or lone resident) of a new modernist condominium across the street from Death by Audio hassled the crowd about smoking in front of the building despite the noticeable dearth of neighbors (for now).

All the more reason to enjoy it while it lasts, right? I only caught glimpses of Total Slacker, Frankie Rose & the Outs and Lower Dens, but was lucky enough to cap off the night with a somber set from Minneapolis-based Dark Dark Dark. Led by  Nona Marie Invie's haunting voice, I'd say Dark Dark Dark brought the house down were Death By Audio's ceiling not already in tatters. But the band certainly was a bright spot during a weekend that celebrated a neighborhood whose creative lights, I fear, might be cut soon.