Inspired by false nostalgia induced by a combination of Kissing in Manhattan, the New Yorker article about the Unicorn Tapestries, and Rhiannon's mom, I set off to visit The Cloisters on Thursday afternoon.
A late start and a long subway ride to the museum meant that I needed to get off the train en route to take a conference call related to some abstracts I'm writing. So, I spent some quality time in the lobby of one of the Columbia medical centers with a telephone pressed to my ear scribbling comments in a small notebook before continuing on my journey to look at medieval art.
Remarkably, the pre-nostalgia paid off. Or the museum is just cool and deserving, in it's weird hybrid of fake old and actual old and being on top of a rocky hill inside a park at the top of the island. Contrary to the tour bus drivers, the Cloisters wasn't (and isn't) any sort of monastery. Instead, it's cobbled together from things that survived wars and decay to be collected and shipped from Europe to New York, used in a sort of cheesy exhibit, and later re-collected by a Rockefeller and given to the Met. This, and other tidbits were picked up on the free (no fake clergy, theievery, or deception required) tour of the museum that commenced soon after I arrived. A free tour is way better than reading signs off the wall or trying to intimidate foreign tourists to share their headphone guides, right?
After the tour, I wandered around the gardens and took a look at the terraces that overlooked the river and a green part of New Jersey. Soon it was time to go to Central Park to meet Chris for the Summerstage show. On the way, I paid a quick visit to the big mall at Columbus Circle and bought some brown rice sushi from the busiest Whole Foods ever. This detour only caused me to be eight minutes late in finding Chris at the park. Even better, we got there in time to find Florian (and later Kip) just before Belle Orchestre started playing.
The Summerstage was actually much smaller than I expected, which was a nice surprise. Being early, we staked out a relatively good spot to watch the show in the vicinity of a guy who was doing line drawings of Richard Perry playing the stand up bass and a pack of humorously annoying youths.
Bell Orchestre are pretty much a subset of the Arcade Fire who play instrumental music that would be suitable for scoring a sexy spy film. Out of some sort of politeness, they posted a small hand painted sign to let late arrivals know the name of the band. Because none of their songs included vocals, the microphones seemed to have been turned off, which made their attempts to thank the crowd all the more endearing.
Next up were Sound Team, a band from Austin that the Arcade Fire picked up on one tour or the other. I think that the the CMJ program guide described them as psych-folk. To me, the lead singer sounded a little like Britt Daniel (perhaps there is something in the Austin water supply that leads to gravely voiced indie rock singers?) with an entourage of characters that some in our group deemed worthy of nicknames. I thought they were pleasant enough.
Somewhere along the way, Ellen and Juno fought their way from law school things through the crowd to find us. As is their custom, the Arcade fire were "fantastic" and completely flipping out awesome. But perhaps this is just me, and my affection for theatrical (or actual) performances. I mean, Win going crazy and possibly attacking the audience with a mic stand, everyone switching instruments between songs, full-body tambourine playing, Regine's robot monster dancing, the string section turning turn electric guitars and violins into marching band instruments, onstage strangulation, and wall of soundish backing vocals. I don't know if they're actually on the edge of crazy or if they just pretend really well, but I guess it doesn't matter.
Oh, and beyond putting all of that onstage, they also brought out David Bowie for their encore to play "Bitch Queen" and to sing along for "Wake Up." The mother and daughter pair (mother wearing a David Bowie t-shirt) in front of us went insane when they saw Bowie onstage.
When the show had ended and we were herded out of the stage area we went in search of a place to drink. Forgoing Tavern on the Green and heckling a litterer, we found what is apparently the only decent bar on the upper west side. I say this because minutes after we arrived, my friend Whitney and her entourage also showed up. So much for the bigness of the city.
Everyone in the bar was very interested in baseball highlights. I drank a Rolling Rock that Ellen bought me, caught up on the latest law school gossip in one booth, and television plotlines and threadless t-shirts in another. When Ellen and company decided to call it a night, I followed Whitney and her friends to some sort of tiny secret bar called Frank's on maybe the lower east side that featured a pool table, a bunch of small televisions tuned to late night talk shows, a little bar, a muscley dog, and a back patio.
After a while, I felt the pull of my CMJ badge and convinced Whitney that it would really be a good idea to go to the Bowery Ballroom to see Dungen. Because why not see Swedish guitar rock when you have the chance, right? Like many of the day's other attractions, the band was both kind of strange and entertaining. I think that their being Swedish giants and having special spotlights for flute solos really contributes to their critical darling status.
At the club, we ran into Whitney's friend Scott who is some sort of budding young theologian. Or something. We elected to skip the SPIN afterparty in favor of an almost completely empty and really large bar where I refused to reveal any personal or embarrassing life details.
Later, per Ellen's request, and with her detailed instructions for the cab driver, I managed to make my way back to Brooklyn and into the apartment with the special key trick to sleep until approximately noon.