Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

iLa Mawana: Soldiers of Jah Sound

On their new album Soldiers of Sound, Boston reggae band iLa Mawana offer a classic roots sound: no stiff computerized beats, no cheesy synthesizers, just a fat oldschool groove and one warm summery tune after another. The obvious comparison is John Brown’s Body although there’s definitely a Bob Marley influence there too. The band’s tight four-piece horn section sets them apart from most of the other roots acts out there. Singer Gianpaolo Blower is casual and laid-back and bass player Ryan Hinchey hangs behind the beat like Family Man Barrett of the Wailers while guitarist Dave Rosen sticks to rocksteady riddim and the occasional tingling Chinna Smith-style riff. Drummer Sammy Wags and organist Jason Moore keep it tight and terse as well. Lyrically, they keep it conscious, upbeat but socially aware. It grows on you slowly: by the time it’s over, it’s obvious that this is a stealth contender for one of the best albums of 2010.

The album opens with a big anthem, The Golden Age, spiced with wah guitar and a big horn chart after the first verse. The second track, Jigyo Keta is a catchy festival of good vibes: “Radiate it from your soul, lighting up hell’s dark sidewalk…imagine that.” The title track is a close cousin of the Marley classic Rastaman Vibration, with a long, balmy sax solo. The slinky workman’s anthem 40 Hours, an instant singalong, ought to energize crowds everywhere: “Give me back my 40, give me back my 40 hours!”

Mortal Motion is fast, almost a ska tune, taking a brooding look at mankind’s march to self-annihilation. The hypnotically pulsing Green Bridge, a standout track here, features an organ breakdown that leads the band up to a big soul-drenched ending. On the slow, Marley-ish Voodoo Spell, Rosen finally takes a guitar solo and makes all his notes count.

The fast, organ-driven Journeyman sounds a lot like a vintage John Brown’s Body song from 1996 or so, until it hits a big, tricky, jazzy outro. Grow My Way has an especially sweet bass groove and a hypnotic, echoey trumpet solo. The album winds up with a reggae-pop number followed by Tree Dub, a hint at how far outside they can take their songs in a live setting, and the defiant, slowly unwinding anthem I Define Me. They’re a killer live band (we enthusiastically reviewed one of their New York shows last May); they’re currently on tour, check their tourdates page. Click here to help them in their campaign to be High Times Magazine’s Band of the Month

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July 8, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Ilhan Ersahin’s Istanbul Sessions with Erik Truffaz

This is groove jazz but it’s not exactly lite jazz. Over a steady beat, whether that might be in straight-up 4/4 or something more complex, saxophonist/composer (and Nublu nightclub owner) Ilhan Ersahin joins forces with trumpeter Erik Truffaz, bassist Alp Ersonmez, drummer Turgut Alp Bekoglu and percussionist Izzet Kizil to create an imaginative series of soundscapes, some hypnotic and totally psychedelic, others closer to a traditional jazz framework. Horns and reeds are occasionally abetted by light electronic touches (a pitch pedal for the trumpet, effects pedal for the bass and occasional loops) that bring up the playfulness factor but never turn the tunes  completely over to the machines. This album blends pretty much equal amounts of late-night chillout material along with more melodically diverse, often Middle Eastern-tinged compositions.

The opening track, Freedom shuffles over a looping, aggressive reggae-tinged bass riff, Ersahin’s tenor expanding slowly. Truffaz comes in with similar precision, then they eventually switch roles. With its martial beat and hypnotically steady 8th-note bassline, Bosphorus’ understatedly bracing Middle Eastern modal flourishes give way to warm atmospheric vistas. The band follow this with Doors to Heaven, a breezy conversation between trumpet and sax; then a segue into an off-kilter passage that slowly congeals with a dub reggae feel.

Sam I Am features Ersahin at his balmiest, working a series of scales over clattering drums and a hypnotic bass pulse, then hinting at Middle Eastern tones, Bekoglu getting a rare chance to really cut loose with the drums and making the most of it. The aptly titled Downtown Istanbul moves quickly from fond wee-hours salute to jagged blues, Truffaz flailing against the rhythm section’s dubwise low-register wash. By contrast, Les Ottomans, a brisk motorway melody, optimistically awaits an action film ready to speed along with it before the final showdown. The album closes with its two best cuts, the echoey David Lynch style nightmare noir of Alley Cats, and Our Theory, which matches woozy dub to soaring majesty. Ilhan Ersahin’s Istanbul Sessions play this year’s Turkish Woodstock at Central Park Summerstage on July 3. Early arrival, 3 PM is a necessity, least year’s concert having conservatively drawn a crowd of about ten thousand, packing the arena in minutes. If you miss him there, you can always catch him on his home turf at Nublu.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Kiwi – Mischief Reigns

