Aesop Rock + Panther at McCarren Pool

Post Author: Armin Rosen

Eight down, one to go as far as the usual McCarren Pool routine is concerned—the one that involves hungover rides on the L-train, street tacos and that hour-and-a-half long lead-up to the day’s first act, always a reminder that McCarren is one of those places where the real action is usually going on offstage. This week’s pre-show entertainment: a pair of 20-someodds following the recent “let’s treat Pool Parties like those old MMW Halloween shows” trend by arriving in nothing but a pair of leg-tight swim trunks, party favor gold medals and matching American flag pool caps. As a former swimmer, I can confirm that those trunks ain’t cheap, although the chants of “U-S-A!” as the Phelps wannabes lined up for a dive down the Slip n’ Slide effectively bought the pair’s way into the Brooklyn irony hall of fame.

Topshop’s near-occupation of McCarren Pool sure won’t. Especially since in a moment of almost criminal obliviousness, your slobishly-dressed correspondent found himself staring down the camera lens of one Nikydigital, the mustachioed fotog who’s been exiling unassuming poolgoers to the British fashion joint’s McCarren Pool Hipster Gallery—which is less a meta-commentary on hipsterdom than an honest to God online gallery of hipsters. On second thought, maybe the 24th can’t come fast enough.

The music kicked off with Panther, the Portland-based outfit that, with its addition of a violinist, inverts the now-tired convention of using that string instrument as a mellowing counterpoint to traditionally ear-wrecking rock instrumentation. Panther offers no such relief, as the violin is just as frantic as the crashing guitar licks and blaring tape loops frontman Charles Salas-Humara usually screams over. Miraculously, the Pool’s horrid acoustics didn’t obscure their nuanced, slightly infectious free jazz sound, which is a louder, more confrontational variation on Celebration-style indie-funk. Or maybe Salas-Humara’s Jagger-like stage antics made up for some of those dulled violin lines. It was an energetic opening set, less a warmup than the day’s musical centerpiece….

…which was pretty apparent after 70s nostaligists Chin Chins were finished playing. This marks the third consecutive week in which sprawling soul revival acts have played at McCarren, and they’re arguably getting worse: Eli Reed did a passable and occasionally interesting Otis Redding act, but Chin Chin offered little more than keyboard-heavy disco throwback. Nothing wrong with this really—their stuff is fine to groove to, and the members’ anachronistic club wear (I seem to remember one of them wearing a frilly button-up shirt) proved that they were in on the joke (‘cuz really, there’s nothing worse than a band that isn’t in on its own joke. Examples abound…). Pool Parties are parties, after all. And how can’t you party to nostalgic pop music on a thankfully rain-free day?

There’s been an inordinate amount of rain at this summer’s Pool Parties, which has given the label wonks, journalists and people-who-know people in the VIP area ample opportunity to huddle under the tent housing the complementary liquor bar. Since the hangout has all of two weeks left, it was with some urgency that a between-set bar patron posed the following question: “which of the Dewar’s girls do you think is hotter?” Shit, might as well ask me which parent I love more—or which mid-70s Brian Eno solo album I’d most like to be stuck with on a deserted island. Speaking of which, the set break found an Impose affiliate breaking some rather troubling news to me: the latest Byrn and Eno collab is a total dud. I’ll reserve judgment till the thing finishes downloading, but it would be depressingly unsurprising if the mainstream had succeeded in poisoned one of the most creative minds in music.

Aesop Rock is comparatively incorruptible in this respect. The underground MC has spent the past decade making intelligent, socially conscious hip-hop that doesn’t mock the idea of intelligent socially-conscious hip-hop, and last year’s None Shall Pass found him at his least sanctimonious: that album’s title-track bore a closer resemblance to the pun-heavy—yet deathly serious—prose of say, Thomas Pynchon than it did to the lyrics of most contemporary MCs. I was worried that the crowds and bum sound system would reduce Aesop’s astonishingly dense wordplay into distant gibberish, which would be unfortunate in light of his often Brooklyn-centric lyrics.

Which it did. Aesop’s beats were enough to keep the 3/4ths capacity crowd moving, but a guest appearance from El-P was the one high point in a set that was arguably over before it even began, as far as understanding what the hell was going on is concerned. The attendees were unfazed, and neither was Aesop: before the encore, the hip-hop vet announced that playing the Pool was one of the highlights of his career. I can’t say that his set was a highlight for those of us who love picking apart a good turn of phrase—but you gotta respect a performer who can overcome such petty inconveniences as terrible acoustics. Respect, Rock. Respect.