You only get one photo this time around. I decided to hang out in the back and enjoy the show from a different perspective. A perspective I'm not used to or inclined to ever try again! The few times I've laid back in a somewhat big venue I've come away underwhelmed. Whether it’s poor sound or a bands inability to transcend a big room, the back of a venue carries a negative connotation for me. Plus, it’s always more fun standing underneath or next to the speaker stacks.
Of course, the chance of coming away underwhelmed from a Spoon performance is rather low. The band has reached a scary level of proficiency live. You'd be hard pressed to find a review reporting anything other than great. (If you do find said review, please don't email me ruining my perfectly good unsubstantiated point). This has nothing to do with meaningless hyperbolic statements. Spoon really are that good live. Really. That’s what you get for touring years on end. When a band attains such a level of proficiency, its performance can often bleed into boredom, or worse, give off a vibe of going through the motions. Fortunately, Spoon's performance did not lapse into either of the two stated options.
'The Ghost Of You Lingers' and 'My Little Japanese Cigarette Case' managed to sound better live than on Ga.... 'You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb' was delivered complete with horn section and was a big crowd favorite. Britt Daniel injected stabs of guitar feedback throughout many songs, never in an intrusive way, and always adding flavor to his otherwise near perfect pop songs. The Gimmie Fiction songs still sound great live, but If I have to hear 'I Turn My Camera On' one more time, I might go crazy. For some reason that song annoys the crap out of me. Let's strike that one from all future set-lists.
The only drawback to the evening was The Ponys opening performance. The last time I caught the Ponys I was blown away by the bands tight rhythm section and endless barrage of guitar feedback. I'm not enthralled by any of their studio albums, none of which have managed to capture their live energy. Since I can't commit to any studio offerings, all that's left is their live show. And much to my dismay, the Ponys laid a fat dud. What happened guys? They sounded off, never coming close to anything tangible you could grab and hold on to. A few times I felt like they were veering towards something concrete but it never materialized. Gummere yelped and screeched his way through the set. I wasn’t expecting him to croon the evening away, but at least be somewhat intelligible. The only saving grace was Exile on My Street, which sounded bad ass. Bad ass, who says that?
What's up? I've been away for like a minute-more like two months. I was knocked out of commission for a while taking care of some business. And damn, did I miss a lot of music this summer. Like Rock the Bells and the Brooklyn Hip-Hop festival. As well as Rock the Bells and the Brooklyn Hip-Hop festival. I spent the last few days cleaning up the blog, chopping weeds and kicking out the homeless, Giuliani style! But I'm back, and I'm bringing it back with the dude who's trying to bring hip-hop back. Back from what, I'm not sure.
You know, everything you hear about KRS-One is true. He's a legend, obnoxious, a monster emcee, insufferable and sorely needed. Look, everyone has their place, and KRS-One's place is to scream on your ass like your dad. (bring it on!) If it weren't for my father following me around the house yelling at me to turn off the lights I just might be a crack head. Thanks dad, and KRS-One too, for making hits and staying fresh and crazy all these years.
It's with that in mind that KRS-One brought his one man show to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. This time it was one of those free summer-time throw-downs that pop off all over Brooklyn and the five boroughs. Prospect Park had that old school block party feel minus the guy bringing around free Starbucks samples. I wasn't around "back in the day" but from the start you felt in your bones that this was how they used to do it out in the park.
If you expected to be bombarded with a dose of heavy handed preaching and teaching, you were greatly disappointed. Not only did KRS not knock you upside the head with your stupidity, he delivered a level headed and moving performance. A performance that was downright charming and inspiring. A performance that managed to never shamelessly knock new hip-hop or call out a rapper by name. There was some scattered talk about how hip-hop used to be done, but honestly, it was for a quick second and he didn't dwell. His main focus was on hip-hop culture and moving it forward through positivity and creativity. I know it sounds cliche, and you know what, it is. Except when one man is rocking a park full of thousands, it kind of makes sense. The aforesaid message was delivered with such zeal and humility (gasp!) that you were ready to buy whatever he was selling, no joke.
But the show wasn't all about delivering a message. Mainly, it was about bugging out and having a good time, which occurred tenfold. A third of the way through his performance KRS put out a call for all B-Boys and Girls in the audience. About thirty people rushed the stage transforming the performance area into a block party setting. A few of the breakers were outstanding and impressed KRS to the point where he broke off his rhyme and pointed in amazement. Check the video below.
On top of the positivity and good times, KRS injected the crowd with a dose of inspirational storytelling. See, before BDP fame, way back in 1980, KRS was homeless. His home of choice was Prospect Park. His bed of choice was the Prospect Park bandshell. The very bandshell he was now performing in! He would sleep at night and during the day hang out at the Grand Army Plaza Library getting his knowledge on. As a young KRS poured through books, thoughts of the future danced through his head. A future that consisted of one day rocking a mic in Prospect Park. The very park his was now rocking! Or so the story goes. Can someone fact check this please? Even if it's not true, and something tells me some of it is, the story connected with most and accomplished its modest goal.
