ATN correspondent Seth ³Boom Boom² Mnookin
Year's Eve searching the Boston area for excitement. Here's his
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
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.
usual, I should have listened. While Shirim shone during their
instrumentals ‹clarinet and trombone soaring and weaving a tapestry of
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
vomit and noise blowers and horns and obnoxious drunks ‹constitutes by
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
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.