Around the corner from the Empire State building is the very unremarkable La Quinta Hotel, a nondescript building crammed amid the jumble of Koreatown restaurants on 32nd St. Ironically, it's the tourists who stay here and not seasoned New Yorkers who know about the hidden gem on the La Quinta rooftop: the Me bar. The indoor half is cozy, but it's the outdoor patio that delivers the real prize: a close-up view of the towering spire of the Me bar's neighbor, the Empire State building.
This would be our revised reveal, we thought. Instead of bringing a band to the top of the Empire State building, we'd bring them to the top of La Quinta for a rarely seen vantage on the most clichéd New York City landmark.
Now who to bring there? We immediately thought of former Shudder to Think songwriter and frontman Craig Wedren, Craig's voice is massive, his music wildly ambitious, and so who better to line up next to New York's symbol of grand ambition. Craig's latest bandmates are perhaps his tightest outfit since Shudder to Think, and he brought two of them along, his bassist Jesse Krakow on guitar and guitarist Mark Watrous on melodica and vocals.
The plan was simple, which didn't keep it from breaking down. And as usual, once the plan broke down, the fun began. First, no one managed to hit the right button in the elevator, so half way through the song we realized we had ridden up and down without arriving at the bar (you can hear one of us calling for a do-over, but to no avail). The band gamely created an impromptu “extended remix” version of the song, and forged ahead. Then Craig's bandmates, now desperate to escape from the seemingly endless elevator trip, prematurely exit on a random floor. Eventually they make it to the rooftop, we get our originally scheduled reveal, and one more surprise: an ovation from the Me patrons who had gathered into a modest audience.
For a second onetake, we thought we'd drag Craig to one more New York tourist cliché - Times Square, at the height of TGIF pandemonium. We liked the idea of acoustic music competing with Times Square's visual and aural cacophony, to let the noise and mayhem of the city season and maybe even at times swallow up the song. Mayhem does ensue, but there's one more surprise in store. The kids who first monkey in front of the camera like maniac Dick Clark balldropping attendees decide to stick around, listen to Craig and Jesse, and by the end are silenced and a little wowed by what they hear. Yahoo attention-grabbing becomes sweet, sincere connection, which, come to think of it, isn't so surprising, but the rather common, weird alchemy of the city's streets.
The kids think they're discovering the next new thing, and for someone whose music is as restlessly mutating as Craig's is, maybe they're onto something.
Hope Hall, One Take NYC