The Iceman Cometh Back

Yo V.I.P., let's kick it: Vanilla Ice has this amazing bucktoothy rube smile he flashes when he's really proud of himself. He looks like his own mascot--a pumped-up plastic Aryan action figure, biceps covered with Celtic tattoos, blond goatee, Caesar cut where his slicked-down pompadour used to be.

Here cometh the Iceman last Tuesday: "This song is called 'Fuck Me' 'cause I know how I've been perceived." His black cheerleader buddy tries to get the crowd to yell "fuck you!" at the stage, just like Ice Cube's sidekick on the Family Values tour--Vanilla's ludicrous comeback is produced by Korn/Limp Bizkit guy Ross Robinson, see. Live, his band of head-banging white sleazeballs hide their occasionally glam-ish Burundibilly beats and cute Eurocheese keyboard zigzags under three guitars and Ice's frog-monster growling.

CBGB was a claustrophobically packed hotbox--tons of curiosity-seeking, bridge-and-tunnel car-crash gawkers in their twenties who'd heard Vanilla getting dissed by Howard Sterncallers during their morning commutes, all fist-fucking the air to his industrialcore "Ice Ice Baby" update. Nobody cared enough to yell for an encore after that, but the band returned anyway with noisy numbers about stomping through bayous and "goin' crazy like Prozac." (Huh?) Upon which the faithful started shouting "Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!" but maybe Vanilla couldn't remember his old Teenage Mutant Turtle words (to your mother).

"Hootie-fucking-who?," Vanilla kept chanting--must not approve of black guys sounding white. He was funniest "taking us back to the old school," doing a Freddy Krueger human beatbox pantomime and bump-and-grinding about climbing his coconut tree 'cause Ice cream is good for our health. (Hard To Swallow, his new album's called, yup yup.) Preppie fans reminisced about being 14 in Miami, believing Vanilla the true face of hip-hop, then growing up to track down his motocross-and-jetski–equipment store, To the Extreme, but never a copy of 1994's Holy Grail Mind Blowin' CD. Everybody was waiting for "stop, collaborate and listen/Ice is back and he's a born-again Christian," but instead he asked how many of us had A.D.D. We raised our hands and decided to go home. --Chuck Eddy

High-Wire Act

"She's like Judy Garland on acid," said writer Lynne Tillman of Mary Margaret O'Hara. I had corralled seven friends into going to St. Ann's last Friday to see O'Hara, an underground legend from Toronto who almost never performs live and has only put out two recordings in 10 years (the 1988 Miss America and the 1996 Christmas EP)--neither of which capture the scary, heart-wrenching, high-wire effect of her live performances.

In addition to Garland, you can hear flashes of Janice, Ella, Aretha, and Joan Baez in O'Hara's voice, a sensuous, dark soprano with a full three-octave range. And while at her core she's a kind of Irish balladeer, she can switch to country, gospel, torch, jazz, blues--sometimes within a single song. She can rock out and scream with the best of them. Her scat singing involves skittering birdlike cries and guttural moans. Sometimes she'll take hold of a phrase and repeat it a dozen times, turning it into an incantation.

Most of O'Hara's songs are about love and loss--and more specifically about the physical and emotional sensation of falling apart. What was extraordinary about Friday's performance was that she kept disintegrating and putting herself back together (her longtime guitarist Rusty McCarthy led the unflappable, versatile band). It wasn't only her singing (full of starts and stops, sudden attacks and decays), but the way she moved: two steps forward and one back, legs apart like a three-year-old, or a sad circus clown. She banged out a rhythm on her hip, she kept readjusting her blouse, her bra, her body, her being. You were watching an immensely sophisticated artist figuring out from scratch what it is to sing. When it all comes together--the voice, the rhythm, the lyrics--each time is the first time, and it's ecstasy. --Amy Taubin

The Cradle Won't Rock

The problem with black metal is not how little it resembles standard notions of metal forms, nor even how it doesn't really rock in any traditional sense (obedience to those that came before was never the subgenre's aim). Rather, it's how the music can get smothered under the weight of its stylization. Which brings us to Cradle of Filth, Britain's big-deal keyboard-driven black-metal six piece that damn near sold out Tramps at their debut New York City appearance last Tuesday. They had the style, all right: the corpse-painted band members, the light show, the dry ice, the curvy blond backup singer/interpretive dancer, the other dancer who put out a cigar out on her tongue, the T-shirts proclaiming "Jesus Is A Cunt."

But beyond that, little lurked. A pal of mine calls 'em "the Journey of black metal," and he's not far from the truth. Proficient, yeah (in the case of their drummer Nicholas, terrifyingly so), but surprisingly lightweight. For all their pomp and complexity, the songs lacked the impact and menace of the genre's better bands. This point has been made before, but there's not much distance between Cradle and Marilyn Manson: the musical reference points are different, but at base they're candy bands putting on goofy costume shows that could only be threatening to clueless parents.

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