You just gotta love it – a Brazilian-inflected dub reggae cd by a band named after New Zealand’s tasty green version of the blueberry. True to their name, Kiwi have made a tasty album, warm, summery and hypnotic like all the best roots reggae is. This is the group that big up-and-coming retro soul buzz band the One and Nines spun off of. The two bands share a vocalist, the irresistibly soaring Vera Sousa, a guitarist (the smartly incisive Jeff Marino), a tenor sax player (Barami Waspe) and a keyboardist. On this album Sousa shares vocal duties with Alex Tyshkov, who distinguishes himself on bass, guitars, keys, percussion and more. The rest of the laid-back horn section comprises Kasey Lockwood on trumpet and Matt Ryan on trombone, with Will Hansen on keys, David Delgado on drums and G.D. Hemmings on percussion. The bass is always way up in the mix, guaranteeing that it’ll sound fat even if you’re playing it on a lo-fi system. Like the One and Nines, a band who completely nail the ambience, arrangements and spirit of 60s Memphis soul music, Kiwi’s sound is straight out of Kingston, 1977 but with sonically improved production values.

The album opens with a tantalizing bass-driven interlude with organ, giving way to No One Else featuring Sousa doing one of her irresistible, wise, slinky vocals. Most of these songs segue into each other, often separated by little interludes, mostly brief, introspective guitar instrumentals except for a completely unexpected, rippling, gamelanesque passage toward the end. The third track, Lemon has reverb organ and fat bass with a stripped-down John Brown’s Body vibe, a feeling that returns on the sixth track, Against the Wall and later on the catchy midtempo pulse of And You.

After a tense, mostly solo guitar meditation, the fifth track reminds of Bob Marley around the time of the Kaya album, when he was blending an American R&B/soul influence into his songwriting. Track eight, Return is fat, dubwise and kind of morbid; the title cut is understatedly hypnotic – they don’t waste a note – and Sousa’s wary voice on harmonies in the background is arrestingly exquisite. She also gets to slide and shine, in both English and Portuguese, on Aprendiz, a duet with Tyshkov. The album winds up with its most psychedelic track, Cherry Tree, and then a cut that has the feel of being a catchy One and Nines groove rearranged as reggae. This is one of those rare albums that doesn’t have a single lame track, not even those little interludes. Watch this space for NYC area shows.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: iLa Mawana at Sullivan Hall, NYC 5/6/10

Here’s a fun band to check out this summer if you can figure out how to spell their name (you have to wonder how stoned whoever came up with that one was). iLa Mawana play all different kinds of roots reggae – upbeat anthems, slow grooves, sweet ballads and some psychedelic dub – and do all of it well. Late on a weeknight, they kept the Sullivan Hall crowd in the house and had everybody swaying through a 40-minute set that could have gone on for twice as long if the club had let them. Bassist Ryan Hinchey was perfect, supplying fat, chronic low end just a hair behind the beat like Family Man Barrett did in the Wailers. Drummer Sammy Wags had the one-drop down cold but also had a lot of different beats up his sleeve, especially on the faster numbers, abetted by a nimble conga player stashed toward the back of the stage. Organist Jason Moore added funky blips and bleeps when he wasn’t washing away the River of Babylon with a river of his own; guitarist Dave Rosen didn’t get the chance to step out much, but when he did he showed off a warm, understated Steve Cropper soul style. Singer Gianpaolo Blower goes for casual and laid-back – this band is all about good vibes – with some brassy, spot-on high harmonies from the band’s friend Sarah, who came up from the audience to join them for the second part of the set. They segued from their slinky opener, Dub Electa into a quick romp through a hypnotic one-chord jam, then into another original featuring a casually bluesy solo from their excellent alto sax player (their three-piece horn section added a welcome brightness over the trance-inducing pulse of the bass). Shifting chords hypnotically until it was practically impossible to find the beat – just moving anywhere at this point felt good – Tree Dub gave their trumpeter a chance to choose his spots.

