On a Sunday afternoon in Greenpoint, ‘Avant-Brunch’ tests the market for ‘grown-ass shit’: Music and a sit-down meal

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Julianna Barwick at the inaugural Avant-Brunch event at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint ()
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“Happy New Year everybody,” said Julianna Barwick, the Brooklyn musician. In a sheer black top she walked to the center of the back room at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint, where a white grand piano glowed.

It looked like she had materialized from the bright light, which poured in through a skylight. It was Sunday, New Year’s Day of 2012, and an audience was gathered for the first concert in a new food-and-music series called Avant-Brunch. Red velvet curtains were drawn over the entryway to the back room, parting only for wait-staff bringing in plates of French toast and eggs, or trays of Mimosas and Bloody Marys.

Barwick stood bent over the piano holding the mic in one hand, her other over an effects pedal. Her angelic voice floated through the space as she recorded and played back bits, harmonized with herself, sampled the harmonies, looped them back, and so on, until many layers of her voice echoed, sonorous and piercing, around the room. The kitchen seemed to be backed up, but drinks were replenished fast.

The menus were part of the event, signed and numbered by the artist, Tom McGrath. They were pale pink cards, on which were printed the list of dishes surrounded by a filigree-like border of thumbnail sketches of an eagle’s head, a spaceship, a tooth.

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“I’m really into the immersive experience of music,” said Chris Weingarten, the music writer also known by his Twitter handle: 1000TimesYes. Six weeks ago he was named a senior editor at Spin. Weingarten is one of the organizers of the event.

“I wanted to do something that’s not standing at Death By Audio with a PBR in your hand. We’ve been doing that for 15 years. This is so rare. You’re in a different state of awake at 1 p.m. on a Sunday than you are at 11 p.m. on a Thursday. I’m stressed because I have to go to work the next day. My feet hurt, my back hurts. Here, you’re more relaxed. There’s nothing getting in the way of you and the music. Sit. Enjoy.”

Weingarten said the idea came to him after going to two afternoon shows, Jozef van Wissem at Littlefield and Rhys Chatham at Public Assembly. He saw the promoter Seva Granik at a third show and broached the idea of a brunch concert series. Granik loved the idea and Tweeted about it instantly.

“I think a lot of it comes from going to Disney World as a kid,” said Weingarten—a Florida native, about combining food and music. “It was like getting sucked into a different universe for a little while.”

Weingarten, distinguishable by his red beard and almost constant wearing of a trucker hat (this one was black with a pink boom-box on the front) also manned the D.J. booth.

“The nature of [Barwick’s] music is so pretty, it’s this ever-expanding gorgeousness,” said Maura Johnston, the music editor for The Village Voice who was seated at a nearby table. “So it was a really nice way to start the New Year and come down from a hangover.”

Johnston said she had spent New Year’s Eve at a party and then at her favorite bar.

“In the middle of [the show] I dropped my fork,” she said. “It was so quiet, and I was like ‘oh my God—'“

“—There’s this blog called The Needle Drop,” said Weingarten, interrupting. “I’m going to start one [about] Maura: ‘The Fork Drop.’”

Johnston laughed.

“Thanks for letting me be part of your first day of the year,” Juliana Barwick told the crowd at the end of her set, leaving the piano and going a few steps to a nearby table to sit with her boyfriend.

“I’m not used to playing in the middle of a group of people in the bright light,” she said later, drinking a beer and waiting for her food to arrive. “I’m used to playing with my hair in front of my face in the dark, basically. So I felt pretty exposed. But it was fun. It was a really special vibe.” Barwick had spent her New Year’s Eve making dinner with friends and then at a party at a friend’s house.

“Have you ever been to this place Monkey Town?” Weingarten was asked. “Dude. Monkey Town. Huge influence on me. R.I.P. man,” said Weingarten. “The rumor was you could order ‘Black Mountain Tea,’ like Psilocybin mushroom tea."

“I saw Tony Conrad play there,” said someone else at the table.

“I was at that show.”

“I was fed cupcakes and really good beer.”

“The ostrich sliders,” said Weingarten. Both nodded.

“Disney Land is a triumph of attention to detail,” said Weingarten, returning to his favorite subject of the afternoon. “Every rope and line and sign and blade of grass has been pored over and thought of so you’re in this illusion constantly.”

Ruminating on the idea of illusion, Weingarten recounted a story.

“Walt [Disney] was in Tomorrow Land and a cowboy walked by. And [Walt] was like, ‘You’re supposed to be in Frontier Land.” Disney hated the idea of a child seeing a character out of costume [so] when he built Walt Disney World he created the entire thing above a maze of passageways.

“That’s why it has all the tunnels,” someone else chimed in. “The idea of Mickey Mouse smoking a cig—“

“Yeah,” Weingarten replied, switching focus back to his own iteration of the curated environment. “I feel like it’s a little bit of an older crowd,” he said looking around the room. “It’s not a bunch of 17-year-old kids at 285 Kent watching Japanther. There’s a market opening up for like grown-ass shit.”