Introducing The Manhattan Cartel

Written by Noah Wunsch on . Posted in NY Press Exclusive.


How I came to know about The Manhattan Cartel—a dirty blues rock duo made up of guitarist Aaron Strand and vocalist Elinor Arwyn—is the stuff of destiny. Of New Nork City late night lore… or horse.

Last Tuesday night I received a text from an ex that flipped my tummy and blackened my heart. It was, what I call, a “bum out” text. In an attempt to baptize myself of said bummer, I put on my super cool vibrams that NO ONE ever makes fun of me for wearing. EVER. I loaded my shuffle with some moody emo tracks, and took to the flip-a-flap of concrete. I had been running for about an hour when I came across the Riverside basketball courts. The lights were on and one lone figure was throwing up shots waiting for the ball to teeter left or right, in or out. I slowed my pace to a walk, and figured what the hell?

“You up for a game of horse?” I asked the stranger.

He shrugged, “Sure.” Then looked at my feet, “Nice shoes.” Goddamned vibrams! We shot around for an hour and proved that New York City is the smallest biggest world in the spider web of mutual friends we intertwined. The strangers name was Aaron Strand, a blues guitarist. He met his wayward singer working at once upon a time hot spot The Box, on the Lower East Side. He and Elinor dated for a little while, then recognized their shared energy was better suited for matters outside the boudoir and in a live space. They started writing music and thus The Manhattan Cartel was born. He cited classic rock and blues guitarists as his inspiration, and early Eminem as their lyrical muse. We talked about how creating and making art needs to be visualized like a muscle you work out. If you want to get bigger, better, you have to practice every fucking day. So when he told me they had an upcoming show at Arlene’s Grocery Store, I was excited to see The Manhattan Cartel flex.

That came out wrong…

Dressed in a zombie ballerina’s tutu, a black tube top that covers less than most lingerie, spiked fuck me pumps and a hair do that can only be described as “walk of shame,” Elinor Arwyn is not an easy figure to dismiss. Her stick-like frame and electric blue eyes magnetize her command over the crowd. She has a hoarse voice and a cabaret performance, often winking, smiling and talking to the audience. Aaron plays the Silent Bob of the duo, keeping it quiet, wearing the digs of an old school bluesier: wool jacket and pants, black boots, a plaid button down and a fedora with two cigarettes under the ribbon. The show comes off as something between performance art, rock n’ roll and lounge singing. They aren’t afraid to make mistakes, and as if teaching themselves to do better, they’ll draw attention to it. Make a mental note. When Elinor’s leg gets wrapped around a mic chord, and she almost trips, she snaps her leg up, pulls the chord and yells, “I’M GONNA KEEP SINGING!” Which elicits a gaggle of applause from the audience. Strand has most certainly been practicing, working his fingers up and down the neck like a boy on fire. The two work well off each other, clearly enjoying the feeling. The experience. Elinor tells the audience that they played Rikers last week, so if the crowd doesn’t like the music “I got homies in jail. And they’re gonna get out!” The set is made up of mostly original songs, laid on the backbone of blues: drinking, smoking and sex. The battle of good and evil worked its way in, as they finished the gig with a cover of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

 

For more info on The Manhattan Cartel check out their website: http://www.themanhattancartel.com/.

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