Monday, September 26, 2005

weekend report: Wiyos, Scarface, and the Cyclone

After work on Friday, Liz and I met at Junior's in Brooklyn for dinner. She'd never been there before, so of course we had to have a slice of cheesecake for dessert. Then we went out to Park Slope, to Barbes, a little acoustic music club on the ground floor of an apartment building. We were there to hear The Wiyos, a vaudeville blues/hillbilly swing/old-time country band we've both gotten into after hearing them on Dave Raven's Raven & the Blues podcast. They weren't supposed to start until 10, and the band from the early show was still playing when we arrived around 9:30. When they finished up, we squeezed into the performance hall space in the club (the bar took up the rest of the club) and managed to find one seat, which I gave to Liz. The band started playing around 10:15 and performed for over two hours, playing some of their "hits" from their first CD and many new songs they're about to record for their second album. Most of the crowd were fans of the band and knew the songs, so sometimes it was a singalong. The best part of the show was seeing just how they create some of the unusual sounds in their songs. The lead singer plays the harmonica, kazoo, washboard (with a variety of horns and bells attached to it), and occasionally sings through a megaphone to recreate the sound of an old Victrola record player. Nearly every song features some vaudeville-style theatrics from the bass player and the singer, most notably one song where the bass and singer had a bit of a duel with their instruments. It was an immensely entertaining evening and we're already excited about seeing them again in November.

On Saturday night I finally saw Brian De Palma's 1983 remake of Scarface, with Al Pacino. It was a good movie, though not Pacino's or De Palma's best work, but thoroughly entertaining. I particularly enjoyed Pacino's reading of "cockroach;" it sounds more like "cock-a-roach" and made me laugh every time he said it. Liz and I also got a kick out of the movie's title song, "Scarface (Push It To The Limit)," which sounded like the template for every '80s movie montage song. It has to be heard to be believed. You could substitute the words "you gotta have a montage" for "push it to the limit" and it wouldn't be any more ridiculous.

We met some friends and went out to Coney Island on Sunday afternoon. We saw the freak show on its last day for the summer season, complete with the guy with the iron hand, the guy who lays on a bed of nails, the girl who walks on swords, the girl who eats fire, the electric girl, and even the mummy. I wasn't sure I'd like it, but it was a good show. Five bucks gets you ten unusual and sometimes amazing acts, and the best part was that the freaks look just like people I've seen in the East Village or on the subway. Assuming they're covered in tattoos, that is. After lunch at Nathan's, we went on the Ferris wheel and wandered through the other rides until Liz and I were ready for the Cyclone. The Cyclone is an ancient wooden roller coaster. It's been a part of Coney Island for about 80 years. It wasn't the scariest roller coaster I've ever ridden, but it did give me a few moments of near-panic. The drops are steeper than they look from outside the coaster, and the thing is so old that you feel every bolt and nail in the frame. It was quite a bumpy ride, and we both loved it. After we rode the Cyclone and we were walking past it, the cars swooped by us and I could see the wooden frame shaking from the stress. I'm glad I went on it, but I don't think I'll be going on it again. There are talks these days of renovating Coney Island and updating it to make it more of a tourist destination. I'm not sure that's a good idea. Part of the appeal of Coney Island is that it's outdated and rundown. You can't see a freak show or ride old roller coasters like the Cyclone anymore. There's a charm to the place that would likely be lost if the old amusements were replaced with modern games and restaurants. Any effort to update Coney Island would have to carefully preserve the old look and feel of the place, and I don't think that would be possible. I say keep it as it is, warts and all. There has to be some part of old New York that people can still visit, to relive how things used to be.

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