The Albhabet Song - by Lev Glebovitch
Downtown's former no-go zone
becomes indie music's last refuge north of Houston .


When was the last time you saw a good show in East Village? With Brownies a distant memory, CBGB's in trouble well before the current sad skirmishes, Continental turning into a museum of itself ("All Photos Were Taken Here!") and even Lit getting a tad long in the tooth, the birthplace of punk is left virtually without music. After the club scene up and went south and east, into the tenements of the Lower East Side and warehouses of Williamsburtg, Manhattan's formerly trendiest neighborhood is looking more and more like, say, Park Slope: a nice bedroom community.

But wait a second, you will probably counter. Just last week I caught this fantastic gypsy-funk act at NuBlu. And a great shoegaze night at Scenic. And a country-thrash thing at Lakeside Lounge. And John Zorn just opened his own club.

Yeah, well. You're right and you're wrong. All these places are not in East Village, or at least not in what has been historically defined as East Village until enterprising realtors started blurring its borders. They're in Alphabet City.

"Avenue A, you're all right.
Avenue B, you're brave.
Avenue C, you're crazy.
Avenue D, you're dead."

If you have spent less than twelve or so years in New York, this charming mnemonic tidbit probably doesn't make any sense to you. Avenue B is lined with French bistros and enviable parkside real estate; Avenue C is home to cool design shops and crowded watering holes. I hear you can still get a tolerable deal on an apartment between C and D -- if you hurry.
Congratulations, I guess: you have missed out on a couple of heady decades when walking from the numbered into the lettered avenues was inadvisable at best and suicidal at worst.

The early '80s gestalt is captured pretty well in the otherwise minor 1999 flick "200 Cigarettes," set in East Village in 1981. In the film's perhaps most authentic scene, Gaby Hoffmann and Christina Ricci, playing vapid Long Island girls, tread dangerous waters on the edge of the Village: "Oh my gawd, you're crossing the B! You're crossing the B! I'm calling my mother." (The film also boasts a great Elvis Costello-as-younger-self cameo, but I digress). Hell, in 1995 – *1995!* -- NYPD rolled a tank – *a tank!* -- onto Avenue B to quell a squatters' revolt.

Skip forward a mere decade, and the only reason to call your mother from Avenue B is to tell her you saw the cutest throw pillow in the window of Amaran. And that Ikue Mori is on at the Stone. Provided your mom's into Ikue Mori.


Address: Ave C between 4th and 5th St., unmarked door with colorful characters hanging out on the stoop.

Vibe: Cosmic junkshop bachelor pad. Around 8pm, when the lights are up, the place is unspeakably ugly – a moldy '70s rec room is the kindest description I can muster. But wait till the lights dim; wait till you
discover the smoking terrace, with its view to a green lot and a gigantic willow; wait till that girl who looks like a young Pam Grier (and knows it) struts by. Then we'll talk.

Typical band: NuBlu's first breakout stars are Brazilian Girls, a quartet that, as journalists love to mention, contains no Brazilians and only one girl: Sabina, a lady of extremely complicated international provenance that enables her to write and convincingly sing in five languages. Sounding somewhat like Manu Chao with a better producer and on more expensive drugs, Brazilian Girls put dance textures in the service of well-written verse-chorus songs, ladling on inventive samples and the occasional ethnic flourish. They don't quite qualify as a typical band any more, though -- they're a bit too big for the joint. NuBlu's current staples are French chanteuse ElodieO, who's assembled a crack team to back up her gentle disco (the rhythm section of Spielerfrau plus a laptop) and the trio Kudu. Both could very well become the next Brazilian Girls; my money is on Kudu. Led by a big-haired, big-everything singer channeling both Siouxsee and a banshee, the trio bash out a tough hybrid of New Wave and live breakbeats. Seeing them is a revelation of the "why hasn't anyone thought of this before?!" kind.

Prices: Part with a fiver whenever a live performance is underway or imminent. Nobody stops you from coming early and getting in for free; the wait, however, may take a while. It's not unusual for the first act to start plugging things in and testing mics around, oh, midnight.

Forecast: Considering the progress of NuBlu's own music label, these guys haven't even started. There will be a NuBlu South Beach, NuBlu St. Bart's and NuBlu Moscow by the time they're done. And this one will still not have a sign out front.


Address: 25 Ave B, between 2nd and 3rd St. (646) 536-3654

Vibe: Fratboy chic upstairs, indie hang downstairs. The decor of Scenic's first floor is slightly hampered by the place's daytime function as a burger joint. As a result, it tends to draw an after-work yuppie crowd in full corporate-casual gear; braver souls who descend an ill-lit flight of stairs, however, will find themselves in a radically different space with a great sound system and, more often than not, an interesting artist onstage. Better yet, the bar in the music room appears even better-stocked than the upstairs one.

Typical band: Haven't found one yet. Any given week may contain a punk night, a breaks-and-beats shindig, and Antifolk queen Kimya Dawson of the Moldy Peaches infamy. The scope, and fame level, of the names Scenic is pulling right now roughly corresponds with Pianos; the guys in charge are veterans of the Knit.

Prices: $8 for the whole night (which usually features at least three acts).

Forecast: Provided enough hipsters learn to traverse the button-down-Oxford crowd on the way downstairs, Scenic's stage looks like a long-term addition to the downtown rock scene.


Address: Ave C at 2nd St.

Vibe: Austere. Artistic director John Zorn (of Masada and Tzadik Records fame) runs the place as a non-profit, and a pretty straight-laced one. Compared to Tonic's occasional touch of whimsy -- those casks, that foyer -- there is zero frivolity about the Stone. Everything is concentrated around the stage and the music, with no vulgar pleasures like alcohol to dilute your experience. There is no bar -- a shocker for many visitors but good news for teenage fans of experimental jazz, if there is indeed such a demographic (there should be). The place is not only all-ages but gives serious discounts to everyone under 19.

Typical band: For the first months of the Stone's existence, the lineups, perhaps unsurprisingly, resembled Tonic's greatest hits: Ikue Mori, Elliott Sharp, Zorn himself. This may change, as Zorn lets different musicians curate different months. As is the case with Tonic, there is virtually no use sending in your demo. Make good noise, and your number will be called.

Prices: $10 per set. Ages 13 to 19 pay $5. 12 and under get in for free: it's never too early to get Jimmy hooked on skronk.

Forecast: Tonic was pulled from the brink this year, but should the trouble recur -- heavens forbid -- this place looks poised to pick up the baton. To earn its own permanent place in the neighborhood, however, the Stone could afford to relax a little: the no-refreshment policy smacks of the classroom.

the sidewalk cafe`
“in 1995 – *1995!* -- NYPD rolled a tank – *a tank!* -- onto Avenue B to quell a squatters' revolt.”

Alphabet City is packed with bars and pubs that host regular or occasional live performances. Mo' Pitkins (Ave A @ 2nd) is the latest arrival: it has a room upstairs where time seems to have stopped that hosts regular music events. The Sidewalk Cafe` (B @ 6th) is the venue where the Anti-Folk folks found a home. The C-Note (C @ 10th) offers anything from rock to jazz on a daily basis. At the Lakeside Lounge (Ave B at 10th) you may or may not find a band playing around 10 pm - only not too loud... Niagara (Ave A@ 7th) and the Alphabet Lounge (Ave C at 7th) host occasional rock gigs. Legendary Otto's Shrunken Head (14th St btw A and B) seems to be a haven for the new generation of lo-fi aficionados. If you are looking for recorded music, check out the CD selection at Etherea (66 Ave A).





etherea record store