“Aaliyah was an angel!” Missy Elliot shouted out at last Tuesday’s Irving Plaza benefit tribute-revue. But once she recognized that the crowd of media hangers-on had pretty much moved on to Ashanti, she changed things up a bit, asking for a wave of complimentary glow sticks “even if you didn’t know Aaliyah—or know who she was.” The tony power-babes at the event—hosted by the Step Up Women’s Network with DKNY and Vanity Fair—politely applauded Lil’ Mo‘s waveless “Rock the Boat” and Aaliyah’s bereft deck dancers crooking necks to a Tweeted-up, band-busy version of “Are You That Somebody?”
The live groove, while not doing much for Timbaland’s cat-catty beats, did manage to turn Tweet’s “Call Me” from a post-“Oh My” radio blandy to a hard-bounce r&b press-stopper (and, speaking of wow, croon vet Cheryl Pepsii Riley flat-out kuh-hilled Joan Osbourne’s “One of Us”).
Of course, the Prada-lite party people were here for Missy and her tomboy polysexuality. She obliged, warming the room with her best-pal-itude and big charisma, though she’s positively teeny-tiny in her post-Michelin Adidas warm-ups (and that amulet looked mad heavy!). After Tweet’s self-touch finale (birdie talked out the dirty parts herself this time), our Miss Demeanor crept in with her red-sweated crew, and busted “Work It” so hard amid a blur of acrobatic breaks and standing flips that all chat turned to howls. Nonsense was universal, the roof so high you forgot the fire-hazard feng shui. And if after that snake-handling, Pentecostal, pre-lingual rain, Miss E spaced on the words to her own biggest hit and left it cooling, who could blame her? —Laura Sinagra
Geezy Fa Sheezy
Talk about bringing coal to Newcastle. Sunday’s New York debut of U.K. MC The Streets (a/k/a Mike “A Day in the Life of a Geezer” Skinner) drew a full house of Anglophiles, Brit expats, and hip-hop rubberneckers to the Bowery Ballroom for a supremely dubious spectacle: a band-backed set by a pale Birmingham rapper in Jigga’s own backyard. Oops—did I say “rapper”? To judge from early reviews of Original Pirate Material, which dropped here last week, American critics have already decided Skinner’s ruminative, thickly accented rhyming over garage beats isn’t really “rap.” Hmm—could it be his pronunciation of tomato? Or his shout-out to Oakie instead of Biggie?
Representing like a free-trade fast-food employee in a matching cap and work shirt, Skinner was hardly pitching for conventional street cred. (As one startled head remarked, “He doesn’t even have a proper DJ!”) Yet no doubt he earned The Streets cred. With a collegial, DAT-aided backing trio and braided hook singer Calvin “Shmalvin” Bailey, he kicked most of Material plus a couple of B sides, mixing his around-the-motorway attitude with dance grooves, which recalled the original purpose of that hip-hop stuff. On record, Skinner’s delivery is precisely articulated and kinda insular. But live he had the sense to amp things up, even if it meant sacrificing intelligibility for flow (a trade-off that certainly hasn’t hurt a generation of Southern rappers). In the evening’s only explicit vernacular lesson, Skinner noted “In England we yell BOH! if you like something,” which the locals picked up in no time.
In the same vein, the best moments were all about The Streets’ terroir. The cyber-reggae “Let’s Push Things Forward” reprised “Ghost Town” by Skinner’s homeboys the Specials, who shared a similarly idealist attitude toward culture mashing. And during the rave-nostalgic “Weak Become Heroes,” the MC put his hands up and shimmied in a gesture of house music supplication that felt like the cultural equivalent of a Cold Crush medley. The geezer may have been cheekily dropping lines from “New York, New York” all night, but like all great rappers, he’s true to his roots. —Will Hermes
OK, we know it’s bad manners to kick someone when he’s down. But what about kicking someone who’s up? In John Flynn’s Dances With Pitchforks: Confessions of a Farmboy, the kicked butt of the joke is Broadway diva Betty Buckley, who was Mama Rose in a 1998 Gypsy at New Jersey’s Paper Mill (co-starring Deborah, formerly Debbie, Gibson).
As Farmboy Number Five, Flynn was on hand to watch Buckley throw her weight around, as well as tart lines—hers and librettist Arthur Laurents’s. She blathered about “process” so excessively while trying the cast’s patience, and committed so many other transgressions Actors Equity hasn’t yet codified, that the attentive Flynn, as much a fly on the wall as chorus kid, started e-mailing daily updates to friends. The friends e-mailed friends.
In time, exponential growth led to column items. Word was definitely out, and worried about repercussions from producers and/or you-know-who, Flynn de-booted. But he’s decided not to remain silent on the potentially commercial subject any longer. Recalling the experience in finger-snappy patter and parodied lyrics from the Stephen Sondheim-Jule Styne score, the song-and-dance man looks to exculpate himself, declaring, “After all, I did not invent Betty Buckley.” He also makes it clear he doesn’t want to be considered “a small-minded, bitchy theater faggot.” But quick-minded bitchery is certainly what he’s committing. Yet just when a patron starts to wonder what the affronted Buckley might think of having her soiled showbiz laundry publicly aired, Flynn reports a final hilarious exchange between them that justifies his chicanery. He’ll be doing the show for the next six Mondays at, wouldn’t you know it, Upstairs at Rose’s Turn. Of course his turn is hotter still. —David Finkle