“I met this girl on Monday/Took her for a drink on Tuesday/We were making love by Wednesday,” croons the saucy U.K. soulman Craig David on his hit “7 Days.” But his seduction of the audience at Irving Plaza wasn’t nearly so swift or successful. Platinum in several countries, David isn’t yet a presence on the U.S. pop radar, despite a marketing assault on mainstream media. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old delivered a performance worthy of an arena tour on July 17, hoping that polish and professionalism would be antidotes to anonymity.
Lucky for him, David boasts beguiling charm, clean-cut good looks, a supple voice, and stylistic credibility. But even though he piggybacked on England’s 2step scene to land in the spotlight, David’s debut album, Born to Do It, and live show bear little trace of the breakbeat contagion. After the twists and sass are filtered out, what’s left is homogenized soul—pretty, but fluffy.
Onstage, it’s factory time. David carries the confidence of having seduced tens of thousands of fans at once, but in this relatively small venue, he never once achieves intimacy. He can barely look one of his fans in the eye, not even the girl who scampers onto the stage and reaches for him in a Heisman pose as she’s being dragged off by security. The muscular “Can’t Be Messing ‘Round,” David’s best crossover hope, is fuzzy and without kick. His bizarro hip-hop posturing—overusing the word representing, covering R. Kelly’s “Fiesta,” and rapping Das EFX-style, “Who would’ve thought that one day I’d be on the phone with Puffy?”—doesn’t resonate on this side of the Atlantic. Only on “Walking Away,” when his five-piece band shushes to a whisper, do his confident vocals enthrall. Hitting that note and quitting it just as quick might work when there’s too many fans to count, but it fails to make an impression when a proper introduction hasn’t been made. —Jon Caramanica
The Matter://Form boat parties are a masterstroke of genius—revelers dance under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty as DJs like Richie Hawtin and last Sunday’s guest, Photek, offer a getaway from Giuliani’s foot soldiers aboard the quaint Paddlewheel Queen.
Photek, a/k/a Rupert Parkes, the drum’n’bass-turned-tech-house minimalist, gave a typically exacting performance that highlighted a personal transformation. The Brit, who recently married and moved to L.A., took the decks with a grungier, gnarlier relick from the record that marked his entry into house music: “Mine to Give” kicked house in the ass while breathing new life into Parkes’s own career. While it may not have been the first time a bassline boosted a track—stretching out beneath the drums like putty—it has created a domino effect: Opening jock Francis Harris played several tunes that gave a rubbery nod to Parkes.
Parkes’s transition from drum’n’bass to tech house was smooth, since artists of both genres are suckers for meticulous sound design. In d’n’b, he carved beat syncopations so precise they were the aural equivalent of ice sculptures. And tech house differs from “regular” house because of its attention to minutiae—making for a more psychedelic feel than the usual bang-the-party hit. Midway through, Parkes unleashed a demonic tune by Peace Division called “Feel My Drums.” Heavy on the reverb, a sluggish vocal intoned the title, and as the record crescendoed, the crowd whooped and hollered just as the cops (!!) pulled their own boat alongside the Paddlewheel Queen. It was a positively surreal moment, and while the police didn’t crash the party, there was a moment when everyone wondered, Is nothing sacred? —Tricia Romano
Fly the Friendless Skies
All available evidence suggests that Joe Pernice spends an awful lot of time thinking about death. It didn’t take more than a microphone malfunction at the Bowery Ballroom last Saturday to prompt a reminiscence about a harrowing transatlantic flight plagued by electrical problems (“Air Valium!”). Two songs later, Pernice was back in the perilous skies with “Flaming Wreck,” dramatic swirling guitars simulating a downward spiral as he stepped back to assess the drama: “Never knew it would be the perfect last word I spoke as the cabin filled with smoke.” (I eagerly await the Black Box Recorder cover.) The new Pernice Brothers album, the prettiest meditation on mortality since, oh, The Thin Red Line, is sneakily titled The World Won’t End. Kind assurance? Bitter lament? Deliberate reference to import-only Smiths best-of? Pernice recognizes the solipsistic absurdities of professional miserabilism. He understands, for instance, that it’s funny to get a roomful of people to nod along contentedly to the line “I hate my life.” And funnier still to emblazon those words on T-shirts for the merchandise stand.
