Seaport Music, the folks who throw those great free Friday shows all summer at South Street Seaport (QRO venue review) as part of the River-to-River Festival, inaugurated their ‘On the Side’ venue, @Seaport (QRO venue review), with a free show by the unusual harmonium-bass-and-drums trio, Beat the Devil. While limited by their self-declared “no budget”, the party went on without a hitch, proving you don’t have to go to deepest Brooklyn to find great free music.
@Seaport is located just a block north of the ‘mainland’ section of the South Street Seaport tourist location, but was a bit difficult to find, thanks to the snow and being positioned on Water Street, right after the street switches from being a major thoroughfare and into a back alley. The folks at Seaport Music had to rely on gifts from the Wall Street community, making the venue an unusual mix of high-class and makeshift. It looked far nicer than your run-down DIY locales in Brooklyn, or even some paid venues on either side of the East River – more a loft converted into an art gallery than any sort of house party or bar (it’s amazing what putting gels on lights can do). However, that did mean some rather odd lines of sight, with the band playing virtually on the floor and the balcony rather high up – but also a unique pseudo-‘mezzanine’ in the mid-staircase landing. The donated sound system was excellent, good not just for the band but also for a movie that played beforehand – but people were watching the movie on folding chairs (those were, however, easy to remove when Beat the Devil came on). Seaport Music doesn’t have a liquor license for @Seaport, leading to ‘BYOB’ signs on the front – but for the opening (at least), they brought their own booze, from Heineken mini-kegs to Prosecco.
The night opened with the showing of a still-untitled documentary about Beat the Devil by Benjamin Clayton. The film itself was mostly just interviews with Devil singer/harmonium player Shilpa Ray and bassist Mishka Shubaly, detailing the history of the band (with newest drummer Mitchell King coming in later on), occasionally interspersed with some concert and ‘on-the-road’ footage. It had the requisite ‘growing up different’ elements (first-generation Indian Ray was raised in an Italian area of New Jersey), falling in love with music, how the band came together (at the time he met Ray, Shubaly was going through the worst part of his life, “where you spin the cap off the half-gallon bottle of vodka and just chuck it away…”), near-misses at fame (Shubaly played bass in the band Come On, whom The Strokes opened for at Don Hill’s when they got their big break), etc. The band also detailed how much better smaller town crowds are – though they still gave a shout out to South Street Seaport, calling their opening gig last summer there for Menomena “the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for.” But what was most interesting was probably them discussing their ‘day jobs’, and the relationship between doing what they love and doing what they have to, to survive – that, or seeing the band members watch the movie themselves, standing right next to you (such as Shubaly, drinking straight from a bottle of Prosecco).
While they did play rather more of the film than was necessary, it was a unique and interesting way to intro into seeing a band, as you felt like you knew them by the time they went on stage. Beat the Devil rocked the crowd with tracks off their upcoming debut full-length, Idiot’s Guide, with Ray hitting up not just the harmonium (sort of the Indian spin on the accordion), but also the one and only Theremin. This isn’t the first time the band has opened a venue – they were the first openers for stellastarr* (QRO live review) at the inaugural concert at Gramercy Theatre (before Blender bought the naming rights – QRO venue review). The band joked with the crowd like they were all old friends (to be fair, I think a number of them were), such as when King took forever to finish smoking outside and actually show up when they were to start, or reciting lines from the documentary (Ray’s favorite was Shubaly’s line about getting older, and “that patch of hair on my back is growing larger…”).
Beat the Devil playing live at @Seaport, New York, NY:
One of the greatest things about summers in New York City are all the free concerts (QRO’s 2007 Free NYC Concert Schedule), and it’s something that’s sorely missing in the cold, dark days of winter. Brooklyn has delivered a few, through Brooklyn Academy of Music’s ‘Brooklyn Next’ concert series (QRO photos), and at Sound Fix Records (QRO venue review), thanks to the lower cost of space out there. And now Manhattan is getting in on the off-season act, thanks to local bands, local donors, and Seaport Music.