A Farewell To Zebulon, And An Era For Williamsburg
“This was my first home when I moved to Brooklyn,” said Colin Stetson as he wiped down his face. “Every show from 2004 to 2005 that I played was here. Thank you to Jeff and Joss. I will miss it.” Stetson’s cheeks weren’t wet with tears, but rather the sweat that comes with simulating the experience of profound existential realization by blowing continuously into a horn for four minutes without break. But everyone and everything around him, including that sweat-slicked face, was stirred.
Zebulon is closing. For my friends that don’t know this neighborhood well: This is a terrible thing. The venue’s official note cited a “Williamsburg [that] has changed significantly since we opened, and unfortunately it is no longer possible today to continue the business in the manner in which it was conceived.” Ugh. The writing is on all the scrubbed up, glass condo’d walls, but this is a particularly harsh blow. Since its opening during the early ’00s Williamsburg boom, Zebulon’s dimly lit wooden space has been a rare thing: a true incubator for the eclectic, and avant garde, stripped of preconceived notions of hip, in a neighborhood only nominally dedicated to such cutting edge, experimental thinking.
Artists came here to learn the ropes, to stretch out, or to perform intimately in later more established stages of their career. Jazz mixed with afrobeat mixed with spoken word mixed with polyglot global dance beats, noise, and rock. Last night’s roster was a bank of relative all-stars, culled from the ranks of those who developed themselves over the years at Zebulon.
“I don’t know who I would be without this place,” Holly Miranda said from stage. “We didn’t really rehearse, but that always seemed to be in the vein of Zebulon.” After a few, she was joined on backing vocals by Kyp Malone, whose TV On The Radio orbited around Zebulon as well. Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld performed solo violin earlier. Later, virtuosic drum expressionist Ryan Sawyer (Lonewolf) played, too. At the end of the night, he joined Stetson and Stuart Bogie — the prolific horn player frequently heard on all manner of Dave Sitek recordings (TV On The Radio, Celebration) and with everyone from Antibalas to Rufus Wainwright and now Superhuman Happiness — for a freaked-out, atonal-then-ecstatic jazz jam.
The lynchpin of last night’s lineup from a performative standpoint, though, was Colin Stetson’s set proper, full mostly of new material from an album he said he’s just finishing. From the sound of the fully horned, solo songs — breathless blizzards of arpeggios, haunting and sublime disembodied vocal moans — he’s readied a memorable collection of penetrating and hypnotic epics. It was fitting material for any “last night,” and certainly for his in Zebulon.
This was not an unprecedented run of genres and talent for the 120-person space, which has had its triumphant (and sallow) nights ones like any other. But it was the sort of roster, and vibe, particular to Zebulon’s adventurously curatorial spirit, and one that doesn’t have any readily apparent peer, rival, or substitute. And a key point I haven’t mentioned: There was never really a cover there. By that measure, not only is Zebulon’s value in real and symbolic terms for this part of Brooklyn tremendous, but it already feels like a relic of a past time for the neighborhood. The process of devolution and regeneration is intrinsic to the spirit of this city and the aesthetic of neighborhoods like this one, but it’s OK to mourn for a minute, and to remember it a lot longer.
If you’re in the area, this weekend is your last chance to toast the space. In about 45 minutes (6PM EST), Lungfish hero Daniel Higgs will play a set. Leave work! Now! The rest of the weekend’s performances are below.
A play by Dome Theater
Hiro Kone & Drew McDowall
And for good measure, here is Zebulon’s official parting statement:
On Sunday, Dec 9 Zebulon will be closing its doors after ten exciting years of pioneering music and arts. Williamsburg has changed significantly since we opened, and unfortunately it is no longer possible today to continue the business in the manner in which it was conceived. Nevertheless, it’s been a great run. We are proud to have given many celebrated artists a chance to play in an intimate setting or develop their sound in readiness for a larger audience. Zebulon has employed and supported struggling artists and their families, connected them to a wider musical community in New York and given them a stage on which to experiment. This is our final week so if you haven’t been down in a while, please come and say hello/wave goodbye, and pay your respects to this gem of an institution. Thank you for your support and stay tuned for news of our next endeavors and adventures!
That comes via Facebook.
I’ll miss you, Zebulon.