New Paltz starts late and ends late. That’s just the way it is and always has been. When performers at the local arts centers, small theaters and dinner clubs are thanking you and saying goodnight, when young parents are returning home and dismissing the child care, opening acts in New Paltz are check-one-twoing their microphones as the crowds start to filter in. Veteran players often roll their eyes when discussing New Paltz gigs for this reason. Some won’t even do it anymore.
And yet, with a college, at least four committed music clubs and a variety of specialty and ad hoc venues including the very street itself, New Paltz is a music town, of course – and a diverse one, despite the powerful ‘60s myth with which it is associated. I’ve heard musicians, songwriters in particular, complain that the scene seems to favor danceable rock – jam, reggae, funk, groove jazz, cover bands – over song-focused performers or the willfully difficult and experimental bands that are supposed to find their purchase in college towns and in Brooklyn. I myself have drooled fragile art-pop into (t)rusty SM58s at 2:30 a.m. and felt the impotence and futility of it all. But of course the scene is what you make it, so look within.
Plenty of distinctive, non-dancey groups have made a mark in New Paltz lately by generating enough of a scene around their own aesthetics. Breakfast in Fur comes to mind: a charming, classic indie-rock band with a strong set of tunes and a very high likability index; or longtime New Paltz men of mystery Los Doggies, who play a near-indescribable blend of heavy prog and absurdist pop, like Zappa or Fripp paying homage to They Might Be Giants – only different. Recently, the brilliantly named It’s Not Night; It’s Space (INNIS for short) has been garnering attention with a lush, instrumental stoner space metal – for lack of a better description.
Late at night, floorboards want to undulate. I remember being in the basement of the now-defunct bar the Gryphon on a packed Alternative Thursday in the ‘90s, helping some friends out with a small problem, and thinking, “This is the night they’re finally going to give way and crush us.” This is still mostly what play in the clubs here: things that set the floorboards a-wave.
In keeping with its longstanding reputation as New Paltz’s last stop, Snug Harbor will go heavier, darker and sleazier than most New Paltz venues when it wants to. The train-car orientation of the venue targets your sternum; and if there is any one bar where I actually miss all the smoke of yore, this might be it: The opacity of smoke seemed somehow to embody and enhance the collective dissolution.