When I heard that Marcy Playground was coming to one of my favorite Manhattan music venues; all I could think was “Sex & Candy,” the bands 1997 hit song which was its only, to date, charting single.
1997. That was 15 years ago. A lot has happened in the last 15 years; for me anyway. In 1997 I was still a comparative novice to things like modern rock and was still a heavy fan of candy. Regardless the last 15 years have been something of a rollercoaster for Marcy Playgrounds lead singer/guitarist John Wozniak. Marcy Playground has written and released two other CD’s following 1997’s eponymous debut and now they are back with a fourth album “Leaving Wonderland…in a Fit of Rage.” Wozniak boasts the new album is “by far the best thing I’ve ever done.”
So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I took the A trains long journey from Northern Manhattan all the way down to the City Winery SoHo location on a brisk Sunday night in an otherwise tropical New York City winter/spring to see Marcy Playground and find out just what Wozniak was talking about.
The ambiance at City Winery was relaxed and jovial as it always is. The place was full of Marcy Playground fans because as soon as they introduced the band everyone “shushed” everyone talking and waited for the music to begin.
Wozniak came out alone at first and began playing the admittedly appropriate “All the Lights Went Out.” My wife asked me if this was a one man outfit. As though on cue the bass player and drummer entered the stage and began accompaniment following the first verse.
Maybe one of the things which most immediately impressed me about Marcy Playground was their deep bass lines and audibly vibrant tones. Because my investment with this band to this point had not been very deep the only tune of theirs I knew was kind of timid and sparse; radio-friendly as it were. There were certainly other songs they played tonight which I could see coming across on the FM dial but that wasn’t the whole deal with these three; there were sonic arpeggios and long, dissonant periods of feedback.
In the middle of the third song Wozniak made a motion to hold on for one second and he went offstage to change guitars. He would do this again. He couldn’t seem to decide which of the two identical looking guitars he liked. If you hadn’t seen him walk offstage during “Devil Woman” you never would have known that he’d left. The bass player and drummer kept a rollicking beat going for 16 bars or so while he was offstage and his absence just sounded like an extended bridge.
I’m sure he wasn’t intentionally trying to upstage him but I was enthralled with the drummer, Shlomi Lavie. In very minimalist fashion he had the most basic setup: snare drum, bass drum, bass-tom, hi-hats, and a ride cymbal. That’s it. But watching him play was like watching Animal from The Muppets. He thrust his arms and flailed about in such a crazy way, it was mesmerizing for me as a former drummer anyway. Ask any drummer; getting a good “crash” from a ride cymbal is difficult. To compound his thrashing though many of his crashes included him banging on his open hi-hats.
The bass player, Dylan Keefe, was interactive with Wozniak and Lavie. On more than one occasion he chimed in to one of Wozniak’s musings. Carefully reminding the audience not to give Wozniak too big of an ego. Keefe also did a really nice thing and told an abridged story of Michael Dorf who founded both City Winery and earlier The Knitting Factory and gave his heartfelt thanks to the venues owner.
Towards the end of their set the three had a dissonance reckoning with everyone playing as fast and with as much extended feedback as they could for about 5 min.
When they finally got to “Sex and Candy” they were almost done with their set. Wozniak called the song an indelible gadfly. The song included a somewhat muted sing-along (their instruments were still really loud) and just like that the evening was over.
Marcy Playground are back on tour and that just makes me feel old. But if you’re like me and miss that lost generation we knew as the 1990’s, check out Marcy Playground when they swing through your neck of the woods.