by Mike Faloon
Notes on a Much Needed Perfect Night in May
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The top layer of the western sky is dark blue. Beneath it are layers of white and purple. Cutting across the grain are enormous cylinders of rain, two titanic tubes of water. I top the next hill on route 84 and the scene cuts to an stunningly vivid, shield-your-eyes tangerine fireball of a sunset, so perfect it feels like we should all pull over and gaze and sketch and pen heartfelt poetry. The sort of sight that would inspire a Seth comic or three. It’s stunning, but not enough to scoop out the junk churning through my mind.
* * *
Some nights it takes a tune or three to get my bearings when I walk into Quinn’s. I have to sort through a bunch of different tones and rhythms and build my own sense of things. I prefer that. I like wading through the uncertainty. It’s an adult version of spinning round and round, making yourself dizzy, dropping to the ground and watching the world spin before slowly coming back into focus.
In The Insect King, Murtaw is pulled into attending a football game at his high school. At half time he encounters the bewildering, “What the…?” spectacle of the Gold Sequined Girl. He can’t figure her out and that’s much of her appeal—“it’s a form of not understanding that he liked.” Mondays at Quinn’s are often like that.
Tonight's different. I’m able to dial in on the band, a quartet led by drummer Michael Kadnar, before I sit down. Kadnar is generous with the ride cymbal and light with his touch. Sean Morrison and Joe Heider are up front. Morrison works a Fender Rhodes electric piano, Heider an electric hollow body. Two of my favorite sounds, almost regardless of who’s at the helm. Add in Harry D’Agostino on upright bass (more on him coming up) and I’m thinking of the backing band on Freddie Hubbard’s Straight Life—Herbie Hancock, a young, pre-smooth George Benson, and Jack DeJohnette.
Morrison, Heider, and Kadnar are all seated and wearing tucked in black button ups. They look like the cast of Party Down. Then there's D’Agostino. He’s wearing a light shirt, untucked, standing. He’s beaming, having a great time. And so are the others. That’s the link here, the Elmer’s, that gives everything a low key practice session vibe. They’re like stand up comedians at a late night open mic, playing for and supporting each other, grinning, nodding, radiating the pure joy I’ve-got-something-that-fits-here sense of being able to contribute to a band they’d pay to see. They exude a vibe similar to the stories old school comics tell on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.
Kadnar’s an interesting guy. At first look his beard and curlicue yield a Jade Tree-meets-Clark-Kent appearance. But neither fit with his playing (light, swinging, yet load-bearing) nor with his credits (metal bands like Downfall of Gaia and Black Table). To varying degrees the same applies to the rest of the band, they conjure people from my neck of the pop culture woods (Patton Oswalt, the kid from Real Genius), but they play so well, a little blues here, R&B there, solid throughout.
And so well timed. It was a weird weekend. The roof collapsed above my wife’s business, flooding the floors, and maybe damaging equipment. Hard to say. Then, while that was pushing our household’s frustration meter into the red, I found out that James Keepnews was held up at knifepoint in Beacon, on Schenck Ave, just off Main Street, a few minutes from Quinn’s. It wasn’t shocking news—life in Brooklyn North is going to be worts and all—but it was early (eleven-ish) and so close to the main thoroughfare. And it was personal, Keepnews is the gent responsible for importing so many of the musicians who’ve played the Monday night sessions.
The mugging draws out other stories—Barney Fife parole officers bumbling through one, SWAT team precision defining another. The take away: nice town, be careful. (Does that mean hide the CDs in my car? Do CDs carry any value? How paranoid is it to ask these things? How else do you react when a friend’s been assaulted?)
There is so much of that swirling in my head—the band’s cool performance and the bad news that needed to be shoved aside—that I barely notice the other changes. First of all, Mark isn’t working the counter. Not expected, but all right, dude’s entitled to a night off. Second, the stage is much wider. It’s a work in progress, 2” x 4”s still exposed.
A wider stage provides a wider screen, more room for the eye to roam. At first the side effects seem minimal, a couple of tables by the entrance are dumpster bound. But then, about half way through the first set, photographer Michael Bogdanffy-Kriegh and his wife Holly walk past and sit in back. It’s like watching a catcher stroll past the pitcher’s mound and set up shop in center field. I’m so used to seeing them perched up front and now they’ve been uprooted, displaced. I haven’t seen him snap a single frame tonight. I hope I’ve just missed something.
I do that, get lost mentally during these shows, miss things. For awhile I tune in to Kadnar’s kick drum, listen for him to drop in some metal excess, but he steer clears. Later I focus on Heider’s fretboard thinking I can puzzle out some geometric patterns. I also try to settle on at least one apt adjective for their playing. But everything I conjure suggests that they’re dull Sunday brunch players (which they're not) and/or I’m condescending to them (which I'm not). Whenever I write about a band that I dig I want at least one phrase they could share with friends, something that prompts the band to say, Check out this review we got.
In that regard I’m coming up short. In place of the direct, the succinct, I offer the odd. Over the course of the night I notice an older gent walking back and forth with a saxophone case slung over his back. My first assumption is that he’s come from rehearsal and he’s here, like the rest of us, to soak in the tunes. Then, between songs, I notice him engage with the band. I can’t gauge whether he’s complimenting them or goading them or coaching them. What I fail to consider is the obvious—he’s asking to sit in. Other than the sax case all I can recall are his glasses, and his name: later he’ll announce himself as Huckleberry Infinity. He talks to Sean Morrison and I notice Joe Heider make eye contact with someone in the audience. Joe gives a “What should we do?” shrug and before we know it Huck Infin is up and playing. His tone is all right, it fits. It’s not necessary—Kadnar and company were doing just fine—but it’s all right. Gives the night a Brautigan touch—a twist, a wrinkle, a scrap that I don’t know how to file, and that’s better than floodings and muggings.
 That is until I seek out a cast photo and realize they always wore white. To which I say they should’ve worn black. Yet another show that failed to heed my advice.