Singer-songwriter and veteran subway performer Theo Eastwind wanted to thank Oasis for “Wonderwall,” a song that, when played, encouraged enough NYC subway riders to throw dollar bills into his guitar case from 1995 to 1998 that it literally paid his rent. Thanks to a documentary from filmmakers and music-video directors The Malloys, he finally got a chance to show his gratitude—in person.
The Malloys (comprised of brothers Emmett and Brendan) spent the morning and afternoon of September 12 at a rehearsal loft in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where they were documenting a fresh idea on a record release. Oasis’ new album Dig Out Your Soul didn't hit stores 'til October 7, but the British rock band agreed to give NYC locals and tourists a preview of three unreleased tracks via the instruments and voices of nearly 20 MUNY (Music Under New York) performers—who would eventually filter out to subway platforms and streets throughout the City to perform the never-before-heard songs for passers-by. The musicians gathered, practiced the tunes according to their diverse styles, and eventually played for Oasis members, who swayed and clapped as the local NYC musicians jammed away.
So what’s the allure of doing such a project in New York City? “Oh, come on, if they couldn’t hit the rest of the world, all they have to do is stand on one street corner in New York and they’ve traveled around the world twice,” said blues artist Luke Ryan. After performing in subways for nearly 30 years, Queens native Ryan is another vet of underground entertainment, and his spot-on wit and practical jokes—like asking tourists to watch his stuff while he goes to the bathroom—brings a small-town feel to the big-city bustle.
“I use music as a vehicle for my monkey business. I like to get people to engage each other through me. Even if two people look at each other and just shake their heads about me, I feel like my job is done,” Ryan continued. It’s that spirit that propels New Yorkers to take off their iPods and pay attention to the eclectic music community that surrounds them daily.
Three-year member MUNY performer Rob Mastrianni of psychedelic gypsy-punk band Next Tribe embraces the intimacy of playing for crowds as they wait for the train. “There’s just something about New York City when you’re playing down in the subway. You’re so close to people. It’s a nice exchange of energy and inspiration,” he explained. While performing at Penn Station later that afternoon, Mastrianni’s band put their spin on “High Horse Lady,” a track from the new album.
When it comes to getting commuters’ attention, self-proclaimed “underground insect goddess” Meghan McGeary of alt-folk duo Dagmar 2 is queen. Sporting her typical subway getup of butterfly wings and aviatrix gear, McGeary expressed respect for fellow MUNY performers: “It’s a skill set to get someone’s attention, to learn how to interact with commuters. You have to have an open heart.”
As for Eastwind, he did get his chance to thank Oasis front man Liam Gallagher at the rehearsal. Much to the MUNY performer’s surprise, it was Gallagher who thanked Eastwind for playing “Wonderwall,” hugged him and expressed admiration for his work in the City. His and the rest of the MUNY community’s work is an essential ingredient of the overall flavor of the NYC music community, a distinct flavor that defines the City’s romantic vibe.
For information on New York City music events and more, visit nycgo.com.