We’re All Going to Go

My friend Dan, discussing the news of Curtis Mayfield’s death, told me that he had been humbled by an interview that appeared around New World Order, Mayfield’s last record. Six years after the accident that paralyzed and ultimately killed him, “Curtis was more positive and full of life than I am on my best days.” Curtis—one wants to call him Curtis, like Miles, or Elvis—could humble a body. He wrote a lot of good songs, some of them truly great. Like all very positive people, he is an enigma to most of us. Maybe even to the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra, whose loving tribute at Joe’s Pub began to reveal the myth in the enigma.

Like King, Curtis turned his faith into will. The mid-’60s “People Get Ready” and “Keep on Pushing” are gospels dual-purposed as civil rights calls to (un)arms. Dean Bowman’s rumbling baritone and heart-peeling falsetto on these were the showstopper for me, but, like the Loser’s Lounge, this gathering startled the listener with how much talent walks around New York working side jobs. World-class shouters and crooners shared the spotlight with the Coalition’s ax heroes (Vernon Reid, never disappointing; Masa Shimisu wearing out the wah pedal; Gary Poulson hewing closer to the monster sounds of Adrian Belew than Hendrix), while leader Gene Williams laid a dense bottom on the keyboards. True rockers, they rushed the tunes, cooking slow grooves into hard funk; “Pusherman,” the dealer’s lullaby, comes out as the addict’s frantic hustle (think young Lou Reed up at Lexington, 1-2-5).

Singer GTO’s pusher threads—white suit and shoes, feathered black hat—and wad of bills were in poor taste, as was appropriate. Superfly (the record) is a tragedy of the ghetto, but the flick made thug life a cause célèbre. The rhetoric of righteousness didn’t suit Curtis. “If you had your choice of colors,” sang Janice Pendarvis, “which one would you choose, my brothers?” “Freddie’s Dead” went out this evening to Diallo, Yusuf Hawkins, and Michael Stewart. But who killed Freddie? “Everybody misused him, ripped him off, and abused him.” Billy “Spaceman” Patterson ominously intoned, “If There’s Hell Below, We’re All [i.e., “niggas, whiteys, Jews”] Going To Go.” That means we’re all capable of redemption, too. Hard realists incline to depression, not optimism, which is why Dan described Curtis as “a saint.” He resists being made an icon of anything except a songwriter, and yet his spirit worked a miracle, moving a big crowd of niggas, whiteys, and Jews to sing “Amen” in perfect harmony. You tell me. —David Krasnow

Foul Weather Friend

Few seemed to mind, but Lou Barlow left more than just Folk Implosion collaborator John Davis at home when he visited the Knitting Factory last Thursday. Seductively shy smiles and Storytellers-style between-song confessionals aside, Barlow nearly failed to deliver the kind of entrancing pop goods that the Folk Implosion’s latest, One Part Lullaby (Interscope), proved he can. Ironically, the numbers off Lullaby were flaccid in comparison to the older, generally more uneven tunes that he chose to showcase. The new CD’s spooky sampler sounds went silly, and the drum-machine-and-fragmentary-guitar-line mesh frayed live, with Barlow slipping notes out of time, stifling vocal swoons, and glancing nervously at the relentless electronic box to his left.

There were perhaps only a half-dozen pairings of Barlow’s gently strummed acoustic-electric guitar and canned beats, though. After 15 minutes spent reconnecting and calibrating the aforementioned drum machine and a Fender amp no larger than a box of tissues, most of the set was devoted to old, never recorded songs and various obscurities—Sebadoh and Sentridoh tunes with Will Oldham and Tammy Wynette covers. Once Barlow warmed up, accompanied only by a six-or modified 12-string guitar, the sap started to flow more freely, the sentiment tempered as usual by his mild irony, smooth melodies, and self-effacing personal stories. Rewarding for loyalists, to be sure, but a little disappointing for “Natural One” and “Free to Go” adherents. When he moved from Massachusetts to L.A. to record One Part Lullaby, Barlow’s lo-fi, rockist tendencies were apparently leavened by the warm-weather life he found there. The new album’s resultant, lipstick-and-liposuction sheen complements his inner bonfire of vanity better than any troubadour cliché. The songs may stand on their own, but why should they have to? —Nick Catucci

Cracking the Code

Last Tuesday’s Krust and Saul Williams show at the Bowery Ballroom came stacked with surprises. Fellow Bristol junglists Roni Size and DJ Die played an impromptu set in between Williams and Krust, revving up the already enraptured crowd with a sound that was all sirens and screeches—wailing, whoofing basslines marked by jumpy funk rather than dark techno horror, capped off with a medley of classics.

Stalled by a few interruptions (the audience waited through the technical difficulties that come with having too much equipment and too many people on one stage), the set was ambitious, challenging, and rough in patches. Krust, like Size, is one of the only drum-and-bass producers to push the genre from the confines of a 12-inch and an MC club setup to a full-fledged band format. Joined by his vocalist Morgan, bassist Tony Maimone, and drummer Yuval Gabay, and the best MC in the biz, Reprazent MC Dynamite, Krust combed through much of his debut album, Coded Language, also treating the crowd to two tracks from previous eras, “Maintain” and “Warhead.” Morgan, wearing a black corset over a gown with a spidery collar that Marilyn Manson would’ve killed for, was a stronger, more dynamic presence onstage: Her odd, throaty vocals moved harder and faster with the music, which itself had more breathing room—thanks in part to superdrummer Gabay of Soul Coughing.

But Williams provided the evening’s sweetest moment. Wearing a “New Yorkers for Jesse Jackson ’88” T-shirt, he spoke of black empowerment and enslavement, conveying anger, melancholy, and introspection while unwinding tales as tangled as a web. The crowd hung on his every word. It was clear from the start: He loved New York and New Yorkers loved him, and it seemed more folks had turned out to pay their respects to the hometown hero than to the headliner. —Tricia Romano