My last two visits to New York have been for business, and on both occasions I found myself at the cusp of hating the place, when I walked into a bar and saw something amazing enough to make me love it.
As a tourist, New York is awesome. You plan a whole day around one or two sights and then you eat whicked good food and see a show. When I'm in New York on business, though, running back and forth across town from meeting to meeting, I feel as though I'm in one of the most inhospitable environments on earth. It's just mile after mile of concrete, steel and glass where the only escape is to buy something, and even that's not an escape because there's always someone jostling against you.
But then, it's New York. And you never know what's around the corner.
Last fall, I ducked into the KGB Bar after full day of hoofing across Manhattan, just to check it out, because I'd heard about it. They just happened to be hosting a nonfiction reading, and this woman told an incredible story about the time she'd gotten a clove of garlic stuck in her vagina. It was mesmerizing and transcendent in the way that good stories are.
This past week I went with my sister-in-law and her roommate to a bar around the corner from their place in Brooklyn, after a long day of pounding the pavement. We showed up and no one had claimed the couch, so we sat down, and not a minute later two guys took the stage and started playing the most amazing music. One played a cello, the other drums. It was a small bar, and I wasn't more than a yard away from the cello player. It was beautiful watching the bow dance across the strings, the way it blurred in the red and blue stage lights. He was so into it. He closed his eyes and cocked his head back as he sang.
Turns out it was a sort of open-mic night for bands. Next up was a group called Lowry, and they were amazing, too. Their lead singer was funny looking, with a short beard and greasy hair combed forward and a snappy thrift-store suit. They had a woman who sang back-up and played tambourine. But I especially liked the piano player, who looked like one of Warren Zevon's buddies in the 70s, with his bushy blonde hair and aviator shades. Every once in a while he stood up from his piano bench and pumped his fist and contorted as if he were in ecstacy.
I bought CDs from both bands. Lowry's was a bit of a let-down (even though the band's lead singer and namesake is from the Kansas City area). But Takénobu's held up. I've been listening to it in my car as I drive around in the rain.