De Stijl Our Hearts
The sun-soaked crowd—media hipsters, hooky-players, Berliniamsburghers, viral-market targets, secretaries who loved Secretary—were makin’ the scene with their coffee and cream last Tuesday noon in Union Square to hear the White Stripes bash the workday in half. That the surprise goodwill gig was actually a publicity stunt for Nissan didn’t dim the thrum and bliss—starting from the moment a carousel intro gave way to Jack White’s amp feeding back squealy adulation.
Exes, siblings, or just your most coveted three-way fantasy since Thurston and Kim, sudden sweethearts of the “rock’s back” rodeo, Meg and Jack White laid hard into “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” genderbent Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” and cherry-picked from their own back catalog. The crowd dug “Apple Blossom” and “Sugar Never Tasted So Good,” but really went berserk for faves like “Hotel Yorba” and “You’re Pretty Good Lookin’ (For a Girl).” Like an English bluesman on a Dee-troit graveyard shift, Jack howled his Zoso-lovin’ heart out, cranking into overdrive as Meg rode her cymbals with caffeinated commitment. And despite Port Authority heavies blustering about permits, as it was all going down you really had to wonder why bands don’t do this all the time.
At the height of the teasing penultimate Delta medley—one country-blues riff stringing together bits of songs by the likes of the Premiers and Flamin’ Groovies—when the Stripes were just about to explode into “Fell in Love With a Girl,” antsy authorities pulled the plug. But it was all good. Jack screamed a pissy “Boll Weevil” sans twang, and folks droned back to desk-land. Best image: Meg’s bare feet padding down the aluminum steps, onto offstage Astroturf, her long pigtails swinging as she turned to smile, glance Jackward, and disappear into the coolness of her clamorous ride. —Laura Sinagra
Somebody Say Gumbo?
Jazz and Juilliard have been curse words in each other’s vocabularies since Miles Davis dropped out—and slammed the place in his autobiography: “At Juilliard, I’d sleepwalk through them sorry-ass classes, bored to tears.” So when trombonist Wycliffe Gordon recently assumed joint control of the brand-new Juilliard Institute for Jazz Studies, he inherited years of political tension—and in what may be an aesthetic consequence of the strain, led the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra through a program of cautious, benign swing during last Wednesday’s polite season opener.
The group paid “tasteful” tribute to Ellington’s post-Strayhorn songbook, reducing Bubber Miley’s growling trumpet solos to safely swinging exercises that fell off the bandstand before they hit the middle row. Most soloists seemed more interested in looking for Gordon’s approval out of the corners of their eyes than telling powerful narratives through the bells of their horns. Even on “Braziliance,” an Ellington tune purchased from the Smithsonian Institute expressly for this performance (read: $$$), the group translated Duke’s rhythms so properly and soberly that Duke himself would have tipped his hat and found an exit.
The second set redeemed the first, however, turning rote swing into gripping ballads that filled the room with stinging chords, honeyed harmonies, and something Ken Burns left off his list of essential jazz aesthetics: abrasive, real-time aggression. Ryan Redden must have found God (or a Powerbar) during intermission, because he returned for the second set, aimed his saxophone high and his ambitions higher, and belted chorus after chorus of furious prayer to John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Ornette Coleman. Redden raged against the evening’s formula with nerve and sinus-clearing urgency. Only gusto like his could propel Juilliard jazz beyond post-cocktail-party nostalgia. —Daniel King
Pretty Road Cases
While Steve Earle, Springsteen, Toby Keith, et al., wrestle with limits on aesthetic freedom in wartime, the Drive-By Truckers‘ never-ending tour roared into the Bowery Ballroom in late September, representing for the Southern Thang and shoutin’ the U.S. Blues. Lit by blue and red stars a week to the day beyond 9-11 memorials, the ‘Bammy-bred Truckers’ own volatile worldview was reflected in the stark iconography of their stage backdrop (by Wes Freed of the Shiners)—barren, foggy swamp, yellow devil moon, a hoot owl of mysterious portent, and a flying car driven by a skeleton raising his glass to eternal debauchery. Three guitars and a stone-funky rhythm section strong, the quintet tossed back their beers, whiskey, and wine, continuing their collective struggle with Southern heritage in anthems like “Ronnie and Neil,” “Dead, Drunk, and Naked,” and “Let There Be Rock”. The “New York critics and redneckers” who Trucker MC Patterson Hood sings of in “Life in the Factory” were out in force, drunkenly two-stepping and throwing devil horns along with Friends-type neophytes, prime-convert bikers in Skynyrd tees, and some beatific fans from Holland, jet-setting to worship their prophets whose wheels keep a-rolling blessed by “The Living Bubba” and “Steve McQueen.”
Sho’ nuff, Hood, guitarist-singer Jason Isbell, and bassist Earl Hicks actually knelt before the band’s prime Badass-With-Mystique Mike Cooley as Cooley’s black Flying V spurred everyone on to a metallic high. Drive-By Truckers, New South kids born at the height of the civil rights movement, don’t know the shadowlands many of us retreat to when the going gets rough; they remain on the “mean ole highway.” And to them, as Cooley exhorted on “Shut Up and Get on the Plane”: “Living in fear is just a way of dying before your time.” Band pals Slobberbone opened, covering Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” recalling the dawn of bio- and eco-terrorism on these shores with sloppy force. War, what is it good for? The Southern Rock Opera and Medicine Show comes to town, lays a cure on your uptight ass, and blasts them guitars to announce the real “Return of Rock.” —Kandia Crazy-Horse
All They Need Is 13 Mics
Prefab, compartmentalized, and edited to within a whisker of DJ Clue’s beard, sure, but an MTV party never lacks for surprise. At last Wednesday’s “$2 Bill” concert at the World, the official performers numbered four: Pusha T and Malice of the Clipse, Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D., and opener Fabolous. By night’s end, though, a baker’s dozen had grabbed the mic, at a 15-cents-per-cameo clip.
