By Mawuse Ziegbe
When you miss things, your good friends will fill you in on the highlights and assure you that no matter the pyrotechnics, special guests or bales of free money thrown in the air, you didn't miss much. Well. If you missed Giant Step's 2008 Summerstage show, your friends probably fed you a barrel full of fibs. The vibe was laid-back with adorable chubby-cheeked kids and their still-hip parents splayed on blankets. In between sets, Gilles Peterson spun everything from "Creator" to "California Soul." José James was all midsummery goodness, showing off both his bold, round vocals and his brain-liquefying scatting skills. Little Jackie pumped the crowd with "The Stoop," "LOL," "The World Should Revolve Around Me" and probably scared the chubby-cheeked kids with rebellious directives like "put your middle fingers in the air!" But throwing up the potty-finger wasn't the most jaw-dropping antic by far.
Jamie Lidell turned out an epic performance looking like a crazy person in a dark shirtless blazer and darker tapered pants. He began his hour-long set with syrupy soul jams like "Green Light" and "Figured Me Out," and soon switched into talkbox scatting. Most of the band was dressed in snappy man-onesies and the sax man even blew two horns at once. After the solos, Jamie was left to his own devices and sampled his own vocals to make a beat onstage. I mean, can humans do that? Even still both Jamie and Little Jackie began their sets with, "whoa! Did you guys see Janelle Monae??"
Monae took to the stage after her android-inspired introduction and unleashed her frenzied footwork and fiery energy that perked up the crowd. She rocked "Happy Hunting/Violent Stars!" "Smile" and "Sincerely Jane" where she kicked over the mic stand (much to the chagrin of the Summerstage audio guy) and crowd surfed. She rode the crest of concertgoers with enviable abandon, as husky security guards lumbered after her and weary label people in the photo pit began punching away on Blackberrys. In a moment of cartoony chaos, a pair of shoes flew through the air. She ended with "Lettin' Go," a track that's good a ratio of The Neptunes' spacey clinks to Miami Sound Machine's calypso funk. Just before running off and leaving a park full of slack-jawed, sweaty, newly-converted fans in her wake, she crashed the mic stand against the stage more violently than before.
After the Summerstage show I ran off to Long Island to check out the Rock The Bells tour. 7 PM I leave Central Park. 10:30 PM I arrive at Jones Beach Theater. It took subway, rail, foot and gypsy cab to finally arrive in the amphitheatre in the middle of Nas' set. I've never seen him live and he was...simple. A white T-shirt and a rope of bling completed his ensemble and only a spare N-A-S lit up the screen in the background. He played a ton of songs including, "It Ain't Hard To Tell," "One Love," "Hate Me Now," "Nastradamus," and his current single "Hero." The hip hop heads nearly exploded when he brought Jay-Z out for their two duets, "Success" and "Black Republicans." But I personally believe that bringing out your erstwhile rival on wax to perform your mediocre collabos is not so crescent fresh. Overall, it was very...whatever.
The show closed with the legendary A Tribe Called Quest reunion I've been waiting on for, oh, ten years. At first Q-Tip came out alone performing "Higher," "Let's Ride" and other selections from his painfully jiggy solo debut that no real ATCQ fan gives a hoot about. Tip is out there shakin' his tailfeather and I'm truly getting angry. Where is the group, the collective, the Queens trio that has never been the same since they disbanded? Making the show all about him was appalling. He didn't come off like the Wyclef or the Lauryn - he was the Pras. Delusional, self-important and wasting the audience's time. The show really started when finally, about 20 minutes in, Ali Shaheed descends upon the wheels of steel and Phife Dawg gallops out. And then they bring it. "Award Tour," "Electric Relaxation," "Find A Way," "Bonita Applebum." A fiery Busta Rhymes rumbles out for the posse cut of the ages, "Scenario." Then we all, about 10,000 of us, put one finger in the air for hip hop - and for the 3-hour sojourn back to NYC.
By Mawuse Ziegbe
One of my favorite songs of the moment is "Little Bit" by Lykke Li. Lykke Li is a Swedish national who cranks out that folky, beige pop the Nordics craft so well. When I hear her music Feist and Peter Bjorn and John pop in my head. "Little Bit" is a sunny infusion of delicate, melodic guitar and fuzzy bass over which Lykke coyly proclaims she's "a little bit in love with you" only if you're "in la la la love with me." That sort of naked declaration of undying ("and for you I keep my legs apart and forget about my tainted heart...) yet conditional love ("only if you're a little in love with me") is sooooo what being a 20-something fantasist is about. I'm also all about MGMT's "Electric Feel." This is a band I didn't want to like, because its appeal is unabashedly hipster and well, I'm shallow. The two mussy-haired Brooklynites (via Weslyan University) do Hall and Oates and David Bowie proud with their proggy disco. The accompanying video is indulgent, trippy woodland camp that invokes Labyrinth and The Never Ending Story. In other words, video of the year.
When I'm not listening to bugged-out Gen-Y'ers, I'm listening to Peter Hadar. A burly wall of a man, Hadar (pronounced Hah-darr) pumps out sensual, electro-soul. An aural clone of Dwele, he's more metaphorically nimble as he invites young tenderonies to visit his world ("Planets") and croons about how a beautiful bedfellow induces pill-poppin' ("Sleeping Pills"). Last Tuesday night, Hadar held court at Drom where Pete Rock spun records from Redman, Erick Sermon and 50 Cent (blech). Hadar kept it hip hop and kicked off his set with a freestyle over Lil Wayne's thundering " A Milli" instrumental. Then he launched into "Planets," followed by a drum and bass vocal song and topped off the impassioned set by stomping all over the furniture.
Last Saturday, DFA Records was making a racket over at PS1's Warm Up performance series. James Murphy and Pat Mahoney of LCD Soundsystem, a project I normally just can't get into, spun cherubic disco house from some heavenly dance floor where angels do the hustle and the Jheri curl juice never drips. The art was fun too. I was particularly into the Olafur Eliasson's Reversed Waterfall where water flows up and Damián Ortega's Controller of the Universe where weapons float in the air. I was particularly so not into the exhibition, Arctic Hysteria: New Art From Finland. Especially Markus Cooper's creepy kinetic sculpture Kursk; a series of life-sized hanging antique diving suits, rigged to jostle back and forth randomly in a cramped dark room. That almost killed my disco buzz.
But praise polyester there's the good ol' Giant Step Hudson Hotel party. UK's The Herbaliser peppered the playlist with more funk than a little bit. But surprisingly, it was more of a sipping and head-nodding affair compared to the usual Hudson footwork fest. It started out somewhat slow but eventually swelled to a sizable jammy jam. And if this past week has taught me anything it's that Finnish art gives me the heebie jeebies, my idea of heaven includes a mirrored ball and a wah-wah machine and that funk always gets the party started.
By Mawuse Ziegbe
Bless Rich Medina and Q-Tip for giving this city something reliable to do on Friday nights with their body-rockin' weekly at Santos' Party House. It's still in its infancy (only a few weeks old) so it's still all innocent and chill (although Solange, the underrated Knowles, and actress Jurnee Smollett did sprinkle a little stardust on the joint last week). It's exactly how you expect it to sound if you kidnapped 'Tip and Medina and forced them to play your favorite disco, hip hop, house and soul records - and they were into it. With tracks like MSFB's "Love Is The Message," Tribe's "Find A Way," and Shaun Escoffery "Days Like This" It was one of those, "I gotta leave but this is my JAM" type of nights. Come 4 AM and I was stumbling around Chinatown with soulful disco house still buzzing my ears. Word of advice: things don't get jumpin' till after 1 AM.
Speaking of Rich, The Studio Museum of Harlem nearly crumbled under the chunky Afrobeat and soul rhythms at the Kehinde Wiley opening. I was batty about his portraits of African youth but it was the subtle three-dimensionality of the backdrop that put a crease my pants. Very impressive.
And no groove was safe from my friend-in-my-head James Pants' heady set at Studio B with Peanut Butter Wolf. It was the age of buggin' out as Pants put the needle to everything from Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" to Smokey Robinson and The Miracles' "Tears Of A Clown." The place wasn't packed but we were shearing some rugs, honey. Then Pants jumped off the turntables and ended his set with a dance that looked like Napoleon Dynamite got the holy ghost. Lordy.
Shaking things up at Giant Step's Hudson Hotel jump-off were the LP-loving zygotes The Martinez Brothers. At 16 and 19 years of age, they must have picked up taste for spinning in utero and favor the chunky thump of house gems older than themselves. They volleyed DJ responsibilities throughout the night and were as wiry as the classic house selections pumping through the systems speakers. And that kept a steady stream of taut bouncy beats they kept the feets moving like DJs old enough to vote and buy porn. I wasn't mad at them at all.
I was, however, hopping mad at the Mad Fools Summerstage show featuring Santogold, Kid Cudi, Diplo and A-Trak aka The Seventh Circle of Hell. Too much of New York was there in the acute heat and the endless wait for Santogold. I guess the first two hours were supposed to be a big outdoor shindig with Mad Decent and Fools Gold DJs taking turns as lives of the party. But watching people do the Electric Slide on stage when you have no room to snap in a circle three times is infuriating. And watching it for two hours is Chinese water torture. By the time Santogold came I was fresh out shits to give. But here's why she deserves the hype. She came out with her militant booty-poppin' back-up singers to "Find A Way" all smiley, extra sweet and dropping a corny joke or two. Then launched into "L.E.S. Artistes" and "Shuv It." She has weaknesses but knows how to patch them up (hence the fly-ass back-up dancers) and she's just cool enough, breezy, but definitely in control. The suffering of the previous two hours melted away and I managed a sincere booty wiggle or two. She ended the show with the electric buzz of "Creator" and in her sweet-as-pie way told us she wasn't doing an encore so please don't ask. All praise be to Santogold who understands when the party is over.
Photo of Wale at SOB's © Antwan Duncan
By Mawuse Ziegbe
On Thursday, I learned something: Steve Madden is a real person. I just never saw that coming. But he is real and showed up to the Giant Step Little Jackie party at the Steve Madden store in the L.E.S. He and other non-imaginary people came to see Little Jackie perform acoustic renditions of their playful repertoire from their new album, The Stoop. Little Jackie’s wily frontwoman Imani Coppola, who often misbehaves in concert (much to my personal glee), played a restrained yet enjoyable set, including songs “Guys Like When Girls Kiss” and “28 Butts.” She seemed like she wanted get into some trouble (maybe knock over a sandal display or throw a bag of peds in the air) but she played the good girl role quite well.
On Friday, a girl I know, let’s just call her Bawuse, had a horrible time at the Brazilian Girls show at Prospect Park. She went out with a nice enough fella whose friends deployed one of the most effective cock-block campaigns in modern history. He introduced Bawuse to one friend who gave her the side-eye. Bawuse learns later, that she’s the friend of an ex-girlfriend which made Bawuse an enemy most foul. Another friend took creepy pose pictures and grilled her on reasons why she and her date weren’t going home together. You know those great, successful people who are chronically single? Bawuse learned there is no easy way of saying, “if you ever want to get some, throw your friends off a bridge.” As far the Brazilian Girls’ actual show, Bawuse thought the cavernous annals of Prospect Park engulfed the ambient rhythms and frontwoman Sabina Sciubba’s subtle and cozy vocals. But Sciubba was all types of fierce in a dress that looked like an angular cream-puff and the pillars of smoke that flared up from the crowd when Sciubba sang “pussy, pussy, pussy marijuana” made Bawuse giggle.
I spent most of Saturday getting my sloth on. I blew a couple hours gossiping in the park and then I got some cake. Cake with frosting. But for serious, I really got going when I saw Platinum Pied Pipers at Southpaw. They were dressed in pimpalicious shades of Dover like they just left a white party thrown by Sly Stone. And they brought the partaaay with three live-ass singers and bucket loads of joy. They rounded out the half-hour performance with their clangy cover of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” Mostly, I had fun because they had fun. So snaps in a circle to artists with job satisfaction.
Sunday, I hit the Afropunk block party featuring The Ceasarz, J*Davey and Kudu (Oh, and am I the only one starting to feel out of place at summer shindigs because I don’t have an Afro and a toddler?).One of my favorite underrated bands, The Carps brought their crazy Canadian ways to Clinton Hill. They had this weird robbery interlude that they reenacted live which made my head hurt. They sang their Bel Biv Devoe-meets-Poison track “Compton To Scarboro” and some new ish I didn’t recognize. They bounced between instruments with Jahmal singing and drumming and Neil strumming and tinkling. Snaps in a circle to the duo for embodying the colloquialism “hold it down.”
Later, Wale and Blu tore up S.O.B.s. Blu had the audience swooning over his snappy rhymes and Exile flashed his turntabling skills. Skillz threw down with a surprise performance and Talib Kweli jumped in the last song. But Kweli didn’t like, rap or anything. He just yelled a few “yeahs” and left the stage like nothing happened. Awk-ward. Then Wale came out. For someone whose image is so swaggerific, he was refreshingly democratic with his stage show. He kicked his rhymes, including his verse from his Roots collabo “Rising Up” but he was mostly recounting the history of go-go and letting his band and DC group UCB shine. At one point he stopped to answer a text but I didn’t mind, because he set up a machine of musicians who kept it jumpin.’ I’ve been to many shows where I’ve stared at some rap music singer pacing about and have wanted to shoot a crossbow in my eye. So, snaps to artists with the confidence to let the music take center stage.