by Dan Cohen
In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a thriving music scene in Nyack. Main Street is abuzz every weekend. And I don’t just mean those louts hogging the sidewalk in front of Casa del Sol and Pour House. There’s quality music happening inside. It’s loud, it’s brash, it’s often silly, but many of the bands feature brilliant players and quality singing and songwriting, and the crowd is like Nyack itself — a big tent: the young and hip rubbing up against the old and chatty; and no one’s too cool for a trip to the dance floor. Look for more articles here exploring the bands and musicians of today’s Nyack music scene. Today I’m going to focus on Thursday. Thursday night’s a night for taking chances, when it feels like nobody’s watching and, for better or worse, anyone can take the mic. It’s not packed, it’s not dead, things are just warming up for the weekend. It’s raw, it’s unrehearsed, it’s loose. It’s Thursday.
Casa Del Sol is the nexus of Thursday night in Nyack, a live open mic night presided over by two bands that alternate weeks. Last week it was local guitar-slinger Dylan K and his band. Dylan’s a fixture on the scene. He’s a tall, lean, easygoing riffmeister with an encyclopedic knowledge of rock, especially ’70s era classic rock of Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the like. He used to have long hair that would shake around and get plastered to his face when he played, but last week he surprised me. He was shorn like a marine, and he and the band played with a fierce, almost martial zeal. He’s playing bass and singing on these nights, the guitar duties assumed by an ace who goes by the name of Billy — just Billy. Nothing flashy, Billy Just Billy has great rhythm, never overplays, and manages to get just the right guitar tone on every song, whether it’s liquid Pink Floyd solos with the sustain at 11 or crunchy Zeppelin blues licks. Dylan plays a fine bass and sings amazingly well, intense and in tune. They tore through a blistering version of Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times,” then on to “Another Brick in the Wall,” before handing over the stage to a band called the Wolves.
It’s hard to follow a band that everyone was just dancing and screaming and clapping to. And the open mic band is supposed to back up audience-members who want to sing. There’s a list and everything. But clearly the Wolves were a band, and had arranged to take the stage alone, with only the drummer from Dylan’s group remaining onstage. The Wolves were young. They were scared. And they were terrible, just terrible. They played a horrific version of “Octopus’s Garden.” And it just went downhill from there. But they were brave. They were callow youth, high school kids, and they went up there and took the stage after these pros kinda dropped the mic on them. But they did it. And I loved them for it. The crowd didn’t care. They just stopped listening.
Toward the end of their set they played The Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” The famous bass riff that begins the song rang out and all of a sudden the crowd was back into it. I have a somewhat tortured relationship to that song. On the one hand, it’s one of the greatest rock songs ever written, surely, with a lick that’s as instantly recognizable and iconic as “You Really Got Me” or “Louie Louie” or any you could name. On the other, it brings me back to high school and all the insecurity and tortuous self-doubt of that era in my life. On this night, however, it was all good, and that indestructible riff felt like home, to me and to the Wolves. Turns out it’s kind of a band-proof song. You can’t mess it up. You can mess up the flurry of guitar on top, or simplify it, but the core, the spine of the song, that riff, is unbreakable, unassailable, as mistake proof as a great song’s can be. All hail “Psycho Killer”! The Wolves triumph at last!
Then it was over. They had survived. That’s the kind of excruciating yet delicious thing that can only happen on a Thursday. A musical car accident. You hate to look but can’t look away. And then…magic.
There is no substitute for experience. And two or three years from now, who knows? The Wolves could be taking the stage and ripping it up as Dylan K and his band did. These alchemical transformations are what Thursday night is all about. So step up. Check it out. You don’t have to sing. Not by any means. But try it. Who knows? In a moment, on a Thursday, you too may be transformed.
Dan Cohen is a songwriter, music producer, and freelance writer. His reviews and reporting have appeared in SF Weekly, High Country News, the legendary North Conway Mountain Ear, and elsewhere. He performs for kids as Danna Banana. He lives in Nyack.