The Mnookin New Year's Eve Experience

ATN correspondent Seth ³Boom Boom² Mnookin

spent New

Year's Eve searching the Boston area for excitement. Here's his

report: 12:42

AM, January 1, 1996. Harvard University Science Center, basement computer room.

Save for myself and the guard upstairs, the Science Center is completely

empty...undergrads still on vacation, professors in foreign lands, even nerdy

grad students celebrating the new year. Happy New Year, everyone...or at least

the other quietly humming Power Mac 7100s that surround me. The quietness is

weirding me out a little, as if I¹ve mistakenly stepped into a lost world...

Still, my devoutly unfriendly roommate in Somerville owns a five-foot lizard

named Satan and got off work at eleven, and although there have been no

dangerous incidents yet, who knows what he has planned for New Years. So I¹ll

stay here...work, after all, always comes first.

And, as usual, that is

what dictated my wanderings this evening. In my never ending quest to get ³the

story,² I decided to attend Boston¹s 20th annual First Night celebration, the

oldest and largest such event in the country (and, this being the United

States, therefore the world). First, a bit of explanation. First Night started

in Œ76 when the Boston art community decided to hold a downtown celebration at

various and sundry sites, charge a blanket admission, and call the whole

shebang First Night. (Although it¹s technically Last Night, this now being

First Morning. But anyway.) Now, 20 years later, numerous cities across the

land have adopted First Night as a civic theme for the New Year, but Boston

still stands out as the most diverse, most active, largest, and best attended

of such events in the great U.S. of A. The party starts during the day:

storytelling, puppet making, and sing-alongs for kids, a grand procession

around 6:00 PM, ice sculptures dotting the Boston landscape, music throughout

the night, and fireworks at the witching hour. (Someone else just came into the

computer room, albeit in a Cat in the Hat hat. At least he¹s over in the I.B.M.

section.) I¹ve had some good First Night experiences in the past. When I was a

youngun¹, it was a family affair, and three years ago I was introduced to

klezmer music by attending a Klezmer Conservatory Orchestra gig at the Orpheum

on First Night. So I rounded up my trusty friend Dave (drummer of the soon to

be well-known band Push Kings) and he brought his friend Shiv (drummer of the

already becoming well-known band Papas Fritas) and trundled out to downtown

with our press passes. I had an agenda, I had a way to avoid the lines, I had

two notebooks and a pocketful of pens. I was ready.

7:15 PM - 8:00 PM.

Either Orchestra, Berklee Performance Center. The Either Orchestra has been a

Boston jazz institution for almost a decade, and, notwithstanding the cheese

factor of leader Russ Gershon, are a damn good ensemble. The ten musicians who

make up the EO (two trumpets, three saxes, two trombones, bass, drums, piano)

all know their chops, and as the EO ran through a repertoire of originals and

standards (a Mingus romp here, a Roland Kirk blues there) the evening started

out on a good note. Individually and as an ensemble, the Either Orchestra knows

how to draw a crowd in, build the tension, and let it all out at just the right

moment. There were a handful of transcendent moments (mostly during covers -

Gershon, besides being a cheeseball, isn¹t much of a composer, either) and I

was feeling good.

8:30 PM - 9:15 PM. Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, Berklee

Performance Center. As I said before, I was first introduced to Klezmer

at First

Night, and have since become a rabid klezmer fanatic (not rapid, as the editors

of ATN might have you believe) so I had high hopes for the Boston-based

Shirim...although my friend Mark, who brought me to see the KCO three years

ago, told me not to get my expectations up when it came to Shirim.

As

usual, I should have listened. While Shirim shone during their

instrumentals ‹clarinet and trombone soaring and weaving a tapestry of

majestic

and joyous sound, backed by a pounding tuba and drumming that owed more to

free-jazz than to Eastern European music ‹their singer more than ruined the

show. She shat all over it. Wearing a skin-tight, low-cut black dress, dancing

off-beat and with no character or style, singing in a flat voice that would

make my deaf (and Yiddish) great-grandmother cringe, she was just plain awful.

All I can say is, thank god I don¹t know her name, or I would be forced to

slander her even more.

9:15 PM - 10:00 PM. Boylston St., from Mass. Ave.

to Arlington St. Transportation ‹walking from place to place, amid the

slush and

vomit and noise blowers and horns and obnoxious drunks ‹constitutes by

far and

away the worst part of First Night, an otherwise amazingly well-run and

organized institution. I tried to take in some of the ice sculptures (which

were, as always, quite impressive). But there¹s no two ways about it: drunk

crowds can ruin anything. Anyway, I had a good talk with Shiv.

10:00 PM -

10:30 PM. Rory Block, Arlington St. Church. I knew this choice was going to be

risky. Block, with her Joplin-meets Howlin¹ Wolf vocal style and combination of

country blues, spirituals, and gospel, is always a treat on disc. Live can be a

different story: she¹s infamously testy and known to bite when provoked.

Suffice to say that this performance offered a bit of both. Obviously perturbed

when music from outside threatened to drown out some of her a cappella singing,

Block was still in top form while performing her classic ³I Love Whiskey² and

Koko Taylor¹s throaty ³Cry Like A Baby.²

10:45 PM - 11:30 PM. Made in the

Shade, The Castle at Park Plaza. Made in the Shade, a band I¹ve seen perform

numerous times on the streets of Cambridge, made up one-half of First Night¹s

ragin¹ cajun New Year, and were one of the definite treats of the evening. (The

other half, The Louisiana Aces, played from 11:45 PM - 12:30 AM, but I missed

them in a futile attempt to catch the fireworks finale. More on that in a

moment.) Mixing Dixieland romps, Cajun marches, and New Orleans cacophony, Made

in the Shade had the 1000+ people at the castle up and dancing, a rare event

when dealing with tightly-laced Bostonians. It¹s bands like these that serve

First Night well, and vice versa. Top notch, local jazz or blues acts that

don¹t get enough exposure locally but can really turn up the heat when needed.

11:45 PM - 12:15 AM. A futile run from the Park Plaza to Government

Center. The best I can say is, at least I wasn¹t on the subway when the clock

struck midnight. I missed the countdown, missed most of the fireworks, but,

sans party or expensive club show (First Night buttons, which are good to every

event, cost $10) I¹d say First Night was well-worth it. I¹ve never been one to

place too much importance on holidays ‹my New Year¹s resolution is to wake u

before noon tomorrow (or today, whatever)‹and have always found First Night to

be a good compromise for me. It wasn¹t the best one I¹ve been to ‹that

would be

Œ92-¹93, when I caught fiddler Matt Glaser (The Beacon Hillbillies) and The

Klezmer Conservatory Orchestra, along with an amazing Japanese dance

performance ‹but with First Night, you take what you get. And all in all,

I got a pretty good deal. Happy New Year, everyone.