Lucid Culture


Concert Review: The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Vivian Girls and Devin at the East Village Radio Festival, South St. Seaport, NYC 9/7/08

Where was everybody? Maybe the little rainstorm – woops, hurricane – of the previous evening, which prompted the promoters to reschedule the show a day later, scared people away. The original bill’s impressively diverse starpower was also diminished by the loss of Hammond B3 organ great Dr. Lonnie Smith, who most likely had to cancel because he had another gig to get to. But Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble more than made up for it. Over a live hip-hop beat, the octet’s trumpets and trombones played a brilliantly blazing set of songs without words. Their sound is completely unique, part hip-hop, part jazz and part flat-out rock. As in much of salsa, their horns play mostly chordal arrangements without a lot of solos, creating a ton of melody. In place of a bass they have a tuba player who joins with the drummer to create a minimalist yet fat groove. But while the rhythm may be hypnotic, the horns are anything but. Their best song was the opener, galloping along with percussive fire. The next number featured some delicious Middle Eastern flourishes from the trombones. A new one titled War built from a circular melody with echoes of 80s new wave, the horns sliding up the scale to mimic the portamento of a synthesizer. They closed their too-brief, half-hour set with a party tune featuring a brief attempt at getting some call-and-response with the sparse crowd who’d gathered in the sun, the tuba just enough behind the beat to give the song some sinuous slink.


Eventually, the crowd grew and the Vivian Girls, an equally imaginative and unique act, took the stage. There’s a big buzz going on about them lately, and it’s well-deserved; they’re good. This all-female (one assumes – though you can never be sure about a hermaphrodite unless you see him/her in the nude) rock trio mix equal parts dense 90s shoegaze and clanging, reverberating 60s garage rock with occasional surf overtones and heavenly two-part vocal harmonies which are their strongest suit. One of their early songs was almost hardcore-speed, reminding a bit of something that might be found on Wild Gift by X; the best song of the set was a darkly twangy 60s style hit. The bassist played her melodic lines with a pick over the drummer’s skittish beat; the guitarist used mostly downstrokes on several songs, amplifying their percussive effect. Any untightness they had can be written off to the early hour, the dodgy sound (hardly any guitar in the mix early on), the heat or maybe even the silly smoke machine whose vapors blew strong on the wind off the ocean, disappearing in a split-second above the remarkably diverse, nondescript crowd.


As good as these two acts were, Devin – the funniest man in hip-hop history – stole the show. As is the case often in live hip-hop, he delivered what was essentially a greatest-hits set featuring truncated versions of most of his hits, typically leaving off the last verse or verses. The Houston native basically raps about two things, sex and smoking weed, with the occasional detour into drinking or crime. The funniest thing about him is that he doesn’t present a typical boastful, egocentric hip-hop persona. Instead, he comes across as a bumbling weedhead with money problems just like pretty much everybody else. While he goes on and on about his sexual prowess, the rhymes are so outlandish and over-the-top that you can’t help but laugh (one song, about “penis hygiene,” suggested that his dick would go well with his girl’s broccoli and cheese). Anyone who might call what he does unsophisticated has no appreciation for the complexity of his rhyme schemes or his flat-out-hilarious, stoner sense of humor. Or that no matter how stoned he gets, he can still remember his lyrics (he made it clear that he’d been smoking up for quite awhile out behind the stage before he got on the mic). The fans in the crowd chanted along with him; those who weren’t familiar were cracking up laughing at his outrageous, politically incorrect lyrics. He did the weed stuff early: Sticky Green, a tribute to high-grade herb with “frosted leaves,” and the self-explanatory, side-splitting More For Me.


Then he did his biggest hit, arguably the funniest rap song ever written, Boo Boo’n (Texas ebonics for defecating). It’s a snidely hilarious rap about sitting back and smoking tons of weed while others regale each other with crazy schemes that never work out. “Walk up in the session with my dick in my hand/Fat Sweet in my mouth, 24 ounce can,” he drawled as the song began. On the second verse, he finds himself behind the wheel, ganja-packed Swisher Sweet cigar in hand, taking “two or three pulls every four or five miles.” Is that serious bogarting, or what? Sadly, he didn’t do the last verse, about a drug heist certain to go drastically and hilariously wrong.


Pretending that he was going to do a sensitive number for the ladies, he instead lit into a brief, scandalously funny phony “R&B” number graphically illustrating exactly what he’d like to do to his special woman . He closed his short set (hardly anybody got more than half an hour today) with a tribute to his battered ghetto vehicle, a 1979 Cadillac Seville that he uses for drug deliveries. Even the cops get weed from him! But they take it from his stash under the dashboard. Real clever, Devin.


For anyone who grew up buying rap cassettes with parental advisory stickers – or old enough to remember when swearing in public earned Jim Morrison a night in jail –  Devin’s nonstop barrage of obscenities and filthy jokes had to feel at least a little redemptive. KRS-One took the stage immediately after Devin was done, but instead of rapping, he shilled for the baked fish at the pizza place who sponsored the festival (they’d brought a bunch but weren’t selling much). This from a guy who, 20 years ago, was writing militant rhymes about the virtues of being a vegetarian. How times change.

September 7, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

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