This review is part of an ongoing series on electronic cigarettes and vaping. It rates how vape friendly a particular venue is. The views expressed are purely the opinion of the author, and do not represent those of Bedford Slims. Feedback is welcome. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an e-cigarette experience worth sharing.
Vaping done inside Union Pool should be done very discreetly. Most don't want to bother with that discretion, so there is usually a large group of people smoking or vaping and milling on the sidewalk in the shadow of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. That was the case on Tuesday 9/13/2016, when I attended an event there.
Wolfgang Tillmans is a world renowned photographer with a career spanning back more than two decades, but Tuesday night at Union Pool he traded his camera for a microphone. Tillmans took the stage with his band Fragile to perform a mix of original songs and covers. The show had sold out quickly, but like many weeknight performances at Union Pool the atmosphere was pretty relaxed. The bar is built for packed Friday and Saturday nights, so the space feels a little empty with anything shy of a few hundred drunk hipsters.
It's a shame Union Pool is very much NOT vape friendly. Because the venue attracts massive Williamsburg crowds on the weekends, it's under extra scrutiny from the authorities. They are militant about checking IDs and complying with all health code regulations. Even though they have a large back yard, you aren't allowed to smoke or even vape back there.
Tillmans' performance oscillated between matching the low-key atmosphere and defying it. Much of the audience were his friends from the art world, and the banter between songs included a lot of personal stories about the band he played with growing up in Germany in the 80s and 90s. And some of the songs were imbued with the tone of performance art, with Tillmans chanting "His son was upset by the sight of two men kissing" on repeat over a slow backing beat. But occasionally he would really uncork one, ripping into a number that blended the German robotic vocals with a high-energy London punk explosiveness.
Given that Tillmans is primarily a visual artist, he likely couldn't resist giving his band a bit of flare. They were all dressed in a matching shade of navy blue, with Tillmans and his lead guitarist both sporting white collars reminiscent of priests. The outfits gave Fragile a very distinct Krautrock throwback flavor.
It might seem indulgent for Tillmans, a photographer, to try his hand as rock band frontman. But he's no stranger to the pop music scene. He took the photograph used as the cover art on Frank Ocean's recent album Blonde. And some of Fragile's music was even featured on Ocean's visual album Endless. Previously Tillmans worked with bands such as The Opiates, Colourbox and Pet Shop Boys, providing visual materials for the groups' music videos or curated shows.
I never lived in Brooklyn before 2004, when Bloomberg ended indoor smoking, but I do remember when a man used to be able to vape inside a great show like Tillmans' in peace. I am sure Tillmans remembers the days when nicotine was not so demonized, and for a moment, when looking at the people milling outside, I wished I did too.
Rating for Vaping: (2/10)