Quite a town it is where you can go out to a dive bar on a Monday night and discover something you hadn't known about before — some small token of goodness hidden among the ankle-shredding brambles of Western Civilization.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the beerback.
On a recent Monday, after a heavy meal at Rudy's and a nap during which the fajitas I devoured sludged through my system like a sack of bean-flavored gravel, I decided to rejuvenate myself with a walk to my favorite dive in the universe, Dave's Stagecoach Inn.
There's always something going on at Dave's, some familiar face or a friendly conversation to be had with one of the bartenders. Sometimes, you might even get to help one of the staff eject a drunk or drugged, off-the-street intruder from the premises (I did this once; it involved me pretending to call "security" on my cell phone). Even on a Monday night, the place is an excellent retreat. In fact, it's sometimes better to hit Dave's early in the week because the local musicians who have gigs on the weekend often cool their heels there on nights off. Also, with the hands-down-best jukebox in town, Dave's is a great place to go have a few cheap drinks and soak in some recorded sounds.
When I walked in, I looked toward the back and spotted Dan Weber, bassist for Buffalo Saints, The String and Return, the Occupation, and, most recently, the Belles. He was shooting pool with some friends, and at his place at the bar stood two glasses, one, a Bushmills on the rocks, the other, a small highball-like glass of beer. I'd seen such small beers before but thought they were too European to inquire about. But knowing Dan wouldn't chuckle like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in The Talented Mr. Ripley and saunter away, I asked him what was up. And that's when I met my newest friend, the Talented Mr. Beerback.
Until recently, Dave's gave these free mini-beer chasers to regulars who ordered whiskeys. Now the bar charges one dollar for the privilege of lookin' sophisticated with two glasses in front of you at the bar. I immediately forked over a George Washington for a sampling of the experience (choices: Bud or Bud Light), coupling my ice-cold, diminutive draft with a J&B on the rocks.
I knew better than to challenge Dan in pool, however. Several months ago, on a night when some Westport wacko shot out a few streetlights on W. 40th behind Sun Fresh and the police (according to rumor) took down the trigger-happy miscreant with rubber bullets, a friend and I laid down the gauntlet on Dan's pool table. Shortly after, my friend and I drunkenly and courageously laid down some money, and after a few masterful shots by Dan and his partner, my party's funds were shamefully no more.
But I did talk to Dan about his band the Occupation (March 10 at the Brick). The band has no Myspace page or Web site where you can download mp3s, and you should feel lucky for that, because if they did — and assuming they're proficient recorders of their own sound — the music exploding through your headphones in the insulation of your home would lacerate your ears close to your skull and fling the severed lobes into the ceiling fan. This is a band that needs to be buffered by several stiff drinks and a surrounding crowd in a bar.
Heavy and aggressive, the Occupation (named after the ongoing outrage in Iraq) is a departure for Dan and most of his bandmates. The singer, Bill Cave, is an artist without much musical background; but on stage, his red hair, contorted, scarecrow-like stance and barking vocals make him the perfect frontman for the band's stylings: short blasts of intricate, mathematically precise, incindiary hardcore rock.
Back at Dave's, someone had lined up a shit ton of Beatles songs on the jukebox, and Dan and I talked about how the whole whose-side-are-you-on-Beatles-versus-Stones-fans conflict was bullshit. Come on people — it's OK to like them both. Several beerbacks later, plus a gin and tonic for my wife, who arrived from a late play rehearsal, and it was time to head out. It was, after all, a work night.