For the late-teens in attendance, Clipse and Fabolous are a dream pairing. Cuddle-thugs younger than hip-hop itself, they know all the hardcore poses from a lifetime of immersion. And with top-shelf producers, they pass for the real. Of the three MCs, Fabolous is most compelling, with uncanny rhyme timing and an intuitive sneer. Not surprisingly, his breakout came on an r&b song, Lil’ Mo’s “Superwoman.” For this clinical set, Mo came out to support Fab, as did Nate Dogg, on “Can’t Deny It,” and P. Diddy himself, on “Trade It All,” star power outshined only by the jewelry on display.
Fab may have rocked the iced-out bracelet, but when the Clipse and Pharrell took the stage, fashion came to the fore. A group of slick black kids in dangling earrings, slim jeans, Prada footwear and the mandatory mesh hats mimicked style-icon Pharrell’s every gesture (“They weren’t dressed that way on line for tickets,” remarked one co-ed cutie). In matching white T-shirts, look- and sound-alike brothers the Clipse inadvertently came off as Pharrell’s backup troupe. Les frères Clipse brought rhymes—lumpy performances of “Ma, I Don’t Love Her,” “When the Last Time,” and “I’m Not You”—but Pharrell kept talking that music shit. During “Grindin’,” (bombastically dubbed “the beginning of the new Star Trak history” after Pharrell’s label), he dropped to his knees, arms splayed, as a sea of loyal Trakkies proffered the Vulcan hand sign. The N.E.R.D. was avenged. —Jon Caramanica
Elvish Is King
“We’ve had a very difficult week, and that’s our explanation,” the Mendoza Line apologized midway through their running-on-empty opening set at Brooklyn’s cozy Southpaw on Saturday. An absent drummer (Ballard Lesemann of Athens band Hayride sat in), a tardy bassist, and a sick dog at home led to off-key vocals and dragging tempos. “Hungover, listless,” Shannon McArdle droned in her Hope Sandoval-with-a-twang voice, an example of the imitative fallacy. Even the presence of Peter Langland-Hassan from Elk City on electric guitar couldn’t clear the clouds. But in a way, it was fitting. In the best of times, like on their 2000 record, We’re All in This Alone, the Mendoza Line are the ultimate country-inflected-indie troubadours of low-key hostility and failed beauty. “You don’t mean a thing to me,” sang McArdle, shaking the stage light sparkles off her tambourine. When she picked up a guitar, alone, for “The Way of the Weak,” her drawn-out notes delivered steely-eyed resolve, wistfulness, and exhaustion all at once.
After a short set by Aden, power-poppers with strong melodies and weak vocals, the crowd pressed forward for Elf Power! (They should add an exclamation point, or maybe an *NSync asterisk, to signify their transition from twee to rockin’.) Buzzy feedback bubbles popped behind singer Andrew Rieger’s scenarios of cheerful menace—apocalyptic land- and seascapes stalked by “creatures,” “serpents sleeping underground,” and sirens of doom. With lots of tricky starts and stops, they invoked the Pixies, the Flaming Lips, early and late Beach Boys, They Might Be Giants, and fellow Elephant 6ers Neutral Milk Hotel—only louder and faster. Rieger’s droll affect was a combination of David Byrne and Pee-wee Herman, while Lesemann, on guitar, contributed a kind of carnival-barker bounce. After only two fiddle and accordion numbers, “That concludes the folk-rock portion of our set,” Rieger announced. “Now we’re gonna go back to the full-tilt rockers.” They even did a Bad Brains cover (“Pay to Cum”), and closed with the new-wavy “Temporary Heart,” not to be stilled. —Anya Kamenetz
If theater is a fabulous invalid, what does that make cabaret? Fewer audiences attend regularly and rooms come and go with unsettling regularity. In the last few months shuttered spots include both Arci’s Place and the FireBird Café‚ where accomplished performers not quite at the Oak Room, Café Carlyle, or Feinstein’s at the Regency level could strut their sophisticated stuff. One venue, the Julie Wilson Room at the Hideaway, came and went so fast the waiters barely had time to get the first round of cosmos to the tables. Nevertheless, because talent will out even if it needs to delve into its own wallet, cabaret performers continue to make their way in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back progression. This week, for instance, the 13th Annual Cabaret Convention unfolds over six early evenings and one matinee at Town Hall. The moderately priced event is a sampling of a few dozen currently active boîte entertainers. The repast is served by Donald Smith, who heads the cabaret-boosting Mabel Mercer Foundation and about whom it might be said, “De gustibus non disputandum est.” And the tentatively good news is that other outlets are cropping up.
According to management, the FireBird Café will reopen just after the first of the year. Arci’s Place, which languished on Park Avenue South, will be reincarnated at an as-yet-undisclosed West Side site. Dapper piano man Steve Ross is getting his own room at the Stanhope in November. There are a few unexpected new destinations, such as the series Ars Nova runs one Monday a month, where actors Felicia Finley and Chad Mitchell have spent their Broadway day off wowing patrons. And the arrival of younger artists like joyful rocker David Gurland, sweetly tough belter Karen Mack, and wry, oddball Michael Holland may be the happiest development in the Great American Songbook movement. —David Finkle