Life of Possibilities

Sure, the drummer wears batting gloves. The bassist grooves like a wacko Jaco Pastorious. And the lead singer dances (and smirks) like Andrew McCarthy. But dammit if the Dismemberment Plan don’t make it work. The cerebral and the three-fourths facial-haired group have announced plans to call it quits in ’03, but keep coming back for more makeup sex—and why not? Any band that exits at the top of their game deserves a victory lap—and, apparently, a Braun Beard Clipper for their road-weary tour bus.

The last time the D.C. quartet put out a record, in September of ’01, the world went crazy, and their magnificent, soul-weary Change kept a lot of skinny indie types like myself sane. (Something about frontguy Travis Morrison’s ability to charm and wiggle his way out of whatever cacophonous chaos the music threw at him; something about how “Time Bomb” sounded bleak, devastating, and beautiful all at the same time.) Now the world’s gone truly cuckoo, and there won’t be another D-Plan record to comfort us—though hopefully there will still be a world. Instead of teasing fans with glimpses of the literate and political new songs now bound for Morrison’s solo album, at Bowery Ballroom’s February 5 show the band stuck to the hits, making the show more like a summing up than a coming down.

The up-with-downcast-people numbers like “You Are Invited” and the perennial backpack-boy boogaloo “The Ice of Boston” get all the attention, but the Plan’s superpowers reside in quieter moments: the rush of sadness in “Sentimental Man,” the swish of ruefulness in “Spider in the Snow.” They make minimalist, grown-up concerns (keeping track of trash day, missing exes on New Year’s, having sex to the McLaughlin Group) danceable, if not downright universal. “Ah, indie rock,” Morrison sighed at one point, but with more than a little fondness, perhaps thinking of the thick-black-rimmed-glasses-on-the-dancefloor mash-up culture his band presaged and coveted, but never quite realized.

May Travis Morrison be blessed with Pharrell’s cell phone number; may the rest of the band have perpetual free flights to Burning Man. May all of the progressive indie bands Morrison name-checked (and mocked) not “fucking blow it.” And may the Plan’s best song not be their epitaph (or ours): “The city’s been dead/since you’ve been gone.” —Andy Greenwald

Peace Squawks

“We bring greetings from Brooklyn, or as my friends call it, ‘Little Gaza,’ ” Corey Glover announced last Saturday at the Knitting Factory, taking the stage with Vernon Reid and guitarist Dennis Diamond. They were one of a dozen acts who performed, under the auspices of Artists Against the Occupation, to raise money for Israeli and Palestinian activist groups working to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

There was a subdued tone to the proceedings, but what the event lacked in ideological fire it made up for in charged moments and intersecting narratives: You noticed when Jennifer Charles of the Elysian Fields wrapped her smoky voice around the line “I keep repeating it” in “My Prayer.” You noticed how snatches of Middle Eastern music seemed to explode out of the din created by the DJ Mutamassik and guitarist Morgan Craft. A few minutes after the Palestinian American poet Nathalie Handal told of grim news from her hometown of Bethlehem, Shelley Hirsch performed from her work, O Little Town of East New York, about growing up Jewish and working-class in 1960s Brooklyn.

Glover et al. were the most eager to explore what connection musicians in Tribeca might have to a conflict halfway around the world. “Flying,” sung from the point of view of someone jumping from the twin towers, a potentially cringe-worthy attempt to personalize geopolitical conflict, was actually quite moving. “Last Temptation” turned out to be an even more poignant evocation of Glover’s Brooklyn-as-Palestine connection. Hours before Glover took the stage late Saturday, there were three homicides in “Little Gaza”—in Mill Basin, East Flatbush, and Prospect Heights. Early Sunday morning, three members of Islamic Jihad blew themselves up near an Israeli guardpost in the original Gaza. “Some people want to die for love,” Glover sang sometime in between. “I just want to love again.” —Greg Milner

Describe the Ruckus, Sir

John Hughes couldn’t have convened a more pitch-perfect lineup than last Friday’s Irving Plaza bill—a cast of caricatures rivaling the Breakfast Club: the brains, the jocks, and the criminal princesses. Longwave are the boys your mother told you you’d love one day, OK GO are the ones you loved in spite of yourself, and the Donnas are, of course, the girls who cut gym to go smoke in their shorts.

