Senior Dance

The world-music audience can be a little weird—for all its presumed inclusionary values, you sometimes pick up a members-only vibe. So it was refreshing to catch Mali's hottest new singing star at her free, open-air Lincoln Center concert last Sunday. The few traditional robes and sprinklings of aficionados were a minority. "Excuse me, who is this playing?" one woman in her late sixties asked. I wrote the name out on my pad: "Rokia Traoré." "But it wasn't on the program. . . . " The largest single demographic was white senior citizens, seated on folding chairs.

On tour to promote her second album, Wanita, this cosmopolitan daughter of diplomats—with her sober tunic, biker shorts, schoolgirl demeanor, competent guitar-playing, and notions of freedom—is certainly a marked departure from the regal griots of Malian tradition. But after all, reigning diva Oumou Sangare is a feminist, and Traoré's patron, Ali Farka Toure, plays electric blues. Traoré rearranges traditional elements, venturing unprecedented instrumental combinations, unusual harmonies, and a haltingly sweet voice. She retains the husky-timbred strings of two banjo-ancestor ngonis and the discreet charm of the pentatonic scale—ancient usages that hardly equal commercial suicide at a time when Malians are African music's biggest single export.

"Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh!": Traoré gets a leg up.
photo: Hiroyuki Ito
"Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh!": Traoré gets a leg up.

The set began quietly but built in volume, with Traoré's voice growing stronger until, practicing her English, she exhorted the crowd to dance. The closest she came to showbiz was two exhibitions of traditional steps—storklike, gravity-defying leaps. If she'd done it just a little more, if the five-person band had grooved a little louder and stronger, she would have brought down the house. But the house was on its feet anyway, something new in the shade—so many white-haired heads swaying, bopping, singing along to the "Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh!"

Personally, I find traditional stuff hookier—Sangare's my diva. Still, it was a treat to watch Rokia Traoré preach to the unconverted, and get over. —Carola Dibbell

Dream Theater

It's a swell fantasy all right: Ambitious guitar tech pens a passel of snazzy tunes that tickle his rockin' employer into proffering crooning services, thereby granting the plucky assistant the opportunity to breach roadie limbo and take the stage when the lights are ON. Fitting, then, that A Perfect Circle's sold-out appearance at Roseland cultivated the aura of a euphoric dream sequence, songwriter/lead guitarist Billy Howerdel's wooing of Tool's Maynard James Keenan being this summer's premier hard-rock beau rêve. Though Mer de Noms proves somewhat choppy sailing, APC deftly tapped the record's pulsing, somnolent undercurrents to scuttle any claims of their appeal residing entirely in the snaking strength of "Judith."

There seemed no such worries on the crowd's part. Manic enthusiasm greeted A Perfect Circle's Freudian smirk of an intro: a dinner-date/liplock scenario featuring two disrobing lasses, enacted in silence and abruptly snuffed just as they were about to . . . The stuff of sticky nighttime reveries, it left libidinal howls reverberating through the darkness.

The stage thus set for a performance that smacked of sleepy-time without ever inducing it, Howerdel and cohorts materialized amid the urgent swell of "Magdalena," couched in the penumbra of a bruisey violet light. A player in its own right, this strangely soporific glow (stitched with ocher; humming round bassist Paz Lenchantin's saffron gown) limned the band's shivery nocturnal vibe as they plumbed slivered, circuitous melodies ("Breña," "Orestes") and cable-taut rhythms ("Rose," "Thinking of You") with equal grace. Contorted by strobes and punched into looming silhouettes, APC radiated the poignant opacity of stirring from a rapidly dissipating dream. Even "a really gay cover" (Keenan's deadpan sixth-grade description) of the Cure's "Lovesong"—spiked with metal riffage—sported a certain surreal logic, given Howerdel's distinct R. Smith influences. Ultimately, APC's shadow play proved spot-on. A credit to this adroitly projected collective unconscious, the set's end felt more like waking up then saying good night. —Nick Rutigliano

Pro-Pop Consortium

When subcultures are exported, they usually mutate interestingly in the process. A fair few folks are wondering whether 2step garage, the hottest dance scene in Britain right now, is going to take off here, and what path it might take. Drive By, the latest in a sporadic flurry of 2step parties, featured a bona fide Yookay Name DJ, Emma Feline, plus Reid Speed (also female, and for a long while the only local DJ pushing this sound), party organizer Dinesh, and DB. Its location was the Frying Pan, but the main dancefloor was on the Pier 63 quayside instead of the once-sunken boat's fantastically corroded interior—doubtless because its Tool video/Quay Brothers ambience doesn't fit U.K. garage's plush, lush VIP vibe.

The Monday-night party recalled the first NYC jungle clubs in late '94—a hardcore kernel of converted fiends, lots of curious fence-sitters, and an atmosphere of tentative excitement. Hipsters seem attracted by 2step's juddering bass and hypersyncopated beats (as complex as jungle at its creative peak), but confused or even repelled by the warbly divas and r&b influences. "Serious" techno and drum'n'bass headz tend to be sniffy about vocals, and one of the engaging things about 2step is its transgression of this taboo on sheer pop appeal.

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