Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spending a Weekend in the Soul of Brooklyn

On a few rare occasions, opportunities cross your path that you simply can't let pass up or you'll end up regretting it for ever. When I learned that renown Soul DJ Jonathan Toubin was preparing something big to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his widely successful night, New York Night Train - Soul Clap, I knew I had to be there. The line-up of the Friday night live Soul revue was enough to convince me. But when I was asked to participate and do a short DJ set, nothing was going to stop me. Well, except maybe an over zealous Trump-loving border agent. For the record, border officials are the best people in the world, specially American ones.

I consider myself lucky to be living only a 7 to 8 hour drive from New York, one of the most incredible cities on the planet. The cavalcade of legendary Soul artists that were set to perform are what Mod's dreams are made of: Irma Thomas, Maxine Brown, Archie Bell, Baby Washington, Joe Bataan, Young Jessie, Ural Thomas, David Johansen, Nick Waterhouse and King Khan. Do I have your attention now? 

Aside from the fact that I could have been a teenager during the 60s, this is the closest thing I'll ever come to jumping in a DeLorean with a flux capacitor and setting the year to 1964. As an added bonus, some of the best Soul DJs on the continent were converging on the Big Apple, many of them friends and others that I was really looking forward to meeting for the first time in the flesh. Is my excitement palpable yet?

Kurtis Powers from The Face Radio and myself, ready for some mayhem.
The Warsaw, a venue situated in the hip Greenpoint neighbourhood of Brooklyn, was the perfect place to hold the Soul revue. This century old concert venue had all the charm and pizazz you would expect for that type of concert.

First to hit the stage was Nick Waterhouse. He's one of those contemporary musicians I really like. I have seen him perform before and chances are I'll go see him every chance I get. The backup singers were really a nice surprise. Whoa! These ladies can belt out a tune!

Ural Thomas was up next. He's the artist I knew the least about. I don't recall owning any of his records. Man! was I converted! I wasn't the only one blown away by his stellar performance. That was unanimous. He owned that stage like he was 20 years old.

Baby Washington followed Thomas and it was going to be hard to beat her predecessor. She was the one I was the most looking forward to see live. Unfortunately, she didn't live up to the expectations. Her voice was low and lacking power and fortitude. Plus, she didn't sing any of my favorite tracks. He best moment was probably when she sang That's How Heartaches Are Made Of. That's the risk of putting artists that don't perform on a regular basis and that are advancing in age.

My disappointment was quickly dispelled once Young Jessie made an appearance. He might not be as young as his name suggests and even though he needed assistance to reach his stool at the center of the stage, that didn't keep him from giving a performance full of heart and class. There was a little moment of comic relief when the man who was simply bringing the stool on stage, mistaken for Young Jessie, was greeted with thunderous applause.

Speaking of class, Maxine Brown was just that. To say that I was blown away is an understatement. Her rendition of Oh No Not My Baby was quite a powerful moment.

The party was just getting started. When Boogaloo king Joe Bataan took over, the place erupted in a frenzy. I'm a massive Latin fan and I was well served. This man probably has more energy in his little finger then I have in my whole body. You can tell that he's a seasoned professional. The performance was tight. My good friend and veteran DJ Ty Jesso said it best: "Joe Bataan doing Subway Joe was a stand out moment for me. I never thought I would see him live. Just amazing!"

When Archie Bell took over the stage, he just continued to flawlessly ride Joe's party wave. I had to pinch myself a few times when he started his extended version of Tighten Up. He even gave us a little tutorial how to execute all the moves. I would have made the trip just to see that.

The show took a different turn when former New York Dolls singer, David Johansen stepped on stage. That doesn't mean he was any less of a showman, quite the contrary. David is the quintessential New York cool guy archetype. That was certainly the purest definition of living a "New York moment".

Just before Irma Thomas made her way to the stage, a secret guest was revealed. New Orleans native Jean-Baptiste, best known for being the band leader on Steven Colbert's The Late Show, took to the organ. He gave us a couple of instrumentals pieces of what could be some of the best Mod Jazz I ever heard live. All throughout the rest of the concert he seemed to be truly enjoying himself, grinning from ear to ear. We even had a moment when I caught him with his jaw dropped and making all sort of faces, mesmerized by the back-up singers standing beside him. I pointed right at him as if he had just been caught red-handed. He pointed right back acknowledging it with the largest of smiles. I liked him before, I like him even more now.

