Thursday night, I got to partake of the new Brooklyn concert venue that's started to come into its own this year: the Depression-era McCarren Park Pool in Greenpoint, where the audience stands in the empty pool with its peeling-paint bottom and the band plays opposite the grand but dilapidated red entrance canopy. Neko Case was the headliner, with elfin harpist Joanna Newsom and singer/songwriter Martha Wainwright as openers. I'd see MW on July 4, opening for Belle & Sebastian, so her set was mostly familiar to me and pretty enjoyable, despite the rain. I remembered an umbrella this time, and yes, it is a little funny to see a crowd standing in an empty inground pool, hoping to avoid getting wet. At one point, I think I heard her say, "We should've brought our bathing suits." During her performance, a red and white ASCAP golf umbrella appeared next to me with a familiar face: It was Jimmy Fallon, I finally realized, after several minutes of metnal SNL cast list searches. Didn't recognize the friend he was with, though. Mike Myers was also in attendance; I saw him between sets getting a beer bracelet and shaking a bouncer's hand and then H. pointed him out watching from the wings during Neko's set. He was with a woman, whom I'm going to assume was not his wife, as they are currently getting divorced, according to the celeb press.
JN's set was so-soI wasn't as familiar with her music, and thought it was a little incongruous to have play such a large venue as the second of three acts. But she seemed to have a somewhat devoted following among the crowd. She plays the kind of music that I wouldn't necessarily mind listening to while puttering around the apartment, but which doesn't quite sustain the energy needed to make an interesting concert. For Neko's set, we made sure to get up fairly close and thus the venue size didn't seem as pertinent to me. She had some wacky between-song banter going on about unicorns and magical unicorn oracle cards, which had its funny moments, but her singing and playing were just as intense as I'd hoped. Her new stuff especially epitomizes that "country noir" label I remember her mentioning in an interview when I first got turned on to her music. There wasn't as much improv as you might get from a jazz or jam band, but there were a few really great solos by the dobro player who earned some cheers.
As H. pointed out to me afterward, the pool as venue still feels like a work in progress. She said it feels like the place can really sustain larger acts that would fill the pool with paying customers. I said I wondered whether the organizers were trying to go for a distinctly indie feel by signing the acts that they have this year. But she did have a point that the concerts can lack a little bit of energy because of the stage placement and number of attendees who end up filling the space, which is comparable to three Olympic-sized pools. Could the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Ryan Adams pack 'em in out in Brooklyn? It'll be interesting to see if or how the lineup of performers changes next year.