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Green Nuns of the Revolution, a three-member outfit on U.K. label Dragonfly, provided trance at its brutally effective best: swirling synth effects coupled with zigzagging acidic bass lines and a pumping bass drum that had the Vinyl crowd leaping in time with the rhythm. The group was compulsively watchable, toothe trio was flanked by two spastic male dancers in nun habits, with fluorescent green makeup.
The scene at Vinyl, with its bindi-sporting, tie-dyeclad revelers ecstatically dancing against a backdrop of glow-in-the-dark tapestries and fluorescent balloons, probably seemed distressingly retro-hippie to first-timers. But trancers could never be confused with the hippies who were congregating at the Phish afterparty next door at Wetlands that night. For all its Hindi-festishisms and Gaia fixations, trance is proudly futuristic, more cyberdelic than psychedelic.
And now trance, fueled by a Madonna album that borrowed its astral projections and (at long last!) a blessing in the Timesfrom rave- theory guru Simon Reynolds, seems poised to become the cool new (age) thing. If the blissed-out massive at Vinyl is any indication, trance's journey to recognition will be a long and very strange trip, indeed. Ethan Brown
Flash in the Pan
Old-skool hip hoppers are best left back in the day. No other conclusion was possible at the end of Grandmaster Flash's New Year's Eve DJ gig at Life. The two-hour set was ripe for surprise (I'd hoped for an unreleased megamix of his electro-boogie anthem "Scorpio") but only delivered stale top-40 garnished with rote MC platitudes.
Like an aging wedding DJ, Flash never challenged the crowd's nostalgia-addled memory of his early '80s heyday. "Hit after hit, no bullshit!" Flash yelled, as "It Takes Two" segued into "Into the Groove," followed by "Holiday." He continued banging two-minute snippets, sometimes gracefully, often not. Nobody cared. VH1 viewers all, the starstruck revelers cheered each successive Big'80s excerpt. Absent was any inkling that Flash once heralded the future with bleak masterpieces like "The Message." No time for such urban bummers when "We Are Family" provokes giddy waves. At any moment the crippled old lady in the corner might have crawled onstage and started busting "Rapper's Delight." Instead, sad creakiness peaked at the zero hour, when chords from that song kicked in. Crackling with shopworn weariness, the vinyl begged for its ownand Flash'sretirement.
Later Funkmaster Flex gave Flash righteous props when he took control of the decks. Then he promptly blew Flash's set into oblivion. Though Flex bites from the same wheel of cheesepairing Janet Jackson's "Nasty" with Vanity 6's "Nasty Girl"he has a playful sense of humor and freely jacks his mixes with fierce scratching, repeating a song's most outlandish phrase for comedic effect.
He's a show-off too: at one point Flex virtuosically bolted from wheel to wheel, suspending time by repeatedly cutting and recuing between Run-D.M.C. and Doug E. Fresh. Amazed, the by-then stumbling audience cheered the miracle worker, and the old lady rose and walked. (OK, with crutches.) Ernie Glam
They Might Be Giants have always been heavy on the juvenilia. In their 12-year history, the sons of Williamsburg have frequently taken inspiration from children's music, incorporated cartoon sounds into their hooky pop, and maintained a childlike fascination with the dividing line between musical instruments and toys: front man John Linnell's accordion, the glockenspiel, on down to "the stick" (not the bass guitar derivative but a hefty log they once banged on the floor). When they took a break from musing on CB radio operators and Belgian painters, their love songs dwelt on nascent sexuality. Their romantic objects often proved awkward ("She's Actual Size"), supernatural ("She's an Angel"), or even arguably gynophobic ("Shoehorn With Teeth"). In a word, they were nerds, and as such, eminently outgrowable, flash cards to be filed between Monty Python and Elvis Costello.
Ten years ago, when this nerd outgrew them, however, the '90s had yet to happen, and no one could have known how their aesthetic was to define a decade. It all came rushing back on New Year's Eve, at nothing less than an all-ages show at Tramps, complete with streamers, balloons, and, yes, many actual children in the audience. "You're older than you've ever been and now you're even older," taunted Linnell in singsong. Yet not only did the TMBG audienceprobably bused in from Stuyvesant Highseem younger, but so did the band. True, I was far back, but guitarist John Flansburgh's cheeks had never looked chipmunkier, nor his gestures floppier, nor the band's kids-in-the-basement vibe more fully realized. Ripping through highlights from their capacious repertoiremany songs "never before played properly," according to LinnellTMBG's virtuosic interplay and audience participation gimmicks were greeted with floor-bending enthusiasm. They predated everything, it seemedthe derivative pseudo-Latin shimmy of "No One Knows My Plan" evoked the cocktail lounge craze, the thrash-and-horn version of "Why Does the Sun Shine?" spoke fluent skacore, and their old kitschy irony was inverted, like an ad for ABC's fall lineup, as moshing youngsters aped lines about "countless screaming Argonauts." It was more fun than a National Honor Society spelling bee. James Hannaham