It’s hard to imagine coming up to New York City from Florida right now; leaving the white sand beaches for the chilly Hudson winds, trading the wide-horizon sunset for a cityscape hunkering down to face the North Eastern Winter. In Daytona, Florida, from which the Songwriters Showcases of America hails, people are still gathering outside for cold drinks on hot days. Here in the city, we’re finishing the last of our outdoor performances, sending our entertainers and our audiences indoors, patching those microphones and listening to the squeal of feedback, lowering the house lights, and pulling up the wide warm lights of the stage for the inaugural NYC New Music Festival. Billing itself as the event WHERE EAST MEETS WEST, this weekend-long fest reminds New Yorkers that our local music scene is a spectrum of talented musicians as distinct as this city is from Daytona Beach.
The NYC New Music Festival opened Wednesday night at Under St. Marks. The amusingly deadpan host, dressed in tie dye overalls and distinctly-toed shoes, introduced endearing Brooklynite Carl Banks as the very first set. He introduced his songs with descriptions and anecdotes but not titles, strumming out a few test chords on his guitar (the headstock decorated with untrimmed curls of extra guitar string) before diving in. His set was full of relatable acoustic lyrics and riffs, complemented by his warbly rich voice and funky harmonica. Before each song, Banks selected exactly which harmonica would be right for the job from a small box of the things, in which also lay his Blackberry. His simplicity in arrangement channels an intimacy and immediacy that’s hard to follow.
So Anthony Scuderi did not follow. Instead, he and his personable band used an eclectic mix of instruments and personalities to create a breadth of performative energy that was distinct from the zen singularity of Carl Banks, and wholly enjoyable. With a lead singer/guitarist, bass guitar, drummer, two violinists, a cellist and even a ridiculously entertaining vibraphone, Scuderi and the band played pieces with incredible layers, an almost theatrical combination of ritual and discord, building patterns just to break them. The consistent, even hum of the strings often served to balance the skillfully rough edges of the guitars. Anthony Scuderi performed a series of songs without pause called Silhouette Suite (which they generously offered to audience members in CD form free of charge). Though demanding, the performers made it seem effortless, and the strength of their personality permeated their performance. The bassist chewed gum through the whole set; one violinist seemed to be joking with the cellist in arm gestures while the other never lifted her eyes from her sheet music; the lanky man on the vibraphone wore all black, black shoes, black pants, black shirt, black glasses; their characters were as engaging as their music.
The depth and layers of Anthony Scuderi’s performance contrasted with Carl Banks powerful simplicity in a way that was complementary, not competitive. They represent two separate facets of an expansive universe of local music in New York, and they’re just two bands. The NYC New Music Festival is bringing more than 120 acts to the East and West Village through September 30th, with performances at Under St. Marks, the Kraine Theater, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and more than twenty other venues. Sometimes it takes that outside influence, in this case the Florida-based Songwriters Showcases of America, to remind New Yorkers how wild and wide a spectrum of music grows here.
- Written by Shane Reader