Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A.A. Bondy at Union Hall

Slipping past the scowling bouncer and pretty hipsters I made my way through an island of cool in the middle of the yuppie breeding ground called Park Slope. Wesleyan and NYU grads gathered around bocce ball courts, while players worked the weak minds and lonely hearts of discontented rich girls. The profane scene is framed by a burning fireplace, sophisticated decor and walls lined with books ranging from Buckminster Fuller to Voltair. Union Hall is just down the street from the folk and roots collective, The Union Street Preservation Society. I pass by the venue on my way to these events and hear the political rantings of the impassioned youth, contrasted with the hushed tones of drunk guys scheming on how to take home those girls they were talking to. The venue is an oasis of sorts, in a sea of strollers and health food.

A.A. Bondy was the leader of the band Verbena in the early 90’s, after the band broke up in 2003 Bondy came out with his 2007 solo album American Hearts, he then went on to play Bonnaroo and the Sasquatch music Festival. Bondy’s second album When the Devil’s Loose was released September 2009. Originally from Alabama he is now based out of NYC.

At the end of the bar and down the stairs is where Union Hall has a concert venue. After finding my friend, we secured a spot to lay low and watch the music. The room was dimly lit and packed shoulder to shoulder with the chicest of nerds. Pillars in the middle of the basement-like room made it difficult to see the stage at times; there is not much to be said for the sound system or lights either. Nevertheless the atmosphere at was charming, comfortable and unique. A.A Bondy went on at about 11:00 and I got there around 11:30. By then he was already almost a third of a way through his set, playing just past 12:30. It slipped my mind that this would probably not be a band known for its long, epic concerts. Rather each song was short and contained, so the show was not very long. The songs did not deviate much from what I heard on his Myspace either. Bondy's music was dark and brooding, with heavy riffs that sounded like shoegaze. With music this dark and sensitive, I expected to see faint nicks and scratches on my new friend’s arms; the telltale marks of a pink, Bic razor blade.

The small stage consisted of A.A Bondy on guitar, a bass player and a drummer. The merch guy told me the show was about half songs from Bondy’s new album, American Hearts, and half off his second album When the Devils Loose. When the Devils loose is more singer songwriter material and American Hearts is a full band sound. At times during his solo, acoustic music he sounded like a clone of Bob Dylan, which was quite impressive. His Gentle guitar blended well with vocals and harmonica.

Bondy's song “Vice Rag” glamorized the use of heroin to such a degree of melodrama that I felt sorry for the impressionable young minds who heard it. Lou Reed already wrote the best song glorifying this drug, a melody that could make a grown man cry. To hear this whiny ode to the devils chemical sounded contrived. He seemed like a troubled teenager crying out for attention. Hard drugs are too serious for every artist to write about them in their attempt at topping Lou Reed.

The show ended with a jam where the band members fed off each other, creating sweet, improvised rhythms that put the emotion back in emo. This was perhaps the highest point of the show for me. It seemed like the most climactic point and actually got the subdued crowd moving slightly as they swayed side to side. The band finished and triumphantly high fived each other in the tiny off stage area, people lingered around staring sheepishly at the fellow lonely souls around them. There were no cheers for an encore but the hungry eyes showed me that people wanted more.

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