not to bury but to praise

upon learning that sin-e was closing, i scanned the listings and found that die romantik, a band i’d been meaning to see, was playing one of the last days. other passengers were slated to play the same night, but they ended up performing as a hybrid with another band. the three original OP members played excellently as usual, but i’ve blogged about them so much i’ve decided to focus on die romantik, and the end of another LES club.

sin-e used to be a little coffee house on st. marks’ place that sometimes had musicians playing in a corner. it was an early casualty of east village gentrification and skyrocketing rents. when the owners brought it back as a live music club and bar a few years ago, they wisely moved down to the then-burgeoning but still-cheap lower east side. budget was probably what led them to a location somewhat further east than the no doubt pricier ludlow/stanton/orchard/rivington axis. unfortuantely, this may have been one of their downfalls as they were even further off the beaten path than rothko, another LES club plagued with ill luck. with nothing else on the block, there was probably a lack of walk-in business or nearby incentives to hang outside and re-enter to see more bands and drink more. lowering the latter incentive, in my opinion, was the lack of a full liquor license. for a non-beer-drinker like myself, this meant much less money spent; instead of multiple mixed drinks, i’d either have one glass of red wine or stay dry altogether. similar clubs, take note.

still, the new sin-e had a decent stage and sound system, and i’ve heard pre-show DJs playing some pretty good stuff mostly unknown to me. they also seemed willing to take chances on music other than the recent standard of hipster-targeted indie rock, and ultimately this was their biggest legacy and the local scene’s greatest loss at their departure.

case in point, die romantik. this is a trio of immensely talented musicians performing music that’s a bit moody, artsy, and very hard to pigeonhole, especially in the context of the recent wave of NYC rock bands. their CD cover and band portraits support the almost goth sensibilities of their name and some of their more melancholy songs. however, at least on this night, they uphold the indie “we’re just regular guys like our audience” look and attitude. to me this seemed to undercut the elements they already have that can make them larger than life.

the intensity of their complex playing and beautiful singing makes a greater argument for truly progressive elements (as opposed to “prog” wankiness) - the kind that inspire devotees to follow bands like dream theater, tool, and radiohead. i’m not comparing their sound to those bands, but they have the chops to be in the same league.

maybe they were just saving their best threads for when they get tapped to open for interpol (their song "tik tok" makes a good case for that), but it’s more than clothes. the talented guitarist takes what appears to be center stage, but shies away from it even when taking a lead vocal, and is (perhaps unintentionally) largely buried in the mix. the drummer, while also excellent at both playing drums and singing backup vocals, makes the unfortunate sartorial choice of a headband (commented on openly by the audience), confusing their appearance further. meanwhile, the lead singer and keyboardist is largely hidden behind three levels of synths (i could only get the above shot by crouching down right in front of the stage), since he also handles bass duties with his left hand. while i’m hugely impressed by his ability to do this, i can’t help but think a full-time bassist would allow him to be seen better and concentrate more on singing and giving the band focus.

one downside of the current “indie” mindset is the fear of appearing to try too hard. i don’t mean to assume that’s what’s at work here, but if the band are wary of seeming too serious, they can let their music and personalities speak for themselves. some tunes were of a more whimsical, quasi-french riviera vibe, and their between-song banter was very down-to-earth. this is enough to keep them from lapsing into self-parody, should they choose to tighten up their presentation.

all this is, in a sense, nitpicking, since the band is so good. this post’s title is sincere, applying to both sin-e and die romantik; any criticisms come out of a desire for things to be even better than they already are. i wish clubs that take chances could figure out how to make money and stick around without losing their adventurous spirit. i think bands like this should be raised up to greater heights than clubs like sin-e. a good sign is that they did have the most attention and appreciation of anyone that evening. as things tend to go in cycles of death and rebirth, let’s hope that, as sin-e’s star fades, die romantik’s will brighten.

the title of this post is a paraphrase from julius caesar.