Jesus Saves

I was at Radio City for Q-Tip, who didn’t show. R&B Jesus I was just checking out. D’Angelo isn’t a songwriter, not really; the Marvin comparisons are the exaggerations of r&b faithful yearning to be led out of the wilderness, and the ridiculously long-aborning Voodoo is self-indulgent and riddled with blank spots. This boded poorly for his stage ethos. Well, I joshed, at least he’ll take off his shirt.

D’Angelo did take off his shirt, but I doubt even the girls who went crazy truly needed it on top of two-and-a-half unfailingly generous hours. Blank spots were nonexistent—songs averaged well over 10 minutes, and when they ended the audience had a harder time catching its breath than a band that included superbassist Pino Palladino, Roots drummer ?uestlove, three backup singers with their own lives, and appropriately breathtaking brass: trumpet luminaries Roy Hargrove and Russell Gunn, widely traveled trombonist Frank Lacy, and a sax man from Martinique who spieled in French and looked like Chris of ‘N Sync.

I name these sidepeople because the best funk band in the universe deserves some props. On Voodoo, “Devil’s Pie” is a touch hokey; with Palladino vibrating the chandeliers, it instantly established that this was going to be some night. Slow ones started warm and turned torrid; “Chicken Grease” and “Spanish Joint” and “Shit Damn Motherf*cker” were seismic from jump street. D’Angelo sang and danced and preached and flexed and crooned and humped the floor and covered Roberta Flack and snapped a mike stand in two and danced and sang and sang some more. Everything meshed; all stops were pulled out. It was already the greatest concert I’d seen in years when Redman and Method Man propelled the climactic “Left and Right” through the vaulted ceiling. I flashed on P-Funk’s “Sadie,” Apollo 1981. What a privilege to experience such a thing again.

I saw Marvin Gaye at this venue shortly before he was murdered, and it was no contest. Gaye was fine, but self-indulgent and riddled with blank spots. Totally committed, D’Angelo betrayed neither weakness nor ego—and gave so much Thursday that Friday he canceled with a sore throat. He was r&b Jesus, and I’m a believer. Travel to another city to see him now.

Robert Christgau

Freedom Act

There were only a few green hats among the leather-and-tattoo crowd of mixed ages and sexual preferences who filled the Roxy for Joan Jett’s performance last Friday. The evening was neither a continuation of the St. Patrick’s parade, nor a counterdemonstration against the public homophobia of that event by an outsider queen. Maybe it just rained all day, and maybe it didn’t matter. Sporting a handsome shaved head and a dark-green latex grandfather T, Jett looked as happy to be there as any of us. Tough, strong, resilient, and generous, she was ready to kick back and get us off.

No wonder: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ 1982 debut, I Love Rock n’ Roll, was rejected by 23 companies before it entered the charts at number one and stayed there for eight weeks. Her fans vindicated her, and her ascendance as the first girl leader of a hard rock band was the result. And her power has everything to do with being female. Her trademark songs—”Bad Reputation,” “Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah!),” and “Cherry Bomb” stood out on Friday night—protest the stranglehold of people’s expectations, begging instead only for a chance to be. A Jett show expresses the exuberance of having won certain people over who feel just as marginalized, and that’s where the generosity comes in. In “Little Liar,” from the excellent 1997 best-of Fit to Be Tied, Joan sends an underage groupie home to grow up, unheard-of in a genre that routinely practices and preaches sex with minors.

Jett’s too vital to be misread as an oldies act. Although she’s been known for the same songs for over a decade, these pleas for acceptance and self-respect celebrate difference and defiance in terms that still need to be heard. It’s like all those guys who say they’re willing to do housework but only wash the dishes: Everything has changed, and not much has changed at the same time. Jett’s spiritual sisters are riot grrrls who made the fringe strong enough to support them. Truthfully, she’s not that far from the fringe herself; ever since “Starfucker” pulled her out of the chain stores, profanity and explicit sexual references have been basic to her freedom act. That would include last year’s rather strident defense of rough sex, “Fetish,” which Kathleen Hanna helped her with, in which she cleaned up the “triple-X” version all the way to a “no F-word mix.” Hmm. Good luck, dear, and don’t forget your galoshes. —Georgia Christgau

Heavy Mettle

Japan’s High Rise get called “heavy” for their sheer sonic extremity—some of their records have distorted drums. In truth, though, they teeter on the border between pre-heavy, like the most manic garage-and surf-rock bands, and early-heavy, like Blue Cheer. The power trio’s signature style is a high-wire act, with severe psych soloing from guitarist Munehiro Narita precariously balancing on the rhythmic flurries of bassist Asahito Nanjo and whichever temp drummer’s sitting in. Heaviness implies being earthbound; when High Rise stretch out on their individual instrumental tangents, the sensation’s akin to ear- and vein-popping supersonic flight.

But, unlike last year’s blowout at Mercury Lounge, last Tuesday’s show at Tonic never left the tarmac. Narita did not disappoint, with withering white-outs of wah and fuzz flying off his fingers as naturally as the big beat once boomed from Bonham’s kit. Even on borrowed gear, his command of innumerable sound and tone colors was astonishing; by show’s end his effects pedals lay strewn around his amp like so many picked-over bones. Nanjo played lusciously overdriven bass, black-clad and impassive behind sunglasses, at times uttering barely audible vocals. (Since he and fellow countrymen Haino and Guitar Wolf all essay forms of onstage mayhem while dressed in black and wearing shades, shouldn’t someone call Faith Popcorn?) The problem lay with drummer Koji Shimura, veteran of White Heaven and the High Rise spinoff Mainliner but no match for the free-jazz madness played by Shoji Hano last tour. For nigh on 20 years, the fortyish Narita and Nanjo haven’t lost a step, so it was a shame that the newcomer let things slip. Still, many in the 30-and-up crowd (the combined record collection of whom would no doubt reach the steeple of the Empire State) were ecstatic. The looks on some faces made one recall the time George Foreman retook the heavyweight crown and delighted middle-aged sportswriters everywhere. Kid, sometimes grandpa’s gotta grab the wheel. —Jon Fine

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