The title track to their forthcoming new album Soldiers of Sound was as dubwise as they got, bringing it down with simple yet dizzyingly effective reverb guitar. The set wound up with a couple of fast, bouncy numbers, Frankly and Mortal Motion and closed with the big, spiritually charged Karmaland that wound down to just a tasty keyboard solo over the bass and drums at the end. If roots reggae is your thing – from the classics to current-day stars like Groundation and Meta & the Cornerstones – iLa Mawana (there – got it right) will hook you up. The cd release show is at Harpers Ferry in Allston, MA on 5/15; summer tourdates below.

May 07 – Greene, NY – Headyfest

May 08 – Narragansett, RI – The Wheelhouse

May 15 – Boston, MA – Harpers Ferry

May 20 – Miami Beach, FL – Purdy Lounge

May 21 – Sarasota, FL – Pastimes Pub

May 26 – Gainesville, FL – Backstage Lounge

May 27 – Orlando, FL – Plaza Theatre

May 28 – Panama City Beach, FL – Reggae J’s

May 29 – Satellite Beach, FL – Sports Page

May 30 – Sebastian, FL – Captain Hiram’s Resort

June 01 – Austin, TX – Flamingo Cantina

June 06 – Huntington Beach, CA – Gallagher’s Pub

June 16 – Portland, OR – Mt. Tabor Theater

June 17 – Arcata, CA – Jambalaya

June 18 – San Francisco, CA – Mojito

June 19 – San Francisco, CA – The Mezzanine

June 26 – Block Island, RI – Captain Nick’s

June 27 – Block Island, RI – Captain Nick’s

July 08 – Westerly, RI – Paddy’s Beach

July 16 – Rochester, NY – Dubland Underground

Aug 27 – Ithaca, NY – Castaways

Also worth knowing if Afrobeat is your thing – the massively funky, horn-driven 12-piece band Emefe, who played before iLa Mawana were also a lot of fun and had a lot of people dancing.

May 7, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album Review: Smoothe Moose Mixtape #3 – We Love Video Game Music

While you were hunched over the xbox, the mysterious Smoothe Moose crew were busy in their smoky Brooklyn lab concocting a soundtrack for your alternate-universe adventures that’s as cool as it is funny. What they’ve done is taken four video game themes, actually all of them from classics that were either arcade or Nintendo games back in the 80s, and recorded dub versions of them. What hits you right away is how good that music was, even if it was coming out of a tiny, cheesy mono gameboy speaker. Click the link above and get a free download.

A Boy and His Blob, by Smoothe Moose’s Cosmo D and Dr. Thunder, gets the avant garde treatment, with a cello. It goes all spacey when they bring in the phaser, then it’s all blips and bleeps again. Ghouls and Ghosts, by Big Words gets a funky guitar treatment with shuffling triphop drums. This is actually a great song – it would make great surf music. No surprise, considering it’s a Japanese game from 1988. Castlevania is the one here everybody knows: the version by Cosmo D’s Sauce is a sick cyborg gypsy dance with a bop jazz sax solo. The Metroid theme that wraps up the mixtape is just plain good jazz, transformed into what could be an echoey dub version of an early 70s Herbie Hancock theme from one of those 4 AM local channel movies. Amidst all the sonic mayhem, there are good solos from cello, sax and especially the guitar. It’s really funny listening to how ornate this is in contrast to the original game’s lo-fi graphics. As the crew states on the download page, “We love video game music. We hope you’ll listen and be transported back to a different time when the drinks were lemonade and the food was Dunkaroos. Enjoy!”

We’ve been late on picking up on these guys’ mixtapes in the past: we reviewed their first  just when they were getting ready to release their second one (also a free download), and by the time that one was out we were halfway into the hibernation mode that lasted until last month here. The one we missed is some serious, far-out dub, an ambitious, high-energy joint featuring the MK Groove Orchestra’s horn section plus the lush vocals of jazz chanteuse and Bjorkestra frontwoman Becca Stevens. There’s a pretty straight-up version of the Junior Byles classic Curly Locks, which is especially cool considering how crazy the guy is; a sultry Billie Holiday-dub version of We Three by Wayne “The Train” Hancock; a sort of Uptown Top Ranking version of the 80s Chaka Khan cheeseball Ain’t Nobody, and deep space dubs of a Don Carlos and a Thom Yorke song. Stoner heaven.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Shatter the Hotel – A Dub Inspired Tribute to Joe Strummer

