by shannon moore (pictures and video by kate maxwell)
If you were there, I’m sure you have your own dimly lit, grainy circus story to tell. If you braved the Industrial labyrinths of warehouses on this particular sub-zero Saturday night and followed the soft glow and faint pound of music to the doorstep of the House of Yes, then I’m sure you’re still talking about it right now, as the weekend ends. There were hundreds of us there. Three hundred and forty last I checked the head-count with my pals at the door, but more streaming in. And whether it was the heat of the fire throwers’ flames on your face, the theatrically high ceilings filled with acrobats, the woman perched in the rafters flashing the crowd below, the nearly 60-year-old Yoga contortionist getting down to the opening band, or the free pizza and cheaply priced cans of Busch that flowed like water — each one of us experienced something sensational at QC’s Sloppy Circus.
SHARK? opened the show, a casual Brooklyn-based three-piece with catchy lyrics (“My love is big, but my heart is small”) and authentic garage band feel, which immediately set up the intriguing contrast between three-ring and gritty rock show. Led by lights strung on pipes, face-painted guests were drawn easily in to the main stage by SHARK?’s cozy, familiar true-rock beats and hooks, with their merchandise slung over ladders against the wall. SHARK? is your hometown band, the one that’s really going somewhere but still feels like three guys you know.
Before things got too comfortable, Ava Luna filled up the stage. Like a group church project that caught fire and got a following, Ava Luna got the growing crowd into things like group clapping and girl-on-girl club dancing. What I initially thought may just be a white kid channeling Prince turned out to be a white kid channeling Prince well with a nice, sloppy organ, a throw-back funk beat and a back-up of solid-gold ladies who could belt it out or keep it pretty. Black Diamond Part I and II particularly roused the crowd (enter the female flasher stage left rafters, and everyone’s peepers to the ceilings for a good three or four minutes.) But Ava Luna brought their audience back and ended with a short, sweet bang.
The circus acts got things heated up with two Fabrics acrobats slinking, groping, and sparkling just out of reach of the crowd. Smoke and sexuality began to fill the room and, as I looked around, I saw the face paint trend had gone Lord of the Flies tribal. So the next band, Dinowalrus, eerily fit the mood.
Dinowalrus, if you ask me, sounds like the soundtrack to a trippy cartoon you watched in the 80s involving talking animals. I don’t know how they do this, except that it has something to do with crazy echo reverb on microphones, pedals, and what appeared to be a wind instrument? What technical difficulties were going on appeared to be for show, as the giant screen projected behind the band flashed color blocks and other happy geometrics that left me craving that Rainbow lollipop being given out at the door. “Dinowalrus tastes like Rainbows,” was my inner monologue. You can speculate on my mental state during this portion of the evening. But there was no question that the Talking Heads were conjured and perhaps those big, furry Wild Things.
“Keep a safe distance from the fire, thank you,” was a phrase repeated throughout the evening, but I was edging past the fire-eating (and fire hula-hooping, which got oohs and ahhs from the crowd, eyes glazed and glowing) toward the stage for the next band.
The Shivers were sporting leather jackets and dark sunglasses this evening. Joanne Schornikow, on a red lacquer keyboard and black leggings to the ceiling, got a commotion out of the boys down front. More often a dynamic duo, Schornikow and front man Keith Zarriello were joined in their first NYC performance since returning from European tour by former drummer and friend Alex Saltz. A solid drum and organ intro to “Just Didn’t Need to Know,” a song with amazing pop sensibility and drive kept Shivers fans who’d made the trip cross-country happy and moving. The place started to pack closer to the stage, so, in dedication to the women in the room, Zarrillio broke out a more soulful version of the more popular “Beauty.” One of the set’s best moments, though, was when Schornikow took center stage and did her own tune, which was sweetly heartbreaking in close-up. Also of note, an original song that moved seamlessly into Radiohead’s Creep, with Zarrillio’s lovely high notes spot on. His trademark improvisations were in the House, including, “Sometimes you need a little more … a little more love makin’ … a little more booty shakin … a little more Kevin Bacon.” It remains true, The Shivers are a band that could sound amazing with a backing choir, but they come off just as full as a three-piece on a small stage.
And this small stage at the Big Top was starting to creak. The house was full and still energetic. Like the end to an 80s teen flick, the stage room became a happy dance floor as Javelin started up with some good vibrations. These novel DJs ended the night with vintage mash-ups and vintage boom boxes. Javelin had no trouble taking us all back down to earth lightly and with charm. A few sound issues plagued the set but a choreographed aerial performance to Javelin’s “Moscow” was a defining and warming moment of the evening. The undeniable dance of the night came when the intro to “Soda Popinski” surged through the speakers. At least two circus attendees were seen sprinting toward the epicenter of the pit. The floor got play. “George Washington never told a lie so he went around the coooooooooorner and stole the cherry pie.”
The heat and sweat poured out the door to the House of Yes at the end of the show. Smokers found their circles, surprised to find it was still a freezing cold night in January. Inside the House of Yes, time went by slowly like acts to a play. It was as if we had spent the whole Winter together inside the Narnia wardrobe or some mystical forest of Tim Burton’s Big Fish. But when we exited into the real world, nothing had changed. Quiet Color and House of Yes succeeded in creating a big ball of Bohemia happen in Williamsburg last night, like a bonfire we all gathered around. And if you made it home safely, which I hope you did, then you probably feel like you just woke up from a crazy dream in which you got hit by a clown car (that would explain the splitting headache.) But I probably stamped your hand, right? So take a look. Is it still there? That’s right. It was all real.