New York, New York: Fascinator’s Top Five Live Music Venues in NYC

Relocating to New York City was one of the best moves for Johnny Mackay, now more commonly known as Fascinator. Currently in the middle of a US tour with POND, the songwriter and performer has been hard at work preparing for the release of his new album, Water Sign.

The multi-instrumentlist has been lucky enough to call both the Big Apple and Australia home over the years, though as many Australians can attest, there’s something that draws us to the east coast of the States; whether it be the food, the sights or the dang music hubs that have thrived there for decades.

As he makes his way around the US, Fascinator hooks us up with his five favourite venues in New York that should be on anyone’s list, should they be in town.

Baby’s All Right

I often refer to this place as my spiritual home and for a time, it was my second home. The closest thing to a “local” I’ve ever had. I was resident DJ in the front bar there for the first few years and played countless shows in the back, ironing kinks out of and back into Fascinator on the stage with it’s weird back wall full of randomly flashing ashtrays.

It seemed to always host bands who probably should have been playing somewhere bigger, like when Ariel Pink played all of Pom Pom there ahead of it’s release with the crowd spilling on to the street. Or King Gizzard’s crazy 2am set after a Bowery Ballroom show, where my manager Jodie came out of the moshpit with a blood nose and I had to get her ice and tequila. Mac DeMarco was a regular, I watched Connan Mockasin do standup connedy there and it was my first time seeing Courtney Barnett, as far as I know.

Countless others like Hot Chip, Savages and Kirin J, about a thousand times. You get the picture. (side note – I shot the video for my track “Oh Bukkake” here.)

Elvis Guesthouse (RIP)

This was the Manhattan venue run by the same pair of legends from Baby’s and for all involved its two years of existence (2015-2017), it was a real moment in time. A very blurry, smoke machine flavoured, tequila-soaked moment in time. Smack bang in the middle of the hipster high school that is East Village, it looked cool as fuck down there with this little elevated area to the left covered in blue tiles that lead me to refer to it as “The Tron Aquarium”. Along with my friend Johann (Promiseland) we starting throwing shows which would invariably get kinda crazy. As a warm up to a weird private festival in the Dominican Republic, I once crammed 13 costumed ‘Fascinators’ into the little side bit for a show, while Johann would crawl along the bar on his back yelling into the mic while the bartender poured Espelon tequila all over his face.

It always sounded terrible down there, but it didn’t matter. We loved it. I remember Billy saying to me at the start, “This is your place,” and it really did feel that way. (Another side note – I shot much of the video for my song “Dead of the Night” here.)

The Shrine

This jazz bar in Harlem is fucking awesome. The ceiling is covered in records and last time I went, we saw two afrobeat bands play for hours with the whole room dancing. It’s a mission getting there and back from Brooklyn but really worth it. I would definitely recommend hitting this up if you’re swinging through New York on a trip.

Prospect Park Bandshell

This is just straight up a really nice New York experience. Cruise out to one of the city’s most beautiful parks and basically have a picnic in front of a live band. I’d had the pleasure of watching friends like Warpaint and Tame Impala kill it here. Last year, a gang of us had a really beautiful night watching Amadou and Mariam there and this guy was handing out discount holiday vouchers to Nigeria on the way in. We all made a pact to go together but it hasn’t happened yet.

NuBlu 151

Run by Turkish legend Ilhan, my first encounter with this place was a string of DJ gigs in its infancy, where I’d go and spin Turkish and Persian psych and African disco upstairs. Actually it was only an upstairs then, not a live venue. There was and still is a live venue down the road run by the same people, just called NuBlu. A mainstay in the jazz, world and experimental scene in New York giving birth to bands like Brazilian Girls.

A couple of years ago, NuBlu151 opened downstairs and started having shows and Fascinator has played there a couple of times with our Iranian mates The Muckers as well as The Phenomenal Handclap Band. It’s a cool setting that feels less like a traditional rock venue with large steps and a mezzanine behind and above the stage.

Tickets on sale now

Thursday 21 June | OAF Gallery, Sydney

Friday 22 June | Dark Mofo, Hobart 

Saturday 23 Jun | Workers Club, Melbourne 

Photo: Brendan Burke.


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