If you’re a musician, you’ve got to be very careful if you want to cover an iconic band like the Clash. The obvious question is, why bother, since virtually all of the songs are impossible to improve on. Pretty much the only way to approach material like this is to either redo it with a completely different feel…or do it in a rub-a-dub style, mon. The new Shatter the Hotel compilation is yet further proof that just about everything sounds good if you play it as reggae. Yet it’s only logical that this album would happen eventually: the Clash were competent reggae musicians themselves, inspired equally by the music and the roots esthetic. This album is charity effort whose proceeds benefit Strummerville, set up by the Strummer estate to benefit young musicians. It’s an intoxicatingly psychedelic, smartly original dubwise collection of reinterpretations of a whole bunch of classics – Clash fans will love most of this, as will fans of oldschool conscious reggae as well.

The single most imaginative cut here is Infantry Rockers’ transformation of Rebel Waltz, a head-spinning, surf-inflected mix that takes the song straight 4/4 – in its own way, it’s as good as the original. Dubmatix‘ version of London Calling, which kicks it off, features both longtime Clash collaborator/dj Don Letts along with Dan Donovan. It’s more of a reggae-rock effort that sticks pretty close to the source except for a little toasting after the second verse (best not to try to upstage Joe Strummer when it comes to lyrics). Dub Antenna take White Riot and completely flip it, turning it into a slow groove (where you can actually understand the lyrics, which are great!). By contrast, Creation Rockers keep it short and sweet with Four Horsemen, clocking in at just under three minutes, although they take Complete Control in a completely opposite direction with equally successful  results. Nate Wize mixes equal parts electro and vintage dub on Rock the Casbah and vastly improves it – when’s the last time you heard a Clash cover that’s actually better than the original? John Brown’s Body prove themselves to be the perfect band to cover Bankrobber, adding their trademark, slippery keyboards-and-horns sound.

The deepest, bassiest dub here is Wrongtom Meets Rockers’ hydroponic instrumental of Lost in the Supermarket. DubCats do Rudie Can’t Fail in a modern, techie Jamdown pop style, while Citizen Sound’s take on One More Time starts out without adding anything til the dub effects start to kick in. O’Luge and Kornerstone’s straight-ahead roots treatment of Spanish Bombs reminds what a great song it is under any circumstance, and Danny Michel’s cover of Straight to Hell is a real eye-opener, accenting the tune’s underlying Celtic edge. The only real miss here is the cover of Know Your Rights which adds nothing to the original, which was nothing special anyway – the Clash were running on fumes by that point.

February 8, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: The Spy from Cairo – Secretly Famous

The audio equivalent of good hashish. Ridiculously catchy, danceable and psychedelic, The Spy from Cairo has put together an upbeat album that spans practically every style of pop music to come out of the Arab world over the last fifty years. The production is typical of what you get these days in Middle Eastern pop, somewhat slick and artificial with synthesizer and percussion loops in addition to the layers of real drums and percussion here. The “secretly famous” artist here also plays soulfully and intensely on the oud, saz (the gorgeously plinky Turkish lute), ney flute and a small army of percussion instruments, all of which happily get long, extended solos over the throb of the beat. What’s new and innovative is the dubwise feel he brings to much of this – for example, he turns the Farid Al Atrache oud classic Ala Shan into Egyptian reggae as someone like Mad Professor or Niney the Observer might do, instruments fading up into the mix and then out just as quickly when you least expect them.

The originals are just as good. The opening track, cleverly titled Nayphony works a catchy ney flute hook over a slinky trip-hop beat and a gorgeous, classically-inflected Arab melody, cifteli (an Albanian version of the saz) clinking beautifully as the string synthesizer climbs and then fades above it all. The second track is a Jordanian wedding tune given a snakecharmer feel with drum-n-bass production. With vocals and lyrics by guest chaneuse Ghalia Benali, Ana Arabi defiantly evokes Arab pride – and pride in denouncing terrorism – over a hypnotic, atmospheric dance-pop tune.

The single most gorgeous song here is Leila, a tribute to the great Mohamed Abdel Wahab with a long, exhilarating, pointillistic kanun solo. There’s also Kembe, which is trip-hop with oud playing variations on a hypnotic two-chord vamp; Jennaty, a particularly psychedelic, slightly funky number with oud played through a wah pedal; and Saidi the Man, a classic bellydance tune redone first as dancefloor pop, morphing back in time to a mesmerizing jam out with saz and percussion. Plus a resoundingly successful, woozily Rachid Taha-esque venture into rai-reggae. This is first and foremost a headphone album (those ipod earbuds don’t do justice to the fatness of the bass here); it also ought to make a great party-starter (or finisher: crank this at 4 AM if you’re in a space where either your neighbors can’t hear it, or if they’re cool and they might come over and wind down the night with you).

