The Vandammobile rolled into the Rondout section of Kingston around 8:00 p.m. via the back way, which runs along the Rondout Creek from Rosendale. I was intentionally early for the gig by Rizzi and the Voltage Whore Boys at The Mezzanine, the coffee bar at 79 Broadway.
With a half-hour to burn before the announced time (which means an hour before the thing really gets going) I tried the Mexican restaurant down the block, ordered the night’s special quesadilla with everything, a glass of water, and a margarita, and mostly sat around waiting for any of it to be brought to me. The margarita took so long to arrive that it could have been prepared at a bar two cities away and delivered by UPS, but that said it was a pretty good version of the classic tequila cocktail.
The quesadilla, when it arrived, was large and, I suppose, O.K. It wasn’t wonderful, and I have about another 24 hours to go to find out whether the cook was following safe handling methods, but it was O.K., I guess.
I finally walked into The Mezzanine at around 9:00 p.m., a half-hour past the advertised start time. The performance was upstairs in the mezzanine of The Mezzanine. But when I first came through the door I was nearly turned right around by the smell of the place. My initial thought was, “man, that’s a heavy-duty coffee smell.” My next thought was, “a sewer line has broken.” Later, one of the musicians, who didn’t seem to have noticed the smell gave the plausible explanation that it was caused by a pot of espresso getting burned. Maybe. I demurred by suggesting that perhaps I had only suffered “another one of my olfactory hallucinations.”
That was two distractions. I was feeling full from the Mexican food, and a second margarita, and then the smell hit me and sort of put me in a gagging state of mind, without the actual gag reflex.
So I get upstairs and there’s a bowl of money there with a sign that says to plop in three bucks. So free. So floating.
I only had twenties on me and didn’t feel at liberty to make change for myself out of the bowl, and couldn’t distinguish who was actually running the thing, so I just waved to Rizzi and sat down at a back table. Eventually one of the people who ran the place asked me to put the three bucks in the bowl (he’d been watching all along), and I gave him a twenty, etc.
Then another person in charge came along with the wine menu and, hesitating just a moment because of the two margaritas already percolating in my gut, I ordered a glass of Cabernet-Shiraz, more out of politeness to the hosts than any desire to have more to drink.
(I’d had quite enough wine the night before after two golf outings that day with my wine-loving friend of 38 years, Lieutenant Mitchell Kornfeld, FDNY (ret.). We played nine holes at the New Paltz Golf Course in the a.m., followed by lunch, followed by nine at Mohonk, followed by three bottles of wine to wash down Madame Vandam’s superb linguini with fresh pesto.)
The music and poetry began a few minutes after I was in my seat. Whether this type of performance would suit everyone’s taste or not, one thing is clear. These guys can do this because they are all professionals. The musicians are skilled professionals, and Rizzi is a master performance artist. They know what they are doing, which is the very first thing that anyone who attempts something like this has to have.
What is it? Imagine the classic 1950s Greenwich Village beatnik poetry reading with bongos, and then plug that into a nuclear power plant and slide in post-melodic jazz, sound effects, electronic music, and add a surrealistic raconteur poet who trades in cascading images that stream upward into a floating alternate world whence William Burroughs himself might run screaming or, more frighteningly, somewhere William Burroughs might feel comfortable riding through on a tourist bus.
From the first time I heard a CD of these guys I described the sound as scene-setting, almost like the background music for a film noir reality. I feel Dashiell Hammett in the room writing. Sam Spade arrives and solves three murders. David Lynch enters and falls to the floor twitching. It’s too much for him.
And Rizzi’s poetry is not about sandy beaches or the enchanted forest and wastes no time with intellectual folderol. In Rizzi’s vision, Mother Earth herself is a junkie whore with a strap-on. The best your can expect from her is that she’ll walk up a wall before firing explosive ball bearings through your head. And that was the first set.
When the second set starts, the volume is up a notch. The sound moves out of the background music mode and toward something like a dance by a Comanche war band around the rim of Hell. Now Mother Earth is running for her own hills and something ugly enters the room. Rizzi’s voice fades to the background, made fuzzy in the onslaught of sound. Rap musicians with guns hide in their basements, shivering.
A member of the audience who resembles Albert Brooks looks on with the same chiseled befuddlement that Brooks has perfected. Others leave, confused. A drunk guy, who I hear mutter “half my family are hillbillies,” has the exact look of someone who has never ever seen anything like this. When it’s over a woman who has a lovely Bridget Fonda-like face starts shouting in Italian for an encore.
Then a person in charge praises the whole thing as a clear triumph over cable television.
That basically wrapped it up for me, and I left, impressed on the way out that the smell seemed to have abated and that it wasn’t, perhaps, a permanent feature of the place.
I’ve written in past days about the Postmodern Liquidation of the West. Well, like William Burroughs, Rizzi and the Voltage Whore Boys are already making art for the Post-Liquidation world, where the wheels aren’t just coming off, they’ve lapsed back into non-existence.
It’s been said that after the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Paris, riots erupted in the streets. If the Voltage Whore Boys had performed back then instead, Paris would have simply disappeared into a layer of dust on a stain on the landscape of France.
But these days, it’s just laser surgery at the drive-up window of an abattoir.