From somewhere deep in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s cavernous, 2,090-capacity Howard Gilman Opera House, someone shouts “I love you, Sean!” at Parquet Courts bassist Sean Yeaton
“This is an opera house, all right? Behave yourselves!” responded frontman Andrew Savage.
The best parts of the three-day Crossing Brooklyn Ferry festival were moments like these, when the upscale, donor-abetted, on-yr-suit-and-tie gloss of BAM’s opera house, cinema, and swanky BAMcafé were forced to contend with good ol’ rock’n’roll abandon. And vice versa. Curated by the National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, CBF was started last year, celebrating a narrow convergence of consonance-heavy modern composition, conservatory punx, and indie rock darlings. But the 2013 edition expanded its vision masterfully with bigger names representing punk rock, hip-hop, Afrobeat, R&B, and free-jazz — hell, even three of the short films in the film were soundtracked by would could safely be called “noise.”
The diverse lineup and unique space went a long way. We got Parquet Courts churning through soft feedback blasts and “12XU”-styled post-punk with the type of professional light show most punk bands wouldn’t see a beam of. We got bubblegum-noise duo Japanther sweating bullets in a popular wedding spot, screaming into phone receivers “Don’t contain yourself, be careless” and “Fuck you, Barack Obama” and “Fuck you, NYPD” while sizable crowd did self-contained wiggle dances. We got Rudresh Mahanthappa playing funky jazz at rock volumes, while drummer Gene Lake pumped his double-kick pedal at thrash tempos and guitarist David “Fuze” Fiuczynski furiously burned a line between Mark Ribot and Mick Mars. We got Antibalas motioning for people to fill the floor space, slapping fives, and somehow managing to play a roughly 45-minute set. And while artists like Porcelain Raft or Dave Longstreth and his little practice amp sometimes felt like they were extra alone floating on that big opera stage, Phosphorescent went and used it to play a majestic rock show — think Bruce, Rust-y Neil, and electric Dylan filtered through the shaggy intimacy of Bon Iver.
The headliners were basically like attending a party that just happened to be in an opera house, three nights in a row. Yes, there were seats (“Sit the fuck down!” “Shut the fuck up!”) but they definitely were not exactly in use a lot of the time. Thursday night headliners the Roots made sense for a night at the opera since they are basically an academic exercise turned into late-night’s favorite cover band. “Brooklyn’s own” Kirk Douglas stole the show with an example of just that: a part-Stevie, part-Frampton solo that cycled through pieces of Shabba Ranks, Minnie Ripperton, “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” and then blazing into “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Saturday headliner Solange basically took the “alt-” out of your thinkpieces (save the drummer occasionally drowned out by the laptop), putting on a bombastic proper pop show full of undulating, shimmying star power; alongside guitarists who lean in tandem. Plus she demanded that everybody in the house start grinding. Saturday headliners TV on the Radio were just a force rocketing outward, loud, filling up the hall. Everything seems ratcheted up from the art-punk motorik with which they made their name: “Young Liars” sounded like like a Jane’s Addiction song, “Wolf Like Me” was like Peter Gabriel doing California hardcore.
This isn’t to say that the more traditionally BAM, composer-centric classical-crowd stuff wasn’t also fantastic — in fact, the diversity of the lineup only made it feel more special. Pianist Timo Andres performed gorgeous pieces where his right hand mimicked windchimes, prodding and poking with his left, and slowly unraveling into what sounds like gloomy jazz standards — peaking with a gorgeous “transcription” of Brian Eno’s “Everything Merges with the Night.” The Brooklyn Youth Chorus performed beaming modern pieces by Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, Ricard Reed Parry, and others, bringing hocketing, stomps, claps, laughter, hand friction, and snapping to pieces composed by a new generation of composers currently splitting the difference between Gavin Bryars and Explosions in the Sky. Dessner and his friends (including Doveman and Beirut brassman Ben Lanz) played along to an oil stick/gouche/ink/pencil “Graphic Score” in the cinema, a Zorn-ian game of sawed guitars, stuttering drums, mournful trombones and nautical keys that was one of the more free moments of the weekend.
What, if anything, this adventurous pile-up of sounds has to do with the National’s somber new album Trouble Will Find Me, who knows or cares: The Dessners didn’t indulge one iota of self-advertising or self-promotion over CBF’s three days. But, hey, like Japanther said before their last song, “There’s no rules.”