The Resident 46: The Roots Picnic, Summer Jam ’09, LL Cool J, Estelle

estelle08_cd-736899By Mawuse Ziegbe

Puberty would not have been the same without LL Cool J. Honestly who was hotter than shirtless, lip-lickin’ LL in 1995? Coolio? Tag Team? Exactly. And yet when Estelle and LL Cool J took over Terminal 5 for the Grammy and T-Mobile tour I was not prepared for how totally phat it would be. Estelle was aiight – she was two-steppin’ and bitching about her ex-boyfriend – entertaining but all things I could see any sloshed slag do on a Saturday night. LL weaved through his 20-year-plus repertoire flexing to hits like “Doin’ It,” “Rock The Bells,” “Phenomenon,” “I Need Love,” “Headsprung,” and “Radio” with the energy and abs of a delusional MySpace MC. I spent much of the time jonesing for FUBU, Dunkaroos and general nineties awesomeness. So, mad props to LL and the booty-quaking potency of his def beats.

The Roots don’t score as many mainstream snaps as LL but they continue to prove their legendary status with events like the 2nd annual Roots Picnic. Following a typically grizzly Chinatown bus ride to the illadelph, I caught Antibalas’ fairly uninspired set. Philly’s own Santigold often relies on her fussy downtown b-girl look and heart attack-serious dancers to carry a performance. But she actually smiled and flicked her hair a bit more than usual through songs like “Find A Way,” “Unstoppable,” and “Say Aha.” Throngs of mall-accessorized girls thrashed along to “Creator” and Spank Rock made [Read more...]

Giant Step’s Resident 45: Fischerspooner, Keys N Krates, Blaq Poet, Little Boots

keysBy Mawuse Ziegbe

The chance for the absurd is the reason droves of misfits migrate from middle America to Manhattan. So, I’m sure flaming fashionistas from Peoria would have been reveling at Fischerspooner’s show at Music Hall of Williamsburg. The arty, dance duo recently released their third album, Entertainment, a pulsing electronic epic that the group matched with an equally grand stage show. Be-wigged dancers slid in and out of jumpsuits, tutus and other fabric concoctions to the militaristic throb of songs like “The Best Revenge.” Even Madonna (the most famous ex-Midwesternite) braved outer-borough traffic, studiously watching the dancers flex to perfectly synced rehearsal footage. Easily the best show I’ve seen in ages.

Toronto collective Keys N Krates also brought an intense stage show to Williamsburg taking over the back room at Public Assembly. After a heartbreakingly terrible show by Planet Rump (I thought I was watching a Mad TV sketch) Keys N Krates knocked out live remixes of classic jammy jams. With a DJ, drums, bass, and guitar, the band reinterpreted gems like Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check The Rhime,” often banging out a riff of the song’s obscure sample. They also shook up a downtempo version of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” with frisky syncopation and throwback scratching.

The king of livening up any flaccid track with murderous scratching is DJ Premier. At a recent listening session for Queens artist Blaq Poet he vowed to bring back the coarse, wiry beats of yesteryear. Blaq Poet’s latest album The Blaqprint is a cacophony of cagey rhythms and heavy lyrics coursing with the gritty, boot-stomping, ashy-knuckle allure of hip hop artists like M.O.P. and Mobb Deep. I mean, I love me some Soulja Boy, but I kinda miss when rappers used the word “glock” and post-apocalyptic decay seemed to influence the set design of all hip hop videos.

At least when it comes to real hip hop ish, we have Little Boots! Okay, I was making funny. But she did make a genius piano cover of Kid Cudi’s “Day N Nite” and has been enchanting fans with YouTube covers of songs by Cyndi Lauper and Lightspeed Champion often shot from the comfort of her bedroom. Already topping charts in her native UK, she had a rapturous public waiting at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge. However, her live show was sadly upstaged by her outsize buzz and rollicking openers, Heartsrevolution. A barefoot drummer pounding inhuman BPMs, a wailing frontwoman swilling from a bottle of Jack the size of her head, and shimmery dance rhythms of rave-like proportions preemptively kicked Little Boots’ behind. The intimate, cheeky dazzle of her viral videos was completely lost amongst the heaving screams and flashing lights. Even though the crowd panted along to songs like her single “New In Town,” her walk-around-and-sing-the-hits routine didn’t pack enough of a wallop to convert newbies. Not enough to get droves clamoring from Peoria.

Giant Step’s Resident 43: Jack Peñate, Asher Roth, Buraka Som Sistema, Chrisette Michele

hannibalmatthews_asherroth-490

Photo of Asher Roth (c) Hannibal Matthews

By Mawuse Ziegbe

One of my favorite songs right now is Jack Peñate’s calypso-laced “Tonight’s Today.” The cheery percussion is buoyed by a heady choir, balmy guitar, plucky Kalimba and possibly the best of the use cowbell since The Rapture. A pale English kid with artfully mussed hair who’s besties with stars like Adele and The Maccabees, his 2007 debut Matinee features jittery rock with faint doses of ska tossed in for good measure. But any pouty kid with a garage and some guyliner can churn out guitar-driven pop. Cheers to Jack and his beachy jam; I raise my Mai-Tai in praise.

Another music man I must toast is Asher Roth. (Yes, that stoner kid with that stoner anthem, “I Love College.”) He and Chester French rocked the Blender Theater the day after the release of his debut, Asleep In The Bread Aisle. And I had so much fun! He and his equally blithe crew ripped songs like “Lion’s Roar” and “Be By Myself.” The band joined him for a quick rendition of Soul For Real’s “Candy Rain,” complete with the cheese-laden ’90s dance moves and then Beanie Sigel bounded out of irrelevancy to kick a verse. When the crowd erupted during “She Don’t Want A Man,” the flail of uncoordinated frat-boy arms was almost poetic. I was truly converted when he fired off a pro-organic food freestyle that both dropped jaws and silenced nonbelievers. The gleefully drunken college kid thing usually screams shallow, trendy hype but I really can’t hate on this. Sometimes, blonds just have more fun.

