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How Ya Like Me Now
There was a lot of talk about history at Irving Plaza Friday night. But “The Revolution Is Hip Hop” seemed far from nostalgic, the music no less shiny. Here was the New York hip-hop family, none too old and amply represented. The message: cultural affirmation. The year: 1986.
KRS-One took to the stage for a surprise performance before resuming master-of-ceremony duties, veering from spoken-word to dancehall patois on anthems like “Criminal Minded” and “South Bronx,” plus a new one that exhorted listeners to “pick yourself up.” And since the night seemed as much about building a roots-conscious community as looking back, Poor Righteous Teachers’ Islamic-reggae blend was billed too. Tongue-twisting Wise Intelligent spoke of a “14-karat-gold AK-47” in a new song that mocked the false relationship between the music industry and gangsta rap. The concert hit a sentimental high during Force MDs’ performance of ’80s prom theme “Tender Love” before smartly segueing into member Jesse’s beatboxing tour de force. After all, the crowd—now packed and growing whiter—was here for hip-hop.
They got it with dang-diggy Dana Dane, whose furry black Kangol came off as more Fort Greene boho than sweatsuit retro. U.T.F.O.’s Kangol Kid and Doctor Ice’s epic “Roxanne, Roxanne” was followed by an “official Whodini rap attack.” The trio’s ability to bust both genres and poppy refrains called out their sideline placement in hip-hop textbooks. After Kool Moe Dee’s “Go See the Doctor,” the evening’s bizarre quotient was upped when a mysterious white guy got booed off the stage for his impromptu Kid Rock-on-crack performance.
Things got back on track with Doug E. Fresh, whose simultaneous beatboxing and harmonica playing provided the night’s surprise. He was joined by Slick Rick—who donned a silver-sequined eye patch with matching medallion and four-finger ring—for a much anticipated reunion of “The Show.” Then the spotlight shone on Rick for a “Children’s Story” finale, which still knocked ’em out the box. —Carla Spartos
If the patchwork known as “No Depression” has taught us anything, it’s that country music invariably sounds laughable when spoken phonetically. While faking it is the norm for post-Poco shitkicker wannabes, Laura Cantrell—as she proved on February 27 at Fez—has the real thing running through her veins. Country isn’t just a form of drag for the Tennessee native: Like her heroines (such as Bonnie Owens, the object of the steely homage “Queen of the Coast”) Cantrell exudes a quiet, sometimes rigid dignity that’s the very picture of rustic good breeding.
Most of her material lists to the left—coast, that is. Merle Haggard. Bakersfield. That ambience was accentuated by bandmates Jay Sherman-Godfrey (whose casual brilliance boosted the airy “Little Bit of You”) and Jon Graboff, whose roadhouse-neon steel guitar cast a warm glow. By emphasizing cover songs—each introduced with the wide-eyed fandom she displays on her weekly WFMU show—Cantrell can sell herself short, since she’s capable of writing such emotional sucker punches as “Churches off the Interstate.” Those cover choices, however, say plenty about her self-knowledge: For every song that gives voice to her traditional side (a plaintive rendition of Tommy Collins’s gospel lament “High on a Hilltop”), there’s an equal-and-opposite dose of modern-gal attitude (Melba Montgomery’s “Somewhere, Some Night”).
Cantrell is fortunate enough to be working with the kind of raw material most sound-scapers would die for (her keening voice, all but unaccompanied, got plenty of lips quivering on a version of A.P. Carter’s “When the Roses Bloom Again”). But it’s the way she puts it to use—and gets her hands nice and dirty doing so—that proves she’s not just whistlin’ Dixie. —David Sprague
Sic Semper Duranies
When their yacht came in 20 years ago, Duran Duran sported high-gloss hooks and an oblique lyrical bent, like a birthday or a pretty view to a kill, that scanned facile or brilliant. Last Thursday, a fortified core performed a brisk Beacon Theater set in which pure showmanship trumped nostalgia.
“You’ve got to provide some of the energy too,” singer Simon Le Bon told the Duranies. “It’s gonna be fun.” This was less wishful thinking than a sort of supreme confidence. Improbably spry and mostly in tune, Le Bon informed even the contractual obligation bits (from 2000’s Pop Trash) with something like life. All the hits hit, with the most blissful communion established on the syllabic level—viz., the bops, nos, and dos of “Planet Earth” and “Notorious” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” (or, as my notes have it, “HLTW!!”). Meanwhile, every Simoniac gesture packed maximum ham; surveying the decidedly unteenaged crowd, he pointed and proclaimed, for no apparent reason, “You—you—you,” like a pasha narrowing his harem for the night. Though guitarist Warren Cucurrullo resembled a snowboarder on the lam, keyboardist Nick Rhodes kept the New Romantic sartorial faith, in natty suit and avian coif.
Behind the disposable stands the eternal, and the show rekindled Duranic mysteries, which time and listservs have not solved: Does 1982’s “Rio”—the set’s rousing closer—depict person, place . . . or a presentiment (“Did he nearly run you down?”) of royal fan Princess Di’s demise? Upon what Masonic principles does the Union of the Snake operate? Is the famed Reflex euphemism or metaphor? You left the theater oddly thrilled, but answered with a question mark. —Ed Park