Giant Step’s Resident 36: Blitz The Ambassador, Chester French and Fauxcialite

By Mawuse Ziegbe

In a city of screeching hype, blasé insiders and tepid stage shows, I’m always on the hunt for that ol’ razzle dazzle. So many thanks to Blitz The Ambassador who threw down one of the best shows I’ve seen in forever. He’s a New York via Ghana MC who rocked the Knitting Factory with a whirl of sweaty, rumbling energy. Flanked by a dapper band, Blitz shamed the lot of these pansy-ass rappers, growling his rhymes, rocking an African drum solo and paying homage to the greats of hip hop all within the first five minutes. Amanda Diva also performed and I liked her song about how being a female MC can suck. But she was all types of average (and dressed in an unnecessary amount of neon) compared to Blitz.

Chester French isn’t so much old New York glamour as it is teen movie recklessness. When the Star Trak duo (who met at the grimy halls of Harvard University) took the stage at Puma’s 60 Anniversary party at Williamsburg Music Hall, I felt like an extra on the set of Can’t Hardly Wait and the faux nerdy girl was about to make her debut as a hottie. I mean, there were actual balloons and people in the corner necking. Bedecked in preppy flannel they played over 40 minutes of their vaguely offensive hip-pop-rock including “Jimmy Choos” and “She Loves Everybody.” They’re like if Ben Folds Five scored ’60s surf movies.

At Fila’s sneaker launch party on Madison Avenue, I checked out some new-school glamour for narcissists who are easily amused by spinning thingys. This company called Fauxcialite had a rotating platform where patrons spun and took photos. Later, they projected animations of people trying to look fabu while keeping down whatever exotic libations that were dished out at the event. So, I guess there were new, sparkly hi-tops I should have been cooing over but I spent most of the time giggling every time a life-sized projection of me making drag queen poses splashed against the wall. It was grand.

Thursday night at The Box, I was able to experience a dizzying conflation of several types of New York glamour: bridge-and-tunnel bottle-poppers, foreign-based Euro-tossing dandies, cavalier in-the-know Downtowners and their freeloading friends (I’m obviously of the latter). The last time I went to The Box, Sting was milling about the bar and one of the acts included a woman dry-humping a mannequin. This time the cabaret show was way more 42nd Street than I was ready for. I appreciated the camp factor of the giant dancing vagina decorated in magenta sequins and marabou feathers. And the topless aerialists were pretty fun. But when the tranny picked up the Jack Daniels bottle with her…um…and then, er, drank out of it…and um…I think we’re done here.
Going into this holiday season of parties and warm fuzzy moments, just remember this: whether it delights the senses, massages the ego or induces nausea, be thankful for any performance that will make some new memories.

Giant Step’s Resident 35: Revelations 35:1–35:6 – Milk, TK Wonder and Alice Russell

Photo of Alice Russell

By Mawuse Ziegbe

This week is all about revelations. Firstly, TK Wonder is the greatest rapper alive. She rocked the When Boy Meets Girl IV show at Southpaw which featured acts like Sarah White who pumped out sweet, punky soul that is a pain to classify but easy to shimmy to. With her psychedelic leggings and a feather in her hair, TK looked like Gem playing a game of Cowboys and Indians. But then she spits over Taylor McFerrin‘s mouth-made beats with the rapid fire diction of Busta Rhymes and the mellow, gravelly tone of Digable Planets’ Ladybug Mecca. And the random, robotic dance breaks? She had me at the first hip-thrust.

Revelation #2: I hate spoken word. Hate it from the bottom of my Dolce Vita heels to the tips of my Ms. Jessie’s-lacquered afro. I’ve hated spoken word for years now (I nearly rioted the last time I went to Bowery Poetry Club) but I kind of thought I’d grow out of it. Even the quick-tongued observations of spoken word collective Ill-literacy at Crash Mansion couldn’t snap me out of it. They were definitely entertaining; calling out celebrity hypocrites and dropping the f-bomb to the glee of the crowd. But I just felt like I was in a freshman dorm.

Revelation #3: History is repeating itself. I checked out a screening of Milk about the first openly gay US politician Harvey Milk who was gunned down in the late 1970s. Sean Penn plays the affable Milk as the epicenter of the gay rights movement in San Francisco. Director Gus Van Sant authenticates the film with actual broadcast footage that echoes the current clash between proponents and critics of California’s Proposition 8. Milk’s rhetoric of hope is especially eerie in light of our incoming presidential administration.

