Zeus, Thor and the National Weather Service all conspired against music on Sunday, July 29, but a mass of drenched and soggy Brooklynites gave a hearty “Fuck you!” to the sky gods and went to McCarren Park Pool for TV on the Radio anyway. By mid-day, this public-pool-turned-venue looked like it was going to refill itself with rainwater, but a few hundred black umbrellas, a good drainage system, and lots of Brooklyn Lager kept a pool-full of music fans satisfied, if soaked.
It’s a particular quality of festivals like these–popular as hell but still rough around the edges–that always finds a way to roll with the punches. Typically, the McCarren Park Pool Parties are a celebration of summer: beach bumming, bikinis, soaking in the sun, eye-candy. The TV on the Radio show, however, was a darker side to the season: lightning, wet shoes, huddling by the grill to dry, still getting wet. It was a weird summer storm, the days before and after being bone-dry and hot as a poorly-ventilated tenement from hell. Given the choice, I don’t know if I really would have chosen the heat over the soak. (The rain also drove away some of the less devoted, leaving mainly the hardcore and the obsessed, along with those who could get free beer at VIP.) So, even when the thunder was raging and lightning flashed between sound-checks like god’s pyrotechnics, people were still playing dodgeball in an inch of water, leaping down a massive slip-n-slide and massing in puddles in front of the stage. And if you’ve never slid down a slip-n-slide in the pouring rain, I can tell you, it beats the hell out of slip-n-sliding in the sun.
The show kicked off with Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson playing to a handful of adventurous souls huddling by the stage, the larger part of the audience safely under eaves and far away. They played a so-so set, considering the circumstances. Occasionally Mr. Robinson forgot what part of the song he was in, but no one really noticed over the pitter-pat of rain on their umbrellas.
Next up was Celebration, lead by the ebullient Katrina Ford, who danced and sang her way through a pack of fun dance-rock numbers that got at least some of the crowd to shake the water from their shoulders. She also brought on Kyp Malone and Jaleel Bunton of TVotR to sing a few numbers, hanging off of each in turn like a flirty school girl.
Eventually, everyone cleared the stage for TV on the Radio’s return to Brooklyn (mountain). Even the rain seemed to clear for these guys, though the sun was still nowhere to be seen.
Last year, TVotR played an adventurous set in Prospect Park for Celebrate Brooklyn, bewildering some with long, improvisational interpretations of their songs. At McCarren Park, they played a set less adventurous by far, hardly straying at all from the familiar dozen or so songs, keeping each track close to its studio length throughout. They were still energetic and fascinating and fun, but the lack of innovation was a bit of a disappointment to those expecting more Animal Collective-like meditations upon the nature of music.
They also need some new material. When TVotR came out with Young Liars, their first EP in 2003, it was a promise as well as a fulfillment, and those of us who heard it when it first came out were hit with something utterly new and uncompromising. It was dirty, hard and poetic‚Äîkind of like Brooklyn (at the time?). Desperate Youth only expanded on that theme, and the best tracks on it were taken directly from the EP. If I was one of the few people in the world not completely floored by Return to Cookie Mountain, it was only because they set the bar pretty high three years before, and I was still waiting for it to be raised.
They played the three main tracks from Young Liars at the McCarren Park show, as well as favorites from their other albums. Missing were some of the slower songs; they favored the energy and driving beat of “The Wrong Way” and “Dirtywhirl” over, say, the quiet sadness of “Blind” or “Ambulance.” Tunde Adebimpe must be a much happier person now that he’s touring the world in a large bus, a far cry from the depressive basement four-track screamer who bitched about his ex in the early demo “Freeway.”
For the encore they brought out nearly everyone‚ÄîKatrina from Celebration, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, some stagehands. They ended with a triumphant “Staring at the Sun,” which may have worked its magic on Mother Nature: by the end of the set the sun had just begun to peek out from behind horizon-thinned clouds.
The storm gods were satiated, the audience was satisfied, and everyone shuffled off to go dry their socks.