The rest of the set flowed from there with songs spanning his vast catalog much to the delight of Brooklyn. But the specific songs aren't important when accessing the overall vibe of the evening. From day one KRS has laid down his blueprint for how he feels it should be done. If you dislike his zealot like adherence to this blueprint or his browbeating stance, that's cool. But you still can't deny his place. Maybe that night my judgment was clouded and his seeming relevance was a mirage that existed only to myself and the thousands of people in and around the bandshell. After thinking about it for days that doesn't make much sense to me. It can't all be nostalgia, can it? It has to be something more. There seems to be some kind of force around the guy which keeps him moving along at the speed of hip-hop. Call it skills, but its something more you can't quite put your finger on.
File this in the rap nerd category. About halfway through his performance KRS busted out a marker and started signing anything the crowd held up. He even autographed some guys passport. As he made his way down the stage I took out my copy of Check The Technique, which KRS signed. Yes, I carry a copy around with me.
DJ "Superman" Scratch
Ladybug Mecca, still Cool Like Dat after all these years...(She also performed)
When did Mos Def start hating hip-hop? Was it during the filming of the
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy or his run in Broadway's, Topdog/Underdog? I
know, it was his turn in the inspiring and highly underrated, Carmen: A
Hip Hopera. Either way, the guy hates hip-hop. Despises it! And why not?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to imply that his performance was
lackluster. On the contrary, his performance was one of the livelier and
inspiring performances I've seen this year. His stage presence is on par with that of a rock star. He's a true personality, one you can't avert your eyes away from. The ladies in the audience lost their shit when he winked or gave a slight
shimmy. But all panty-wetting aside, have you listened to his latest mix-tape/album?
It's not as bad as you've heard, but it's not close to representing what M.D.
can do. He sounds like he's done with rapping, but
something (record company?) is forcing the bars.
The feeling of hip-hop fatigue was hammered home when Def's special
guest, Q-tip climbed on stage. Phife is practically beginning Tip to get
the old gang back to together and Tip has refused (aside from their little
reunion tour last year and some Rock the Bells rumors). Why? It's probably due to the fact that Tip's tired of A Tribe. Look at it from Tip's point of view. He's a legend who has
influenced countless artists (Mos Def), placed two albums in the top 25 and he can't get
his solo work released!! Everyone wants their favorite artist to take chances
and grow. But when Tip records an album with a live band, consisting of
five-to-seven minute jazz influenced songs, the label shuts it down based on a
perception that it wont sell (a most definite perception). But fuck it. If I
was Mos and Tip, and I'm not, I'd be bored out of my mind! Shit, If I saw Phife or
Kweli running at me I'd run in the other direction, double time. Again, I’m not trying to imply that
Tip was lackluster on stage. Far from it. He produced great energy but
seemed unsure of where to channel it. Watching them interact on stage
was a trip but at the same time a little depressing. It's as if their music can
only get burn on a Saturday night in a little club in front of 600 people. Oh
well. Save your money the next time Mos Def puts out a mix tape/album. Use it to buy a concert ticket and get your fix that
way. Lord knows it's not coming in album form.
Originally published at BrooklynVegan.com (read the comments to see the glowing praise about yours truly).
This is the El-Product summer...
The air was so thick Saturday night, that it’s going take
weeks to clean off the thick film of hip-hop lathered on the walls of the
Fillmore. Your run-of-the mill hip-hop concert consists of an agitated
performer hyperaware of the impending doom of his genre; a performer who
consciously takes the pulse of hip-hop every thirty seconds, only to lash out
at any perceived threat like a cranky old man. Instead, El-P chose to take the
pulse of America and lash out at the forces destroying us from within.
EL-P’s on another level like that…
The creative energy he supplied was forward moving even
though the subject matter he covered was steeped in apocalyptic rage. Over the
years, EL-P has crafted an aesthetic which wholly manifested itself into a
perfected visual of doom and disease. He graced the stage covered in bloody
scabs, donning a monkey suit. The atomic bomb landed and EL-P was the only
survivor. He railed against strip malls and the homogeneous tendency of Middle America. He
told tales of late night drug runs on the Lower East Side, which yielded the shittiest coke on earth. He delivered a scathing tract against the Bush administration and indicted them for the pile of bullshit they
America is a dirty place. His anti-war screed lead into a blistering version of ‘Up All
Night’ which produced a mushroom cloud of energy and vitriol. As the mosh pit
reached its zenith, an exhausted El-P collapsed on stage and laid motionless
representing the “thousands of soldiers that have died for lies.” His splayed
corpse was soundtracked by Radiohead’s ‘The National Anthem’ and a Tribe Called
Quest's, ‘Can I Kick It.’ When the crowd chanted “Yes you can”, El-P rose from
the dead and finished off his vision of 21st century America in all its fucked
As of last week, I'm officially covering hip-hop concerts for BrooklynVegan.com. You can check out my first review, Mos Def @ Highline Ballroom, published today at BrooklynVegan.com. I'll have
a more in-depth take on the Mos Def show in a few days (week?). For now, here's a photo...
