Environmental Illness

Mum said you’re known by the company you keep. Tricky hopes so, chumming around with the likes of Dave Courtney, spokesgangster, who once ran “security” for London kingpins Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Courtney’s got a best-selling tell-all and a new business as, don’t laugh, concert promoter. Using family ties—uncle Tony was in protection rackets—Tricky’s taped oral histories of Courtney and other mob geezers for Product of the Environment. (Tony, for instance, describes getting his thumb bit off in a territory dispute.) Gareth Brown’s put their stories to a funky trip-hop, heavy on the keys, setting up a disconnect between the exotic cinema sound and the chewy, monotone voices. His action-sequence rhythms make it awfully glamorous, that life—collecting debts, doing bank vans, jewelers—which most of the speakers, having done hard time, are heard swearing off.

So Tricky comes on SummerStage, and ‘e brings up this Courtney: “I’m shitting me pants up here,” but ‘e digs up a tall tale about outwitting some coppers—fucking dim lot apparently. Finally Tricky cracks the joke: “This is the original gangster rap.” Only he’s not joking. And it’s hardly rap. Keep it real, that’s a pretty vague order: Always the baddies’ lives that are real, innit, never the sad little shopkeepers’ and van drivers’. (“It’s not being a villain I find addictive,” Courtney says on Product, “it’s the lifestyle.” Product of the environment?)

Rick, a beatbox in a football shirt, almost saved the day, answering Tricky’s call for audience participation. A Queens boy is my bet, and talented, with a limited palette, but a loping, subtly improvising rhythm. And Rick had charm and personality, more than that lazy, stoned wet rag of a headliner, who performed exactly one piece and cried uncle. “Spoken word” my fat arse—that was no speaking, I call it muttering at best. “This is real life, no verses, no choruses.” It’s also real boring. We got real life in Brooklyn, Tricks. We came out for something a little more . . . artistic. —David Krasnow

Kissy-Kissy Bhangra-Bhangra

Even the machinations of coquetry are choreographed in Bollywood. Almost always there’s a tree. Behind which the fetching starlet, strapped with invisible chastity belt and an unholy zeal for black eyeliner, hides from her suitor. Our hero, some dolt stuffed into acid-washed jeans, hops from tree to tree, singing, trying to lure his poppet for pristine kissy-kissy before the sweeping dance finale. Sweetly cornball and frilled with catchy soundtracks, most Hindi movies are better viewed as gaudy spectacle, not high art. Never both at once, as attempted by Daler Mehndi, India’s “Boss of Bhangra,” at a July 1 Bollywood extravaganza at Nassau Coliseum.

Unslick and pudgy, Mehndi looks like a Rotarian, but grooves like the J-5. “Bolo Ta Ra Ra,” his 1995 smash debut, showcased his fluid reconfiguring of bhangra, a North Indian rural dance. Adapting its powerful drum structures and rippling ornamentation to disco pulses and techno and hip-hop riffs, Mehndi reincarnated bhangra as pop phenomenon.

This knack for alchemy faltered at Nassau. Mehndi did shine during “Bolo Ta Ra Ra” and “Ta Na Na Na (Mizra),” both infectious, slamming numbers and naturals as Hindi film strains. But he stumbled improvising on those rowdier anthems with classically steeped ghazals, which are melodically raw and make your heart hurt. Straddling Bollywood pageantry and old-school restraint is always precarious—if only Mehndi had quashed the seesaw routine.

Rounding out the hoopla were actress-singer-dancer Karishma Kapoor, whose earnest gyrations and tinny warbles brought to mind a frothier Jennifer Lopez, and Mika Singh, Mehndi’s littlest brother, who may have been rapping—impenetrable vocals and a near absence of beats make that a guessing game. But there’s no speculating whether unfocused talent is a familial affliction, because Daler Mehndi, despite fickle leanings, is a staggeringly gifted musician. —Nita J. Rao

Rod Stewardess

A Chicago teenager in the mid ’60s casting molds of rock stars’ dicks while her mother shredded Life magazine for its ostensible obscenity, Cynthia Plaster Caster is a groupie in the same league as the tireless Pamela Des Barres; her 35 “life casts” at Thread Waxing Space span three decades of work. Here the determined shape—captured in March—of Danny Doll Rod, guitarist for the garage-trash band Demolition Doll Rods, is neighbor to the 32-year-old plaster phallus of Jimi Hendrix, whose “noble rig,” as Cynthia calls it, dates from 1968.

The casts of both hard and fairly flaccid penises (poor Wayne Kramer) sit propped eight or nine to each dome-topped case. But it gets boring fast to compare sizes and qualities of erection, and the celebrity quotient is pretty low: lots of cartoonists and jugglers and record producers and radio DJs. Do I really care about seeing the plaster genitals of the Who’s road manager?

One case contains a battered, beribboned suitcase announcing “The Plaster Casters of Chicago” and two diary entries detailing, in Cynthia’s neat girlish capitals, her impressively scientific methodology (“lubricate the rig with Vaseline for protection”), which give the ex-hibit a much needed texture. At the opening reception, the small, airless, second-floor space was jam-packed with people trying to look interested but coming up short. The show leaves a vaguely bad aftertaste; Jimi’s “biggest rig” and “all-important rig,” for example—it wouldn’t get soft? (Jimi “balled the impression after it had set in,” despite the unfortunate “random embedded hairs.”) Cynthia Plaster Caster’s product is less interesting than her person. After all, she’s still having fun. —Hillary Chute