Don’t Be H8tn
To all the haters: Chill out. Whatcha yellin’ for? Lay back. It’s all been done before. Prior to decrying the punk authenticity (which is a crapshoot subject in and of itself) of Avril Lavigne, realize that when you grow up in Napanee, Ontario, playing hockey with your older brother and listening to Shania Twain, the odds are slim that you’re aware an entire counterculture like punk even exists. Lavigne’s admitted ignorance emphasizes that the learning process is less about what you know and more about what you feel.
Since 2002’s Let Go, she’s become a pop persona young girls embrace. They identify with her PG defiance more than Britney’s perkiness, Christina’s raciness, or Norah’s brilliance. Lavigne’s “Try to Shut Me Up” tour represents for vociferous tomboys who traffic in Chap Stick and Band-Aids. Fittingly, the Foo Fighters’ “My Hero” heralded Lavigne’s set at Nassau Coliseum. She emerged in army-green pants and a red T-shirt as her band broke into “Sk8r Boi.” The arena vibrated with pogoing bodies.
In contrast, Lavigne stood stationary half the time and wore a look of hard concentration. It took a few songs before she was comfortable enough to run around. Her sparse guitar added nothing to the music, but she belted out songs with surprising vocal control and breadth of scale. The predominant moxie came from Lavigne’s pipes rather than the instruments. A cover of Green Day’s “Basket Case” was greeted with less enthusiasm than her little-girl-lost “I’m With You.” The band stopped and a thousand little voices sang the chorus like a venerable choir. It was a tale of figuring out where one belongs, but at that moment, everyone was exactly where they were supposed to be. —Jeanne Fury
True Blue Bloods
Of all the underground hip-hop malcontents, perhaps only Mike Ladd, ringmaster of the Majesticons, gets it: Middle fingers for Hot 97 were irrelevant the minute O.C.’s “Time’s Up” was shipped from the pressing plant. The consortium of Clear Channel, Bertelsmann, and Sean Combs is so sinister, its swagger so insolent, its plots so devious, yet to call out the beast is basically to call out “Dog Bites Man.” Mike Ladd, only half-dapper in shades, blazer, and faded green polo, stepped onstage at the Knitting Factory, with a simple message for heads obsessed with the juggernaut’s march—if you can’t beat them, at least get there first.
Rappers—two-ton medallions dangling, 21-inch rims, rented jewels—are nouveaux riches. Ladd’s Majesticons—”lords of the ching ching”—are old money. Fuck a shout-out to Donald Trump, I’m talking Alan Greenspan money. Land Rovers are last year—Mike Ladd is so gangsta he cruises in his grandmother’s classic Mercedes. Never breaking character, the Majesticons cycled through their faux-rap debut “Beauty Party,” delivering the panning with all the aplomb of a Vanderbilt. If the group is laughing—and you know they have to be—it’s buried somewhere deep inside.
This is the beauty of the Majesticons—their own plausibility. The absurdism of “Beauty Party” is easily equaled by 106th and Park. By neatly mirroring hip-hop’s own penchant for the ludicrous, they offer a devastating critique. In an era when Carson Daly is hosting MC battles, anti-jiggy sloganeering is as effective as chanting “no blood for oil.” One headline from The Onion is worth more than a thousand college students storming Broadway. While performing “MajestWest Party,” one of the Majesticons frantically gestured to the crowd and insisted “You niggas can’t rush me with no gangbang shit/I don’t have a real set so I just claim Crip.” His sweatshirt was blood red. —Ta-Nehisi Coates
Do you ever wonder why your friends who live in fantastic Manhattan lofts don’t host more concerts? Maybe jam sessions, with brilliant jazz musicians dropping by? Oh, right: Your friends don’t have fantastic lofts. And besides—do any of you know players worth hearing for hours on end? The folks at the Jazz Foundation of America, a nonprofit dedicated to helping musicians in need, do. For one Sunday evening in early May, the Gilsey House on Broadway and 29th—a former landmark hotel, now a collection of to-die-for lofts—housed the sort of scene you’d think can’t exist anymore, but should. Five of them, actually, simultaneously, as five residents opened their doors to the organization’s annual loft party. Pianist Harold Mabern led a five-piece band through a tricky bebop tune in the living room of Apt. 8C. In 8E Jimmy Norman was pleading the blues as a young man with dreadlocks unpacked a guitar. Next door, tuba player Howard Johnson sat in with a conga player, a trombonist, and a rhythm section. “Mom and Dad, why are all these people coming over?” was the question Jay and Kathy Valgora’s young son asked back in 8C.
To hear the music of some of jazz’s best insiders—players like pianists Danny Mixon and Cedar Walton, both in attendance—was one answer. And to support the foundation’s emergency fund, which aids musicians with everything from free medical care to career assistance to help in avoiding eviction. So this was a rent party of the highest order, with a small collection box out in the eighth-floor hall.
One of the organization’s founders who had lived in the building, Herb Storfer, recruited his neighbors to host; some even laid out a spread for visitors to nibble on. And there were other reasons to attend: to catch offhand musical moments, as when Mabern interpreted a Norah Jones hit. And to soak up the ambience of spaces beyond our means. Still, up on one rooftop balcony, in the glow of the Empire State Building’s lights, with music wafting through a window, one could dream. —Larry Blumenfeld