Like many a robust community in this blessed American land, downtown Manhattan’s sprawling, subterranean Union Square subway station boasts a quirky cast of reoccurring characters. About this heavily traveled thoroughfare: A low-key locale of twisted acrobats, pushy poets, Jesus freaks, and beltin’ buskers offers an honest depiction of the emerging artist’s struggle, one that proves especially potent in a mad metropolis such as this. Ladies and gentlemen, between trains and at your leisure, you too can witness a tale of creation amongst chaos for but $2.75, the cost of one swipe! Sometimes by the stairwell to the L train, an exceptional guitarist wearing a plastic, golden crown playfully draws jazzy blues from his guitar. He always makes me smile but he is not here tonight. Fuck Union Square. Fuck this clandestine carnival.
Zooming into the depths of Brooklyn, “Just Dropped In” by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, and of Lebowski fame, of course, blasts from my headphones and on repeat. Tonight, Whitewash, an aspiring NYC career band with NYU roots, plays Aviv in support of Shibboleth, the outfit’s debut record set to be released on Tuesday, May 19th by way of Sad Cactus Records. As I stumble into the industrial venue, the band is taking the stage. For a weary traveler such as me, this is good news, a true sight for sloshed eyes. Hitting the bathroom and then the bar, by the time the show begins, I am ready to rumble, gents. Ding Ding.
“We trade vocals a lot so sorry in advance,” drummer Evan Glazman cheekily says just moments before igniting the band’s brand of garage-psych with a firm thwack of his drums. As held harmonies between wispy, longhaired, lead guitarist Sam Thornton and Glazman endure, bassist Jonathan Ben-Menachem proves a tremendous talent, clearly a dedicated student of Sir Paul’s work in the late 60s or at the very least one fairly familiar with the lines on Tame Impala’s Lonerism. Meanwhile, second guitarist, Aram Demirdjian strums stoically, adding an additional textural layer to the sound, I suppose. Lighting a cigarette, however, I realize I can’t really hear him very well. Moreover, “Tentacle,” the show’s opening track, could benefit from vocal effects, I feel. For a song pleasantly akin to being under water, the lead vocals are simply too clear. Round two? Yes, please.
Their second track, titled “Member,” proves immediately reminiscent of Surfer Blood’s “Floating Vibes,” not only in terms of the tempo but also in the guitar’s timing and tone. Here, though Demirdijian sings lead front and center, Ben-Menachem steels my eye once again, gooning beautifully in his own crew cut world, bass up on high over his bellybutton. It’s an absolute delight for a drunk like me, bettered only by Thornton’s ripping, wall-of-noise solo. Hot damn, can he run with it.
Launching into the the third track, I move to the back of the room, watching now from nearby a notably sparse merch table. Lighting another cigarette, I begin to notice a level of comfort coming over the band, one revealing both unity and dedication among them. Though it may seem an unnecessary distinction to make, this is a band keenly aware of the sonic sensibilities of its members, a band aware of how to play as a band rather than as a bunch individuals. Manifesting such via intra-group eye contact and other varying forms of communication throughout, these semi-psychedelic hopefuls benefit from these moments above all else. Sometimes I get lost in lava-lamp projections leisurely warpin’ on by behind them, but there’s no time for that now. Think now on the gooning bassist… You are getting very sleepy…
Yes, the goonin’ bassist, indeed. Oh, the joy I derive from his goonin’, struttin’, bouncin’ ways and, sippin’ at my third or fourth beer, I find myself longin’ for more of this silliness, so contagious to me and yet seemly ineffective against the group itself. Perhaps silliness isn’t the right word, though, bub. Perhaps fun is more on point or, better yet, satisfaction. Yes, that’s it, satisfaction. The trouble with Whitewash tonight, save for Ben-Menachem, seems to lie in the tone of their performance, one largely toeing the line between the over-serious and the sometimes guarded. While life these days is far from peachy keen and the artist perhaps more entitled than ever to broach the serious, there’s nothing worse than coming off as stiff or… self-serious. This is particularly true when considering such a young band as Whitewash and then magnified ten-fold when I recall this to be their album release party. C’mon, give us a smile, boys. Having a spot of fun on stage will hardly corrupt your art.
Because, really, this is a very exciting time for Whitewash, a band of many emerging talents slingin’ their scrappy yet sophisticated debut about the New York music scene. Tonight’s show exhibits a strong, young band capable of delivering a riveting musical experience in the face of figuring themselves out. Whether Glazman’s effortless ability to sing while slammin’, or Thornton’s guitar, screachin’ wonderfully like some teenage brat, Whitewash does have the talent to play, there is no doubt about that. However, to move forward Whitewash must define their live sound. I just can’t tell quite what you aspire too, gents. Is it Lincoln Center or Saint Vitus? I just dropped in, so see what condition my condition was in. That’s it from the front lines. Over and out.