She was introduced as “the priestess and the queen,” but at Wetlands last Thursday, former Slits front woman Ari Up looked more like a Rastafarian Judy Jetson, in a silver iridescent dress with matching knee-high boots. Her dreads reached below her waist, as if she hadn’t cut them since she left for Jamaica after the breakup of the Slits in the ’80s. Behind her was a four-piece dub reggae band, I-Threes-style backup singers, three rappers, and one Jamaican toaster. At her side was her child, holding a stuffed unicorn and wearing pants that matched Mommy’s dress; he seemed at ease, dancing and singing along until he noticed that Mommy was trying to get him to sing into the microphone.
With nary an appearance between the New Age Steppers and a shout-out on the Le Tigre record, Up is the missing chapter in the punk rock “Where are they now?” But she was still wiry, wild, and wide-eyed as ever, with her off-center hiccups and wails that fed the screams of Throwing Muses, Björk, and dozens of atypical girls in between. Her primary concern at Wetlands was tempo. “If it’s the wrong speed, just say,” she instructed the crowd in her hard-to-place accent—part German (by birth), part Jamaican patois, but mostly Martian. “Nobody out-scluded, everybody included.” The only Slits song that Up performed was “Newtown,” but the closest to their classic version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was a song that she introduced with “There’s a man that I love, who I know I can’t have, ’cause he’s with her, and I can’t share.” As Up sweetly harmonized with her girls, it was clear that she’s as devoted to “Love Und Romance” as “Shoplifting,” and you could hear it through the bassline. —Sara Sherr
Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
While New York’s finest were ignoring the mob that attacked scores of women after the Puerto Rican Day Parade, dozens of officers elsewhere in Central Park were protecting the public from drumming. Continuing a crackdown on “noise” and “public gatherings,” NYPD and the Parks’ own Enforcement Patrol arrested two members of the Bethesda Fountain drummers’ circle at about 6:30 p.m. that day for inciting a riot, alleging that one took a swing at an officer.
An amateur videotape reveals an angry police response after participants and confused spectators demanded to know why they were ordered to disperse. “I was asking them, ‘Why are you asking us to stop? This is a public park,”‘ says Papa Hanne of Harlem. The videotape shows Hanne being tackled by six or seven officers; he and the other drummer, a tourist from France, were held overnight (after which the charges were reduced to disorderly conduct). Hanne says that neither man tried to hit anyone. As many as 75 officers are visible on the tape, including at least eight on horseback.
Parks officials began issuing summonses to the drummers in May, after driving them from the fountain, where they had met for four years, to the benches near the bandshell, and limiting them to two hours of drumming per weekend. “Drumming is a very loud activity. It’s intrusive on those who don’t want to hear it,” says Bob Lawson, spokesman for park administrator Douglas Blonskey. Last Saturday at 6 p.m., a crowd of around 100 people gathered in front of the bandshell with drums, shakeres, a bell, whistles, pipes, and a vibelike “balaphone” from the Ivory Coast.
Outside the drummer’s time slot, “The cops told us we can clap and use the shakeres, but we can only hit the sides of the drums,” says Ricardo Ricketts, a longtime participant. The NYCLU’s Norman Siegel, who has been negotiating with Blonskey on behalf of the drummers and David Ippolito, That Guitar Man on Hernshead Hill, hopes to win more time for both. “After all,” he asks, “who’s the park for?” —Josh Goldfein
The ’50s were the era of the straight man (and woman). What would Lewis have been without Martin, Ralph without Alice, Khrushchev without Nixon? Or, for that matter, Louis Prima without Keely Smith? Keely of the infinitesimally raised eyebrow, Keely of the scalpel gaze, Keely of the body by Frederick’s and the voice by Whispering Glades? Without her, he was just a big, sweaty maniac from an earlier time, too hot for an age of cool and restraint. She added the chill, the class. Her lush, sepulchral solo albums—slow standards and more slow standards and no clowning—kept up the pose.
In 1961, splitsville. Louis did his thing, she did hers: a few more fairly successful albums in the same vein and then fade away. Now, on the heels of Louis Prima: The Wildest—this year’s punchiest documentary—she’s back. New tour, new contract, new management. Even a new album, Swing, Swing, Swing, which finds her in fine voice but most uncharacteristically swaggering through a blasting, stomping set of slightly synthetic jump and swing; in other words, trying to be Keely and Louis (he died in 1978). And so the big question before Wednesday’s show at Irving Plaza—probably her first New York gig since the Copacabana closed in the ’60s—was, Which Keely’s it gonna be? The Ice Queen of Vegas or the Girl With Two Brains?
Looking great and fronting a gargantuan, brass-heavy 19-piece band, the bulk of whom she’d met that very day—she did a cute bit of shtick by introducing the soloists as, e.g., “Trombone player!”—she plowed through a set of Louis and Keely jumpers (just two of her solo ballad hits), pausing only to show a few old film clips and tell her whole life story and that of every one of her relatives, most of whom were onstage or in the audience. Keely Smith: the gal with the biggest heart in Vegas. Weird. Still, it’s nice to have her back. —David Wondrich