It was obvious from my ticket stub, which had Ghost's name in fine print, that he was not headlining last week's concert at Highline. My expectations were minimal at best and inside I dreamed of a solo performance, minus the T-Unit. Something along the lines of Ghost sitting on a stool performing songs like Holla to a hushed audience. That didn’t happen. His performance was a straight up pay check performance with the T-Unit and all the accoutrements. If you think about it, Ghost made out like a bandit. He pocketed a nice chunk of change for a short set in exchange for filling up the venue.
The down side to a limited performance is obvious. But in actuality, the short set list fostered an atmosphere of spontaneity. Ghost performed without preplanned skits so there was no Cherchez LaGhost groping girls with breast implants bit. This freed Ghost up, creating a performance that was loose, fun and without a whiff of going through the motions, which generated more energy in the crowd. Funny how that works. Ghost performed around six or seven songs, two of which, Triumph and Shimmy Shimmy Ya, the audience carried.
Since the vibe was loose and the show was short, interjections from the T-Unit were made all the more tolerable, if not enjoyable. I even found myself liking Wiggs. Maybe I’m beginning to understand the subtleties of the Teddy-Unit and I've reached a level of maturity where I can fully appreciate their quest to redefine our understanding of the posse?
The only note worthy part of the show was provided by the RZA, who popped in for a cameo. I do believe the Rza was accompanied by Shavo from System of a Down. I swear these two are dating because they go everywhere together, much to the chagrin of the Inspectah. Word on the street is that Shavo’s ruining the Wu dynamic Yoko style. Some have commented that Ghost was surprised to see RZA. I didn’t catch Ghost's reaction because I was fixated on RZA’s Wu-Wear velour jumpsuit. Assuming that Ghost was surprised, and RZA showed up unannounced, something must be in the air. It's my contention that RZA hopped in his Wu-Tang pickup truck, picked up Shavo, and high-tailed it over to the Highline ballroom to convince Ghost that his presence is sorely needed on 8 Diagrams. Recently, Ghost made comments that would lead one to conclude his interest in 8 Diagrams is not as high as say, U-God.* Why should he be excited? His status has grown while the rest of the clan has slowly faded. Ghost is the only member with any modicum of mainstream success. It’s funny how he’s gone from supporting actor to the one guy reping the clan. A new Wu album needs Ghost and Ghost knows it. Here's to Ghost and RZA getting their shit together and making a good Wu-Tang album.
*I’m basing this on an “article” I read a while ago where Ghostface expressed some reservations about the new Wu-Tang album. Of course I can’t find the article so its contents might exist only as a figment of my imagination. Based on the evidence in my possession, which I will not share with you my readers, I’ll venture to guess that the article does exist. But, its contents have been rendered irrelevant based on an interesting comment Ghost uttered during the concert. He said “Yo, watch out for 8 Diagrams” which implies that his participation is a given. Carry on.
You need to make Spank Rock one of your favorite MCs. I'm not talking about nominating him the greatest of all time or granting YoYoYoYoYotop 25 status. That would be too much praise. But I'm talking about putting Spank Rock on your short list of artists to see live. Forget your preconceived notions concerning Spank Rock’s image, which genre they comfortably belong in and whether their sound fits in the overall hip-hop landscape. Live and direct all that nonsense falls by the wayside. The electronic bleeps, burps and stutters kept the crowd moving but didn't overpower the sound system, which gave everyone enough time to ponder the eternal question, one that should be asked more often, which is, can he rhyme? Not only can Spank Rock rhyme but he can dance too. That’s the total package. But more than rhyming and busting a move, Spank Rock can move a crowd, which according to Rakim is essential.
Spank Rock came out and performed four or five songs, including Rick Rubin, for an eager crowd. After Spank Rock got the crowd hyped and cemented a nice foundation, they handed the stage over to Ghostface and his cronies for twenty-five minutes of pure energy. More on that later (check my Ghost and Rza photo over at BV). Right before Spank Rock came back on stage for his second set, Ghostface applauded his effort and led the crowd in a Spank Rock chant, prompting Spank Rock to comment that the last year has been crazy but opening and closing for Ghost is the craziest thing to ever happen to them. Their second set, propelled by Ghost's energy, built off of their first set and was accompanied by more dancing, something rare for a New York City show let alone a hip-hop show. Good times all around, Ghost and the crowd would agree.