Get on the Bus

The electro-acoustic/sound-collage group e-Xplo has figured out how to make people pay attention to a nearly two-hour-long piece: Stick them on a speeding bus. As the venue for their "Picnolepsy" drove around downtown Manhattan last Thursday night, then zoomed up the West Side Highway and back down Broadway, we were a perfectly captive audience, watching the city fly by our tinted windows and listening to what Rene Gabri, Heimo Lattner, and Erin McGonigle were mixing.

The idea of "Picnolepsy" appears to be a "tour" whose soundtrack mystifies rather than demystifies its route, and on that level, it's not much more than a novelty. Questioning the assumptions of the tourist-bus medium is a clever idea, but that requires more than occasionally announcing, "And, on your left . . . " without a follow-up or referent. An anonymous voice talked obliquely about "events" and "surprise," followed by the sound of an immense explosion, as we drove past the ruins of the World Trade Center—yes, we get it already.

City symphony: Lattner (left) and McGonigle of e-Xplo
photo: Cary Conover
City symphony: Lattner (left) and McGonigle of e-Xplo

Other than some spoken text, drawn-out timbres of no obvious provenance wriggled slowly out of the speakers for most of the trip; for the first hour or so, the sounds didn't seem to have much to do with the particular things we were seeing, and the rattle of the bus's frame occasionally passed for an interesting detail. Maybe the performers ran out of text half an hour before the end of the tour, or maybe it was planned that way. In any case, as the distraction of language receded and the soundtrack's drones and rumbles immersed the accidental ambient noise, the piece finally clicked, and every building and pedestrian became part of a long tracking shot. By the end, the view from the bus was something like the unreal city e-Xplo hinted at: an animation, a hallucination, part of the grand show. —Douglas Wolk

Head Rap

Wiggers. The Knitting Factory stage on March 19 was dominated by wiggers. Wiggers with attitude, to boot. Sage Francis and Edan are a pair of indie-rap pinups with a penchant for hyperbolic, parabolic verse and—based on their costume changes—finely styled hairpieces. Why, what did you think I meant?

Edan opened his set done up like an extra from the "Sabotage" video—workman jacket, tousled bouffant—and strumming an acoustic guitar. As an MC, he's strictly late-'80s utilitarian, rocking Big Daddy Kane instrumentals and semi-legit Brooklyn swagger. On "Drop Some Smooth Lyrics" and "Syllable Practice," he spins stunningly precise rhymes in good consonance: "Extend ornaments to torment your tournament/Organize clinics that's sure to mortify misfits." By set's end, he was rhyming and DJ'ing simultaneously, toupee discarded for an aerodynamic finale.

Meanwhile, Sage Francis played to the gallows. His opener, "Superpatriot," was an excoriating critique of post-9-11 xenophobia and jingoism: "I'm the makeshift patriot/The flag shop is out of stock/I hang myself at half-mast" as he mock-dangled himself with a star-spangled necktie. The rest of Sage's catalog is no less provocative. "Crack Pipes" is an eerie tale of domestic violence and failed redemption. On "Come Come Now," he angstily masturbates to the dial tone, stymied by a girl who "laughs and starts dissing my towel turban." "Narcissist" cheekily pokes at rap fashion clichés—"I'd buy a pair of trends even if it didn't fit my size." Midway through his set, Sage disappeared stage left, then returned in tight nylon jacket and headbanger hair—Floridian white trash circa 1989—proclaiming, "I mess up heads like barbers with no skill." True enough, and given the night's sartorial complexities, that explained a lot. —Jon Caramanica

"Good morning, Jewish housewives..."

Shock jocks and professional sadists could take a note from geriatrics Mina Bern and David Rogow, who abused each other in Yiddish at Symphony Space on March 18, hurling barbs like "All her teeth should fall out but one, and that one should hurt" and "He should marry Esther, the sister of the Angel of Death, and let everybody say 'Amen.' " Bad taste, bad puns, and brilliant insults ruled the evening, a live preview of NPR's Yiddish Radio Project, to be broadcast on All Things Considered over the next two months. Jewish historian and archivist Henry Sapoznik hosted what at times resembled a Yiddish Late Show With David Letterman, complete with a sidekick, piano player Peter Sokolow, who led his klezmer session band flawlessly through some of the great Yiddish hits of the '30s, sung by the original players.

Claire Barry, the princess of Yiddish swing, sang a sultry bossa nova number, punctuated with the most goyish word she must have been able to think of ("jumbalaya"); Seymour Rexite was escorted onstage by what appeared to be his (much larger) blond nursemaid to sing three songs in Yiddish, including "Surrey With a Fringe on Top." By the end of the show, the crowd (for the most part only a few years younger than the performers) was limp from laughing at the parade of radio heroes, like the Jewish Philosopher, one of the first-ever talk show hosts, who intimidated the mothers-in-law in his audience with moral harangues about the dangers of meddling, and Victor Packer, a dadaist poet turned man-on-the-street chronicler of life in the American Jewish ghetto. ("Good morning, Jewish housewives . . . ") The last flourish—a rebroadcast of a 1946 radio show that reunited Seigbert Freiberg, a Holocaust survivor, and his father—provided a bittersweet ending, made more jubilant by the presence of 76-year-old Freiberg himself, accompanied by his older, vivacious German wife. —Maya Kremen

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