We set out Tuesday night to explore The Space, an unconventional venue for local musicians in the Hamden area. Not only did we observe the open-mic festivities that were open to anyone brave enough to sign up for the night’s show — we also participated. Having little idea of what we would find, we were overwhelmed by a wave of weirdness and unprecedented stimulation akin to a modern day Andy Warhol Factory. In the ten-minute cab ride over, we were transported to a world that seemed to be thousands of miles away from our admittedly insular campus. A trip to The Space is the fitting solution for anyone tired of the redundancy that comes with Yale’s daily grind, the perfect amount of quirky to make a boring Tuesday night something worth talking about the next day. Make the trip if you dare, but be prepared to let your freak flag fly.
THE NIESNER PERFORMER
When we finally emerged from the dark wooded streets of the Hamden suburbia, the cab descended upon a gloomy industrial park and The Space was illuminated. It brazenly beamed its incongruity with little regard for the menacing warehouses surrounding it.
I stepped out of the cab, guitar in hand, and approached the front door only to find it locked with a small handwritten sign reading “doors at 7:15.” I momentarily entertained the thought that The Doors might be performing — then sat down to practice for the thirty minutes until opening. As soon as I began humming the melody to Syd Barrett’s “Terrapin,” my eyes began to wander and I was hooked; The Space, apart from its aural mystique, might best be known for its eclectic eye candy. Neons signs, and Santas and hardly lonely but abandoned carousel horses (oh my!); I must have snapped 500 photos in a span of twenty minutes.
Then, like entranced moths attracted to a singular light in the darkness, shadowy figures materialized in the parking lot and approached; not zombies, but innocuous bohemians they were, coming together to revel in live music and mirth. One such duo, booked as P.W.E. (an “open acronym” at your disposal), is Midnight Dave and Develin Grunloh, the often-improvisational, spoken word, beatnik poetry, avant-garde, noise rock regulars (self-proclaimed “dictionary with beats”). Midnight Dave recalled the legend of his epithet, born in his days as a staple in the Connecticut Rocky Horror Picture Show scene. The doors opened,d and our motley crew of characters entered. There was a show to be played.
Upon entering, everyone dispersed to their own private corners, tuning their guitars and training their voices. I found a nice spot next to a curvy gold mannequin, wrapped head to toe with Christmas lights. She miraculously soothed my nerves and I loved her for it. My guitar skills are admittedly weak, a folly I attempt to make up for with blaring enthusiasm, but I was nervous nonetheless and this was only my second EVER public performance. Much to my roommate’s displeasure, I was up in the early hours of the morning honing my best Syd Barrett impression and polishing the lyrics to my very own future top 40 hit, “Lilly Pool Rules” — it was the song’s world premiere, and I’m still not sure the world was ready.
“Now, a warm Welcome for Chase Niesner.” It was time. I walked up to the stage and stood in front of the second largest audience I’d ever played in front of (12, and not by much). It was exhilarating. “Hello everybody,” I said attempting to seduce the throngs of female fans that pushed to the front of the stage. The sound of my own voice on the PA made me blush and the room temperature mysteriously rose 15 degrees. I jumped straight into “Terrapin” and, as if on cue, blanked on the chorus. (Fangs all round the clown is dark / hmmhmhm hmhmhm / the sunlight’s good for us.)
(How could I.)
Luckily, “Lilly Pool Rules” was a smashing hit, and saved me from a disparaging Rolling Stone review. I left the stage light headed, but strangely titillated; the perfect performer’s high to break up an otherwise monotonous week.
THE BORJA SPECTATOR
Mist, neon, nutcrackers. Getting out of the cab, I looked around at the out-of-place fluorescent signs and Christmas lights decorating the small, almost shabby building; the only source of light in the otherwise desolate parking lot. The parking lot itself, scattered with warehouses and industrial storage spaces, seemed strangely out of place as well, in the middle of the quiet Hamden suburb.
Despite it being a misty fall evening, The Space, its name flashing in red neon, was peculiarly Christmas-themed, with nutcrackers and snowmen haphazardly placed alongside the red picket fence. Quirky, to the most open-minded observer. A place as off-kilter as The Space, a concert venue that holds Tuesday open-mic nights, is bound to draw a few colorful characters. And, this week, it did not disappoint.
The first person I met introduced himself as “Midnight Dave,” one half of the two part mash-up project titled P.W.E.
“It’s an open acronym,” he explained. “It can mean whatever you want it to mean.”
In the ten-minute conversation I had with Dave, I learned that P.W.E. is specifically a poetry/music mash-up inspired by the beatnik poetry of the 1950’s. One-third of the act is music that he has written, one-third is covers of obscure tunes and the last third is improvisation.
“You never know what you’re going to get hit with,” he promised.
Soon after, more open-mic night regulars began to show up, including Devlin, the second half of P.W.E. and Midnight Dave’s sidekick, who matched his counterpart in his scraggly beard and a waist-lentgh ponytail. Space volunteer Becka Sisti stood out amongst the crowd of characters by reading out lines from a how-to book that Yoko Ono (whole other issue) wrote about drawing.
“You guys, just listen to this,” she pleaded, hands extended in welcome. What is the best piece of advice in the book according to Becka?
“Imagine clouds dripping, dig a hole, draw a garden to put them in.” she recited. This led to a serious discussion about the merits of Yoko (don’t get me started).
Once inside, the regulars began to prepare for the night ahead. Dave laid out his guitar on a booth table and sat down to calmly observe his surroundings from afar. Eric Harding, the volunteer in charge of sound, told me in between tasks that, “The Space tries hard not to exclude anybody.” The atmosphere varies from show to show, with high school kids hardcore moshing one night to folky-acoustic acts performing on open-mic night, he added.
Fittingly, The Space’s scene cannot be defined with one simple explanation. It is a dynamic mixing of an older crowd longing to express their nostalgia through song and a younger crowd eager to share their newly-discovered passions in music to anyone willing to listen. As Kyla Pitruzzello, another Space volunteer put it, “This isn’t a bar trying to play music. Music is its purpose.” (Meaning, they don’t serve alcohol.)
John Baringer, a man with Einstein-like fly-away hair, clad in a tie-dye shirt and a “David Blumenthal” pin, recited verses that spoke of the uncertainties of working in a hospital constantly amidst the struggle between life and death.
Clearly, music is the driving force — music both spoken and sung. After seeing the acts, no one could contest that the purpose of The Space is to provide a venue for anyone seeking to express a wandering thought, a suppressed idea or even a masterpiece still in progress.
While difficult to sum up my experience at The Space, I’d trust in Midnight Dave to accurately represent the overall theme of the night — “quirky downright shreds.”