Review: ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’ documentary brings early ’00s NYC scene to life
"I desperately wanted to participate in the world i saw in magazines, but I'm working at Yeshiva University in the Admissions Office stuffing envelopes, knowing that there were five dudes out there that were cool as fuck, writing insanely awesome music and they are cooler and better than you are." That's Paul Banks in new documentary Meet Me in the Bathroom talking about the very early days of his band Interpol, mid-2000 or so, when The Strokes were already starting to take NYC by storm. Soon, The Strokes, Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeahs would lead a rock renaissance in New York that hadn't been seen since the late '70s.
Directed by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, who also made LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits, Meet Me in the Bathroom is the documentary adaptation of Lizzy Goodman's 2017 oral history of the early '00s scene. While following the same bands, their film runs parallel to the book and feels less like an adaptation and more of a companion piece. There are no talking head interviews like you find in most rock docs; instead they tell the story with video footage from the era, both onstage and off, which is set against audio of new and archival interviews. It's more of a "you are there" than a "remember when" experience that should strike a chord both with folks who lived and those who are curious as to what it was like.
Southern and Lovelace have also streamlined the book's narrative, focusing mainly on The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and LCD Soundsystem, with some time for Moldy Peaches, who figure prominently into the early part of the film, and The Rapture, whose single "House of Jealous Lovers" was inescapable in 2002, but not much space for TV on the Radio or Liars, and basically no mention of anyone else. (Sorry Jonathan Fire*Eater, The Walkmen, !!!, Oneida, Sightings, Turing Machine, Les Savy Fav, Radio 4, Rogers Sisters, etc.) There's also no mention of the clubs and parties like The Darkroom, Misshapes, Tiswas, and Motherfucker that were such a big part of things in the hipster early '00s. Also: no music blogs.
But that's mostly OK, you can only do so much in a film that clocks in at 108 minutes that still manages to paint a pretty vivid portrait of the era, beginning with Y2K and then though 9/11, the 2003 blackout and finally the rezoning of the Williamsburg waterfront that would soon entirely redraw the neighborhood skyline and send the once cheap rents that allowed the scene to happen skyrocketing. "Brooklyn was about potential and freedom," says YYYs drummer Brian Chase of the early '00s in Williamsburg. "Abandoned buildings and warehouses became practice spaces outside of public attention and expectation."
The footage Southern and Lovelace managed to get their hands on is the real reason to watch Meet Me in the Bathroom: The Strokes playing Don Hills and Mercury Lounge in 2000; Paul Banks in his pre-Interpol singer-songwriter days (as well as footage of him in downtown Manhattan on 9/11); Moldy Peaches at Sidewalk Cafe; the August 2002 Williamsburg parking lot show with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Oneida and more that had crowds of people watching on every adjacent rooftop; and so much more that you didn't know existed. (A lot of footage comes via Joly Macfie who documented so many shows via his Punkcast site.) The most moving part of MMitB, though, is an outtake from Patrick Daughters' music video for Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps," a two-minute, shattering, single-take closeup of Karen O singing the final two minutes of the song with tears streaming down her face.
Controversies are dealt with just a little. The Strokes' rich kids Swiss boarding background comes up in an awkward Nardwuar interview (not his finest hour), and Albert Hammond Jr's drug problems, like in the book, are framed against the arrival of Ryan Adams who is portrayed as a scene interloper. The film also touches on rise of MP3s and how it changed the industry: James Murphy complains how suddenly everyone could replicate his DJ sets of rare records (which led to LCD's "Losing My Edge") and how Interpol's 2004 album, Antics, leaked months early online. The film weirdly blames all this on Napster, which had shut down by summer of 2001. It's the only moment that really rings false, but I guess Kazaa and Audiogalaxy don't have to same name recognition.
One thing that does feel missing in the film is drugs. Apart from Albert Hammond Jr, the only other real mention is how DJ David Holmes talked James Murphy into trying ecstasy, an experience Murphy admits changed his life. (It's also the funniest sequence in the film.) It's weird that a documentary titled Meet Me In the Bathroom, about a notoriously debaucherous time, does not utter the word "cocaine" once. Perhaps that is on the cutting room floor with The Walkmen.
That aside, Meet Me in the Bathroom does a good job of dropping you into a time and place that is gone and could not happen today. "I was there!" James Murphy cries in "Losing My Edge." If this doesn't totally make you feel like you were there, it comes close.