Category: Music

Starbucks Salon times two

Sunday, September 17th, 2006 | All Things, Books, Events, Music

Brooklyn writer Jonathan Lethem — not to be confused with the other Brooklyn writer Jonathans: Ames and Safran Foer — was billed on the Starbucks Salon program under “Storytelling.” I had signed on early for this appearance by the author of Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude.

The latter, by the way, is not about Superman at all, though superpowers do come into play. It reminds me that I still haven’t read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon’s comic book inspired (and Pulitzer Prize winning) novel. I picked up Chabon’s debut novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh after my own wondrous, mysterious Pittsburgh summer, and was immediately struck by the touching elegance of his writing. I still recall vividly how the story captured the poignant thrill, confusion and melancholy of the last summer of youth. At least how I imagined it would all be, during that final year of high school when I was reading it. It’s one of the few books I’ve read and held on to over the years. Perhaps because I liked it so much, I’m ambivalent about its currently being made into a film, starring Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller and Mena Suvari. Though I will say that the movie adaptation of Chabon’s second novel, Wonder Boys, was one of the underappreciated films of 2000. The book itself is very good, also… though I do find the film tie-in edition with Michael Douglas’ big ol’ mug on the cover a little disconcerting.

Back at the Salon (in daylight)…

Starbucks Salon

Although Lethem is a regular on the literary circuit around town, I’d never actually seen him in person, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. This afternoon, instead of pulling pages from an excerpt or essay, he was joined on stage by Isaac Butler, local theater director (and occasional writer and actor). Together, they performed a dramatized reading of Lethem’s short story “Their Back Pages,” about a group of cartoon castaways/castoffs who find themselves on a deserted island a la Lost.

The story was a little slow getting started — the audience at first seemed… perplexed — but as it built some momentum, and the men threw themselves into character, it was quite funny. A brief question and answer period followed, during which there was the predictable fawning over Lethem, who is apparently rather well-versed in pop-culture.

Lethem Storytelling

Downstairs at the Starbucks Gallery, with its off kilter walls:



After the Salon, we walked around SoHo for a bit and then made our way downtown to Eldridge for an early dinner. This time, instead of Super Taste, we decided to try its across-the-street rival for hand-pulled noodle supremacy: Sheng Wang. The subterranean space is about on par with Super Taste in terms of ambience, but their signature bowl is distinct from Super Taste’s in flavor: the noodles swim in a lighter broth, chock full of beef, spinach and pickled radishes, and are topped with a single fat, fluffy, white fishball stuffed with minced pork. The superior bowl, I think, may just be a matter of preference.

Over to Little Italy, where the 79th Annual Feast of San Gennaro was taking place. If we hadn’t been so full of noodles, we would have picked up some zeppoles. Oh, I’m a sucker for zeppoles — all sugared, hot, fried dough treats, actually.

San Gennaro

San Gennaro

Back to the Starbucks Salon for the final show of the ten-day event. Eclectic Method is a trio of DVJs who mix audio and video by blending together music videos and film footage to a mash-up soundtrack, using mixers, DVD turntables, laptop computers and video projectors. For tonight’s performance, they culled material from Madonna, the Jackson Five, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Wu Tang Clan, The Bangles, Jimi Hendrix, The Triplets of Belleville, the Oompa Loompa song, Outkast, The Beatles…

The crowd sat transfixed for almost the entire ninety-plus-minute set. Several of the Salon employees broke out into enthusiastic dance, eventually joined by a couple of hipsters. Those not getting their groove on, served up all the coffee and pastries (cheesecake, apple pie, espresso brownies) left in the glass cases in a grand finale-clearing gesture.

Electric Method

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Ursula Rucker at the Starbucks Salon

Friday, September 15th, 2006 | All Things, Events, Music

First visit to the Starbucks Salon — a pop-up salon, performance venue and gallery in SoHo that builds upon the heritage and intimacy of the traditional coffeehouse setting. Concerts, readings, comedy, fashion, art… all “Provocative Performances to Engage and Inspire Audiences in New York,” according to the company’s press release. For ten days, Starbucks took over the Corinthian-columned building (known as the King of Greene Street) that once housed an art gallery… and over the holidays, the UNIQLO pop-up store.

I can anticipate the haters coming out now to decry how the global behemoth banked $6.37 BILLION in revenue in 2005, while bankrupting hundreds of the very same independent coffeehouses they’re now mimicking.

Starbucks Salon


B and I met at Grand Central to head downtown together for the Ursula Rucker show, at his suggestion. Rucker was listed on the SBUX slate as a “spoken word” performer, and a couple of days before, B shared two of her tracks with me so that I would have some sense of what to expect.

