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Who’s Your Daddy?
“Pimp of the century,” one admirer whistled as Ike Turner made a star’s entrance at Village Underground on May 22. His eight-piece band was already playing a blues shuffle, splendidly attired: matching 10-button ivory tunics and black homburgs. A few months short of 70, Turner wore a flashy band-collar shirt monogrammed “IKE,” in case anyone was unsure. His flattop fade looked to have been razored moments earlier.
Turner’s renown as an O.G.—the kind of blues singer who could restore menace to a familiar 12-bar threat like “Honey Hush”—wasn’t diminished by his opening prayer that “I do you a good show.” Whether it was his “Proud Mary” pledge to behave “nice and rough” or his snickering cocaine endorsement “Right On,” his records sold a tempered image of ghetto authenticity, in contrast to ’70s soul bourgeoisification. To some, the charge that he abused Tina only affirms his pimp credentials.
Now that just about everyone with a mic wants to be a player, Ike has returned to his roots. His new Here and Now CD offers tight blues shuffles, but no actual songs. His show was a mirror image of the record: mid-quality houserocking blues except for the moments when he soloed thrillingly, either on needle-nosed guitar or “piano” (an electric keyboard with samples, really), and his expression moved from tentative to proud.
Midway, the show shifted from juke joint to Atlantic City, as Ike brought out a protégé, Audrey Madison, whose resemblance to his ex-wife would dazzle the folks at Madame Tussaud’s; her blond wig and burgundy jumpsuit may have come straight from Tina’s mid-’70s closet. Sequence: a credible “River Deep, Mountain High,” an inexplicable cover of Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m the Only One,” and the honey-drippin’ bigenerational duet “Country Girl, City Man,” full of Ike’s buzzard lechery. Lastly, “Proud Mary”—nice and rough, of course. —Rob Tannenbaum
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
How better to celebrate your 50th birthday than a sold-out, four-hour party at the Hammerstein Ballroom with 3000-plus fans and friends, put together by your mom and your brother? Chances are Joey Ramone would have loved the May 19 celebration (planned before his death last month), featuring a DJ set of glam and Brit Invasion songs, a mosh pit, crowd-surfing, and spontaneous sing-alongs to Ramones videos (projected on a stage screen). The taped testimonials (from Metallica, the Dictators, Paul Westerberg, Chris Isaak, Anthrax, Green Day, Joan Jett) and live toasts (MC Steven Van Zandt, Lenny Kaye, Richard Hell, Hilly Kristal, Legs McNeil) spoke of a music nut and a sweet guy who helped start a revolution. (Sadly, Johnny and Dee Dee declined to attend, though other guests flew in on their own dime.)
Even more than the sets from locals like the Independents, Stop (headed by JR’s brother Mickey Leigh), and Bellevue, or raucous performances from old friends like Cheap Trick, Blondie, and the Damned, it was the low-key gestures and fan participation that made for the most moving moments. In between the bands, the audience erupted into chants of “HEY! HO! LET’S GO!” and did a mass karaoke to “I Wanna Be Sedated.” A seated Mickey did a few quieter Ramones numbers (“Questioningly,” “Danny Says”) and vowed to carry on Joey’s birthday shows. Van Zandt held up a flag that was raised at half-mast to honor Joey in D.C. and read a tribute from Queens congressman Gary Ackerman. As a big thank-you to everyone, Mickey and friends passed out “birthday cake” (a/k/a Hostess snacks), which the crowd used for a good old food fight (I got winged by a Wing-Ding). Again, Joey would have loved it all. —Jason Gross
What kind of mad scientist cooked up the Kropotkins? It was a neurobiologist up at Columbia who goes by David Soldier. A conceptualist composer, Soldier is no stranger to the blues. The Soldier String Quartet used to do microtonal arrangements of Muddy Waters songs that were both decorous and ass-kicking. Taking the stage at Joe’s Pub on Thursday, Kropotkins left decorous in the dust.
Nothing with drummer Moe Tucker, the thundergoddess behind the Velvet Underground, could be described as decorous. Her opening set of angry songs about working-class America (take that, Lou) rocks way too hard for the pretties at Joe’s. In Kropotkins, Jonathan Kane joins her in an overdriven second line. Violinist Charles Burnham is a funky improviser who plays with Susie Ibarra. Soldier’s banjo suggests that the high lonesome sound is an overtone series generated by the open strings of the Delta bottom. Kropotkins find common ground between the non-Western tunings and African beats of the old blues and the barbaric harmonies of early minimalism. Not for nothing is their new album entitled Five Points Crawl, after the notorious downtown ghetto of the last century. Soldier’s is a blues of gentrification.
With all this formal innovation, it takes a while to realize that Kropotkins songs are real songs, originals by band members and poet James Tucker. And for a song you need what? A singer, that’s right. A Memphis cohort of Alex Chilton, Lorette Velvette has been through enough traditions (rockabilly, punk, deep blues) for a lifetime. (Her three albums are anthologized on Rude Angel.) Velvette is pregnant and has checked her former trash-glam look; she might be a bit embarrassed to be singing umpteen numbers about screwing. Where Lucinda Williams’s voice wins the listener in the strain—the barely hit notes, the uncertainty whether her breath will give out—Velvette wows with an iron determination to get through at all costs. Reality TV? This is reality music, man, and we need more of it. —David Krasnow