Fluff Daddy

"I met this girl on Monday/Took her for a drink on Tuesday/We were making love by Wednesday," croons the saucy U.K. soulman Craig David on his hit "7 Days." But his seduction of the audience at Irving Plaza wasn't nearly so swift or successful. Platinum in several countries, David isn't yet a presence on the U.S. pop radar, despite a marketing assault on mainstream media. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old delivered a performance worthy of an arena tour on July 17, hoping that polish and professionalism would be antidotes to anonymity.

Lucky for him, David boasts beguiling charm, clean-cut good looks, a supple voice, and stylistic credibility. But even though he piggybacked on England's 2step scene to land in the spotlight, David's debut album, Born to Do It, and live show bear little trace of the breakbeat contagion. After the twists and sass are filtered out, what's left is homogenized soul—pretty, but fluffy.

Craig David strikes his own Heisman pose.
photo: Jay Muhlin
Craig David strikes his own Heisman pose.

Onstage, it's factory time. David carries the confidence of having seduced tens of thousands of fans at once, but in this relatively small venue, he never once achieves intimacy. He can barely look one of his fans in the eye, not even the girl who scampers onto the stage and reaches for him in a Heisman pose as she's being dragged off by security. The muscular "Can't Be Messing 'Round," David's best crossover hope, is fuzzy and without kick. His bizarro hip-hop posturing—overusing the word representing, covering R. Kelly's "Fiesta," and rapping Das EFX-style, "Who would've thought that one day I'd be on the phone with Puffy?"—doesn't resonate on this side of the Atlantic. Only on "Walking Away," when his five-piece band shushes to a whisper, do his confident vocals enthrall. Hitting that note and quitting it just as quick might work when there's too many fans to count, but it fails to make an impression when a proper introduction hasn't been made. —Jon Caramanica

Boat Tech

The Matter://Form boat parties are a masterstroke of genius—revelers dance under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty as DJs like Richie Hawtin and last Sunday's guest, Photek, offer a getaway from Giuliani's foot soldiers aboard the quaint Paddlewheel Queen.

Photek, a/k/a Rupert Parkes, the drum'n'bass-turned-tech-house minimalist, gave a typically exacting performance that highlighted a personal transformation. The Brit, who recently married and moved to L.A., took the decks with a grungier, gnarlier relick from the record that marked his entry into house music: "Mine to Give" kicked house in the ass while breathing new life into Parkes's own career. While it may not have been the first time a bassline boosted a track—stretching out beneath the drums like putty—it has created a domino effect: Opening jock Francis Harris played several tunes that gave a rubbery nod to Parkes.

Parkes's transition from drum'n'bass to tech house was smooth, since artists of both genres are suckers for meticulous sound design. In d'n'b, he carved beat syncopations so precise they were the aural equivalent of ice sculptures. And tech house differs from "regular" house because of its attention to minutiae—making for a more psychedelic feel than the usual bang-the-party hit. Midway through, Parkes unleashed a demonic tune by Peace Division called "Feel My Drums." Heavy on the reverb, a sluggish vocal intoned the title, and as the record crescendoed, the crowd whooped and hollered just as the cops (!!) pulled their own boat alongside the Paddlewheel Queen. It was a positively surreal moment, and while the police didn't crash the party, there was a moment when everyone wondered, Is nothing sacred? —Tricia Romano

Fly the Friendless Skies

All available evidence suggests that Joe Pernice spends an awful lot of time thinking about death. It didn't take more than a microphone malfunction at the Bowery Ballroom last Saturday to prompt a reminiscence about a harrowing transatlantic flight plagued by electrical problems ("Air Valium!"). Two songs later, Pernice was back in the perilous skies with "Flaming Wreck," dramatic swirling guitars simulating a downward spiral as he stepped back to assess the drama: "Never knew it would be the perfect last word I spoke as the cabin filled with smoke." (I eagerly await the Black Box Recorder cover.) The new Pernice Brothers album, the prettiest meditation on mortality since, oh, The Thin Red Line, is sneakily titled The World Won't End. Kind assurance? Bitter lament? Deliberate reference to import-only Smiths best-of? Pernice recognizes the solipsistic absurdities of professional miserabilism. He understands, for instance, that it's funny to get a roomful of people to nod along contentedly to the line "I hate my life." And funnier still to emblazon those words on T-shirts for the merchandise stand.

The new record (their first on Joe's own label, Ashmont, following a split with Sub Pop, his home since Scud Mountain Boys days) reprises the succulent melancholia of 1999's Overcome by Happiness (probably didn't mean that either), but with more bounce and humor. "Working Girls" saves its most concretely devastating image—"contemplating suicide or a graduate degree"—for a soaring bridge. "Bryte Side" justifies the Drakean spelling with an excoriating romantic pessimism. A lovely number about knowing when to quit is called "The Ballad of Bjorn Borg." On stage, the Pernices shed the late-summer orchestral shimmer of their studio sound for a latticework of interlocking guitars. The set reached its apex with a song named for the saddest time of day, "7:30" (doesn't specify a.m. or p.m., maybe both), its narrative of grueling routine and aloneness set to a chorus of skyscraping ba-ba-bas. For maximum contrast, they followed it with the consternated twang of the Scuds' timeless bummer, "Grudge Fuck"—taking their leave, true to form, with a crashing descent to earth. —Dennis Lim

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