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V/A - 135 Grand Street, New York, 1979

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Artist: V/A

Album: 135 Grand Street, New York, 1979

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Apr. 21, 2010

Random search engines confirm that the current occupant of 135 Grand St. in Manhattan appears to be a business called “Win Tax Service.” Whatever goes on in this narrow room now has got to be at least as exciting as the footage from the film 135 Grand St. New York 1979. The title refers to the place and time in which director Ericka Beckman lined up ten ensembles of the no-wave/nerdy pop/nouveau jazzbo variety, and filmed one or two songs by each on color Super-8 film. It’s as pure as the documentary format will allow, which cuts both ways.

Beckman acknowledges, in her choice of subjects, the anti-art-for-anti-art’s-sake schism of under-represented no wavers and associates. Lydia Lunch and the Contortions would be captured elsewhere. This film represents the SoHo contingent: Rhys Chatham, Evan Lurie, Wharton Tiers, and Glenn Branca, a primary participant of this whole thing (and the grizzled derelict uncle persona he exudes in other documentaries will not let you forget it). Branca’s pull quote for this collection claims that this is the only available footage of any of these bands playing, and I’ll believe it. You’re probably not going to find better A/V evidence of the discordant women of Ut, who left for England after a gestation period in NYC, and who truly sound like no other band before or since. And that’s cool, because it seems like every 12th band across indie/righteous rock these days has digested and put through some part of Theoretical Girls’ or the Static’s churn into their own being. It’s a fairly indigestible, mechanical quality and it’s not fun to watch, but then again, nothing in this film really is.

For all of its visual readiness, watching the bands in 135 Grand St. evokes watching 15-20 musicians standing around, watching each other play, and that’s a feeling nobody ever really want to revisit. There is no audience in front of the band, only lights and the occasional grip. Applause is suppressed. If you were looking for fun, it’s not around, save for a short and inspired performance by Youth in Asia, whose Taro Suzuki generates a violent intensity that would be answered that same year, in an entirely different mindset and across the country, by Black Flag. Rhys Chatham dicks around on a couple of chords alone, which might take on a different character when it’s being played by 400 guitarists instead of just one. And we’re still left knowing as little as possible about the people who made it, what drove them, how information spread through them about how to survive and develop as musicians. That’s for another film, and sadly it hasn’t been made yet. The only breaks from mostly tedious live music here are some drop-ins of still photos, and a few snippets of urban anthropology.

Students of the movement will be able to place names to faces as a result of 135 Grand St., but that’s all they get. When the performances aren’t as memorable, they’re too difficult to work, and when they’re neither, it’s hardly worth mentioning.

By Doug Mosurock

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