Mike Brindisi isn’t wasting any time. An emerging presence in Ithaca’s local music scene, he and his band, The New York Rock, played an intimate crowd Thursday night at Castaways, putting on a good face and promoting their growing name.
They opened with one of their most popular songs, “Words,” a hymn that evokes ’90s rock memories. Melancholic in lyrics and melody, it did not immediately put the dancing shoes on the Castaways crowd. Upon finishing the second song, however, “Blur,” Brindisi had rectified this, raising the intensity level of the music and reeling in the crowd with emphatic gestures and facial expressions. Some fans, coming from as far as Binghamton to see the show, joined in the chorus. Others, just enjoying a Thursday night beer at Castaways, cautiously approached the stage to lay down some dance moves.
Fortunately, Brindisi and his colorful gang maintained a hard-rock environment throughout the show, playing through their lone album, Counting Pennies. Released in February, the album features the several different musical styles that characterize The New York Rock. Slower and more generic songs, such as “Words,” sound almost like Pearl Jam or even Third Eye Blind. “Cigarette Burns,” however, is a jittery blend of Sublime and The Strokes and displays a broader musical range.
For the fast paced themes during the show, Brindisi lost the guitar and turned his attention towards getting the crowd involved. When Brindisi sang the catchy “Cigarette Burns” midway through the set, he had already put the audience into a total rage. It was a successful debut for burly drummer Todd, a recent addition to the band. “He also doubles as our security guard,” said Brindisi. Pleased to have him, The New York Rock transferred their excitement onto the crowd.
For Brindisi, arriving at this point in his music career hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk. After traveling to Nashville several years ago to produce an EP that flopped, Brindisi turned away from music to try his luck with comedy. The decision to remain onstage proved to be rewarding. His stand-up routines at Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York City eventually landed him an appearance on a 2004 episode of Saturday Night Live. It was here that “Speedy,” a long-time guitar technician at SNL, inspired Brindisi to return to making music. Robust in its cultivation of local music, Ithaca seemed to Brindisi a promising destination to launch an operation.
This took time. Before the song “Crawl” became a local favorite on WVBR, Brindisi worked three jobs, including one at Cornell Laundry. His success on the radio, however, helped put him in touch with other local musicians, sewing the seeds for The New York Rock.
Brindisi revealed his comedic background during the encore, playing a song he wrote when he was 16, called “The Weed Song.” This acoustic solo borrowed themes from Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry,” displaying Brindisi’s best Jamaican imitation, as well as his apparent love for smoking marijuana. The crowd’s urging of Brindisi to return for one more song, and the laughter that ensued afterwards, signaled that he was a hit amongst Castaway patrons and a rising force in local music. As one heavily tattooed lady fan confided in me, “I would totally sleep with Mike Brindisi if I wasn’t married to my husband.” Enough said.