As someone who’s spent little time in them, it is strange how familiar old churches smell. They smell like warm dust, wood, and maple syrup—like a childhood home you’ve never stepped foot in before. It’s a combination of aromas rarely found in the glass and concrete structures of New York City, but at Park Church Co-Op in Greenpoint, it is a scent that lingers low in the air and welcomes you in. On Monday night, the Co-op was glowing electric pink and blue, casting an artificial sunset against the furthest stage wall. Its edges bled to purple where the two colors met. A slight, boyish woman by the name of Franz Charcoal took the stage holding a mint green electric guitar. Franz played simple, minute-long songs that sometimes ended just when you were getting into them. At times these songs were so short, the audience would hesitate to clap at the end, thinking Franz was simply pausing before another verse. She never was. “Yeah, they’re pretty short,” Franz said after one such moment. “But there’s a lot of them.”
Despite the dimly lit stage, I couldn’t help but think that this Franz Charcoal person looked and sounded familiar. A bit like Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos. A lot like Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos, in fact. But if you were to ask the woman herself, she was Franz Charcoal, a “rascal” who plays brief, autobiographical songs about misbehaving in church, of all places. Her presence was playful and lightweight considering the heavy atmosphere of the church itself. When Franz left the stage, the crucifix hanging behind her was bathed in hot red spotlights like a scene from a religious horror film.
The following acts helped a great deal in bringing some levity back to the setting. Felicia Douglass (of Ava Luna) offered her crisp approach to electronic, soul, and poetic R&B, which at times sounded like the seeds of Prince songs. Palberta’s Lily Konigsberg, meanwhile, made great use of her comedic timing to compensate for the fact that she’d lost her voice the night before. “This is a 50-year-old smoker’s rendition of my songs,” she said. “I may cough. I don’t want to.” Her music retained its stark beauty despite being stripped of some of the synthesizer flourishes on her recordings, and the rasp in her voice was a welcomed bit of grit to an evening filled with such polite music. Alone with an acoustic guitar, Konigsberg still yields a lovely and entertaining performance, especially when punctuated by the artist spritzing her throat with mentholated cold medication. At the end of her set, she curtly and sweetly said, “Okay. I’m done.”
Told Slant’s Felix Walworth is the first performer to address the oddness of the church all evening. At one point he paused just before starting a song; “Sorry,” he said. “It’s actually profoundly strange to be up here.” And it was profoundly strange to be down in the pews, as well. Not only for their unavoidable religious context, but also because sitting in a church pew makes you feel like a child. When Walworth (politely) ordered the crowd to stand up and sing “Tsunami” with him, I felt like I was participating in a camp sing-along or a Sunday sermon. Sometimes the connotations of the space you occupy are too powerful to leave the performance alone, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it was, as Walworth pointed out, profoundly strange.