Island Riddim


New York reggae fans are like spoiled children. For much of the year, we sit back, sip Guinness, and let Jamaica come to us. Reggae-heavy radio gives us the luxury of supposing all of America is as dancehall-happy as we are. Our most arduous summer activity is sorting through limitless options: The all-day reggae concert or the all-night sound clash? The E to Jamaica Center or the B to Church Avenue?

Then—like a parent who has suddenly decided on discipline—comes winter. Jamaican artists look bemusedly at our weather reports, wonder what in Jah’s name 10 degrees feels like, and then decide staying in Kingston makes more sense than finding out. Our smorgasbord of reggae events dwindles to a meager plate of hors d’oeuvres; trekking through an arctic air mass in pum-pum shorts to catch that rare concert is suddenly less appealing than staying home with DJ Fidel’s summer mix CD. And since winter is when Middle America decides to come to Jamaica and feel all right, a short flight to MoBay suddenly turns pricier than our monthly heating bill. Wan and weary, we vow to never take Jamaica-in-NYC for granted again.

Spring is salvation. And this year, it has quite a load of damage control to do. Only a sumptuous affair can make up for the winter of 2004: a trailer-load of renowned reggae artists performing, say, at one of the most venerated venues in New York.

Done. On May 8, Radio City Music Hall will host a reggae extravaganza featuring almost every VP Records reggae act you know and love. Yes, that’s Radio City—all-American tourist attraction, home to such whitebread kitsch as the Christmas Spectacular and the Rockettes. For one long evening, it’ll be Yard-ified. Goodbye, lockstep leg lifts; hello, coochie-popping, booty-shaking reggae wining galore.

The concert is part and parcel of indie label VP Records’ year-long 25th anniversary fete. It’s actually been almost 50 years since Vincent “Randy” Chin began selling discarded jukebox fare in his small Kingston shop, “Randy’s Records”—but it’s been exactly a quarter-century since he relocated his store to Jamaica, Queens, and rechristened it “VP” (for Vincent and Patricia, his wife). In 1993, VP became a record label; in 2002, it hit the crossover jackpot, signing a distribution deal with Atlantic. The rest is reggae history, which we’re now in the midst of: Sean Paul and Wayne Wonder convinced the record-buying public that reggae doesn’t have to sound like Bob Marley; pop acts hasten to add red, gold, and green to their wardrobes; teenagers around the world have extended their patois beyond “irie, mon.”

VP’s anniversary events are slated to include a fall photo retrospective at Eyejammie Fine Arts Gallery—likely showcasing photographs by Ajamu Myrie and Adrian Boot, among others—as well as the release of a commemorative CD box set. But the Radio City show, whose proceeds will go to selected charities, is the big-time bashment—official notice that dancehall has truly arrived.

The concert’s all-encompassing lineup paints a holistic picture of contemporary reggae—at once sacred and profane, silly and solemn, dulcet and discordant. Soulful Beres Hammond will make like Marvin or Luther and have old-timers fanning themselves, while Wayne Wonder will give the younger set something to scream about. Shaggy will remind us how reggae crossover sounded in the pre-Sean Paul era. The Sparkling quartet T.O.K. will prove that *NSync have nothing on Jamaican boybands. Buju Banton might play the prophet Isaiah, rousing our passions and then softly soothing us with tracks like “Destiny” or “Untold Stories.” And to cap it all off, send in the virtuoso clowns: “Energy god” Elephant Man, comic duo Tanto Metro & Devonte, and stage maestro Beenie Man, whose brilliant performances make us mirthful, merry—and forgetful of all those months we spent cold and ashen, hungry for the musical fix we somehow sensed was coming our way.

VP Records 25th Anniversary Concert, May 8, Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Avenue, 212.307.7171


March 12

Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 212.533.2111

March 13

Maxwell’s, 1039 Washington Street, Hoboken, New Jersey, 201.653.1703

After less than a year and a half, the world’s greatest left-wing country-rock band reconvenes to surprise, educate, titillate, and entertain you—with perhaps an emphasis on the old stuff they’ve re-recorded for their aptly entitled Punk Rock. Dowd is equally sardonic in a not dissimilar mode, but rarely as funny or humane. With Neil Cleary on March 12. CHRISTGAU


March 13

Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 212.533.2111

With their herky-jerky child’s-play noise pop and blurty gestures toward old-souldom, these Brit absurdists, like forebears Liliput (and even slur-king Thom Yorke), advance anti-lingualism as delicious power play. Call it sugar Dada (or don’t), but you can’t deny the growly glitch therapeutics. What better match than the playful British Sea Power, who lucked into soundtracking our blackout with their “Blackout.” Sonically, their texture is the best fur—psychedelic. SINAGRA


March 14

B.B. King Blues Club and Grill, 237 West 42nd Street, 212.307.7171

Former Police manager Miles Copeland is the prime mover behind this oddly compelling reintroduction of the Arab bellydance. Master drummer Isaam Houshan lays down the beats for a bevy of 14 undulating babes of various Oriental and Occidental heritages, categorized as either Superstars (Ansuya! Jamar! Jillina!) or members of the Desert Roses troupe (Dondi and twin sister Marilyn Monroe Dondi!). GEHR


