It’d been raining most of the afternoon once 6:00pm creeped by, as I dove deep into the subways of Manhattan, Brooklyn bound. Work day over, caught in the homeward commuter rush, I was waist to waist in a rumbling subway car with time to kill; doors wouldn’t open for Beats Antique until 8:00pm. As I contemplated what to eat once in Brooklyn, I and every other passenger did our best to ignore muffled cries for the police that came from the car’s rear; from what I could hear, a woman was pleading for some man to put their gun down. Aside from another panicked voice, passengers in the car were silent and kept their gaze averted. About a stop away from Brooklyn, I stepped out of the crowded car as it stayed stationed for ten minutes; police came and went, as did the train. I waited for the next one. It was just as packed.
Once out in the open on Graham Ave, the frigid air and freezing rain chilled my bones and frayed my brain. Body frail and mind jostled, I figured it’d be good to waste some time at a nearby bar. I let Google Maps guide me; the sun still breaking through the grey sky’s shade with bearable rain, so I could still manage my phone. Eventually, I ended up at a “dive” called “The Drift”, located just under the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway and only a five-minute walk from Brooklyn Steel. Dimly lit and fairly full for 7:00pm, I felt like the only drifter there, since everyone else was comfortable in their chattering circles; they were all young and the Brooklyn type, but I couldn’t tell if they were the kind to wait for a Beats Antique show. I took a seat at the bar and soaked in the counterfeit photo scenery of an illuminated Colorado mountain-scape, colored bright with verdant elms, a reflective lake, and blocked by my portly bartender. His handlebar mustache was grey, and he stared plainly into my eyes; in a flat tone he asked how he could help me. I quipped about having a hard time finding the place on Google Maps, and he consoled me, staying plain: “Can’t trust maps. Maps say the Earth’s flat”. I asked for a mule, he asked “Moscow?”, and I said sure, settling for my fake Russian drink. Twenty minutes passed as I inhaled my glass, gaze fixed on the Colorado Springs; I figured it was probably just as cold over there as it was out here, but at least the skies in the photo were blue. The bartender came by and brought me back to Brooklyn; the sleeves of his tucked in shirt were cut off, revealing the flab of his arms while accentuating his pear-shaped physique. His graphic tee was black with a picture of an elephant placed dead center. I ordered a gin and tonic and wondered if the bartender saw himself as a gentle bull. He stepped out to smoke a cigarette, so I stepped back in the reflective pool and swallowed my drink.
It’d been about two years since I caught a show at Brooklyn Steel; it was to see the cult band Ween, who’s devoted fans had formed a mob around the venue over an hour before the doors had even opened. Oakland based Beats Antique obviously didn’t have as strong of an East Coast following; only fifteen people were idling around by 8:00pm. Only two years old and re-purposed from a steel manufacturing plant, the faux factory has been praised for its consistent booking of high-profile artists like the Pixies, LCD Soundsystem, and Franz Ferdinand. While on the same musical caliber as such artists, I'd never saw Beats Antique as having a following large enough to warrant a 1,800 person venue.
Taking an experimental approach towards fusing a variety of genres crossing afro-beat, middle-eastern belly dancing, and EDM, I was curious to see the look of the crowd such an eclectic outfit could muster. I was surprised to see a great deal of their fans dressed in Goth attire; outfits comprised of three-piece suits with purples vests, bowler caps, and dresses clashing between flower child and Vampira aesthetics. There was a good deal of ethnic diversity in the developing crowd, but I suppose nothing out of the ordinary for Brooklyn.
As 9:00pm approached, less than half the venue was full, which got me concerned; I couldn’t believe a professional touring band was going to undersell in New York. But, to my relief and brief confusion, a pencil thin man dressed in all black with dry blonde hair walked onto the stage and introduced himself as the opener. He played an arsenal of midi-instruments, all launching a limited variety of stock Ableton samples; the controllers included a Roland drum pad, a midi-Marimba, and a black Roland Key-tar that had the ergonomic design of military stealth jet. He spent the entirety of his set ambling from one instrument to the other, improvising over his backing tracks in a methodical manor that made me wonder why he didn’t just perform as a DJ. The backing tracks themselves were comprised of middle eastern dance rhythms with the occasional off-key vocal sample; he was probably on stage for no more than forty minutes, but his sloth-like saunter between soloing the same stale samples over and over felt like an eternity. The air smelled like herbal acetone and I was starting to get nauseous, but when I turned to step out and get some air, the venue was packed, so I figured it’d be best to hold my spot at the front.
Zoey, lead Beat belly dancer and apple of the audience’s eye, walked onto the stage to resounding applause. Keeping us waiting in further anticipation, she introduces a local duo of street performers. They too were belly dancers; two women who mended their hips to the ethos of music guiding their movements. From what I'd overheard of a conversation I ease dropped on earlier, the last time the band came out to Brooklyn they had also recruited subway musicians to open for them. I assume this has become a NYC tradition.
Finally, the stage went black and the sound of static broke the venue’s clamor. A series of faux radio bumpers played as the drummer and string player gravitated towards their respective instruments. As the recordings settled, Zoey and her protégé sauntered onto the stage twirling black and white parasols, garbed in outfits that fused Arabic and Cabaret fashion sensibilities; the band’s “guitarist” greeted the crowd with a hearty exclamation: “Welcome to the Bazaar!”.
The show opened with an eccentric number that crossed carnival-cabaret with burlesque-electronica; almost appropriate for the likes of a Tim Burton score, but a sound all its own. The “guitarist” played what appeared to be an electric saz with a chrome slide; the instrument was ran through a fair amount of reverb which gave it an ethereal yet gritty tonal quality. Every scratch, crunch, and groove along his instrument’s narrow neck wailed through the air of the venue. As the track came to an end, the dancers receded behind the stage, leaving the instrumentalists to play amongst themselves. The guitarist swapped in an electric viola, pinching and plucking along to the drummer’s tight rhythms and grandiose string and brass led backing tracks. Bass from these electronic instrumentals rumbled through the air, enveloping the drummer’s sophisticated playing; he would occasionally roll off on a practice snare with clattering hits that clicked like a tongue against the roof of a mouth. An alternation persisted throughout the night between songs with and without the accompaniment of dancers. The show’s theatrics were the heart of its grandeur, as a consistent use of animal themed outfits immersed the crowd in the bizarre spectacle of a macabre zoo; from gracious swan feathers, to timid ram horns, and even cheetah-cheer leotards, Zoey and company brought to life a colorful array of beasts and freak sensibilities that entranced the crowd.
Things got especially hot when during the last track before the encore, Zoey’s bra malfunctioned as she was balancing a vase atop her head; exposing her breasts for a breath-taking instant, she powered through her routine with the assistance of a stage hand clasping her bra strap, vase still intact. The crowd went wild and were foaming at the mouth for more. The band brought out a whole troupe of dancers, along with the emo clad opener, for the encore, bringing the grand bazaar to a spectacular close.