And if you’re into fun your new favorite band is Buraka Som Sistema. The Portuguese collective infuses the snappy Angolan genre of Kuduro with gritty club beats on their LP Black Diamond. They gripped a sold-out Bowery Ballroom with their urgent dance-or-die rhythms. I’ve posted up in more than a few venues but I’ve never seen New Yorkers go batshit like that. The group is officially four dudes but guest frontwoman/dancer/party-starter MC Blaya shut it down with her tremulous booty. The crowd bounced en masse, yelping along to hits like “Sounds Of Kuduro” and Buraka barely left the stage before the revelers whooped for an encore. Then, while DJ Sega gracefully crowd-surfed, the rest of the band splattered the audience with a Super Soaker.

Also doing the tour thing is Grammy-winning songstress Chrisette Michele. Her jazzy style harks back to that gin-swishing, smoking coat era when dames were dames and she flaunted her sass throughout her hour-long BB King’s set with angsty anecdotes about men who done done her wrong. With her platinum pixie and prefacing of “Best Of Me” with “has anyone ever fallen in love with an idiot?” she read like an adult contemporary Etta James. She also chatted about her John Legend collaboration, “Love Is You” breezed through her boppy single “Epiphany,” and enjoyed a brief guest appearance from Danity Kane’s D. Woods. Even with post-breakup bitterness, a 45-minute wait and random pop vixen cameos, the crowd was enamored with her. And that’s what makes a dame, a dame.

Jesse Boykins III Interview + MP3 Download

jb3The Beauty Created: An Interview With Singer Jesse Boykins III
By Mawuse Ziegbe, Photo (c) J. Shotti

No one has more swoon-worthy finesse than Jesse Boykins III. With his breathy intonations, boyish hustle and collaborations with artists like Melo-X and Theophilus London; he’s making noise in a soul music scene aching for something classic and new. In an age where vocals course through vocoders and double-clicks rule the DJ booth, Boykin’s New School-bred production and arrangement skills are both novel and necessary. His second album The Beauty Created is awash in richly textured instrumentation and driven by Jesse’s lyrical adoration of a woman’s quirks. Giant Step spoke with the Miami native about ’90s boy bands, working out with Bilal and, of course, the fairer sex.
[Read more...]

Giant Step’s Resident 40: Lykke Li, Alaska In Winter and Friends We Love Festival

By Mawuse Ziegbe

So many rising stars sell out shows, sing along to a DAT, bask in their blogosphere buzz and call it a day. But congregates, believe wholly and fully in the hype of
Lykke Li. Rapturous Lykke Li followers enveloped Webster Hall and homegirl brought it. Her album Youth Novels is all feathery textures, pillowy vocals and naked emotion. And while she opened with the ethereal “Melodies & Desires,” she spent the rest of the show busting up the stage with rollicking versions of her dreamy break-up jams. Swathed in black layers she rocked “Dance, Dance, Dance,” banging on her drummer’s cymbals and shaking up the folky number with freewheeling spunk. The crowd drooled when she went into “I’m Good I’m Gone.” The band gave “Little Bit” a downtempo, acoustic revamp that heightened the vulnerability of the original version. During the encore she slipped in a cover of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It” and finished with “Breaking It Up.” For a Swedish pop star, she was mad hip hop. It was kinda like Lil’ Kim Presents Lykke Li. Amazing.

Alaska in Winter is also doing some fun stuff performance-wise. A slight fellow with a penchant for suits and fur hats, the project’s Brandon Bethancourt tinkered with an assortment of homemade key-tars (like, guitars duct-taped to keyboards), ukuleles and synths at Williamsburg’s Monkeytown. The show had all the makings of crappy experimental theater (one guy, too many instruments, a tolerant, touchy-feely audience). But unlike crappy experimental theater it came across as a meticulously planned performance experience. Bethancourt projected video of himself playing each instrument individually on Monkeytown’s four screens. He dressed in layers and disrobed throughout the set to match his virtual doppelgangers. So say before he goes into his pulsing, New Wave jam “Berlin,” he’ll take off his brown slacks to reveal some crisp white skinny pants that match the four celluloid Bethancourts strumming banjoes, slamming key-tars and wearing horsey masks. Ok, my description sounds like I huff glue but I pinky swear it’s a totally great show.

I had a ridiculous time at the Friends We Love Festival. It was all beautiful Brooklyn folk who only come to the city for gritty yet fabulous parties such as this one. DJs like the legendary Bobbito and DJ Moni spun the chunes and Platinum Pied Pipers’ Wajeed made an appearance. And there was the requisite indoor street art and that everybody was too drunk to really notice. The party also had the rowdiest entrance sitchy I’ve ever encountered. You go to the door and there’s a sign saying the party’s moved across the street. Fine. You get to that address and there’s another sign saying it moved around the corner. Um, ok. The next entrance says it’s on the other side of the building. Just when I’m about to give up thinking the party’s in Narnia, I find the entrance. And the elevator isn’t working. Joy. Five flights later, I get to the party. Sarah White and DJ Don Cuco hit the stage and I bop to their snappy number “I Wanna Be With You.” Hopefully this bit of blog buzz doesn’t make them switch to DATs. I think more rising stars need to slam key-tars and channel Lil Kim.