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tommy T – The Prester John Sessions

Prester John was a mythical medieval contradiction in terms, a benign despot whose apocryphal, abundant kingdom sparked many fruitless expeditions to locate it. One popular theory at the time was that it was in Ethiopia. Centuries later, Ethiopian-born Gogol Bordello bassist Tommy T has used the myth as a springboard for one of the funnest, most hypnotic albums of the year. If the snowfall of recent days has gotten you down, this utterly psychedelic, summery cd will get you up again. It doesn’t sound much like Gogol Bordello (though there is a deliciously fat reggae remix of that band’s song Lifers at the end as a bonus cut), but in its own way it’s just as good. It’s a groove-driven, unique blend of Afrobeat, oldschool roots reggae and classic dub. There are echoes of Ethiopian jazz, notably Mulatu Astatke of Broken Flowers fame, but the closest approximation is another groundbreaking album that came out about a year and a half ago, the sprawling Dub Colossus project.

The first track sets the stage for much of the rest of the album, a catchy reggae number with bubbly organ and tasty, melodic bass prominent in the mix, but also in tricky 7/8 time, with screechy massinqo (Ethiopian fidddle) playing what are often essentially lead guitar lines. If that isn’t original, you decide what is. The following cut is slinky, dubwise reggae with brief lyrics in Amharic. Then they go jangly with an almost Appalachian feel and minor key acoustic guitar: from a distance, it could be Tinariwen.

The Eighth Wonder kicks off with a hypnotic early 70s style funk/soul groove with Fender Rhodes piano and a blazing horn chart, massinqo sailing blissfully overhead. They follow that with a gripping, dark dub rearrangement of a couple of ancient folksongs. East-West Express is a juicy dancefloor vamp, sort of Fela gone further east. Cleverly nicking the hook from Marley’s Crazy Baldhead, the gorgeously eerie, rustically-tinged Tribute to a King segues into a bounding dance, practically a jig with massinqo, string synth and wah guitar. It works deliriously well. The album wraps up with a soulful dialogue between scorned lovers and then a strikingly contemplative, atmospheric number that finally bursts into flame when a bright, insistent horn section takes over. All the way through, the playing is inspired, and the production is far deeper and heavier than your typical digital recording. It works just as well on headphones as it does with a boisterous crowd. World music fans and stoners alike will be all over this one.

December 21, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Smoothe Moose Summer 09 Mixtape

We’re a little – ok, a lot – behind the eightball with this one, considering that adventurous, innovative Tortoise-esque Brooklyn dub/jazz/new music collective Smoothe Moose are celebrating the release of their latest mixtape (one assumes the Fall 09 edition) tonight at Public Assembly. But this is worth checking out A) because it’s free and B) because their unique blend of chillout instrumentals and jazz-inflected dub is a lot of fun. And also because it’s a cover album that doesn’t suck. It opens with an instrumental of Chopped & Screwed, the T-Pain song, woozy and dubwise. Sax creeps in along with some cello, both of which get expansive and playful. This is about as far from T-Pain as Grover Washington Jr. or Mad Professor – both of who it resembles – and it makes a good psychedelic groove. Timbaland would approve.

The second track reworks Electric Feel by MGMT as fuzzy dub after a rote first verse, synthy layers oscillating into and out of the mix. And as an added bonus it doesn’t have the original’s awful, pretentious off-key vocals. Track three, Bam Bam Bam is the Sister Nancy dancehall hit, tastily beefed up and hypnotic with fluttery sax, pinging guitar and then some stark cello. It’s the closest thing to classic dub here  – at least before the sax goes nuts – and it would be the best except for the last track, a dub instro version of Sabbath’s War Pigs. Circuits bubbling like they’re about to short and start a fire, fuzz bass nimbly nailing Tony Iommi’s guitar hooks, it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious. What a pleasant surprise –  a group that utilizes electronics that don’t suck the soul out of the music. Technology doesn’t always have to be the enemy. Download the individual tracks or the whole thing here for free here – and if you’re around tonight and in the mood to feed your brain, go see Smoothe Moose at Public Assembly at 9.