The new record (their first on Joe’s own label, Ashmont, following a split with Sub Pop, his home since Scud Mountain Boys days) reprises the succulent melancholia of 1999’s Overcome by Happiness (probably didn’t mean that either), but with more bounce and humor. “Working Girls” saves its most concretely devastating image—”contemplating suicide or a graduate degree”—for a soaring bridge. “Bryte Side” justifies the Drakean spelling with an excoriating romantic pessimism. A lovely number about knowing when to quit is called “The Ballad of Bjorn Borg.” On stage, the Pernices shed the late-summer orchestral shimmer of their studio sound for a latticework of interlocking guitars. The set reached its apex with a song named for the saddest time of day, “7:30” (doesn’t specify a.m. or p.m., maybe both), its narrative of grueling routine and aloneness set to a chorus of skyscraping ba-ba-bas. For maximum contrast, they followed it with the consternated twang of the Scuds’ timeless bummer, “Grudge Fuck”—taking their leave, true to form, with a crashing descent to earth. —Dennis Lim
If You’re Feeling Minister
Any writer would get migraines trying to spin a yarn to match the real-life story of singer Howard Tate. It started with r&b hits on Verve with producer-songwriter Jerry Ragovoy in the ’60s, followed by mob ties, Tate’s virtual disappearance around 1980, personal tragedies, religious conversion, and his sudden emergence this year after Jersey DJ Phil Casden pleaded with listeners to find him. Garnering a rep among stars (with covers by B.B., Jimi, and Janis) and soul devotees, Tate’s voice stretched words to their breaking point, and sure enough, a packed house howled almost as loudly as Tate for his first appearance here in decades at the Village Underground on Saturday. Ragovoy himself took a bow, later hugging his prodigy. With the Uptown Horns providing agile backing, Tate was now minus his pompadour, sporting a white suit and thick glasses. As befits a minister, his piercing wail sounded like a sermon’s climax, complete with finger-pointing admonitions and hankie wipes of his sweaty brow.
His conviction was evident as he ran through his Verve material. “Every Day I Have the Blues” (“Nobody loves me/Nobody seems to care”) seemed all the more authentic knowing he wandered the streets in his lost years. He tore into words like love (“lah-ah-oh-ah-ve”) in his signature tune, “Get It While You Can,” and meanest (“meeeeee-neh-est”) in “How Come My Bulldog Don’t Bark.” Though he still commanded the varied hues of his vocal range, hitting high notes without straining, there were fewer vocal gymnastics than on his old recordings; here, he created peaks and valleys instead of constant highs.
At the end, he walked through the crowd pressing flesh as most of us surely thought, “We love you, Howard. We missed you and it’s good to see you back.” Hopefully, enough momentum from a European tour and a new Ragovoy-produced album should keep him from vanishing for another 20 years. —Jason Gross
Creatures of the Flesh
The booms and big cameras were up on Stanton Street recently, and the scene looked just like another Hollywood blockbuster in progress.
“Is this the new Pacino movie?” a curious Voice reporter asks a well-tattooed sound hand.
“Are you a fucking idiot?” he says. “This is the RZA video.”
The RZA! Production mastermind and chief abbott of the Wu-Tang Clan? Yes, there he is, over there, in front of the El Sombrero restaurant. Or is it his mysterious alter ego, Bobby Digital, whom he describes as “a self-indulgent creature of the flesh who loves to womanize, party, spend money, and wear the latest fashions”? Who cares—the cameras are rolling.
The next take is short, but a real thriller. The effects team rigs a hose, piping water down the curb like a sewer main gone bust. Bobby stands on the sidewalk, wearing Allan Houston’s jersey, periwinkle wallabies on his feet. His fists are coated in diamonds. Then he bends down, and, in a moment of epiphany, plunges his hands into the fake little river, retrieving a special bottle the size of a 22-ounce Budweiser. He holds it up to the sun. The label reads “Diablo.”
The video is for “The Rhumba,” an organ-based track that’s set to a lazy, syncopated salsa beat—and supported by a flirty female chorus that just begs Bobby to do “a little rhumba dance.” Method Man guests on the song, and the new album, Digital Bullet, is set for release August 28. (The record also features Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who was sentenced last week to two to four years for possession of crack cocaine and is convinced there is a conspiracy to kill him in prison. “It’s bugged out,” RZA says about the situation, “serious as a heart attack.”)
Bobby says the pop canción is his long-awaited tribute to “all the Spanish mamis” and “Butter-Pecan Ricans”: Latina women who, in the hotter months of the year, dress in minimal attire and walk with an aggressive—potentially dangerous—sway of the hips. “They be lookin’ so good in the summertime,” he explains, “I wanted to dedicate a song to them, you know? ‘Cause I appreciate their beauty.”
But Bobby is careful not to offend. “Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “We still love our Chocolate Deluxe, Caramel Sundae, French Vanilla—but we love our Butter-Pecan Ricans too.” —Geoffrey Gray