Revelation #4: Rappers have no business anywhere near Broadway. Jim Jones, who has been building his indie cred by remixing MGMT and Kid Cudi, recently staged an off-Broadway two-night run of the autobiographical play, “Hip Hop Monologues: Inside the Life and Mind of Jim Jones.” The play follows Jim Jones as he completes community service after being caught up in a shoot-out. “Monologues” finishes with the goofiest non-ending ever: After Jones’ girlfriend gives birth, he sprays the stage with bubbly and launches into his latest single “Pop Champagne.” Like, what?

Revelation #5: I need to spend more time above 14th street. Friday night, Alice Russell lit up Hiro Ballroom with her snarly versions of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” After two encores, I moseyed over to APT where Jeannie Hopper was spinning. She dropped lots of twinkly electro-soul as her friend schooled me on how to fake my way into a prescription for medical marijuana. Later, I checked out Fedde Le Grand at Pacha. The place was brimming with bridge-and-tunnel charm and I spent a lot of the time dodging dry-humping couples (Fun fact: the columns at Pacha are padded to facilitate comfortable dry-humping). As Fedde dropped intense, bottom-heavy hard house, chalky fake smoke descended from the ceiling and a blitz of strobe lights shot through the club. My downtown posturing melted away and I raised my hands and gave into the amazingness. Show me someone who can resist flashing lights, growling bass and store-bought fog and I’ll show you a brazen lie-teller.

Revelation #6: Never underestimate the magic of nightlife.

Giant Step’s Resident 34: Q-Tip, Jazzanova, K’NAAN and Miriam Makeba

margin-left:10pxBy Mawuse Ziegbe

So, I have this crush. He’s this mannish, dude-ly, male person. He builds things. He smokes things. He skies down things. It’s awesome. He’s also wicked different from me. When he tells me about his time on a ranch in Wyoming, all I can think is, “what the fuck is Wyoming?” When he invites me over for Scrabble I desperately hope it’s a euphemism for something involving latex and candle wax. Sadly, the earnest, good-guy gleam in his eye tells me it’s not. But in the interest of new horizons and all that, I accompanied him to a Reggie Watts show at Joe’s Pub. Reggie Watts looks like a cross between Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz and a down-on-his-luck Sideshow Bob. He beat-boxes and does all this nonsensical yet still politically biting scatting business that sounds like a cross between Doug E. Fresh and a manic Sideshow Bob. I mean, parts of it were cool – he made beats onstage by sampling his own voice – but lots of it was just…foolish.

When I’m not faking an interest in live music to get in a guy’s pants, I’m drooling over Q-Tip’s new album, The Renaissance. I was initially very apprehensive about this project (the internet singles like “Work It Out” were making my brain barf). But for serious, The Renaissance is gorgeous. Q-Tip has reined in his penchant for the stuttering, monotonous beats and stiff, shallow rhymes that sank 1999′s Amplified. The Renaissance is replete with dusty soul samples punched up by ‘Tip’s melodic flow and conscious yet not overly preachy messages. I literally gawked at my iPod when I heard Raphael Saadiq’s androgynous, syrupy vocals on “We Fight/We Love.” I’m all over the bendy Boogaloo beat of “Manwomanboogie” with a surprisingly sassy Amanda Diva. “Believe” is glossed with the sublime glow of D’Angelo’s trademark falsetto.

Jazzanova’s latest album, Of All The Things is also unexpectedly addictive. The German collective has handily produced one of the best albums of the year. There’s frisky nu-jazz and buttery soul that pulses with vibrant basslines and some of the most diverse voices in music. My favorite rapper Phonté tries his hand at singing “Look What You’re Doin’ To Me” and absolutely floored me with a papery falsetto that is identical to Dwele’s soft crooning. Detroit artist Paul Randolph flexes his dapper vocals throughout the album, including the sunny, inspirational number “Let Me Show Ya.” And Ben Westbeech, who’s moving feets with Kraak and Smaak’s recent hit, “Squeeze Me,” wields some UK soul on the groovy, “I Can See.” Of All The Things is like a mixtape packed with your absolute favorite songs by Mark Ronson, Solange, Coldplay, Al Jarreau, and Donnie. This is a good album to kick off any Jazzanova obsession.