Rucker is a Philadelphia-based wordsmith whose debut album, Supa Sista (2001), and follow-up album Silver or Lead (2003) were released to strong critical acclaim. Her social-political commentary – half-spoken, half-sung – was backed by guitarist/ songwriter/producer Timothy Motzer (who used a guitar synth to layer and live-loop music and sounds to interesting effect) and drummer/composer/producer Gintas Janusonis (who got some love from the Brooklyn contingent in the house.)


We snagged two of the last seats scattered around the floor, and settled in with our cappuccinos from the convenient kiosk set up inside. Most of the tracks this night were drawn from Rucker’s latest album, titled Ma’at Mama. “Ma’at” is the Egyptian goddess of balance and truth. Rucker’s performance was sprinkled with calls for just that and for awareness and “revolution.” In “Libations,” she extensively namechecked figures like Dorothy Dandridge, Tupac, Malcolm X and Gandhi; it was the one piece in the set for which she relied on notes. “Uh Uh” dealt with a woman asserting her value to an unappreciative man. And in between, there were rants about the increasing objectification of women in popular music and video. No Luda for Rucker’s four young sons!

In “Children’s Poem,” Rucker took on the plight of black youth and slavery being “alive and well.” One of the speakers blew out mid-performance, and after a couple of feedback-generating attempts to fix it, the background musicians drifted into silence, leaving Rucker’s voice unaccompanied, smooth and soulful.

Ursula Rucker

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Kang & Soto (and Pam)

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006 | All Things, Friends, Music

Attended a lunchtime concert by The Julliard School’s Kang & Soto Duo: Judy Kang (Violin) and Josu de Solaun Soto (Piano). The performance took place in the glass atrium of 180 Maiden, formerly known as the Continental Center, just south of South Street Seaport. It was built for the Continental Insurance Company by The Rockefeller Group in 1983 at a cost of $115 million. In August 2004, the building was sold to The Moinian Group for $355 million.

A blurry shot of the performance in progess (after which I asked to put the camera away.)

Kang and Soto

I’d taken a different view of this building from the anniversary cruise last month, and it’s clear how the glass tower rises above its surroundings (here, the leftmost building, behind Pier 17):

Continental Center

The tower was enabled by the transfer of unused air rights from the low-rises in the South Street Seaport historic district. Air rights allow developers to build taller towers than the zoning ordinarily allows by buying the space over low-scale buildings and transferring it (on paper, if not in reality) to spaces over adjacent buildings. From wikipedia, an explanation of how Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) works:

EXAMPLE: A historic building is surrounded by skyscrapers. The building is only three stories high, but each building in the area has the right to thirty-five stories of airspace. The community doesn’t want the historic building to be destroyed. The owners of the historic building could make a great deal of money by selling their building and allowing a thirty-five story office building to be built in its place. But if they sell their air rights to someone developing an office building nearby, they can make almost as much money, if not more, without demolishing the historic building. And the person who purchases their air rights can now build a sixty-seven story office building.

TDR makes it possible for there to be a free exchange (buying and selling) of development rights without having to sell land. Critics of this model argue that the plan rarely generates much money for historic low-rise properties, and is more often used as a real estate scheme to undermine zoning protections.

Group dinner at Pam Real Thai — second time there this week. JS, who spent a year in Thailand after college, did the ordering, which worked out well for everyone; we shared an abundance of tasty dishes, including the tangy sliced squid salad and the deep-fried whole snapper with lime dressing and shreds of fresh mango. So good! He and I agreed on this point: Pam’s has the best Thai food in Manhattan. The original Wondee Siam is a close second — though some on the Chowhound boards would have you believe the reverse. I really have to make it out to Sripraphai in Woodside, Queens one of these days…

Afterwards, AC, CS, CC and I walked over to the Time Out New York Lounge which opened two weeks ago in Worldwide Plaza. Sort of an odd expansion of the “Time Out” brand (Jossip likened it to Jimmy Buffett bars or Teen Vogue television) but at least the lounge was low key enough to allow for audible conversation. The subterranean space that was once home to the Cineplex Odeon $2.00 (then $2.50, and just before closing: $3.00) second-run movie theater complex now houses New World Stages and its five Off-Broadway theaters.

From the lounge, we could hear the thumping beats from a television industry fête in full swing around the corner in the lower-lower level (former movie theater) space. It was tempting to crash the party — and in fact, we had some half-hearted discussions about making the attempt — but ultimately decided against infiltrating. Just as well: the party was breaking up just as we were leaving around midnight anyway.

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