BarRoom Blitz: What One Brave Bartender Has Been Playing this Summer While You’ve Been Outside

Musician/bartender Zachary Lipez has been spinning Nothing, Kristin Kontrol and more while you’ve been getting skin cancer.

This month’s column featuring the finest music played at New York’s 124 Old Rabbit Club — and how the finest customers of said bar responded to it — is, by necessity, an embarrassment of riches. We’re combining two months (June and July for trainspotters of, uh, time) for two very basic and not entirely interesting reasons: summer is our slow season as it’s a basement bar and people, for whatever perverse reason, like being outside in the summer. Also, I had a lot of favorites that nobody really responded to.

They didn’t leave when I played G.L.O.S.S. or Robbie Fulks or Mitski…they just didn’t say much and I’m, with all due respect to whatever paragons of New Journalism we’re currently piling onto, not gonna make stuff up. In the case of G.L.O.S.S., I suspect that, outside the context of their politics, it sounds like extremely well-done street punk and, generally speaking, I don’t get a lot requests for the Pist at the bar. Robbie Fulks is folk and, despite our being across the street from Dylan origin-story mainstay Café Wha?, that shit don’t always fly. And Mitski? Well, people sometimes are just real fucking dumb. Whatever, I love all three of those artists, but I lost a month waiting for some drunk to say something wild about them.

So much sand slipped through my fingers to the hourglass. Death is creeping. Miles to go and too many bands to cover before I sleep. Descriptions will be a tad truncated to stave off the terror of the grave. Let’s get down to it, boppers.

Kvelertak, Nattesferd: I’ve been called a poseur twice for liking Kvelertak. I used to get the same shit for liking Watain, so I guess it’s my fate to like black metal vocals over actual riffs and be widely denounced for it. So be it. Atmospherics have no place in a drinking establishment, so all the troo warriors can cry in their corpse paint. I’m presenting a false dichotomy. I apologize. We will totally play your one-man true satanic treble black metal project at the bar. Drop off a tape in the comments.

Anyway, Kvelertak mixes raw throat howling with hard rock of the anthemic, swelling Eddie on Both Guitar and Keyboard variety. The first time I played it, I was nervous about the vocals alienating customers until two dudes in Kvelertak shirts walked in. Neither noticed what was playing until I pointed it out, which says something either about their level of fandom or how people perceive background music when they just want to talk and drink. The dudes were from Staten Island, asked about a bunch of metalcore bands I’d never heard of and tipped fine.

Seratones, Get Gone: I like to like an occasional contemporary garage rock record to keep myself on my toes. I generally loathe the genre, but the Seratones’ debut, Get Gone, is a ferocious wonder — it features actually memorable songs and shockingly not lazy/dumb lyrics, so it (along with Death Valley Girls’ Glow in the Dark) is my concession to all things denim and “fun.” Obviously a combination of Emotionally Devastating Era White Stripes (seriously, people like Jack White punch lines, but that first album is a classic) and Young Mods Forgotten Story-era Impressions (even more seriously…buy that album and This Is My Country or die an unhip chump) plays well at a bar. People ask about it all the time, and even if that means I have to occasionally feign enthusiasm for the Black Keys, it’s totally worth it.

Nothing, Tired of Tomorrow: Speaking of genres I don’t fuck with, shoegaze tops my list. Nothing doesn’t like being called “shoegaze,” but they’re not the boss of me. I dig Tired of Tomorrow a lot, but I’ll be the first to admit that I may like this shoegaze (or whatever) more than most because I know it’s hardscrabble ex-hardcore miscreants making it. Maybe better critics look past narrative, but if I know you’re a genuine freak and you make me laugh and I instinctively slide my drugs into a different pocket when you’re at the party, I’m going to like your rock music more.

Anyway, I can look past the hazy stuff by pretending it’s more Jesu mournful etherea than Slowdive revivalism (I picked Slowdive out of a hat. If you think I’m going to revisit that era to find out which band Nothing supposedly sounds most like, you woefully overestimate my need for a nap). There’s so much here that has the sad sensuality of Suede (of whom Nothing are avowed fans) and, as 1995’s The Bends is the only Radiohead album I give a yorke about, I dig the occasional alt-rock move. It’s a really sweet, sad album in its fashion. Perfect for the first hour of a shift when I want customers to be chill but still understand that they’re in a way hep bar. Older English people really like it because older English people really like shoegaze.

Mick Harvey, Delirium Tremens: The third in ex-Bad Seed Harvey’s series of Serge Gainsbourg cover albums. Heavier than the first two, but continuing the strain of noir sleaze that both artists perfected. A couple of swells from Iran were at the bar and were like, “THIS is my jam!” and it was one of their birthdays so my lady suggested I also play them Googoosh and they freaked the fuck out.

I loved their hair, so we exchanged numbers and now we’re going to be best friends I bet. (Note: unless you’re crazy psyche dudes with wild hair and an affinity for Nick Cave and Iranian pop stars, I probably won’t make plans with you. I don’t even really care for the friends I still have.)

