Cuz She’s Cleva
I regret to inform you that you’re not Erykah Badu. Got it? You don’t have the chops to pull off this sort of conceit. You can’t start your show an hour and a half late, then draw out your intro for three minutes while your backup singers croon your name (“Badu, Badu”). You can’t sport gold fronts and an Afro wig with a black-power pick nested inside. You don’t have the skills to saunter onto the stage at S.O.B.’s, never smile, and turn your back to the crowd like Miles Davis. You need a voice from God to blunt all those pretensions. She has it. You don’t.
At least one person in Badu’s band must have dreads. Badu must refer to herself in the third person at least 20 times for a show to be complete. The Most High must be thanked. Everyone in the crowd must be brother or sister. But most importantly, Erykah Badu must blow like a woman twice her size. She must have an awesome catalogue to pull from. Her band and backup singers must be tight as a knot. It’s easy to forget the last part. And each time she steps on stage with her shenanigans, another neo-soulite reaches for a head-wrap and forgets their voice.
Erykah Badu is a trap, you hear? Only she can raise her hands in front of her and spread them like she’s parting the clouds for the sun of her face and exclaim, “Wooooo!” You want to move crowds like Badu? Get a perm, a long dress, and a Bible. Head down to church, join the choir, and never speak of Baduizm again. —Ta-Nehisi Coates
Following Him Down
Elliott Smith fans are so high-maintenance. Don’t get me wrong: They’re about as smilingly polite as the crowd at East Village glam hole Lit gets. And since last Wednesday’s “surprise” acoustic performance was held in the bar’s tiny downstairs grotto, they’re not a bad bunch to spend an hour and 15 minutes shoulder-to-shoulder with while collectively straining for a Smith look-see (there’s a piece of the eccentric folk poet’s arm!). But they are fans after all and they acted as fans are wont to do: “Play something undone! Something real!” implored one woman. “Play something real?” responded Smith in obvious horror. “I’m real. Should I cover myself up with effects? Should I sing songs about birds and stars?”
This is what one supposes is the Happy, Playful Smith, mumbling non sequiturs and ever-so-subtly egging his audience on (“I’m having a hard time picking songs . . .” and “I’m sorry I’m being a freak . . .”). But seeing Smith on a good day just means better access to the funeral in his brain; it’s certainly not poppy, nor is it overproduced by DreamWorks. It’s fragile and painful and filled with false starts: The old, quickly aborted “Plainclothes Man” segued into new, morose material like “Fond Farewell,” “Memory Lane,” and “Strung Out Again” (sample lyric: “Just looking in the mirror will make you a brave man/I know my place, I hate my face”) before lying on Kill Rock Stars-era tracks (“Rose Parade,” “Speed Trials,” “Ballad of Big Nothing”) and diving into the soft, languid “Clouds” of Quasi.
“Do you wanna hear a sad song or a happy song?” asked Smith during his encore. The overwhelming response was “happy!” (One guy settled for in-between: “Make it sound happy but make the words be sad!”) Smith then launched into the unhappy-sounding “A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free,” about our war-mongering government and how it’s making it rain in his heart. —Carla Spartos
Glitchy Glitchy Ya Ya
Kid606 is the Dr. Frankenstein of the remix. The San Franciscan laptop-mauler, 23-year-old Miguel Depredo, splices the digitally decomposed flesh of pop and hip-hop hits into cluttered dance beats—full of missing rungs and arrhythmic staggers. His creations are monstrous, but fascinating: sonic aberrations that mutilate their sources without totally obscuring them, and then parade the deformities in a mix of mirth and (twisted) homage.
At Tonic last month, the doughy Kid flailed his limbs maniacally in a bluish Macintosh-monitor glow, dipping chunks of Sean Paul, Ludacris, and favorite muse Missy into an acid bath of mangled interference, buzzing hyperstutters, pitch changes, and EQ-tweaking that either disemboweled or added gargantuan oomph. When Paul’s dancehall hit “Gimme the Light” popped up amid breakneck drum’n’bass, the hesitant crowd members gave in and danced the way uncoordinated white kids do best: They started a moshpit.
The clumsiness isn’t totally their fault. Kid606’s spastic jams defy anyone to move gracefully (his habit of smashing beer bottles against the wall for emphasis didn’t calm people down, either). DJ’ing between two laptops, he slapped his crossfader this way and that, challenging us to an exhilarating race we’d never win.
When 1 a.m. hit, the cozy nook had been transformed into a sweaty fallout bunker, but eyelids were getting heavy. 606 did nothing to combat the oncoming lull, suddenly leaving beats for chimes and hums. After a half-hour of non-tempo chill-out, chairs along the walls were full and someone up front pleaded, “Wake up!!” The Kid snapped to it, pumping out one last rally of frenetic booty bass and raising an arm in triumph, but people were already sitting on the floor, out for good. —Jonah Weiner
Betting the House
The small upstairs room of the Chelsea nightclub Chateau might seem like an odd place for a headlining gig by Dirty Vegas, who appeared there last Wednesday. Not only did the British trio’s “Days Go By” achieve national ubiquity via a Mitsubishi television ad (it also served as the token “club” track on the recent Now 11), their self-titled debut was the bestselling dance record of last year after Moby’s 18. Yet in some ways, there was something appropriate about the setting. Hit record or no, Dirty Vegas are still too new to qualify as headliners, especially among clubbers suspicious not only of their meteoric success but also the means by which they got there. In a sense, Dirty Vegas’s Chateau appearance justified those doubts; for the most part, the attendees seemed less interested in getting down than in getting down numbers for potential future networking.
Leaving singer Steve Smith at home, DJs Paul Harris and Ben Harris (no relation) alternated turns at the decks for two and a half hours. The Harrises’ rather nondescript set, heavy on selections from their new Ultra mix-set for clarity Night at the Tables, sounded chunky and somewhat flat. Actually, given the treatment their records received from the club’s sound system, maybe the word should be flattened. There were volume problems early on; for the Harrises’ first 20 minutes, the music was swallowed by the crowd noise—an especially inopportune development given the number of lengthy, drumless breakdowns their warm-up records contained. But things didn’t improve much even after the decibels increased: There was little midrange or high end, which made normally crisp drumrolls sound like fish smacking a loading dock, while even the simplest basslines frayed at the edges. It sounded dirty, but you know what they say about Vegas—you pays your money and you takes your chances. —Michaelangelo Matos