Meet Me in the Bathroom’ Review: New York’s Last Rock Renaissance
The post-post punk New York rock scene gets an archival retrospective in this documentary.
The post-post-punk rock scene in the late ’90s and early aughts New York saw an unusual flurry of activity, with disparate acts exciting international attention of the sort that hadn’t visited the city since the early days of CBGB.
Lizzy Goodman’s 2017 oral history of “rebirth and rock and roll” is the basis for the documentary “Meet Me in the Bathroom,” directed by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace.
Downtown Rock Was Never Homogeneous In Style, And The Bands Considered Here Are All Over The Map Stylistically:
There’s the very East Village scatological shagginess of Moldy Peaches, the minimalist grandiosity of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the hermetically psychedelicized TV on the Radio, and of course the poor little rich boys of the Strokes, whose best work melded Motorik-derived groove with Stonesy/Velvety attitude.
There Are Revealing Glimpses Into The Early Work Of Artists Who Would Morph Into Entities That Were Slicker And Ostensibly Cooler.
For instance, Paul Banks, later to front the acclaimed Joy Division sound-alike Interpol, is first seen here bearing an acoustic guitar and a boyish earnestness.
The film is entirely archival in its visual footage, much of it shot at the time by the photographer and videographer Nanci Sarrouf. The movie’s new interviews are audio only.
As a result, the likes of Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, and the recently reconstituted Strokes, all working musicians still, are never seen as they are today.
The most interesting narrative thread is that of Murphy, who arrived in New York as an odd man out with no clue about the dance music he would eventually master.
It’s kind of jarring to learn that “Losing My Edge,” LCD’s breakout single, in which Murphy elaborates on the title condition, was born out of genuine desperation rather than ironic drollery.
Was The Last Rock Renaissance Really In New York City In The Aughts?
That’s the claim filmmakers Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace make with their documentary adaptation of music journalist Lizzie Goodman’s book “Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011.”
This scuzzy, dreamy nonfiction greatest hits compilation prefers lyricism to reportage, with the testimony told entirely in voiceover instead of talking heads.
It’s also entirely a montage of on-the-fly found footage — of concerts, early interviews, Courtney Love flashing her boobs to a crowd of frothing onlookers during her 24-hour MTV takeover — and it’ll make you feel nostalgia for the bygone heyday of millennial indie rock.
The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Moldy Peaches, James Murphy, and Interpol all get significant play here, with the film going back to their DIY roots in Lower Manhattan — but leaves us hanging from there.
In Other Ones, “Meet Me” Is Music To The Ears Of Their Fans But Will Probably Mean Little To Anyone Else.
A near-opening image of a tear-stained Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O taking to the mic in director Patrick Daughters’ “Maps” music video should fling you right back to 2003.
Most millennials with a Napster or Limewire account had some relationship to this song, a pulsing ballad in which Karen explains to her tour-bound rocker lover that his fans “don’t love you like I love you.”
The documentary segues into a grim moment of affected gravitas as a recording of Ed Begley reading from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” plays over a woozy montage of Lower Manhattan archival footage.
It Reminds You Of Why You Resent The Kind Of Self-important People Who Say New York Is The Only City In The World.
And as this recording originated in the late-1950s, “Meet Me in the Bathroom” is making a tall argument that the early-2000s indie rock scene of the LES is somehow on the level of the culture tectonics-shifting Beat Generation era. “Manhattan crowds, with their turbulent musical chorus! Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me.”
Well, Manhattan didn’t turn out to be “forever” for the indie iconoclasts sampled here, as the documentary dourly ends with most of them decamping the city, with Karen O especially “grieving the dissipation of the scene” and “feeling nostalgic for when everything happened.”
The movie draws a tenuous but plausible connection between the musicians’ leaving Lower Manhattan behind after September 11 and taking over Brooklyn and the rapid gentrification of the borough that seemingly followed.