I think the first time I ever laid eyes the East River Park Amphitheatre (or Bandshell, depending on how you chose to refer to it), was via 1983’s graffiti epic, “Wild Style.” At the time, East River Park — a thin slab of concrete and green between the Lower East Side and the East River — was basically a far-flung no-go zone, least of all for a pasty Upper East Side geek like myself. Hell, I didn’t need to travel down to the fringes of Alphabet City to get hassled. I managed to do it right on my own turf.
In any case, I would first see the East River Park Bandshell up close (that’s it up top, courtesy of Gilberto Sanchez via Bowery Boogie) — relatively speaking — whilst biking by it a year or so later. By that point, it seemed to be in the process of becoming entirely disused and derelict … almost like something out of “Planet of the Apes.” Back in 2010, EV Grieve put up a post about it, featuring some great shots by one Jen Williams of the Bandshell in decline.
As the story goes, the rotting structure was basically paired down and spruced up in 2001. To be honest, I was a little disappointed when that happened. I kinda liked it the way it was.
The only reason I’m talking about it now, however, is because I recently unearthed a curious old video by the False Prophets (who I’ve written about here and, more recently, here). In that first post, I’d mistakenly asserted that the band had only every produced a single album. That turned out not to be the case. In any event, “Invisible People” is the title track to their second proper album from 1990, and it was filmed entirely at the East River Park Bandshell.
While I’d been used to the False Prophets as sounding more like this, “Invisible People” found the band really stretching beyond the narrow confines of hardcore punk, employing melodious harmonies and folksy acoustic instrumentation, while retaining their pointedly lefty, socially conscious lyrical bent.
Check it out here…
Nice, right? Incidentally, the animated sequences came courtesy of illustrator Erick Drooker, whose work you might remember from the Faith No More sleeve, King for a Day.
Of course, “Invisible People” wasn’t the only video filmed at the East River Park Bandshell. Eight years earlier in 1982 (the same year “Wild Style” was filmed), Kid Creole & the Coconuts shot the clip of “Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy” there … somewhat inexplicably.
Here’s that clip now…
Anyway, having recently acquired a copy of False Prophets’ Invisible People — and with a few days off before I start my new job — I decided to go down to East River Park to check out the old Bandshell.
Entering East River Park at East 10th Street (just beyond Avenue D — which was once churlishly referred to by some of my old cohorts as “Avenue Death” — and the FDR Drive), I took a misty, largely deserted stroll south, past the baseball diamonds, the Domino Sugar plant on the far side of the river and under the Williamsburg Bridge until I reached the site of the Bandshell.
If you came looking for it based on “Wild Style” or those videos be Kid Creole or the False Prophets, you might just walk right on by it today. No longer as hulking a structure as its previous incarnation, the Bandshell is now basically just an arch with a flourish of metal piping. I still wouldn’t want to, say, spend the night there, but its a great deal less forbidding than it used to be.
I strolled around and sat in the amphiteatre bleachers for a bit (where False Prophets’ Stephan is hassled by the donut-chomping cop in “Invisible People”).
Here’s how it looks today..
ADDENDUM: My friend Bryan K. of This Ain't the Summer of Love just posted this on my Facebook page. Herewith Cheap Trick delivering a blistering cover of Lennon's "Cold Turkey" at the (pre-makeover) East River Bandshell. Oddly, the video also features local skateboard legend Harold Hunter, who found ame in Harmony Korine's "Kids."