New York's Shout! DJs Come Back Home
Reports of the death of rock and roll have been greatly exaggerated. Far from vanquished by electronica's black box, the spirit of the Delta stomp has risen again, stirring the unquiet soul of Motown, rattling the bones of Detroit garage, and resurrecting legions of Lou Reed's undead. The glow sticks once brandished like torches against guitar and drum set have been extinguished. "There's not one raver left in all of New York City," pronounces Steve Pestana, the DJ/promoter who with his partner, Pedro Mena, helped usher in the era of retro-rock chic through Manhattan's weekly party Shout! -- a favorite with Time Out-New York and Village Voice club watchers since 1996. Slouching toward their native South Florida this Friday, Pestana and Mena celebrate the rough beast's rebirth as guest DJs at the First Year Anniversary Party for our own retro Friday night, Revolver.
Pestana and Mena met in third grade at Coral Springs Elementary and then moved to the Big Apple in the mid-Nineties for higher learning. The underage transplants spurned what they saw as the only alternatives to Top 40 tripe. "The rave scene by that time up here was on its last legs," says Pestana from his apartment up north. "The East Village trash scene had all these aging rockers with tattoos and spiky hair, people who didn't let the dream die from 1979. I love 1979, but I didn't identify with the imagery and the decadent sleazy mythos."
The young men raised in Colombian and Ecuadorian households were drawn instead to the neatly pressed fashion of the British mods and silk-scarf glamour of the early Rod Stewart outfit the Faces. "We started doing a purist Sixties party," Pestana recounts. "We identify with bands that play dance music with guitars," Mena adds. "We were already familiar with [the music] through records of our parents, [but] when we got a little older we heard it with a different ear. It just became refreshing again."
Although Pestana admits that Shout! plays "90 percent old music," he says the fresh sound of the selections keeps the night from being retro per se. Certainly the roots of rock and roll have been in the (re)making for the past decade: The electro-psychedelic-soul music of early-Nineties Madchester bands Charlatans and Happy Mondays came to a head with the mid-decade, across-the-pond success of Oasis. And despite all the mediocre Oasis-knockoffs since, Pestana and Mena see salvation in throwbacks of the moment like the Detroit brother-sister garage/blues duo White Stripes, neo-Velvet Underground sensation the Strokes, and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club -- a band that lends Shout! the imagery and mythos of Marlon Brando's gang in The Wild One.
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"There's a youthfulness and vibrancy," elaborates Pestana. "It's a subtler sexiness. We like to look sharp. The guys wear skinny cut clothes. The girls either go with really cute short haircuts from the mid to late Sixties or grow their hair really long like the groupies in that movie Almost Famous -- outrageously glamorous but at the same time very rock and roll.
"Dancing was a huge part of the mod ethic," he continues. "Rather than just going to show after show, chasing down the illusion of rock and roll, we re-create the spirit of rock and roll through great music. We sprinkle our sets with hits that keep people in great spirits, while hoping to introduce people to great old music that feels fresh to us."
What counts as a Shout! hit? Classic soul cuts like "Cross the Track" by Maceo & the Macks and Oliver Sain's "Bus Stop" ("It's got whistles and bongos!" gushes Pestana), and Marvin Gaye's "Baby, Don't You Do It" (covered by everyone from Stevie Wonder to the Band and the Who).
Then there are the "great hidden songs" of mainstream rockers: Steve Miller Band's "Stepping Stone"; Bob Seger's cover of the Cisco Houston classic "Rambling Gambling Man"; and "I Can Hear You Calling," the B-side to Three Dog Knight's "Joy to the World" ("a heavy organ-grinding groove," says Pestana) and Todd Rundgren's "Wolfman Jack" ("That's become a staple hit," says Mena).
Shout! also champions Sixties garage rock, defined by Pestana as "this small-scale movement from '65 to '75 of people basically trying to sound like the Stones, but they couldn't play as well." All the better, as heard in "Nau, Ninnie, Nau," a forgotten ditty by one of the first Mexican-American rock bands, Cannibal and the Headhunters, that is big at Shout! this season.
Unclassifiable finds include the 1970 Dylan cover "Down Along the Cove" by voodoo blues singer Johnnie Jenkins off Ton-Ton Macoute!, with the Allman Brothers sitting in. Or the banjo/soul version of "Hey Jude" (yes, banjo/soul) by Area Code 615, the Nashville session band that backed Dylan. "We're real curious to see how that's going to go down in Miami," says Mena. "There was nothing like this when we were down there."
That's because the Shout! founders headed north just about the same time Josh Menendez began his own modest Monday-night party at the Hungry Sailor in Coconut Grove. Called Blow Up after the 1966 Antonioni film (not to mention the 1982 Television album that covers the Stone's "Satisfaction" and Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"), the Sixties soul and indie-rock spin roamed for years from the Sailor to Meza Fine Art to Power Studios, until Menendez found what he thought would be a permanent Friday-night home at the 1800 Club. One year and two moves later, Revolver draws a devoted crowd of roughly 400 to South Miami's club 5922 every Friday.
Revolver hews closer to standards by the Beatles, the Who, and the Clash than its New York counterpart, but Menendez hopes the anniversary visit by the Shout! DJs will push Revolver even closer to the edge. "They really play stuff that's not popular," he says wistfully. "It's all Sixties, groovy stuff, and kids don't have to know it to dance. It would be nice to become even more obscure."
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