This Weekend In New York: Yellow Ostrich Pines, Rakim Makes The Sun Come Out
In Waste Of Paint, our writer/artist team of Jamie Peck and Debbie Allen will review goings-on about town in words and images.
This weekend took us from a fatally twee record release party in Williamsburg to a Central Park performance of some of the greatest hip-hop of all time. We got rained on, whined on, and possibly nearly electrocuted, but in the end, we got to shake Rakim's hand, and that made it all worthwhile.
Friday night we hit up Glasslands to see Exitmusic. The band's fronted by one very attractive married couple, one half of whom is Aleksa Palladino, who plays Angela Darmody on Boardwalk Empire. This multi-talented young lady composes music with her mod dreamboat husband Devon Church, and her persona is thankfully devoid of theater-person obnoxiousness. As Palladino swayed over her synths and hid behind her long hair and witchy necklaces, a surprisingly powerful alto emitted from somewhere deep inside her, catching in her throat before it escaped. The deep bass, glitchy samples, and moody, swelling compositions were reminiscent of two great "heads" of the nineties: Portis- and Radio-. (I'm guessing their name is a nod to the latter.)
Because it was their CD release show and a lot of people had turned out for it, we stuck around for headliner Yellow Ostrich. (It feels strange to see the word "CD" in a blog, doesn't it?) What followed was a display of emotion so divisive it almost made Debbie and me come to blows. (I don't doubt she'll sneak some kind of passive-aggressive commentary into her drawing.) You see, the boyishly adorable Alex Schaaf sings about things like whales, feelings, and burning-libraries-as-metaphors-for-feelings in an achingly nasal way that enraptures the heart of anyone who went to high school in the suburbs in the late 90's/early 00's and listened to a lot of emo (hi), but fills pretty much everyone else with rage. But as with spiritual cousin Bright Eyes, there are elements of pop songcraft that go way beyond that of your average angst-delivery system. A lot of people would probably prefer to take Yellow Ostrich's lovely, mature songwriting and leave Schaaf stuffed in a locker somewhere, but fortunately for him, that's not actually possible.
Sunday I redeemed myself by going to Central Park's Summerstage for a celebration of the upcoming 25th anniversary of Rakim's seminal 1987 album Paid In Full. Funkmaster Flex started things off by playing a ton of old-school favorites like Slick Rick and Ice Cube, and fans young and old grooved along. Ralph "Uncle Ralph" McDaniels was on hand to dole out history lessons to anyone who needed them ("this is hip hop, not rap!"), and he even gave a special shoutout to the over-40 crowd.
By the time EPMD took the stage, some nasty-looking clouds were rolling in, but that didn't keep the amphitheater from reaching capacity. "I'm 41 years old, but I still got the sexy," bragged Erick Sermon, then launched into a set of well-worn classics. Halfway through the second song, the clouds dumped their payload, but neither he nor Parrish Smith retreated from the front of the stage. Instead, they doubled down and did "Rampage," followed by "Gold Digger." Everyone knew the words.
When Rakim sauntered out like a champion doing a victory lap, the sun joined him, and Rakim wasted no time in delivering as many rhymes as he possibly could, lest the concert be cut short. He began with "My Melody," and the rest of the set continued to feature Paid In Full heavily. "Man, it feels good to be home," he said between songs. "I ain't been in New York for a while... Central Park... even a couple days for me is too long." Later, he told us the story of how "your boy don't fly on planes," so he'd taken a seven-day boat trip to get to Europe. Talk about "old school." (Womp womp.)
Over the course of the hour-plus set, The Master delivered his internal rhyme-laden poetry with energy and hunger, keeping his mic high in the mix so nothing would be lost. At one point, he had Peter Gunz come on to perform "Deja Vu," and the crowd went wild; a three-man record-scratching round robin further dazzled. But what probably left the biggest impression on many was Rakim's braving of the rain to greet fans and take photos with them post-show. They don't call him Rakim Allah for nothing.
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