Archive for the ‘Live shows’ Category

Ready for Summer?

June 1, 2009

One of my favorite things about NYC is the free summer concerts. Every spring, I make a list of about ten shows I want to see—but I usually only actually make it to one or two of them.

Little Brother in Fort Greene Park, BrooklynSome of the best (or at least most memorable) concerts I’ve been to have been the free ones: the Roots on Pier 54 in July 2005, one of the best nights of my first summer in New York; Little Brother in Fort Greene Park in 2006, where they said hello to me before the show on my way to the bathroom, but I was too shy to respond; Cafe Tacuba in Central Park in 2007, where I was knocked around in a humid, smelly, dusty mosh pit; Girlyman at Madison Square Park in 2007, when we took awkward pictures with Ty and found out that Doris used to be a camp counselor of someone my girlfriend knew from college; Lauryn Hill at Wingate Park in 2007, even though she showed up three hours late, looked and sounded almost unrecognizable (and, well, not that great); Jean Grae, 9th Wonder, and Talib Kweli at Fat Beats in 2008, where I stood five feet from the Jeanius herself.

Here are some I might make it to this summer:

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Mos Def and Black Radio at the Blue Note

January 25, 2009

Mos Def Blue NoteStood for two hours in the 15°F wind last night to get into the Blue Note to see Mos Def. Good thing we were the first two people in line, because there were only two good seats at the bar (that actually faced the stage).

Sitting right behind the wait station and next to the bar was very distracting—I kept catching myself paying more attention to the waitresses filling their drink orders than I was to the performance; and my back and shoulders were killing me from standing tensely so long in the cold; and I was exhausted from staying out late the night before; and some of Mos Def’s songs were less than thrilling.

However, there were a few memorable gems:

“The Boogie Man Song” (one of my favorites from The New Danger) turned into an extended jazz version. I think that song shows off his smooth voice better than any other song.

They did a totally unexpected cover: Radiohead’s “All I Need.” And it was surprisingly good!

Apparently Mos Def plays the piano: He started to play a goofy instrumental song which he said was about his kids and their stylish ways, called “The Kids Look Fresh.” Then he showed how that song became the background of “Perfect Timing” (from True Magic). It was the first time I’ve seen him rap/sing while playing an instrument.

Just when I thought the show couldn’t get weirder, he started to recite the poem read by Elizabeth Alexander after Obama was sworn in at the inauguration. Strange choice. But I have to say, his style of delivery certainly made the poem sound much better.

Five feet from the Jeanius herself

December 13, 2008

On 6th Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets, there’s a small sign for Fat Beats record store, which is up a narrow staircase above the storefronts. I’ve walked on that block countless times without noticing it.

dsc011691Half an hour before the show is to start, there were still only about ten people in the store, which is only about the size of my apartment. We waited around, browsing the albums. It’s all hip hop, and mostly vinyl. It’s cool that this place is still in business, at a time when even Tower Records can’t stay afloat.

The place filled up quickly, and after a while we were all standing shoulder to shoulder and starting to sweat. My umbrella was still wet, my legs and back were starting to hurt, and besides the expectant crowd, there was still no sign of a show starting anytime soon. I was beginning to wish I hadn’t come.

Then DJ Evil Dee came in the door, unannounced (at least to us). After greeting some staff people like old friends, he hopped into the DJ booth and started spinning on the electronic turntables. With each new beat he put on, the crowd bobbed their heads in appreciation, and chatted excitedly with each other about their favorite obscure albums and mix tapes.

Two tall guys in front of me were blocking my view of the DJ, so I finally tapped one of them on the shoulder and asked to stand in front of him. That was a good move: I was now about five feet from the DJ booth.

DJ Evil Dee

Finally, almost an hour late, Talib Kweli and 9th Wonder showed up. They squeezed their way through the crowd to make it to the DJ booth, Talib did a bit on the mic, and 9th and took over the turntables.

9th Wonder

Finally, Jean Grae showed up. With a laugh, Talib introduced her as “the greatest lyricist in the world.” She crammed into the DJ booth with Talib and 9th and joked about how hot it was in the store. (Indeed, Talib had sweat streaming down his face and had already taken off his hoodie.) She chastised the crowd for not showing up to her Highline Ballroom concert and only showing up now because it was a free show.

