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Bowery Ballroom: Back to the basics of a place in-between DIY house shows and Madison Square Garden

By James SweeneySPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE

Photo Courtesy of iheartparsons.com

You don’t have to be a frequent concertgoer to understand that feeling. It really only takes but a single moment–albeit one which can feel both indiscernibly long and jarringly brief–to inhale the shared energy of the room around you and make it your own.

This synergism is in itself a kind of electric current, which surges initially from the amplifiers and speakers into the anxious front-row bodies and backwards through the flanking crowd, and then upward into the second-level balcony until finally, flushing through the cracked walls into the venue lobby, the universality of the live-music experience comes full-circle.

This experience has been shared, to differing degrees, for centuries at least; yet one could argue that the diverse range of venues, artists and the concert-attendees which make up the modern landscape of live music in America is perhaps more remarkable than ever before.

New York City, while long-established as a mecca for the merging of artistry and entertainment in all scales and fashions, has emerged in recent years as a vitalized reincarnation of itself—as venues as small as Long Island’s “Dong Island” house venue and Brooklyn’s “Shea Stadium” look to take on a refreshingly bold responsibility in featuring small and often “unproven” bands with greater frequency.

Somewhere on this broad spectrum of venues, likely between the ambitious Do-It-Yourself house shows and the grandiosity of just about any event taking place at Madison Square Garden, lays the charmingly understated Bowery Ballroom, a venue which I had the privilege of attending on Saturday, Sept. 6th.

Located a mere four blocks from the legendary, now-defunct CBGB in the East Village of Manhattan, the Bowery Ballroom is a pointedly hip venue. Upon first encountering its sleek and spacious barroom-lobby, one could easily mistake it as simply a bar or club which features live music as a background initiative in its mission to create the archetypical “hot spot” for patrons sporting thicker beards and tighter pants than many would consider humanly possible. Upon further inspection though, the Bowery Ballroom revealed itself to be a quaint and thoroughly impressive venue.

While the Bowery’s PA system was hardly challenged by the modest and accessible nature of its performers, Chicago’s Into It. Over It. and Austin’s Mineral, the clarity of each band’s vocal performances, coupled with the gritty, layered guitar work featured in differing fashions by each act, stood out as perhaps the most crucial aspect of the Bowery Ballroom’s sound system.

The expansive, air-conditioned showroom floor left more than enough space between bodies during Into It. Over It.’s opening set, a performance which proved in some ways to be an exercise in determination on the part of the band’s founding member and songwriter, Evan Weiss, to appropriately express his gratefulness towards the recently reunited Mineral without overtly gushing.

Mineral’s set saw the Bowery’s floor reach the upper-echelon of its capacity as the median age of the crowd likewise increased by around six years.

This was far from coincidental, though. Mineral made their name in the mid-90s, playing a brand of emo-inspired indie rock that would set the stage for more pop-oriented “indiemo” artists, such as Jimmy Eat World, Weezer and Dashboard Confessional, to achieve significant mainstream success. By the time they had released their seminal second full-length album, “Endserenading,” in 1998, Mineral had broken up due to creative differences and seemed destined to remain that way for the foreseeable future. And as a matter of fact, they did.

Up until April of this year, the idea of experiencing Mineral’s brand of crescendo-heavy, emotional indie rock in a live setting seemed like a fantastic pipe dream to the thousands who listened in their heyday and the thousands who have discovered them since their initial dissolution.

This brings us back to one of the many ways in which live music can be so uniquely inspiring. For about an hour on Sept. 6th, 2014, a group of nearly 500 people, packed together in room that felt increasingly more intimate and familiar as the driving drums and crunching guitars grew louder, quieter, then louder again, shared a brief moment of musical history.

As Mineral’s encore performance of their classic song “Palisade” flooded onto the damp sidewalk, it became apparent that among the hundreds of sweaty attendees still trapped in their clutched, instinctual sway, there was not a single one whose dream, while perhaps small in the grand scheme of aspiration, had not come true that night.

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