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Old Ghosts Haunt The New Ninth
by Christopher Arnott | Oct 7, 2013 1:00 pm
Posted to: Arts & Culture, Music, Ninth Square
They were the scavengers, the squatters, the vagabonds. They were the settlers, the visionaries, the pioneers. They were the artists and musicians who saw a blighted neighborhood as a blank canvas on which they could paint their dreams. A quarter-century ago, they enlightened Ninth Square.
Then, a quarter-century later, a “LAMP” lit their way home.
LAMP was one of several crowded public events lighting up downtown’s revived Ninth Square district last Friday night. (Read about the events here, here and here.) The evening ended at Cafe Nine with a crowd of artists who made their mark on the pre-“Ninth Square” Ninth Square, making their mark yet again.
The headliner of the show was musician Mark Mulcahy. Twenty-five years ago Mulcahy was living on Chapel Street, where his band Miracle Legion rehearsed in a former office space on the second floor of a then-grubby building between Church and Orange.
In the mid-‘80s, Margaret Bodell, and the Schiffer sister Mary and Beth had turned a decrepit storefront into a progressive art gallery named Art in Heaven on a largely abandoned block of Crown Street.
Sean Corvino and Doug Poger, artists and musicians, were staging provocative art stunts around the city, ranging from bumper- sticker slogans emblazoned on boarded-up Ninth Square walls
Bethany Appleby was leading her high school band Stately Wayne Manor through songs like “Funky Agitator” at The Grotto, the watering hole for ‘80s punks and new wavers. Mulcahy was The Grotto’s booking agent. The Schiffers bartended there.
Ninth Square is now the province of commercial art galleries, fine dining, high-rise apartments and the city’s hottest dance clubs.
In the ‘80s, much of the art in the area was spraypainted on plywood which covered the broken windows of decaying buildings, or arranged into site-specific installations in the many empty storefronts. There were no convenience stores or coffeeshop on every block because nobody lived in the neighborhood. The fancy restaurants were a mile away. Punk clubs ruled.
This past Friday night, all those folks who’d known the Ninth Square in less hospitable, less orderly, less city-supported and yes, less well-lit circumstances were basking in the glow.
They swarmed the opening night festivities of City Wide Open Studios, whose organizer Artspace moved into the Ninth Square in 2001. They’d helped create the annual LAMP event which lights up the neighborhood with grand-scale illuminated art projects. They even continued to reclaim unused spaces for their art revolutions, filling the big stone bank building at the corner of Crown and Church with dance music and a light show by Projects2K, and the vacated multi-store site on Orange Street (where The Grove co-working coop space was before it recently moved to Chapel Street) with painters, sculptors, filmmakers and a mermaid.
Then, around 10 p.m., all these LAMP-lighters dimmed the lights and hit Café Nine to unwind.
There, the Schiffers (still active as artists and designers 30 years after Art in Heaven) and Bodell (a curator and art consultant who co-founded New Haven’s Project Storefronts and the statewide CreateHereNow initiative) sat at tables in Café Nine watching Mark Mulcahy, now an internationally renowned solo artist who spent his summer playing major music festivals at Mass MOCA, in England and elsewhere, perform songs from his latest album Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You.
Sean Corvino and Doug Poger, whose contribution to LAMP earlier that evening had been to broadcast decades worth of footage of various Dadaist invasions on a Chapel Street wall (near the site of the old punk club The Tune Inn, the psychic and psychotic 1990s Ninth Square descendent of The Grotto), yelled encouragements to Mulcahy from the crowd: “You’re number fucking one!”
Since the mid-‘90s, Mulcahy’s been living in Springfield, which is where the musicians who’ve played on his solo records have come from. When he returns to play the New Haven area, he often supplements the shows with visits from old friends and former bandmates. Richard Brown, the longtime manager of Best Video in Hamden known in the old music scene by his Mulcahy-bestowed nickname “Doc Equis,” blew sax for several songs (including “Cookie Jar”). Miracle Legion drummer Jeff Wiederschall pounded a few.
Bethany Appleby, who grew up to a partner in the Litigation Department at the Wiggin and Dana law firm, danced wildly at the front of the stage when Mulcahy and his band were joined for an encore by guitarist Seth Tiven of the famed ‘80s Boston band Dumptruck. Tiven’s first band was The Saucers, with Mulcahy on drums and Craig Bell—a railroad worker as well as a veteran of the influential Cleveland punk band Rocket from the Tombs.
Tiven and Mulcahy tore into a cover of Rocket from the Tombs’ “Final Solution.” In doing so, they showed the countless angry young post-punk bands who’ve followed the Saucers on to Ninth Square stages that the Grotto generation could still cut it.
The Mulcahy set wasn’t the only trip down memory lane. The opening act that night was The Streams, the latest line-up of a band David Brooks first put together in the early ‘90s, when his previous band The Lean-Tos had folded and he needed a rough-hewn ensemble to interpret his proto-American Civil War-themed pop songs. Every member of the current Streams has marked decades-long service to the music scene, from the aforementioned drummer Jeff Wiederschall to bassist Dean Falcone (guitarist for Dean & the Dragsters and One Hundred Faces, now with The Manchurians and the Shellye Valauskas Experience) and guitarist Bill Beckett (The Mocking Birds, Hannah Cranna).
There was a strong awareness of all the history in the room—not least from Mark Mulcahy, who’d been chosen as a featured LAMP after-party attraction largely due to his strong ties to the neighborhood. Café Nine was a major co-organizer of LAMP, and had made the Mulcahy show a free one, though Mulcahy can command a $15 or $20 ticket at other venues in the state.
“I want to project! Don’t die out on me, LAMPers,” Mulcahy exulted from the stage. “This is the street where everything used to go on. The typewriter repair store. The old days!”
At one point, as he was about to launch into his fun, wistful, pun-filled tune “Cookie Jar,” Mulcahy paused to appreciate his surroundings. He reminisced about Blubartz, the bar which preceded Café Nine at the corner of State and Crown.
And he seemed to pity bands which toured so constantly and obliviously that they were unaware of their surroundings.
Hear his bright remarks in the video at the top of this story, and love LAMP.