Giant Step’s Celebrate Brooklyn! Picks

For Brooklynites who won’t make it to Central Park, SummerStage isn’t the only option for great outdoor shows this summer. New York’s longest running free festival is coming back to Prospect Park this Wednesday, and we’ve put together a list of must-see shows for Celebrate Brooklyn! 2010. After the jump, check out videos of our top picks and get the full line-up.

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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.

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

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.

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 3

Photo © Phillip Angert

By Mawuse Ziegb

If you could sum up Sharon Jones in word it might be “sequins.” Big shimmery sequins like the ones that dangled from her chocolate brown dress when she took the stage at The Beacon last Friday night. She and The Dap Kings took over the theater and sweated out everyone’s hairstyle. The crowd had the energy and sizzle of a rice cake but Sharon still managed to coax some of her fans to mosey on stage and wiggle to songs like “Gotta Be Genuine” and “Be Easy.” But Sharon really got down on tracks like “Once I Had A Good Man” and the greasy funk re-working of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately.” It went on like that for about an hour when Sharon left the stage and kept the house lights hovering for the all-important encore. When her band retreated to the stage we begged for her return like funked-up animals. She returned after a slick costume change to a tarty tight, black floral number and tickled the ivories herself for “Answer Me.” Then she really brought the house down with a heart-twisting rendition of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and then broke down her ancestral history by dancing and storytelling to more James Brown riffs. Another word to sum up Sharon and The Dap Kings might be “whoa.”

In other “whoa” news, the best-selling album of all-time, Thriller was re-released last week which has sold over 100 million records and counting (Who sells a 100 million of anything these days?). Michael Jackson’s banger-heavy beast took home 8 well-deserved Grammys and songs like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and “PYT” still lord over dance floors 25 years after its original release. Trying to improve on “Thriller” is like trying improve on air. You can’t really replace it with anything else. But Will.I.Am does a hat-tipping job with his updates of “The Girl Is Mine 2008″ and “PYT 2008.” I definitely appreciate the synth-mad syncopation of Will’s take on “The Girl Is Mine” and the restructuring of “PYT,” stacked with tinkling congas and New Jack Swing-era horns. Although I could do without Will’s verse on the latter, he does a fine job of preserving the spirit of the well-worn classics. Some people who need to keep their hands off Michael’s work however, are Akon and Fergie. Akon’s nasally update of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” is just bland and Fergie horning in on “Beat It” with her shrill vocals is just wrong. Some things should not be touched.

Last week was also the kick off Giant Step’s 2008 Hudson Hotel series featuring Rich Medina and honestly, I was a bit reluctant to go to. I’ve been seeing him DJ for a while dating back to my college years in Philly (Go Quakers!). I’ve seen him rip up venues long since faded into nightlife past, (R.I.P. SoMa, Tragos) and tear down spots that are headed for legendary status (long live APT and Fluid). I’ve seen him share the bill with everyone from King Britt to Chin Chin. I’ve been there for endless Afrobeats and countless soulclaps. I really thought I ‘d seen it all from this guy. But bless him, Monday night’s throwdown at the ever-luxe Hudson was really beautiful. The dancefloor was alight with savage disco energy from jump. People were actually jumping. Rich went hard with magnetic tracks like k-Os’ rambunctious “Superstarr Pt Zero,” Donald Byrd’s fluid “Think Twice” and Shaun Escoffery’s thumpy “Days Like This.” And popular kids like Taylor McFerrin, Bobbito and Mario Van Peebles stopped by for the fun. The night wrapped up beautifully as Rich faded out with the dreamy Earth, Wind and Fire gem, “Fantasy.” Some things are just classic.