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Alpha Blondy at Central Park Summerstage, NYC 7/19/09

Tuesday, July 14, 2009, sometime during the night: a massive computer crash at Lucid Culture HQ cuts off all electronic communication with the outside world, eliminating any possibility of contacting the show organizers for press list to assure access.

Sunday, July 19, 6:30 AM: system finally up and running again. Drink lots of water, contemplate a last-minute attempt to find out who the organizers are and contact them, decide this would only be an exercise in futility. Do some writing, back to bed at 9:30 AM, exhausted.

1:30 PM: awake again. Time to head to the concert!

2:07 PM: no uptown trains. What to do?

2:23 PM: Finally an uptown train, running express on the local track. Thank you Jah!

3:04 PM: The rent-a-pigs at the space are only letting people in one at a time. The line of potential concertgoers extends a quarter mile beyond the arena, and the opening band hasn’t even gone on yet. People standing listlessly with their ipods and their books – a woman reads Proust. Tolstoy would make more sense – she’s going to be here awhile. Time to find a drink – a bar? After Saturday night, no way. Maybe there’s a cheap deli somewhere? Not in this neighborhood. A leisurely stroll east ends at the Duane Reade over on First Avenue and 66th St. who have big cans of lousy, sweet iced tea for a dollar.

4:06 PM: Back at the arena where Lee “Scratch” Perry has taken the stage. Have seen him before. He’s insane. He’s also a genius. He invented dub reggae, then burned down his famous Black Ark studio where he made all those classic recordings. Now in his seventies, supposedly he lives in Switzerland with a much younger wife and still tours regularly: roast fish and collie weed obviously have a sustaining power for him. He’s not that good live, muttering gnomic Rasta “reasonings” over a live band. He worships marijuana – the plant isn’t just a sacrament to him, it’s the embodiment of the deity itself.  Meanwhile, the line remains exactly where it was an hour before. Perry isn’t the insane one here, it’s the people in line! Do they really think they have a prayer of getting inside the show? The woman reading Proust is gone, maybe home to get her copy of War & Peace. Time to take a stroll down to the plaza past the arena.

4:45 PM: Perry’s band is ok. A couple of times they do a little dub, some swirling, echoey organ, some piano but mostly it’s just one long vamp after another. From down the hill, most of Perry’s vocals are inaudible and those that aren’t don’t make any sense. Not that they’d make any more sense if they were. It would be nice to be able to see something but it’s also nice to be outside under the trees with plenty of space.

5:20 PM: The line has mostly disappeared, but the place is clearly sold out. Ivory Coast reggae legend Alpha Blondy has taken the stage, barely visible from beyond the wooden fence just short of the press tent outside. He’s got a couple of women singing harmony, a horn section, a couple of guitars and keyboards. He looks resplendent in his gold robe. The sound is all highs and lows with not much midrange, screechy guitar opening the show with a long, note-for-note Zeppelin riff, bass booming, hypnotic and comforting. Just down the hill behind the back wall of the arena, people have brought their blankets, their picnics, their beer. The sound is great back here, and it’s a lot more comfortable than having to stand inside. Scratch Perry’s deity is everywhere, in the air, in peoples’ lungs, in their red eyes. Time to find a tree that hasn’t been taken, get some back support. One with the earth, yes I! Alpha Blondy plays a greatest-hits show. Despite rumors of ill health, he sounds relaxed and invigorated, at least as invigorated as one can be over such a slinky, relaxed groove. Unity is his central theme: the unity of people, religions, ethnicities and nationalities. They play the big anthem Jerusalem and later the catchy title track from his landmark 1984 album Cocody Rock, recorded with the Wailers. Alpha Blondy sings in French, his native Dioula and in English on a particularly fiery, upbeat version of Staring Straight, later a rocking version of Life Is a Sacrifice with a seemingly endless, pointless metal guitar solo and then Yitzhak Rabin, his tribute to the assassinated Israeli peace crusader. Eventually they do band intros over the chorus of Bob Marley’s The Heathen and then an actually very moving reggae version of Wish You Were Here. He takes one of Roger Waters’ most poignant lyrics – “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl year after year/Running over the same old ground/How we found the same old fear/Wish you were here” – and makes a chorus out of them, coming back to them again and again. The old guys in classic rock tour t-shirts leaning against the wire fence sway to the bassline; the crowd of enthusiastic Ivoirians at the top of the bleachers in the back of the arena wave their flags in time with the music. Suddenly it’s 1994 again.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment