Janelle Monáe @ Skybar At Mondrian 2/7

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In a spectacular display of performance perfection, Grammy nominee Janelle Monáe showed the crowd at Skybar at Mondrian in LA that she was more than worthy of the “Best Urban Performance” Grammy, regardless of the final outcome the following night.

Giant Step is pleased to have brought you Janelle for a one-off treat in Los Angeles. She certainly made it a night to remember, diving into the adjacent pool for a swim and climbing a tree for kicks! Check it out below:
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Giant Step’s Resident 26: Giant Step’s SummerStage and Rock The Bells

Photo of Jamie Lidell © Phillip Angert
View photos here. Archive link here.

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.

Giant Step’s Resident 19: Bugz In The Attic, Brown Girls Burlesque, The Roots Picnic, J*Davey

By Mawuse Ziegbe

I know a lot of you beautiful flowers were wilting in this weekend’s oven fresh heat but I was cookin,’ honey. And I ran into some children who didn’t let the heat stop them no way. Monday night, DJ Daz-I-Kue of Bugz In The Attic was serving up global burners including fiery Afrobeat, disco and tribal house selections at The Hudson Hotel. And Wednesday night, the fabulous people let me moonlight in their world at the Fashion Delivers Pay It Fashion Forward event (ooh, what a cute pun!) honoring young designers. It was hosted by chipper ex-”House Of Style” host, Daisy Fuentes (ooh, where has she been?) at Marquee. Of course, the hook for me was Janelle Monae who swayed the blasé fashion types with a table dance and blithe accompaniment from her bewigged guitarist Kellindo.

http://www.giantstep.net/downloads/images/Mawuse/janellefashionforward.jpg

Janelle Monae © Jason Green

Thursday night, the fashion types gave me a reality check as I partook in a long, storied New York tradition: getting shut out of a party. Giant magazine cover girl Kimora Lee Simmons hosted an issue release party at Indochine. We loitered outside – I was with a writer whose story appears in the issue – while the doormen shooed us away, barking some business about capacity and not being shallow enough (I kid, I kid). After catching Kimora’s dramatic arrival, towering above a clutch of bodyguards (for serious, that woman is like, 10 feet tall. I’m not convinced her name isn’t Kimora Lee Bunyan), me and some other little people went to the House of Campari and did it up royal. The three-story loft housed loads of the bitter Italian liquor with groovy 70s-era commissions lining the walls including a shrine featuring a disco album by Robert “Benson” Guilliame. Outta sight.

Chicava HoneyChild at Brown Girls Burlesque © Vishnu Hoff

Last week, Prince Rogers Nelson got his AARP card and I celebrated by taking in the Shockadelica tribute by Brown Girls Burlesque. You know, instead of choking down EZ-Baked brownies, shimmying topless to “Kiss” is what I always envisioned my imaginary big sister would teach me. It was all fun and boobs as women of all sizes got the crowd all hot and bothered to songs from all eras of Prince. Then at midnight, ladies with hot draggy names like Miss AuroraBoobRealis and Sunshine Fayalicious passed out shots of purple likka (which went down like a fistful of needles). And the crowd went batshit when Dame CuchiFrita, undressing to “Little Red Corvette,” clamped the jumper cables to her…nevermind. You can find out how to join at www.myspace.com/browngirlsburlesque

Saturday, I rode the Chinatown bus in 90-degree heat to The Roots Picnic in Philly (and why was Zoe Kravitz slummin’ it in the seat in front of me?). I love how their idea of “picnic” is an outdoor festival complete with inflatable castles and um, baked bean stands. I caught Deerhoof which was weird; beeping noises and disjointed “rhythm.” Yeah. Although audio problems plagued the day-long concert, Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings as per usual, shut it down. And I’ve seen the The Roots googol times and they’re just swell. They rocked everything from their own “Love Of My Life” to a pop medley featuring “SexyBack.” Even legendary bassist Hub came back for a special solo. And 8 hours after the show began, Gnarls Barkley took the stage. Although Gnarls was fine (no funny costumes), the audience was kind of stoned, er…tired and the LSD grooves were not helping. Cee-Lo even asked, “Did you hear the album.” The crowd responded with a slack-jawed, “whaaa?” Blame the ooweee.

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Gnarls Barkley © Mel D. Cole

Sunday night back in NYC I tried to get my culture game up by taking in Rachelle Ferrell at Blue Note. Blue Note is one of those institutions shrouded in New York legend but the performance was memorable because they had zero air conditioning. Or a fan. Or a window. But the heat ain’t stop Rachelle no way and she performed a gaggle of jazz and pop songs until she was literally soaking. And I have never witnessed that level of vocal virtuosity. She would jump from a sharp, tinny falsetto to a cavernous, guttural bass note – in the same word. Can we get a summer blockbuster featuring Rachelle Ferrell dissolving amateurs with her vocal prowess?

Afterwards, I saw J*Davey pack the house at S.O.B.s. Following high-energy sets from Taylor McFerrin and the duo Heavy (homeboy had a key-tar that sprayed spoogy silly string on the audience), Jack Davey and Brook D’Leau, backed by a live band, played a grip of their famously synthy catalog like “Slooow” and even a cover of “Message In A Bottle” by The Police. The highlight was during the slow-jam “No More” when girl-crazy NYC photog Mel D. Cole undressed Jack down to her black bustier and lacy boy shorts. My girl who took the tempo slowdown as a cue to fetch a beverage came back just as Jack pulled on her shirt and chirped, “What did I miss?”

Oh and before I go, FYI: Wale’s “Seinfeld”-inspired Mixtape About Nothing is that good good. Download it (and maybe rub it on your teeth to make them tingle). You’re gonna need something to keep cool.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 17

Photo of James Pants

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Recently, I’ve discovered two bands who’ve made me want to slap my mama…out of joy of course. There’s lots of buzz about shiny new bands brimming with spunk and glamour. But for The Kills and The Whitest Boy Alive, dizzying laptop-critic buzz is old hat. I absentmindedly downloaded “Cheap and Cheerful” after hearing journos in the American Apparel media (Nylon, Fader, Pitchfork etc) yapping about the platonic punk pair Alison “VV” Mosshart and Jamie “Hotel” Hince. Can we talk about the rowdy that song is? The pouty vocals, the snappy lyrics and snarly guitars, all kicked off by a phlegm cough from “VV.” Their latest, Midnight Boom, is twinkly lo-fi – moody and spare with moments of spry wit and petulant kick. I thought I was all on the pulse only to learn this is their third album. Drat.

And when I stumbled onto The Whitest Boy Alive I was straight-up sore that no one invited me to the party earlier. The Whitest Boy Alive is actually several (four) white boys (German to be exact) who pump out plucky electro rock. Think the bastard child of Peter Bjorn and John and The Rapture. Sorta like beach music for the city. Sunny jams like “Figures” and “Burning” make their 2006 album, Dreams enjoyable. But the shadowy laments of heartbreak and smoky soul on tracks like “Golden Cage” and “Done With You” make it memorable.

I wish someone had hipped me to The Kills and The Whitest Boy Alive earlier but with the glut of music the average listener is faced with, things slip through the cracks. Here are some newbies whose hype you should believe wholeheartedly. Listen hard when their publicity machine comes grinding in your direction.

Janelle Monae
You may have first seen her in the sunny clip for Outkast’s “Morris Brown.” Diddy got wind of her fabulousness and now she’s on a joint deal between Bad Boy and Big Boi’s Purple Ribbon labels. Tiny and uncontained, the ex-drama kid brings a genuine sense of theater to her performances. Her peppy sound bounces between breezy, plush lounge and something that sounds like punk rock for fairytales. No tired torch songs here just cryptic yet poetic lyrics about aliens and androids – you know, girl stuff. And can we talk about how homegirl keeps a reserve of spankin’ fresh saddle shoes? That alone is worth a marriage proposal.

You should check out: “Violent Stars / Happy Hunting”

http://www.myspace.com/janellemonae

Black Kids
Let’s not pretend that name isn’t a head turner. It smacks of gimmicky desperation. But praise MySpace their skills extend beyond a flair for catchy name-selection. The five members of Black Kids (only two are actually black) hail from Jacksonsville, FL. That may account for the balmy guitar that cloaks the tracks on their 2007 EP, Wizards of Ahhs. Their appeal lies in their irreverent teenaged cool (“it’s Friday night and I ain’t got nobody so what’s the use of a making a bed?”). Only bad thing is that they’re currently soooooo cool that they’ve got a hit song in the UK (“I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You”) and they’re touring all over Europe with nary a stateside date on their MySpace. Boo.

Check out: “Hurricane Jane” www.blackkidsrock.com

Muhsinah
So Muhsinah is a name that has been peppering my favorite media outlets like nobody’s business (check out the power-fawning over at Okayplayer.com). At first listen her appeal is very basic: lots of dreamy soul with liberal use of horns, flutes and dusky percussion. But the DC native mixes it up on her album Day.Break. Bless her for weaving together sensual Bossa Nova with steely beats on “Only and Always.” The project is entirely self-produced, shaming a lot of the children cluttering the Hot 100. Her knob-twiddling style is reminiscent of both Nicolay and J. Dilla and her vocals can be disjointed yet comforting. She’s a bit subtle for the meatheads but that’s always a good sign.

Check out: “Only and Always” www.muhsinah.com

James Pants
James Pants is pretty much my favorite producer, music-maker and funny-picture-taker right now. He churns out splashy noise that at first sounds like a racket but when the melody settles in…ooh chile. Pants is a chubby-cheeked producer-singer based in Washington who clawed his way up from intern to artist at Stones Throw and homeboy has got some soul. His sound is flossy disco topped with a healthy dollop of shimmery tambourine-laced sound effects. Imagine if Gary Wilson wrote and produced for the Bee Gees. His money-hungry single “Kash” came out last year and since then he’s dipped his funky little toe in everything from rowdy garage rock to moody new wave. At this rate, next year he could be doling out hip hop polkas with finesse. And I need to hear that.

Check out: “We’re Through” www.myspace.com/jamespants