9th and Jean did a few songs from Jeanius, including my favorite, “Don’t Rush Me,” which she said was the very first song they had made together, and that it was extra special because she even got 9th Wonder to sing a little bit on the track. Jeanius indeed.

Jean Grae

After a few Jeanius tracks, Jean did some a cappella verses. Talib attempted to do one of his new songs a cappella, but after some trite rhyme schemes (like fly/high) and stops and starts, he forgot the rest and gave up. Then they did a couple of Kweli’s songs, and Jean joined in on some verses.

The funniest moment came when Talib Kweli started his song “Black Girl Pain” and Jean Grae said, “Where are my black girls?” There was silence. So she was like, “Black girls? … Black girls?” (There were definitely some black girls in the room, but I guess they weren’t very vocal about it or they weren’t in Jean’s view.) Her directness was refreshing.

M.I.A., DeLon, and the Tamil Tigers

August 8, 2008

I heard from Sepia Mutiny’s post about M.I.A. getting “dissed” by DeLon, a new rapper of Sri Lankan descent. DeLon took M.I.A.’s most popular song, “Paper Planes,” called out her politics and support of the Tamil Tigers, and shows the “terrorist” side of that group. (You can see the disturbing video here.)

I don’t know enough about the situation in Sri Lanka to really make judgments. But DeLon’s video bothered me because he is employing exactly the same strategy that the Bush administration does: creating a dichotomy of good and evil, and using the word “terrorist” like it’s not subjective.

That said, I have always been a bit skeptical of M.I.A’s politics. Is she just projecting an irresistible (lucrative) image, or is she actually doing anything? When I went to her show at McCarren Pool in June, it made me a bit uncomfortable to be dancing around with a bunch of hipsters in Brooklyn while she has images of children from developing countries flashing across the back of the stage as her visual aids.

That’s part of the brilliance of M.I.A.’s whole persona. Her music, and the visual effects in her shows, and even her voice, are so flashy and noisy and chaotic. But I mean that in the best way possible. She seems to represent our generation of media-saturated, globalized, de-sensitized minds. And she is somehow able to shout over all the noise.

After the show, I was filled with energy for at least 24 hours. But it wasn’t noisy and aimless energy, like the energy the concert seemed to evoke. It was productive and creative and even peaceful energy; I remember I felt like writing all day after waking up the next morning. And that could be one small example of how art can make a difference. Of course she’s not going to change the plight of poor people by singing about it to a bunch of hipsters. But I do think there was something remarkable about that energy.

Going back to the “diss” I was initially talking about: It seems obvious that DeLon is doing this as a publicity stunt too. I guess that’s kind of the point of both politics and the music industry, though.

Maybe they can make peace and do a song together?

Jay Brannan sings the n-word

July 29, 2008

Last week I went to the Jay Brannan show at the Highline Ballroom on 16th Street. It was a fun show, complete with great performances of “Housewife” and “Soda Shop” and Jay’s (mostly endearing) talking-too-much routine.

Toward the end of the show, Jay busted out with a cover of N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton.” (See the video and Logo’s glowing review here.) Although I was surprised to hear him say the “n-word” twice, unflinchingly, during the song, the cover was nicer than it could have been—it was actually quite a beautiful rendition, and it didn’t really even seem like he was making fun of the song or gangsta culture.

He could have left it at that, and I might not have thought too much about it.

But right after the song ended, he had already started defending himself. “Now, before you all email me to complain,” he started; and went on to explain that he was just covering a cover of the N.W.A. song by Nina Gordon. “If you don’t like the lyrics… I didn’t write them!”

Then he said something like, “Before you say that I’m making fun of black culture…. I think I know some black people who would take issue with you equating black culture to gang violence.” The audience clapped at this, but I was left uncomfortable. It’s an interesting point, but did he really just pull the “I have black friends” card?

I was also left wondering if Jay really would have felt comfortable doing that song if there were many (or any) black people in the audience.

All that aside, I did really enjoy the show. He did a very nice cover of my favorite Joni Mitchell song, “All I Want.” And he was decidedly cute and gay as usual. I think he should tour with Girlyman.