Music

Yes He Can

In Wyclef Jean's world, it's all good: He seems convinced that there's no such thing as bad music. He's put this theory into practice on a pair of globe-trotting solo albums, and the result has been a mild variant of success—less intense than fame, and less deeply felt than respect. It ain't about guitar technique, or mic skills, or even songwriting. People just sorta buy his albums because . . . well, because he's Wyclef. I used to think he was merely some Haitian hustler peddling mediocre world music to a gullible public. But after seeing the former Fugee's bravura performance at Carnegie Hall on Friday, it's clear that the man has simply chosen the wrong profession: His albums may be dull, but his charity concerts are top-notch.

The charity is called "Clef's Kids" (I think it has something to do with youngsters and music), and the concert paired an all-Kid jazz band with an ecleftic lineup of special guests. Have you ever wanted to hear the 14-year-old Welsh diva Charlotte Church perform an operatic version of George Gershwin's "Summertime," backed by a hip-hop beat and Wyclef's acoustic guitar? The answer is probably No, but before anyone could protest, the Brit was shunted offstage, replaced by a bewigged Macy Gray, who rasped her way through Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." On and on it went: Mary J. Blige tore apart the sublime ballad "911," Whitney Houston belted out a song called "I Go to the Rock" (it's about Jesus, not that other thing), and Destiny's Child flummoxed the boomerish crowd with their electronic pop. The adult-rock icon Eric Clapton received one of the evening's most enthusiastic ovations, but even he was outshined by Stevie Wonder, who ad-libbed over Wyclef's "Gone Till November": "I'll be driving you," promised Stevie, with a grin. By the end of the night, dozens of stars—and kids—had crowded the stage for a double-speed rendition of "Guantanamera," and the aisles were filled with Haitian and Brazilian drummers. Sure, it was a garish spectacle, and I don't think I'd want to relive it with a live CD. But it's hard to hold a grudge when Al Gore's favorite rapper is staring into a sea of benefactors, crowing, "I'm the new Sammy Davis Jr.!" Kelefa Sanneh


Grecian Formula and Aqua Net

Around the beginning of 1976, John Holmstrom printed up the first issue of his indelibly silly zine Punk. On January 10, the Punk crew held a 25th-anniversary show at their epicenter, CBGB, to hype their reunion issue. A lot of the revelers, onstage and off, didn't exactly remember the first wave; as the Bullys' singer put it, "I was fuckin' reading some fuckin' Dr. Seuss books and shit." Others had broken out their rusted safety pins and expired bottles of Aqua Net for the first time in decades. Spotted on the scene: a matron in a red leather jacket, three or four quasi-Soo Catwoman 'dos, a few power suits, some Starbucks cups, a neon-green fur coat, rampant eyeliner abuse, an Extreme Championship Wrestling man-mountain, a dancing lad in a Woodstock '99 T-shirt, and the saddest punk sight of all time—a mohawk interrupted by a bald spot.

The hinted-at appearances by Debbie Harry and Joey Ramone never materialized, though the old-school crew did include Unnatural Axe (of "They Saved Hitler's Brain" nonfame), fronted by Destroy All Monsters' remarkably well-preserved Streisand look-alike Niagara, who caterwauled a few Stooges covers too many. Vaguely embarrassing covers kept turning up, actually—why, no, you haven't told us about the war, Grandpa. Nice to see that the Dictators are still energetic and trim, though it was pretty unnecessary for them to phone in the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer," and even more unnecessary for the crowd-baiting eighth-generation Ramonnabes Furious George to play it again a few hours later. By 2 a.m., when Big Fat Combo were dredging up "Heart of Glass," "It Was a Very Good Year," and (fronted by Legs McNeil) "Ring of Fire," the unnecessariness was approaching critical mass.

All was forgiven when Alternative TV ripped into their first New York set ever with "Action Time Vision," which they actually wrote. Front man Mark Perry launched his own zine, Sniffin' Glue, in London a few months after Punk; ATV were basically antidoctrinaire punks to begin with, and gradually abandoned punk for artier territory altogether, as Perry became disenchanted with the dogmatic monoculture that dominated the rest of this bill. So it was a little strange, though not unwelcome, to see them retrenching to their earliest three-chord assaults. They sounded great—taut, engaged, wry—and lyrics like "How much longer will people wear/Nazi armbands and dye their hair?" haven't gotten any less pointed. Even looking backward, they were the most forward-looking band of the night. —Douglas Wolk


Candy Darling

It's usually bad juju when a singer calls time-out midway through his latest single, so when Antony and the Johnsons hit pause during the radiant "I Fell in Love With a Dead Boy" on January 12, folks were poised for the worst. Given the barroom tunes bleeding through the Knitting Factory walls, a tantrum would've been understandable, but Antony chose jelly beans over vitriol, rakishly distributing candy to fey admirers and baffled hipsters alike before starting the number anew.

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