Jean-Baptiste enjoying the back-up singers' performance
Last but not least was Irma Thomas. When she introduced Time Is On My Side she started by saying: "You've heard this one by them. Now, you're going to hear it from the original." Hearing the whole crowd singing along was quite a unifying moment. Ruler Of My Heart was another stand-out moment.

My wife and I had to skip the after-party to have enough energy for the next day. We did finish the night in a Brooklyn bodega, at 2 am, getting a hero from our Dominican friend Daniel who had just received his US citizenship. It felt like such a New York thing to do.

Day two was just as intense. It started with a visit to the famous "Record Room", in the soul of Brooklyn, where my man Kurtis Powers hosts his popular show, The Face Radio

We spent an hour shooting the breeze and spinning Soul 45s.

Was our lack of sleep evident during this moment of radio history? Of course it was! You can judge for yourself by listening to the episode right here.

Cleveland's top wax spinner, DJ Alr!ght, enjoying the tunes in the Record Room.
After an intense hour on air, I had just enough time to get back to my airBnB and prepare for the night's festivities.
Don't let the serious demeanor fool you. Fellow traveler Charlie is ready for a night on the town.
Baby's All Right was hosting Jonathan Toubin's anniversary bash for the second night. Two rooms: one with live bands and one with the top Soul DJs of the Americas.
Here I am with the man of the hour, Jonathan Toubin.
Ready to warm up the crowd that was pouring in was Ryan Niederstadt who took over the reigns from his UFO Factory partner Adam Stanfel.

My job was made easy when I was passed the baton for my short set. But I had a tall order to fill because I had to keep the party going for the charismatic New York favorite and WFMU star Sheila B. If you're not a Sheila B fan already, make sure to check out her show Sophisticated Boom Boom.

As always, she delivered in a big way. Her mix of Girl Group power tracks, pounding Soul and infectious 60s rare grooves was enough to make us sweat and pant like dogs. My good friend Rob Macy from Baltimore's Save Your Soul fame didn't let us rest for a second when he had his turn at bat. If you're in Baltimore on April 7th, these two are going to team up for what is guaranteed to be the biggest party in town. Take it from me, I speak from experience.

Another WFMU big gun, Todd-O-Phonic Todd, also made his mark. Jonathan Toubin owes a great deal of credit to Todd for working behind the scenes and making this weekend a success. His show is also a must. Check out his past episodes right here.

When it comes to huge Soul events, the next guest DJ knows a thing or two about organizing them. The mastermind behind the Ponderosa Stomp Festival in New Orleans is Ira Padnos. If you want to hear some mind blowing, ultra rare records you've never heard before, this is the guy you want to know.

Since I had a long road ahead the next day, I couldn't stay until the end. There's a part of me that regrets not toughing it out. For one, 
The Clash's DJ, direct from London, DJ Scratchy was part of the line-up. I wasn't the only one to represent Canada behind the decks, Johnny Trash made us proud. I was also told that my mate from Cleveland's Secret Soul Club, DJ Alr!ght, had a killer set and New York's finest, Drew Redmond, lived up to his reputation.

The next morning, we had just a couple of hours to have brunch, briefly explore our Brooklyn neighborhood before heading back home. Normally, I would end this blog post with a few interesting photos of the city. Like these... 

If I was in a 60s Garage band, this is how we would roll.

Boozy cupcakes? I'll take a dozen please!
And a few shots of notable places we encountered on the road.

I would typically wrap it up by saying that my weekend was intense, momentous and that I was already looking forward to the next time I would cross paths with such wonderful people. But the story doesn't end here.

At around 9:30 pm, while driving on a pitch dark highway in Upstate New York, something happened that could have made this weekend bursting with positive vibes and memorable moments take a tragic detour. 

We hit a deer head on. You know, a close encounter of the 4 legged kind. Thanks to my best friend Daniel's lightning fast, Bruce Lee like reflexes, his fiance Charlie, my wife Nikki and myself were all safe and sound. As for the the Prius, that's another story. Still no news about the deer. It's as if it had vanished into thin air. 

Looks more like a large crow hit our car.

Stranded on the side of the road, on a chilly March Sunday night for a over an hour before police, towing and taxi would arrive wasn't the most pleasant but considering that if Daniel had slammed on the brakes a fraction of a second later, the ending to this post could have been quite different.

Instead, we got to spend an extra night in the US. I could think of worst ways of spending a Sunday night then amongst friends in a motel in Plattsburgh, New York.