The Donnas fancy themselves curvier Ramones, but sound a lot more like Joan Jett. Maybe it's because of the band's metronomic task-mastery, but singer Donna A just can't seem to get loose behind a microphone. At one point, she backed up into a shadowy part of the stage, and swayed self-consciously like a Hughes heroine, stag at the dance. Then suddenly, in a move Molly Ringwald would never have dared, she charged the mic to yell "I didn't like you anyway/I was just lookin for fun UH-HUH." Note to the boys: A Donna never waits for an invitation to dance. —Sarah Wilson

Pangs of New York
Saving the world with what he's got: D-plan's Travis Morrison
photo: Jay Muhlin
Saving the world with what he's got: D-plan's Travis Morrison

Plenty of benefits take place at Radio City Music Hall, but on Friday, February 7, the gathering of talent was, in the words of Martin Scorsese, "for a good cause": the Blues. Supporting the blues is charity work these days. Sure, Congress has deemed 2003 the Year of the Blues, but by the time those grizzled hawks get around to doing anything, it's so over.

Even the performers seemed to be delivering dirges, digressing on the genealogy of their numbers like they'd just been discovered on brittle scrolls, unearthed after centuries of burial. Over a seemingly interminable five hours, all permutations of genre acolytes took to the stage, usually for one song, followed by a set change. The concert was being taped for a PBS series (executive produced by Scorsese), and the show had all the start-and-stop charm of a rehearsal. This arrhythmia made rough spots even less tolerable. Mos Def's "Black Jack Blues" was higher in concept than execution; also grating were Keb Mo's simpleton revivalism and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's unwelcome blast of Burnside.

The right and true, however, sang down all those blasphemers. Honey Boy Edwards displayed the classic blues trick of a guitar in conversation with itself. Odetta deftly and deeply revisited Leadbelly's "Jim Crow Blues," and Natalie Cole, for lack of a better phrase, sang the fuck out of "St. Louis Blues," as did Shemekia Copeland on her two songs.

Considering the astronomical ticket prices, it's not surprising that many in the crowd first found their blues not in the Delta but in bars that played Steve Miller. Accordingly, the first five standing ovations were for white performers—including John Fogerty and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry—a streak finally broken by a fiery performance from Buddy Guy, and then again by an enthroned Solomon Burke, who kicked the rock out of the blues jams. As the hour grew later, and the sound grew hotter and jumpier, standing gave way to dancing. An older black couple—she in a Cotton Club jacket, he in khaki suit, waistcoat, and fedora—gingerly stepped into the aisle and began a nimble Charleston. It was a resurrection that outshone the occasion itself. —Jon Caramanica

Joyful Noise

Their name may be cumbersome, but it accurately reflects their aspect. Lavender Light, the Black and People of All Colors Lesbian and Gay Gospel Choir, gave its first concert in 20 months on February 8 at St. Peter's, the "jazz musicians' church" in midtown. New artistic director Ray Gordon paced the 29-member chorus, his braided locks caught up in a bobbing cluster atop his head, his whole body swaying in a floor-length tailcoat.

Hot sound and presentational style—the singers, accompanied by pianist Julius Petty, Steve Logan on bass, Keith Gamble on lead guitar and harmonica, and Fred Kelly on drums, wore kente-cloth sashes bordered in lavender over their black concert drag during the first half, and simple red AIDS ribbons for the second—collided with the cool Scandinavian interior of the chapel, all blond wood and simple lines, soaring several stories high. The sold-out event, "In the Spirit"—a Black History Month special—both explicated and celebrated a variety of gospel styles and the artists who developed them in cities from Atlanta to Chicago. A startling highlight of the show was the work of ASL interpreters Howard Hines and Kathleen Taylor, who drank in both Mark Fowler's informative narration and the lyrics, intonations, and crescendos of the songs, manifesting emotional context as well as literal meaning in their dance-like visual offering to the hearing impaired.

The multiracial crowd, including many gay couples marking this trip to church with displays of affection, got as caught up in the spirit as the singers did. The evening glorified a gospel tradition as much Aretha Franklin's as Mahalia Jackson's, and rocked the house of God. —Elizabeth Zimmer

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