Cabaret Lawlessness


“We only need 999,995 more people to break the conga-line world record!” gushed an over-optimisic member of the Dance Liberation Front shortly before their Saturday night march up Avenue A, protesting the city’s cabaret laws, which forbid dancing in unlicensed bars. Sadly, the self-described anarchists hadn’t drawn much of a crowd 15 minutes before kickoff time at Houston and Essex, unless cops counted: at least 40 officers waited in over a dozen squad cars, vans, and paddy wagons.

Clad in a purple hooded tunic, stockings, garter belt, and white panties, Dancing John wasn’t intimidated. No authority could stop this bearded fiftysomething “go-go dancer at Squeezebox” from fighting for his right to party. Banned from Coney Island High for violating the dress code, the Upper West Side poet raged against the cabaret laws that were not only used as a pretext by the bar’s management to bounce him, but have resulted in the recent temporary closures of Baby Jupiter and Nation. “First they got rid of the sex and drugs, so all that’s left is the rock ‘n’ roll. And you can’t even dance to it!”

John was virtually alone in his ire— by 10 the event seemed like a bust— when suddenly a band of merrymakers approached. Led by a furry gnome waving an American flag and a she-devil with spinning emergency lamps strapped to her breasts, the colorful contingent was cut off by police officials before they crossed Houston. Promising peaceful civil disobedience, approximately 150 marchers proceeded north with a heavy police escort.

Freezing temperatures kept the DLF from coalescing into the conga’s traditional single-file, three-steps-and-a-kick routine. Or maybe such tropical standards are beyond any anarchist’s organizational capabilities. Some protesters did master the conga’s six-beat tempo though, chanting “Fuck You Giu-li-a-NI!”

Twenty minutes later the parade wound up in Tompkins Square Park for some final invective against City Hall, though the night’s fervent opprobrium was misdirected. For once, the mayor had little to do with the ridiculous police presence. Instead, the DLF and Lower East Side bars have enemies more dour than Rudy. According to Capt. Collins of the Ninth Precinct, the protesters were ratted on by their own neighbors: both the Seventh and Ninth Precincts were warned about possible disturbances by members of Community Board 3. — Ernie Glam

A Rosnes Is a Rosnes

A recent New York Times article lamented the too pervasive influence of Herbie Hancock among jazz pianists, breathing a sigh of relief that some young players had finally gotten past his shadow. Nobody wants to be anyone’s epigone forever, but there is a reason why Herbie’s neo-impressionism left such an appealing thread for younger pianists to weave, especially since he has only sporadically played in the supple, sinuous vein that blew everyone away in the ’60s. Renée Rosnes emerged in the ’80s as one of Herbie’s strongest disciples, and since the man himself was spending much time in an electronic wilderness, who better to pick up his conception and take it somewhere else? Indeed, on a duet with Herbie himself on Rosnes’s first CD, it’s hard to tell them apart.

One could carp that at Rosnes’s quartet gig at Sweet Basil— including her husband, Billy Drummond, on drums and the mega-hyped Chris Potter on tenor and soprano— Herbie’s spirit still lingered on the bandstand, but in the set’s finest moments, it couldn’t have been invoked with more alacrity, grace, and subtlety. After a couple of perfunctory numbers, Rosnes coyly turned to the mike and, after nearly announcing the next tune, merely said: “I’m not going to tell you what it is ’cause I want to see if you recognize it.” Launching into a Zen-like “With a Little Help From My Friends,” she found so many calm spaces within the tune that her performance undid all of Joe Cocker’s paroxysms at Woodstock. A major-key version of “Footprints,” meanwhile, perversely gave Wayne Shorter’s brooding tune a dose of Prozac.

But it was her performance of Ellington’s “African Flower” that not only evidenced close listenings to Money Jungle, but also a harmonic restlessness, ingeniously stacking voicings, or substituting chords where you’d least expect them, without losing any of Ellington’s cool rumblings. On her last tune, Herbie finally left the building, at least temporarily. Behind thumping quarter notes, Rosnes took a break from the Debussyian swirl for some compact lines that would have evoked a “one more once” from Basie himself. I’m sure Herbie’s fingerprints resurfaced for the second set, but however much Rosnes strays, she clearly has the world at her own fingertips. — David Yaffe

Nostalgia Gap

The healthiest kind of nostalgia is the kind young people have for things they couldn’t have experienced the first time, and the cutoff date for it keeps moving forward. The Rondelles, who played Brownies on Sunday night, lovingly allude to the rhythms and conceits of ’60s girl-group pop: in their songs, affection is mostly expressed in terms of holding hands, and betrayal is holding hands with another girl. They’re also big fans of the Buzzcocks, whose influence shows up less in their playing than in the way they reduce complicated emotions to very simple ones, then act like they couldn’t possibly be that simple. (And in their album title: Fiction Romance, Fast Machines.)

This is Buzzcocks nostalgia from three people who were probably not quite born yet when “Love You More” came out, though. And their version is filtered through a band whose peak they probably did get to see: D.C. punks Slant 6, whose affectless singing, brambly guitar tone, and narrow, cramped riffs unmistakably inspired Rondelles singer-guitarist Juliet Swango. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of their songs seem relatively unfinished— it’s a template that’s good for their flashes of full-on rock, but it can’t support very ambitious melodies, or much textural variation.

So the Rondelles make up for their lack of flexibility with enthusiasm, speed, and unabashed adorableness. Oakley Munson bashes at a squeaky little keyboard with his right hand, whacks a snare with his left, and gooses the beat with whichever foot isn’t supporting him. Bassist Yukiko Moynihan does rock-pose power yoga and chirps in with shrieks and sha-la-las; when she and Swango sing “we love the drag race” with their hands over their hearts, it’s almost too cute to take. But nostalgia is bittersweet. They’re really singing about what drag racing, and love, meant in the songs their parents danced to. — Douglas Wolk

Meaty Roles

Twelve Lambchoppers out of a possible 14 (at last count) were in attendance Saturday night at the Bowery Ballroom, practically spilling over the narrow stage. The image suited the democratically amorphous music— a protean blend of country, soul, and funk that Lambchop play like it was the most natural thing in the world, without kitsch or self-consciousness. Stately horns oddly complemented lap-steel twang; a vibraphone tinkled over an unflagging rhythm section; one member tapped on wrenches and banged away on what was apparently a lacquer-thinner can. It got pretty crowded up there, but Lambchop aren’t the sort to step on each other’s toes; instead, they flesh out their expansive soundscapes with undulating arrangements that dawdle, surge, fall off, then dawdle some more.

Dating back to the early, more dour albums, Lambchop singer-songwriter Kurt Wagner has specialized in the sort of woozy yet vivid, tears-in-the-beer confessionals that are these days most frequently indulged in by masochist Brits like Tindersticks and Arab Strap. Still, as with all of Wagner’s best songs, the set’s two choice wallows — “The Saturday Option,” a tender, quaintly lurid account of too-familiar sex (“do the shabby thing”), and the extravagantly mournful “N.O.” (both from the recent What Another Man Spills)— were too prickly and enigmatic for self-pity. And besides, it wasn’t all subdued introspection. Live, Lambchop’s pop sensibilities come to the fore with big, brassy stompers like “Your Fucking Sunny Day” and “Hey, Where’s Your Girl?” the latter an F.M. Cornog, a/k/a East River Pipe, composition.

Along with R&B standards by Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, and Frederick Knight, Cornog songs, often barely there in their original incarnation, have become staples of their repertoire. Intimate collaborations are very much part of the Lambchop method of working. Returning as Vic Chesnutt’s backing band for the second set on Saturday, they were at once foil, inspiration, and co-conspirators, laying bare the empathetic connections at the core of Chesnutt’s The Salesman and Bernadette. Wagner and company are great interpreters, and their readings aren’t so much radical as quietly perceptive, teasing out subtexts and shadings. It takes a unique combination of affection and nerve to play other people’s songs this meaningfully. — Dennis Lim

Revenge of the Nerd

If there’s one thing the independent hip-hop “movement” deserves praise for (aside from granting artists greater profit margin and creative control— no small matter), it’s creating alternative standards of cool that are expansive enough to encompass the hip-hop-loving geek. The person who stands to gain the most from this new social calculus is Eminem. A nerdy, troubled white kid from Detroit, Eminem has translated his anger toward half of humanity (“There’s three things I hate— girls, women, and bitches”) and fondness for hallucinogens into a burgeoning rap career. (His upcoming Dr. Dre­produced debut album, Slim Shady, will feature a duet with Marilyn Manson.) Destined for criticism from the Bill Bennetts and C. Dolores Tuckers of the world, Eminem’s rhymes are as wicked and irresistible as a Jerry Springer episode (“99 percent of my life I was lied to/I just found out my mom does more dope than I do/ I told her I’d grow up to be a famous rapper/Make a record about doin’ drugs and name it after her”).

Em’s NYC debut was nearly ruined, though, by coheadliner Scaramanga’s no-show and typically long-winded warm-up acts (A-Mob and the Outsiderz, in particular). After Outsider Young Z’s indelicate, reluctant intro— “Are y’all ready for the white boy?”— Eminem bounded onstage to the strains of his early single “Slim Shady.” Clearly unused to working blasé New York crowds, Eminem bristled when his revenge-of-the-nerd tale “Brain Damage” received what he considered an insufficiently generous response. But all it took was his verse from “Five Star Generals,” a track off last summer’s Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1, to get the whole room matching him, rhyme for rhyme. “I Just Don’t Give a Fuck” may seem like an odd note to close a show, but here it was the logical parting shot, as Eminem’s flipped bird was returned lovingly by every backpacker and boarding-school B-boy in the house. — Kem Poston

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