Not unlike the pubescents who throng Times Square every afternoon, the horde at Hammerstein Ballroom last Thursday assembled to watch MTV in person. A huge screen above the stage flashed hyperactive cityscapes, psychedelic abstractions, and plentiful clips of main attraction Gorillaz in their off-hours: playing video games, practicing martial arts, posing in their camouflage jeep. The ragtag bunch—voluble Satanist bassist Murdoc, punch-drunk singer 2D, portly drummer/rapper Russel, and diminutive ax goddess Noodle—are animated, and as such, require interpretive vessels to convey them into the third dimension. Beneath the stars, a live band re-created their loping trip-pop, cast into anonymous silhouette by a translucent scrim and illuminated by a kaleidoscopic light show; the lead ventriloquist, cartoonishly beautiful Damon Albarn, could sometimes be discerned wagging his head or waving an arm. My comrade remarked, “This experience would be significantly enhanced by some pot.”
Bleary-eyed and a bit meandering, Gorillaz is indeed a pot record, tossing Dan the Automator’s baked beats in a stew with the noirish fuzz-and-melodica of Blur’s “Theme from Retro,” lightly garnished with leafy paranoia. The live band, whoever they were, added heft and momentum to big hit “Clint Eastwood” (friend to simians ever since bonding with an orangutan in redneck-fistfight classic Every Which Way But Loose) and the jagged riffing of “M1A1,” as shambolically catchy in its way as “Song 2” (la-la-hey is the new woo-hoo?). But the multimedia presentation seemed better fitted either to a small gallery space or a cavernous arena. (Flashback: summer ’92, Yankee Stadium, 30 clams to watch Bono on a Sony Übertron.) Notwithstanding D-12’s non sequitur appearance, the ‘rillaz fulfilled their encore duties literally, airing reruns of “Clint” and “5/4.” The lights tripped fantastic, and brightest of all was the blue glow of eternal return. —Jessica Winter
Whole Earth Catalog
One of the ironies of New York’s club scene is that, although our streets are a demographic mosaic, you might have to leave town to find the sonic reflection of this diversity. Hit the dancefloor and it’s formula city: house, maybe some techno, a little drum’n’bass, with little overlap. West London (or Paris, or Berlin, or Vienna) it ain’t. On February 26 at Baktun, Jazzanova’s Alexander Barck—the DJ faction of the six-man Berlin collective—tapped into New York’s deep well of ambition, running the gamut of dance-music styles for four solid hours. Like a kindergartener playing with a school globe, he hopped from East End drum’n’bass and Top 40 r&b to Brooklyn hip-hop, German broken-beat, and Afro-rhythm house, all the while smoothly shifting tempos. Nearly absent from Barck’s set, however, was the light staccato soul typical of the group’s recorded output—though not a soul in the sweltering shoe-boîte appeared bothered.
The night’s unexpected twists garnered the heartiest response from the twentysomething crowd: a jelly-wiggling remix of Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious,” a banging, bottom-heavy tribal-house track in the thick of the mix, or a left-field cut by a Plaid side project and Newcleus’s “Jam on It” at 3 a.m. Barck eschewed the Sephoric blandness Jazzanova has come to symbolize, and instead espoused the utopian face of the globalization our leaders are constantly exploiting.
The set linked eras and continents: Its pan-ethnic bloodlines could have begun in West Africa, Cuba, or Brasil, while the ubiquitous jazz-phrase loops were distinctly American. (One missing element was the electro-fied Berlin sound sweeping across our town at parties like Berliniamsburg.) We are united, Barck seemed to say through his turntables, not by a common enemy, but by rhythmic swing and 808 hand-claps. —Eric Demby
Love is important, but can it hold a candle to food? Thursday at the Kaye Playhouse, tenor Hal Cazalet beseeched soprano Christianne Tisdale, “Think how sad an egg would feel/If ham should disappear.” (She raised her eyebrows, but came around by the time he sang of steak’s grief at finding itself sans onion.) The lyrics were courtesy of Cazalet’s great-grandfather, P.G. (Plum) Wodehouse, better known for his peerless comic prose than his pioneering work in musical theater, despite a fruitful collaboration with Jerome Kern; in 1917, Wodehouse and librettist Guy Bolton had five shows running concurrently on Broadway.
Joining Cazalet and Tisdale for “P.G.’s Other Profession” (part of the New York Festival of Song season) were soprano Sylvia McNair and baritone David Costabile. In tails and gowns, they went about the laudable task of burnishing Plum’s lyrical legacy, with 23 songs ranging from pleasant sentiment (“The Enchanted Train”) to more frenetic fare (the tuneful anarchy of “Nonstop Dancing”). Tisdale and Costabile shone, respectively, in the solo hysterical-historicals “Cleopatterer” and “Napoleon” (who “weighed a hundred in his BVD’s”). Joint ventures such as “Sir Galahad,” a paean to chivalry, were wonders of four-way comic timing and articulation. (Only Wodehouse could imagine a knight throwing down the gauntlet with “I will smite thee one upon the beezer.”) “The Land Where the Good Songs Go” took wistfulness to the brink of melancholy—a meta-song that effectively situated the evening’s music in a distant Eden. But the history of this Plum number cracks the hermeticism with a smile: It surfaced in Miss 1917, an ill-fated revue featuring not only a trained seal (prophetically named Bertie) but also, at rehearsal, a young pianist by the name of George Gershwin. —Ed Park
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