And We All Shine On
Fake Gospel Fares Best at Solar-Powered SummerStage Gig
Those looking to keep Blackout '03's congenial summer-camp ambience going a little longer happily abandoned the newly air-conditioned indoors last Saturday for a muggy afternoon of revival-tent communion in Central Park. But God, it turns out, was not invited. Before a mostly white and probably all heathen flock, a real gospel troupe didn't stand a chance against a semi-parodic high-concept one, and the lethargy of the beer-sipping crowdnot raising their hands, not loving the Lordwas enough to dampen the melismatic rapture of the 130-strong Total Praise Gospel Choir from Brooklyn's Emannuel Baptist Church; you can be sure they put on better shows back in Fort Greene.
But as augured by the 1973 movie of Godspell, in which John the Baptist bird-calls Christ and the disciples to a Central Park fountain for splashy sacramental fun, this was an auspicious setting for Tim DeLaughter's Dallas-based Polyphonic Spree (who suggest David Koresh holding the Flaming Lips hostage at the intersection of Abbey Road and Sesame Street). From the moment all 22 of themor was it 23? The arm-waving and head-flailing made an exact count difficultsprinted onstage in their white robes, the show was a study in mass delusion and crowd psychology, a mad teeter on the tightrope between religion and salesmanship. (Bjorn Melhus's America Sells, a terrific video in the Whitney's current "American Effect" exhibit, documents an Up With People-ish teen ensemble, hawking T-shirts in the former East Berlin, to similarly alarming effect.) It's no coincidence that DeLaughter's monster hooks evoke nothing so much as old Coke commercials; there's a Madison Avenue ingenuity too in the way he channels nondenominational uplift into supremely vague pagan chants: "Have a day! Celebrate!" (And while you're at it, buy a Beetle, get an iPod.)
You can only take so many lovin' spoonfuls of saccharine, but before the set collapsed into religiose kitsch, DeLaughter and disciples managed at least one Gospel-worthy miracle. The nonsensical ascending-scale crescendo-chorus of "It's the Sun" was directed heavenward, every line delivered as if from a mountaintop, and for a brief ridiculous moment, the threatening storm clouds obediently parted. "Do you see what's happening here?" the incredulous messiah shrieked. Those of us already experiencing blackout nostalgia could only hope it was a power surge that would bring the grid crashing down again.
IEvery DJ with faith in his or her crate believes he or she can make a historic impression out of a moment. It was inevitable that some jock would impose wax poeticisms on My Blackout of 2003; thank God it was cold-as-ice brainiac DJ Rupture juicing three turntables worth of global dread, not some Williamsburg ironist dropping Scorpions and Peter Wolf tunes. I'm too old for parties where they spill meaning like there's always more. Don't get me wrong: I'm as thankful as any other survivor of '77 that Thursday's was a dark peace, undisturbed by brick-to-window action or petrol-fueled blazes (and that I was no longer eight and accompanying my pregnant, non-English-speaking mother to the Port Authority for a 10-hour bus ride). But having again witnessed the strain of emergencyat the West 38th Street ferry dock, where commuters were dropping in the crush when I escaped to JoiseyI needed my sound document to reflect the fear. And revel in it.
At the Knit Friday as part of a Tigerbeat 6 tour also starring laptop destroyer Kid 606, Rupture (a/k/a Jace Clayton) made the 40-odd gathered revel in every tense, pitch-black layer. Claustrophobic drum'n'bass patterns were wired into the dance halls and bhangra basements, while Middle Eastern modes and sampled voices expounded on recent disasters (including a long 9-11 clip), reminders that there are no lights at the tunnel's end. Just more tunnels. Mixed-in strains of the Clipse popcorn percussion and one bedroom junglist's take on the Cure's "Close to Me" melody were familiar pinched nerves. All metaphors until the closing, when Rupture threw down a lone spoken vocal dub about a "Blackout" as life's disruption, as metaphysical cliff's edge. Rather suddenly, what little dancing and head nodding had been going on at the Knit stopped. And history was served.
Timely DJ Drops Blackout Science at the Knitting Factory
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