Decks Of Vaudeville
Cuddly Canadian marsupial man tickles the wheels of steel
Grand Wizard Theodore may boast a hip-hop CV most aspiring young DJs would kill for—he’s credited with inventing the scratch in 1977—but you can bet he was taking notes when Kid Koala busted out a whopping eight-turntable routine at an electrified Bowery Ballroom last week. To be honest, turntablism’s value as a spectator sport falls somewhere between professional bowling and competitive bass fishing. Which is all the more reason to be thankful for Kid Koala—a cherubic 28-year-old Canuck who tosses platters around the stage like a short-order cook—to school us in this cryptic art. It’s barely an exaggeration to say that Koala has done for turntablism what the talkies did for Hollywood.
Koala and fellow DJs P-Love and Jester played a veritable game of three-card monte, moving from station to station as they traded off routines and exchanged snarky quips. Crab-scratching and “hydroplaning” with fingers aflutter like flags on Veterans Day, they mixed a jazzy track by DJ Food with the sultry vocals of Jessica from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Koala turned “Moon River” into a nasal opera of swans—for his mother, he said, who was seated in the balcony above—and elicited both laughter and applause with his “drunk trumpet” routine (imagine a warped Satchmo record steeped in weapons-grade moonshine). But what really launched the show toward something approaching high art was, paradoxically, its vaudevillian nature: Between short routines and goofy banter, Koala screened videos by his cousin Monkmus, related a story via slide show about a robot who worked in a space-cookie factory, and involved the entire audience in a hilarious game of bingo (the three winners had to “gladiate” for free loot onstage). But Koala saved his best tricks for last—playing a keyboard neatly tucked under a turntable, he tickled ivories and scratched simultaneously. The show may have been marketed as Short Attention Span Theater, but it invoked the fantastical thrust of Theater of the Absurd. —Adrienne Day
YOU’RE THE EVIL ONE
Dignity, drawl, and claustrophobia from one Dusty bitch
When Shelby Lynne gently declaims, mid-set, “I’m a bitch,” it’s clear she knows exactly of what she speaks. This is not a woman who mis-chooses words, or who much cares about what one might think of a woman who insists upon this point. So she quips at her own expense, though it’s clear that just beneath the surface, it’s everyone else who’s getting indicted.
Years filled with bumps may have left Lynne with tall walls of defenses, and so like all circumspect friends, she doles out emotion in spoonfuls. She opened the first of her two Joe’s Pub shows last Wednesday in a vocal and emotional crouch: pregnant with possibility, but disarmingly still. “I’m Alive” evoked spacious, Dusty roads, but never broke beyond a smolder. “If I Were Smart,” a gentle contemplation from her new Identity Crisis, felt even more claustrophobic than on record.
Not until six songs in did the Alabama sparkplug ease into her slippery Levis and Lucinda tee. The gospel stormer “10 Rocks” is more jubilant than any of the radio rock she attempted on her last album, and “Telephone,” an emotionally confused ditty about the perils of drunk dialing, elicited Lynne’s first genuine smiles of the night. If Norah Jones had recorded this song, it’d be an MTV2 staple, but Shelby’s not tripping; she’s letting the depth and breadth of her voice expand along with her indignation. “Dream Some,” from her 2000 breakthrough I Am Shelby Lynne, wouldn’t sound out of place on WBLS—Shelby delivers the plaintive pleas with dignity and drawl—and “Evil Man,” a vicious new 12-bar blues, is clearly directed at you, whoever you might be. Culpability and accusation ooze from her stern tone.
It took an encore, though, for Lynne to truly and fully pounce. She sparkled on rich covers of “Do Right Woman—Do Right Man” and “Polk Salad Annie,” and closed out with the new burner “Gonna Be Better”: “Did you ever think that you would walk on hallowed ground?” You never will if you keep mistaking the sacred for the profane. —Jon Caramanica