Home at Last

Anti-Britney pounds piano, proves love is third-eye blind

Vanessa Carlton

Joe’s Pub

November 2

“This must be the white song that all black people like,” Kanye West says of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” in his new iTunes celebrity playlist. Besides black people, who exactly are Carlton’s fans? When the piano-pounding songstress emerged in 2002 with “A Thousand Miles”—a ditty whose “If I could fall into the sky/Do you think time would pass me by?” might be her generation’s “Sitting on a cornflake/Waiting for the van to come”—she did it as a conscious alternative to BritneyChristinaJessicaMandy; like her awards-show doppelgänger Michelle Branch, Carlton played her own instrument in her music videos, so she attracted the devotion of plucky girls not old enough to know that an image is an instrument, too.

At the first of two small solo gigs at Joe’s Pub on election night—”It’s nice to be home,” she said, “playing in my new neighborhood”—those plucky girls weren’t visible. In their place were the college-age woman singing along with every word, her shaved-head air-pianist boyfriend, a group of three Asian kids, plenty of industry flunkies, and Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins, who dates Carlton and produced her second album, Harmonium. She seemed relieved not to be waving an ideological banner anymore; the only suggestion of her purchase into the mythology of chops was the strength with which she pounded the keys on her baby grand.

She was more interested in showing anyone who’d listen how weird Vanessa Carlton is: songs about “vampires killing unicorns” and the lure of autocide and “a dead girl in a closet.” (For once, pre-release rumors of a new album’s goth tendencies were confirmed!) In “White Houses,” Harmonium‘s lead single, she described losing her virginity while exchanging creepy Billy Bob–and-Angelina stares with Jenkins; before “She Floats” she offered up her fascination with “super-intelligent young girls” who exude such confidence they seem like “children of the corn”—a group to which Carlton obviously feels she belongs. “I’m so much more than this song,” she insisted as a caveat to the inevitable hauling-out of “A Thousand Miles.” And she was kind of right. MIKAEL WOOD

Adios Amigos

Friends: How many of us have ’em, ones we can depend on?

Jay-Z & Friends

Madison Square Garden

November 1

Once upon a gilded time, Jay-Z had a friend. And then, as sometimes happens, the friend evaporated from his life, leaving him in a lurch as to how to move on. How could Jiggaman, his fans were left to wonder, having invested so much of himself in this cruelly cut-short relationship, find the strength to carry on with what would certainly be a task of Herculean proportions? “I tried to hold this thing together,” he said with a sigh early in his set November 1.

R. Kelly? As if. That friend, of course, was Biggie Smalls, and his specter was everywhere during Jay’s final New York show (at least until the next retirement—catch the likely brief theatrical run of Fade to Black for the last last one). Those expecting harangues against the seemingly unreliable Kells, who disappeared from the MSG stage three nights earlier after claiming to have seen guns in the crowd, were instead treated to a neatly curated event—part mid-’90s class reunion, part throwback lesson, part baton-passing showcase. Over three hours, 18 guests—Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip on “Scenario”; long-estranged Foxy Brown on “Ain’t No Nigga”; extended sets by Kanye West, P. Diddy (who sang “That’s What Friends Are For,” no lie) and Mary J.

Famous people doing famous songs—a generally foolproof plan. Even a sterling bout by a well-oiled Snoop Dogg couldn’t dilute the revue’s argument for the centrality of New York: past, present, and future. But who wasn’t there proved more telling—even high commerce couldn’t unsquash beefs with Nas and Fat Joe, Beanie Sigel can’t guest from behind bars, and Beyoncé was off paying penance with those other melismatics.

Sure, Jay did hits: “99 Problems” and its remix, over Lil’ Scrappy’s “No Problem,” were fierce, and alongside the hydraulic Freeway on “What We Do,” Jay shined nearly as brightly as his collection of diamond necklaces. He seemed most energized, though, rapping Biggie’s verse on “Real Love,” and looked skyward when, on “Hard Knock Life,” he toasted “the memory of my nigga Biggie.” Heaven, Hov needs a hug. And while you’re at it, how about one for the other mortal, too? JON CARAMANICA

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