Longwave, whose ethereal pop blends U2’s Boy phase and Coldplay, have inherited some showmanship from recent tourmates the Vines and the Strokes; guitarist Shannon Ferguson fell to his knees beneath the force of a riff like a hipster Hendrix. And Steve Schiltz’s thick, Morrissey-like vocals over the densely layered “I Know It’s Coming Someday” moved the crowd to swoon. Chicago’s OK GO threw a party like their parents were out of town. They lack anything resembling irony, but it all goes down like light beer, delivering a similar tingly effect. Front man Damian Kulash knows how to win hearts and raise fists. Their cover of Toto’s “Hold the Line,” is sweet, sappy ’80s nostalgia, and “C-c-cinnamon lips,” which purrs, “c-c-cinnamon lips and candy kisses on my tongue. Fun!” is fine to taste—just don’t overdo it.

The Donnas fancy themselves curvier Ramones, but sound a lot more like Joan Jett. Maybe it’s because of the band’s metronomic task-mastery, but singer Donna A just can’t seem to get loose behind a microphone. At one point, she backed up into a shadowy part of the stage, and swayed self-consciously like a Hughes heroine, stag at the dance. Then suddenly, in a move Molly Ringwald would never have dared, she charged the mic to yell “I didn’t like you anyway/I was just lookin for fun UH-HUH.” Note to the boys: A Donna never waits for an invitation to dance. —Sarah Wilson

Pangs of New York

Plenty of benefits take place at Radio City Music Hall, but on Friday, February 7, the gathering of talent was, in the words of Martin Scorsese, “for a good cause”: the Blues. Supporting the blues is charity work these days. Sure, Congress has deemed 2003 the Year of the Blues, but by the time those grizzled hawks get around to doing anything, it’s so over.

Even the performers seemed to be delivering dirges, digressing on the genealogy of their numbers like they’d just been discovered on brittle scrolls, unearthed after centuries of burial. Over a seemingly interminable five hours, all permutations of genre acolytes took to the stage, usually for one song, followed by a set change. The concert was being taped for a PBS series (executive produced by Scorsese), and the show had all the start-and-stop charm of a rehearsal. This arrhythmia made rough spots even less tolerable. Mos Def‘s “Black Jack Blues” was higher in concept than execution; also grating were Keb Mo‘s simpleton revivalism and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion‘s unwelcome blast of Burnside.

The right and true, however, sang down all those blasphemers. Honey Boy Edwards displayed the classic blues trick of a guitar in conversation with itself. Odetta deftly and deeply revisited Leadbelly’s “Jim Crow Blues,” and Natalie Cole, for lack of a better phrase, sang the fuck out of “St. Louis Blues,” as did Shemekia Copeland on her two songs.

Considering the astronomical ticket prices, it’s not surprising that many in the crowd first found their blues not in the Delta but in bars that played Steve Miller. Accordingly, the first five standing ovations were for white performers—including John Fogerty and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry—a streak finally broken by a fiery performance from Buddy Guy, and then again by an enthroned Solomon Burke, who kicked the rock out of the blues jams. As the hour grew later, and the sound grew hotter and jumpier, standing gave way to dancing. An older black couple—she in a Cotton Club jacket, he in khaki suit, waistcoat, and fedora—gingerly stepped into the aisle and began a nimble Charleston. It was a resurrection that outshone the occasion itself. —Jon Caramanica

Joyful Noise

Their name may be cumbersome, but it accurately reflects their aspect. Lavender Light, the Black and People of All Colors Lesbian and Gay Gospel Choir, gave its first concert in 20 months on February 8 at St. Peter’s, the “jazz musicians’ church” in midtown. New artistic director Ray Gordon paced the 29-member chorus, his braided locks caught up in a bobbing cluster atop his head, his whole body swaying in a floor-length tailcoat.

Hot sound and presentational style—the singers, accompanied by pianist Julius Petty, Steve Logan on bass, Keith Gamble on lead guitar and harmonica, and Fred Kelly on drums, wore kente-cloth sashes bordered in lavender over their black concert drag during the first half, and simple red AIDS ribbons for the second—collided with the cool Scandinavian interior of the chapel, all blond wood and simple lines, soaring several stories high. The sold-out event, “In the Spirit”—a Black History Month special—both explicated and celebrated a variety of gospel styles and the artists who developed them in cities from Atlanta to Chicago. A startling highlight of the show was the work of ASL interpreters Howard Hines and Kathleen Taylor, who drank in both Mark Fowler’s informative narration and the lyrics, intonations, and crescendos of the songs, manifesting emotional context as well as literal meaning in their dance-like visual offering to the hearing impaired.

The multiracial crowd, including many gay couples marking this trip to church with displays of affection, got as caught up in the spirit as the singers did. The evening glorified a gospel tradition as much Aretha Franklin’s as Mahalia Jackson’s, and rocked the house of God. —Elizabeth Zimmer