Kristin Kontrol, X-Communicate: I don’t share a lot of my (largely) female peers’ affection for ’80s pop. I hated that stuff the first time around and, outside of the stray Janet Jackson song, I’m not eager to revisit it. But when a songwriter of Kristin (formerly Dee Dee of Dum Dum Girls) Kontrol’s caliber does her take on it, it’s going to work and I’m going to play it at the bar.

Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, La Araña Es La Vida: Kid Congo Powers, of Gun Club, Cramps and Bad Seeds fame, is a heroic figure for anyone with taste, a heart and a penchant for cheap suits and the lone wolf howl of the urban undead. The man could subsist on his reputation alone but has, in recent years, been undergoing a creative renaissance.

His new album continues the gritty garage psych of his last few In the Red Records albums with a (not necessarily discernible to the casual listener) slight focus on the Chicano garage rock of Kid’s youth. I don’t quiz my customers generally so I don’t know what they hear when they ask, “Who’s this?” It’s been mainly straight-looking dudes of the untucked-button-down variety so for all I know they just dig the, you know, tasty licks. But the last guy who asked looked like a stockbroker, and when I told him who was playing, he nodded knowingly and who am I to blow against the wind of his lived experience. Maybe he had a Thee Midniters box set and an inflatable Nick Cave doll back at his American Psycho pad.

Electric Citizen, Higher Time: On first listen, I sort of wrote this off as a doom take on the Satisfaction (an ’80s rock movie about Britta Phillips’ existential relationship with a dog and an ocean) soundtrack. With the familiar riffs and decidedly rawk singing, I damned it with faint praise in my head as endearingly uncool. I am, on occasion, a fool.

Yeah, you can play “name that song” with overt nods to Sabbath and Zeppelin and a host of other bands pot-headed and devil-oriented (I also hear some Penetration, but that may just be my non-metallic frame of reference), but this is a GREAT bar record. It’s unpretentious and fun, but the attention to craft is admirable and the singing is far darker than I initially gave it credit for. I played it for a big oak of a man in an Eyehategod T-shirt because he was on a date and I apparently have some beta male need to please burly metal dudes. While noting that it was up to the standards he expected of a band on Riding Easy Records, he approved. I’m not too proud to admit I was pleased.

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth: A bit more NPR than what I usually dig/play, and his idea of soul is more “Smuggler’s Blues” than “The Dark End of the Street,” but every bar can’t be a Black Flag one (sorry) and PEOPLE (including me FWIW) LOVE THIS ALBUM.

Like, seriously, I owe Mr. Simpson a percentage of my tips (good luck collecting, Sturgill), because A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, while supposedly divisive to Sturgill’s fan base who wanted eternal outlaw country, inhabits the Venn diagram overlap between what hip dads and the bearded dudes who eventually (or earlier) woo the former’s hip daughters, collectively love. I play it when clean-looking young dudes have Sailor Jerry tattoos probably incommensurate to the time they’ve spent at sea and when old dudes too old to be worrying about bullshit like tattoos drunkenly request Van Morrison. Also, Simpson covers “In Bloom” and, fuck it, improves the lyrics by adding, “…to love someone” to the chorus.

Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra, S/T: This album of Haitian and West African super stars, a couple of dudes from Europe and EVER-LOVING TONY ALLEN, is — like every album I play that even tangentially concerns music from West Africa — a crowd-pleaser. Heavy on the rhythm, with infectious chanting overlaid with enough Mbongwana Star-style electro squiggles to keep shit real modern — everybody asks what this is. Last couple that asked, the dude was telling his date that she could listen in on his scheduled Burning Man planning conference call. But that’s hardly Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra’s fault.

Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows: I’m not going to talk about this album too much. It’s moving and difficult (as when academics talk about poet Geoffrey Hill’s “gnarled syntax,” that’s not an insult…as Mr. Hill said, “We are difficult. Human beings are difficult. We’re difficult to ourselves; we’re difficult to each other. And we are mysteries to ourselves, we are mysteries to each other. One encounters in any ordinary day far more real difficulty than one confronts in the most ‘intellectual’ piece of work.”) But I’m the same label as them and I don’t want shit to get weird.

I met at least one of them once (I think) and he (or they) was hella nice and maybe said he didn’t mind that I sing in an English accent (I don’t and it actually may have been one of the guys from Municipal Waste…I was pretty drunk…). All I want to say (besides, yeah, this is one of the best albums of the year) is, I was playing this at the bar the other day and, during the boy-witch vocals part of “Primordial Wound,” the only paying customer in the bar said she’d stay if I turned it off. Against my better principles I did, as I needed the money, and she left after that beer anyway. There’s a lesson there, maybe.

Zachary Lipez is the singer of the band Publicist UK. He is the co-author (with Stacy Wakefield and Nick Zinner) of a number of books, most recently 131 Different Thinks (Akashic 2018). He is a freelance writer in NYC and tends bar at 124 Old Rabbit Club.