A Month on the Town

The man who's reviewed 12,000 records reviews 32 shows in 30 days

Although I encountered many accomplished young musicians, includ-ing some I hated (will Rock Kills Kid rock Kills kids?), execution counts for more with artists who are old enough to have learned how—the longer one devotes oneself to music, the larger music per se looms in one's identity quest. Enter the unheralded local Ambassadeurs du Manding at comfortable little Lava Gina, who rather than providing the pleasant evening I anticipated sent me and my wife home prepared to explore Avenue C forever. Led by veteran guitarist Mamady Kouyate, once a cog in Guinea's Orchestra Bembeya National, the four Africans and four non-Africans delighted a small crowd ranging in age from at most 28 to at least 64 by integrating Senegalese and Congolese concepts of continuous flow. They also outplayed the rest of June not counting Ornette and Sonic Youth. The youngish, non-African trap and conga drummers were slightly tentative. An older non-African got his balafon on. Kouyate outshone every guitarist I've named. And the singers were nonpareil: rich-burred old muezzin baritone and then this glorious young tenor in black 'do-rag, gold chain, and white XL tee. One of his jobs, performed with shameless and efficient grace, was to get the banquettes dancing. Guess where I was sitting.

Lest anyone smell world-music exoticism, I'll add that I walked out on be-dreaded beauty Sara Tavares soon after she told us her rain song would end Cape Verde's endless drought. And despite the fat guy who got a bassy thrum out of a milk can and slapped his feet when he danced, I preferred Brooklyn's Beirut to Hungary's Romano Drom.


photo: Nicholas Burnham

HEADLINERS RANKED GOOD-TO-BAD

Robert Plant
Gogol Bordello
Sonic Youth
Les Ambassadeurs du Manding
Ornette Coleman
Nellie McKay
Mr. Lif
Amy Rigby
James McMurtry
James Luther Dickinson
Arctic Monkeys
Hellfires
Be Your Own Pet
Atmosphere
!!!
Stylofone
Baby Gramps
Tapes 'n Tapes
Beirut
Romano Drom
Peter Stampfel & Walker Shepard
Black Angels
Buck 65
Twilight Singers
Anthony Braxton
Liars
CocoRosie
Futureheads
Excepter
Sara Tavares
Dungen
Morningwood

OPENERS GOOD-TO-BAD
Robbie Fulks
Yo La Tengo
Brother Ali
Camu Tao
Gamelan Galak Tika
Flashy Python and the Body
Snatchers
Nils Lofgren
Gavin DeGraw
Ian Hunter
Cage
Apes
Garland Jeffreys
Mountain High
Cannibal Ox
Tall Firs
Ryan Adams
Figurines
Rock Kills Kid
Lonesome Doves
Isles

TAIL ENDS/BEGINNINGS GOOD-TO-BAD
Pterodactyl
Cataract Camp
Kultur Shock
Man Man
Pink Mountaintops
After Hours
Lions & Tigers
Nomi
Malika Zarra

BEST CROWDS
Arctic Monkeys
Gogol Bordello
Atmosphere
Be Your Own Pet
Les Ambassadeurs du Manding
Baby Gramps
Anthony Braxton
We're Doing It for Love
Amy Rigby
Black Angels

BEST MUSICIANSHIP
Ornette Coleman
Sonic Youth
Les Ambassadeurs du Manding
James Luther Dickinson
Gamelan Galak Tika
Tapes 'n Tapes
Arctic Monkeys
Mr. Lif
Hellfires
Nils Lofgren
Nellie McKay
Gavin DeGraw
Robert Plant
Gogol Bordello
!!!
Robbie Fulks
Rock Kills Kid
Be Your Own Pet
Beirut

BEST COSTUMERY
Ornette Coleman
Gamelan Galak Tika
CocoRosie
Rock Kills Kid
Apes
Twilight Singers
Nomi
Gogol Bordello
Excepter
Baby Gramps

BEST SHOWPERSONSHIP
Gogol Bordello
Robert Plant
Les Ambassadeurs du Manding
Nellie McKay
Mr. Lif
Romano Drom
Brother Ali
Stylofone
CocoRosie
Apes
Baby Gramps

I wonder whether the Ambassadeurs' tenor raps. I also wonder whether Buck 65 raps, though it would have helped if V2 had released Secret House Against the World----—he gave me one after his Summer-Stage set, and now his ambitious new songs make sense. But other alt-rappers kept the faith. The old-school party ethic gets a lot of ribbing, which was justified at the Bowery Ballroom's agonized Def Jux showcase, where the crowd was not only 95 percent white but 90 percent male: Saturday night and nobody getting laid. Then Mr. Lif called them "party people" anyway and sustained the illusion until prolonged prestidigitation by DJ Big Whiz interrupted his flow.

Lif has one of the best left hands in the business—a hand you can imagine caressing a butt cheek—and musically I enjoyed him as much as Ornette first half. At Irving Plaza nine days later, Brother Ali had a crowd. "It's a spiritual thing to party together, like going to church," he told this much more sexually integrated gathering, who obediently shouted "Huh!" whenever he said "Shut this motherfucker down." Atmosphere's Slug, masterful after years on the road he reports have eaten up his soul, took up where Ali left off, the audience as electric as !!!'s or the Arctic Monkeys' only more united. But after 40 minutes he brought on a full band for "God Loves Ugly"—a righteous move, sure, only quickly the crowd deflated, as if the firepower onstage rendered their energy irrelevant. "Live Music Takes Many Forms" bumper stickers should be issued.

Many many. I attended June 24's Arthur Lee benefit at the Beacon out of respect for the uncrowned black king of psychedelic pop and organizer Steve Weitzman. Old artists yes, oldies artists no-—if you crave Nils Lofgren's ebullience or Ian Hunter's acerbity, go back to Grin and Mott the Hoople and issue "Recorded Music Is a Blessing" bumper stickers. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah lead guy Alec Ounsworth was fab on Love's "Andmoreagain" and a Dylany original. Gavin DeGraw was cute. Yo La Tengo unearthed a glorious Lee obscurity as I knew they would: an American Four garage rocker called "Lucy Baines." (Sound familiar? Just add "Johnson.") Hunter made "All the Young Dudes" a sing-along. Lofgren's long, flashy solo sounded new again—the Stylofone effect. And talented asshole Ryan Adams, who refused to work with Weitzman's pickup band, explained his choice of material as follows: "Of course I would have liked to play Love songs, but some of you may know that it's not in my repertoire to, um, oh never mind . . . " Play anything you didn't write, oh poet of a zillion songs? Asshole.

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