African hip hop star K’Naan is kicking off his latest project with the lead single, “ABCs.” K’naan doesn’t really have a reason to make dance tracks, what with being a Somali refugee and the lack of body-rockin’ fodder that experience provides. So it’s good to see he found a way to make a party jam by spitting about the ills of street life over a souped-up version of Chubb Rock’s “Treat ‘Em Right.” Activists need to get down too.

And I’m lucky the first time I ever got down in concert was with the legendary African singer and activist, Miriam Makeba. I was about three and my parents took me to see her at Boston’s Symphony Hall. I was just barely able to see over the seats but I remember jamming to the horns for what seemed like hours. Miriam looked far away but she was washed in bright lights, commanding the sprawling band and just moving! That concert is one of my best family memories to this day; my parents were still together and Miriam’s fierceness was one of the few things they agreed on. There may not be many more Reggie Watts concerts in my future but when your first live performance is from an artist who can inspire nations, quell feuding spouses and sing until the last very last breath, you understand the rarity of greatness.

Giant Step’s Resident 32: TV On The Radio, Alphabeta In Greenpoint and Studio at Webster Hall

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Recently, I’ve been making some fun social gaffes that I thought you would enjoy. I must have spent the past few months with my head up my butt because I completely missed that TV on the Radio was playing three shows at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. I absentmindedly texted a friend close to the source about 3 hours before the show for tickets. Due to my tardiness, I expected him to type back “LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL” or delete my number but he graciously came through. Now, most frou frou music critics will tell you TVOTR is significant because of how transcendent their discordant rhythms and twisty vocals are. But sometimes, I have no idea what they’re saying. To me, the lyrics on Return To Cookie Mountain often sound like, “I undressed my mother, and peed by the sun” or “I wake up in flour, go fetch the gun.” Their latest project Dear Science infuses their woozy soul rock with sprinkles of Afrobeat, big band and new wave, making their new stuff preternaturally funky. The hour-long show was stacked with numbers from Science like “Crying,” “Golden Age” and “Dancing Choose” and well-worn faves like “Wolf Like Me” and “Province.” I had a blast but I think TVOTR fans just aren’t used to dancing. Boo.

Backstage after the show I began chatting up a cheery guy who recognized my name from the guestlist. I’m making vapid small talk and then I ask, “so what do you do?” The smile melts and his gaze hardens as he says, “I’m the guitarist.” See, when he said his name was Dave, I didn’t realize he meant Dave Sitek, guitarist, producer, founding member and friggin’ epicenter of TVOTR. Asking what Dave Sitek does at a TV on the Radio show is like waltzing into the Vatican, eyeing the Pope and asking “who’s that pale feller in the dress?” Silly.

So on Friday, I left my foot-in-mouth foolishness behind me and checked out the opening reception for the Younity Heart & Soul exhibition at Alphabeta in Greenpoint. Younity is a group of around 60 female visual artists which includes legendary graf writer Lady Pink, and co-founders Alice Mizrachi and Toofly. For this exhibition, all the artists made a piece which represented love. The walls were plastered with obvious symbolism like hearts and smiley children but there were also photographs of pink heels, skateboarding wounds and a display of wooden jewelry. The subject matter had a lot of schmaltz potential but I thought the ladies executed the show handily (I’m trying to get through this without bellowing, “girl power!”…oh wait). There was also a freshly painted and incredibly intricate mural that was admirably intense. I dug it.

Easily the most intense performance of the week was the Robot Sex Guy (I never caught his proper stage name) at the Studio at Webster Hall. It started innocently with some DJ in a lab coat spinning a bit of hard house but it quickly got ridiculous. The main performer, covered in what looked like neon Christmas lights, marched onstage and started yammering about how robots are sexy too. Ok, whatever. Then, he started singing about amputated fingers (which, I guess is integral to robot sex) and then crooned into a camera that was attached to a steering wheel. The show climaxed during a song about self-love where he stroked a huge metal hose between his legs and leveled ping pong balls at the unsuspecting audience. I was in the front row and caught three to the head. I finished my drink and left. It was like watching Daft Punk if they had considerably less money and ate paint chips. Now, for some a ping pong facial is enough reason to never venture out again. But no matter the type of humiliation, there is nothing – not robot lovin’ gone awry nor complete ignorance about Brooklyn visionaries – that a stiff drink and hasty retreat won’t fix.