It’s the end of summer on the lower east side of Manhattan, but Friday evening on East Houston Street is just picking up. Crowds roam the sidewalks while Ubers and those last remaining, prehistoric taxis compete for dominance in a honking, brake-screeching line of traffic. Between them, the low grumble of skateboard wheels weave serpentine along tired concrete.
A line is beginning to form at the mythical Mercury Lounge for whatever band might be the next to make their start on that legendary stage. But a few blocks down, in the unassuming and almost missable Parkside Lounge, a real talent is halfway through a set in the backroom. Beyond the dive-bar front, with its pool table and floor sticky with discount beer, Rosko Green plays to an intimate crowd.
The place is barely lit, save for the burnt glow of the bar’s neon signs. A solitary spotlight illuminates the lead singer, a skinny 24-year-old in a short sleeve button down and cuffed pants, backwards hat and Vans. His wire-wrapped crystal necklace is a subtle indicator of his off-the-beaten-path lifestyle, one which can be glimpsed in fleeting moments of most songs. The drums kick in with a thundering torrent of beat that refuses to be ignored. A movement at stage left and the lithe, seemingly knuckle-less fingers at work on the lengthy neck of a bass guitar catch the light. Though the crowd is meager, less than fifty people at most– and likely comprised mainly or fully of family, friends, and friends of friends– it adds to a very specific emotion brought out by the performance.
Despite a distinct lack of authority to say so, I was overwhelmed by a satisfying sense of exclusivity; by an instinctive knowingness that this band will ‘make it,’ and in turn such an audience, and such an audience experience, will only be available in the future to read about.
Like Springsteen’s career-defining 1975 run at the Bottom Line or the Grateful Dead’s acid-test gigs in the mid-‘60s, I could not help but wonder if a night like this would be the what biographers and impassioned bloggers will later put into history.
It is hardly surprising that a Rosko Green show would provoke thoughts of that era in musical history. With its careful arrangement of smooth vocals, lively drums, and complicated guitar melodies, Rosko Green, under Samuel Arthur Abelow’s creative vision, is a refreshing infusion of the glorious rock and roll past—one which is quickly being swallowed by computer-generated bass drops and commercialized pop stars. Abelow’s music—available free of charge on Spotify, Youtube, RoskoGreen.com, and in EP form— is the soulful contemporary rock that has seemed to disappear from the mainstream in recent years. It calls back to a time when a band was a group of people brought together by mutual love of music and ability to create it, and to people for whom saying so would not seem overly cliché or sappy.
For Abelow, 24, these people are bassist Jeff Moss and drummer Josh Rauh, also 24. The three have known each other since attending Staples High School in their collective hometown of Westport, CT. Abelow had initially gone off to the City College of New York to study the production side of music. After two years as a Sonic Arts major, he realized he was on the wrong side of the recording studio and left to commit his time and tuition money to the full-scale pursuit of musical greatness. He pulled in Rauh and later Moss to form Rosko Green, which in earlier years had gone by Rosko Taint. Because each of the members has remained in the southern CT area, this leaves the group only about an hour and change from New York City, where they perform once a month at venues scattered throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. Moss, who has also co-founded brain-powering Focus7 drink shots, acts as booking manager for the band to coordinate these gigs. But it is Abelow who has final say on all things Rosko Green.
Onstage at his July 2015 gig at Freddy’s Bar in Brooklyn, Abelow joked of a resemblance to John Mayer. While his songs have the docile, romantic appeal of Mayer’s music, Rosko Green is better likened to the cool, vintage edge of Jackie Greene or San Francisco’s Tea Leaf Green. As for Abelow himself, I personally can not support a John Mayer comparison in the least.
Two weeks after his Parkside Lounge show, I sat down with Abelow in his studio. With the help of his highly supportive family, he has installed top of the line equipment in the basement of his parents’ Westport, CT home. The space functions as a multi-faceted recording studio and overall artistic space, where Rosko Green and others can record. In this way, the studio acts as a source of income and a means of fulfilling his own creative needs—of which there are many. To call him only a singer/songwriter and musician would be a complete oversight. As is showcased on his website, Facebook page, and even during the Parkside Lounge performance, Abelow is a gifted painter and performer. He immerses himself in a range of art mediums, from drawing and photography to poetry and yoga— and pursues each with the kind of unbridled passion that few people are willing or capable of allowing themselves. He has recently put together a music video for his song “Thick Skin” and the insignia “<333” of his clothing line, Triple Three Clothing, launched in 2014, can be seen on many of the audience members at any given show.
Songs to put on your playlist:
- Blood and Tears
- Everything’s Alright
- Thick Skin
- Blood Sacrifice