I told my girlfriend to move to the seat on the left of me. There was an angry man (very angry) shouting at an innocent bystander, violently gesturing with a plastic cup full of icy booze, spilling more on the ground than he managed to bring to his already inebriated mouth. After he was done saying his piece, he walked, rather stumbled, away to refill his drink, leaving his walking stick. The man to our left was only slightly better, ear plugs in while reading a book on his phone, flailing in his seat unconcerned for others space and so fidgety that Slavoj Zizek might have told him to relax. I can’t imagine that they paid the $20 ticket to come see Polaris at the College Street Music Hall.
It’s been twelve years since the close of the Palace Theater, and College Street Music Hall fills a gap in New Haven’s musical landscape. Toads Place, while being the setting of so many classic concerts (including Dylan’s longest show ever, the Stones opened a tour there, and so, so many more), has gone downhill after closures for liquor violations and too many dance parties. Café Nine is great but small. The Coliseum and Great American Music Hall, gone. That really leaves the Space in Hamden as the lone legitimate venue in the area. That is until now.
CSMH is still rough around the edges as work continues, but it was close enough to done to open. The night’s show was General Admission and you had the option of seating near the bar in the back or a few rows up further and in front of the sound guy, which is where I was sitting when the above extravagance happened. For seated shows (like the stand-up shows they have announced) they will have the option of moving chairs in for reserved seating shows. It’s nice to know that it can function as a multi-use hall.
It was what I would consider the opening night for the venue despite two shows the week before, and New Haven was the toast of the night. All three bands had local connections to the area and let the crowd know. Openers were the very local Mighty Purple whose radio friendly folk rock mixed the Mumford & Sons style energy with early 70s lite rock. As locals, they had fans in the crowd and were comfortable on stage, engaging in banter, playing to impress. Steve Rodgers (purveyor of The Space), the lead singer dedicated one song to his five-year-old son who was seeing him play live for the first time. Another he gave a shout out to his long lost foster sister, whom neither he nor his brother (Jonny, the guitarist) had seen in thirty years.
Mates of State continued the charm as they exemplify the woman/man duo that has become so popular in the last decade (She & Him, Jenny & Johnny, Matt & Kim). It’s been the better part of a decade since I last saw them perform, probably the longest stretch between shows for bands I actively like. They are still one of the most impressive and interesting acts to watch, seeing them as two people create the soundscapes that they do has always been like a magic act.
They peppered the set between what are now classic Mates of State tracks with songs coming off of their next album You’re Going to Make It (June 16). Recently, they’ve been playing with local trumpet player John Panos, touting him in the middle of the show as one of us to an approving audience. (Also, I remember reading in a print issue of Spin Magazine that Mates of State are adopted Nutmeggers, so we can claim them as our own). At one point, Panos ran off the stage momentarily with his trumpet after Kori said “We’re going to play a new song!” A moment later she followed up with “I guess we’re going to play an old song,” launching into “Ha Ha,” one of the best songs in their back catalog, and my personal favorite song to see live.
Polaris were the stars of the night (sorry) playing a set of the sweetest jangle pop one could ask for. They were the band you might remember from The Adventures of Pete and Pete, and their most famous song together was the theme song, “Hey Sandy.” You know, one of the songs of the collective Millennial childhood. The nostalgia levels spiked to almost unbelievable levels.
For those who follow lead singer, Mark Mulcahy’s career, you will certainly remember 2013s amazing Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You, a record I have said before was one of that years best records. Perhaps due to the somber tone of many of those songs, hearing and reading interviews, Mulcahy had his serious hat on, and I specifically remember a beautiful cover of the full “Auld Lang Syne.” With his old band mates, though, he had on his jester hat.
Mid-song he asked a group of people why they were leaving; he was throwing out one-liners in here and there making fun of his own songs. Before he broke out “Ivy Boy,” which is apparently about a guy named Dave Yale, although that’s not his real name, he launched into an extended tirade about the dumpsters. You see, it is move out week here in New Haven, and Yalies have a reputation of throwing out perfectly good things. Mulcahy put out the word to the wise that the dumpsters were “flush” with “de-humidifiers and vacuums.” We, the crowd, all thought that was funny. That’s the beauty of the local band, though—you get it. If I had to choose a Musician Ambassador for the City of New Haven, Mulcahy would top that list easily.
The band sounded great, now as four-piece, bringing out Panos again for trumpet on one song that I forgot to write down the name of because they sounded so great (sorry again). Not only that, but you could tell that they enjoyed just playing the old tunes together again; they were having fun with the nostalgia trip. They came out for an encore with the whole place cheering them on. The first of two songs was the Sesame Street song “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon.” Mulcahy sat down, reading lyrics off a sheet, and sang to the crowd like a parent would sing a lullaby to its child.
It was an endearing moment for someone who already finds his music endearing. It really capped off the night to play another song from a kids TV show by the band that was the band for a TV show. I felt downright good leaving the hall, a smile on my face after seeing a great show. It was a warm sensation, perhaps pride in the city I love, knowing that we have bred and been home to great musicians like Mighty Purple, Mates of State, and Polaris. Even better now that we have a great hall for them to play.
Article: Christopher Gilson
Photo credit: Jenny Lee Baniszewski