POP MUSIC REVIEW : Mary’s Danish at NYC: Presenting an Attitude Problem
A trendy new club and a hip, rising band--NYC and Mary’s Danish sounded like a smooth enough match.
Not quite. NYC’s first attempt at booking a nationally known rock act revealed that a dance club has to make some changes in outlook if it also is going to serve as a concert hall.
According to co-owner Amen Wardy Jr., NYC’s aim is to cater to the affluent young of Orange County--particularly Newport Beach. Club officials say their target clientele has been flocking to the Newport Boulevard site in droves to dance to recorded music amid fancy, modernistic decor that includes wall paintings with an abstract-erotic cast. But as any club promoter who is serious about booking high-ranking live talent knows, you’ve got to keep the headliners happy before you start catering to anyone else.
Gretchen Seager and Julie Ritter, the two singers who front Mary’s Danish, didn’t look very happy Wednesday night as they stewed outside NYC about an hour before the announced show time. The singers, their sound man and another band member tried unsuccessfully to persuade the doorkeepers that they should be admitted to their own concert.
No, they weren’t on the band’s guest list, they told the security crew. They were the band. But instead of doing the sensible thing--checking inside with somebody who might sort the situation out--the doormen laid down the law: no ID, no admittance. The singers stalked off, with one of them muttering that maybe they shouldn’t play at all. Major faux pas for NYC.
And not one that Seager, the blond half of the Mary’s Danish vocal duo, was about to let pass.
During the first pause in the band’s set (the members having somehow managed to get in after all), she griped about the hassle at the door. After the next song, Seager scoffed at one of NYC’s offbeat little amenities: brightly colored alcoholic concoctions served in test tubes, which she declared were overpriced. Ritter shrugged: “It’s all in the name of science, I guess.”
Dealing ironically with life’s little slights--not to mention some of its more serious setbacks--is the Mary’s Danish method. On its 1989 debut album, “There Goes the Wondertruck,” the Los Angeles band established itself as an alternative-rock contender with a sound, and an outlook, reminiscent of early X. Seager and Ritter’s tart voices intertwine like a double-tracked Exene Cervenka, bringing a sense of wry detachment to lyrical situations fraught with alarm. With the band set to begin recording its second album this weekend, the question was whether Mary’s Danish would be able to expand its musical and emotional range.
The opening numbers “Don’t Crash the Car Tonight” and “What to Do?” confirmed that Mary’s Danish could do live justice to its album material. Seager and Ritter delivered bending, elongated harmony lines with tandem precision. Guitarists Louis Gutierrez and David King came up with some blazing, fuzz-tone sonics that recast X’s old punkabilly in a more psychedelic direction.
The first of several new songs was a promising folk and country-tinged anthem, “Hell Flower.” With Ritter singing lead, the song took a more direct emotional approach than anything on “Wondertruck.” Its chorus--"I may look small, but I’d kick a hole right through you"--hit head-on, rather than taking the wry, look-askance approach of the band’s debut album.
But as the show went on, that ironic guard went right back up, on old material and new. After a while, the material’s similarity of mood and lack of melodic invention took its toll. With guest saxophonist Michael Barbera joining in, Mary’s Danish delved into the funk and R&B; underpinnings of some of its songs more thoroughly than on album, but that couldn’t compensate for the band’s unvarying commitment to its signature frenzied detachment.
Toward the end, Mary’s Danish turned the show into a loose garage-rock session that included a lounge-jazz instrumental excursion and a bashing, sloppy-but-fun assault on Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” that featured former Gypsy Trash frontman Robbie Allen as guest lead vocalist.
On their recent debut solo albums, X alumni Cervenka and, even more so, John Doe, have explored forms of open-hearted expression far removed from the irony-dripping conventions of their old band’s early days. It would be nice if Mary’s Danish could develop a similar balance as it goes along.
As for NYC, it’s unclear what the future holds as far as concerts by national headliners. In an interview before the show, Wardy said that with dance evenings going well, he isn’t inclined to take many risks booking expensive touring attractions. The strategy, he said, will be to offer concerts as changes of pace geared to the club’s regular clientele.
“The people will like the bands that play here, just because they like the club in general,” he said. Instead of advertising the Mary’s Danish show to the general public, Wardy said, the club passed the word to people on its mailing list, in hopes that this alone could bring a sellout. Wardy’s partner, Bob Ohanion, said the show drew a paid attendance of 327--making it a success, but not the full house Wardy had imagined in a club whose two rooms can hold a total of 600 people.
For all its upscale bent, NYC does have the makings of an unpretentious rock nightclub. Underneath the wall decor and ultraviolet lighting, the concert room (the labyrinthine club has a second main room just for dancing) is just a concrete rectangular box with no seating. The closely packed audience looks in on a small stage divided by a ceiling support beam. While such a setup requires hardiness on a listener’s part, it was a situation well-suited to a high-energy rock band such as Mary’s Danish. With the two singers forced to go shoulder-to-shoulder in a small space, the group’s stage combustion was enhanced.
On the other hand, it was impossible to watch the drummer on the riser-less stage, and the view of other band members was blocked. Also, over-amplified sound in a small, hard-surfaced room doesn’t make for ideal sonics. While the instruments came through clearly enough, it was hard to make out the words.
The sound clarity was better for Dada, an acoustic duo from Los Angeles that opened with a good, energetic set that achieved rock intensity while featuring sharp, Beatles-influenced harmonies.