March 17, 18, and 20

Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Avenue, 212.247.4777

With Crazy Horse, which indicates without establishing that his Greendale period is over. Not a bad record at all, he should keep the keepers in the repertoire—but stage concepts are not why you go see him. You go see him to rock out on “Like a Hurricane,” or whatever he does on the good nights with Crazy Horse. CHRISTGAU


March 18

Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Place, 212.777.6800

Kid Koala’s never matched the exuberance of his 10-inch debut, Scratchhappyland, but that doesn’t mean his live show suffers. On record, the oddball assortment of junkyard sounds he cobbles together and manipulates can sound flat, but seeing the work he puts in live puts it all in context. CARAMANICA


March 27

Zankel Hall at Carnegie, Seventh Avenue and 57th Street, 212.247.7800

Egyptian songwriter Mohammed Abdel Wahab—who infused Oriental classical music with romance, poetry, Western pop, romance, and nationalism—was the region’s preeminent songwriter until his death in 1991, just as singer Oum Kalthoum, who died in 1975, was the Arab world’s ubiquitous galvanizing voice. Palestinian oud virtuoso Simon Shaheen and his ensemble pay tribute to these icons with guest vocalist Rima Khcheich. GEHR


March 29

B.B. King Blues Club and Grill, 237 West 42nd Street, 212.307.7171

Once was a time when Method Man threatened to be the most dominant rapper, like, ever. He had lyrics for days and more charm than the rest of the Wu put together and squared. All the years of weed, one assumes, dulled his potential, leaving a string of merely competent songs in his wake, as well as a promising career woozily shucking and jiving on TV and in film. CARAMANICA


March 29

Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Place, 212.777.6800

The bouncy listlessness fueling the Dublin-based Thrills’ “Big Sur” summed up last year’s urban-twee ennui, with lead singer Conor Deasy exhaling over wistful Cali-pop chords and pizzicato plucks, “So much for the cit-eh . . . ” His delivery admits that leaving would be worse. But why leave, when you can swoop up into ’70s lite-rock falsetto, commune with Byrds, and imagine amid the drear that Santa Cruz is really not that far? SINAGRA


April 2

Southpaw, 125 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718.230.0236

April 28

Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Place, 212.777.6800

His pneumatic post-d’n’b doesn’t sound quite as raw as it once did, what with the takeover of the gabba kids and the ragga jungle mash-ups and the ‘ardkore, or whatever they call the stuff that really makes your ears bleed. So it’s time to understand Squarepusher less as a spree killer and more as a serial assassin—precise, meticulous, focused, and still deadly. CARAMANICA


April 3

Roseland Ballroom, 239 West 52nd Street, 212.777.6800

When she Matrixed out with the radio-pop scientists who centrifuged Avril Levigne, our indie It Girl seemed exiled from Criticville. But some saw her new Xbox-boy lust, single-mom anxieties, and sane-psycho-supergoddess self-talk as bold thirtysomething candor. She’s still bedroom-groggy onstage, but I’ll take her hot, white Oscar Wilde references any way she likes it. “I’m Not Avril” songstress Katy Rose and indie-poppers Wheat open. SINAGRA


April 10

Continental Airlines Arena, Meadowlands Sports Complex, 50 Route 120, East Rutherford, New Jersey, 201.935.3900

Our favorite not-a-girl, not-quite-a-human is still in the damage-control zone after her shotgun divorce, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that all her lip-synched porno-technix proceed as planned this night, with no stage malfunctions (à la last year’s Justin-Xtina fiasco) or “costume malfunctions” (à la Justin-Janet’s rough-sex superboner dumbshow). But it’s Kelis whose shook-up r&b, Afrocentric space-freak, get-me-off-this-ice-cream-cone milk shake brings us all, not just the boys, to the yard. We love her so much right now!! SINAGRA


April 13

Hammerstein Ballroom, 311 West 34th Street, 212.307.7171

On their newest album, the two French aesthetes behind Air ditched the humorless cocktail lounge of earlier records for sound-effect-laden paeans to the stargazing rock of yesteryear as well as their own smart, easygoing selves. Not danceable any longer, but spacious and pretty enough to make you swoon a little. HOARD


April 15

Roseland Ballroom, 239 West 52nd Street, 212.777.6800

Having proved they can score a hit with any MC who can afford their services, the Neptunes forged a new sound with their N.E.R.D side project: hook-filled bangers and rock-star role-playing, slightly dumb but as fulfilling as ear candy gets. L.A. alt-rappers Black Eyed Peas beefed up their silly conspiracy theories with bright, pop-friendly production and a cavalcade of dope rhymes. HOARD


April 23

Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place, 212.992.8484

These legendary West African musicians flourished in Senegal during the ’70s, made a notable 2001 comeback, and sound as though they never parted. The multinational combo delivers a lush and languid take on the Afro-Cubanism grooves that overwhelmed West Africa then, a sound almost Ellingtonian in its sophisticated syncopations and addictive accessibility. Drink, dance, make sweet love, or simply ponder its rhythmic perfection. GEHR