Amsterjam: Red Hot Chili Peppers + Snoop Dogg + 311 + Wyclef + Hector El Bambino + Fat Joe
August 20, 2005
The term mash-up has entered the same territory as words like crunk or bling, words which may have meant something at some point (or not) but which have made the transition into marketing buzzword, sapped of all meaning, used to sell dumb things in dumb ways. I never really bought the idea that it was revolutionary or futurist to be throwing vocals from one track over music from another, but it did result in some fun, frisky music a couple of years ago. Since then, we’ve had The Grey Album and Collision Course and now AmsterJam, and it’s over.
Even when mash-ups seemed like a new idea, no one was clamoring to see them recreated in a live setting. Salt-N-Pepa going onstage with the Stooges, or Christina Aguilera with the Strokes, or Destiny’s Child with the surviving members of Nirvana—these would all be completely ass. (Tubeway Army with Adina Howard would probably be OK, and George Michael and Missy Elliott might be able to do something, but that’s it.) Even at its best, this mash-up thing just isn’t something that people should be doing live.
The people at Heineken generally seem pretty good at this marketing game; they hired Jay-Z as a pitchman and did that one commercial with the guy who joins the league of superheroes because he can turn a shoe into a bottle of beer. So it’s puzzling that they tried to organize a music festival around the stunningly bad idea of the live mash-up. But they did it.
Randall’s Island is an apocalyptically ugly venue, a big open mud-field with straw scattered over it. The smell of shit hangs over the whole place like an oppressive cloud. To get in, everyone has to go through like five different security checkpoints, some with no discernable function, dealing with constant searches and a weirdly hostile security staff. At one gate, someone put a red dot on everyone’s hands with a magic marker. No one ever asked to see the dot, and I still have no idea why it was there. The whole experience seemed engineered for maximum unpleasantness.
So I salute the vast armies of dudes with horrible tattoos and unapologetic back-hair and girls with “Kiss Me I’m Shitfaced” T-shirts. Everyone I saw seemed to be having a great time in the most inhospitable of circumstances, on some real cockroach mentality shit. I have no idea how they did it.
I missed Fat Joe, the one guy I was kind of hyped to see, since he played just after noon. Joe did his mash-up performance with Hector El Bambino, who I’d never heard of but who the AmsterJam press kit called “The P. Diddy or Dr. Dre of reggaeton.” El Bambino’s solo set didn’t exactly set the crowd on fire; absolutely no one had come to this thing to hear a dude rapping in Spanish, and it’s not like the guy was doing anything to win anyone over.
Garbage got a similarly apathetic response, which probably had something to do with their questionable decision to frontload their set with boring new songs that no one knew. Garbage was the only the only band of the day to take the show’s mash-up concept seriously. When they trotted Peaches out onstage to general befuddlement (dude in crowd near me: “Wait, it’s a stripper?”), she was doing actual Peaches songs over actual Garbage instrumentals in a thrilling fusion of four years ago and nine years ago. It wasn’t good or anything, but at least they tried.
Wyclef ended up being the best performer of the day if only because he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win over white kids. He’ll play guitar with his teeth, he’ll run out in the crowd, he’ll do backflips and handstands. He’ll invite drunk middle-aged men onstage to dance. He’ll play “Redemption Song” and “Jump Around” and “Let Me Clear My Throat” even though they aren’t his songs. He’s shameless. He’ll do any goddam stupid thing as long as it’ll keep the audience amped, and it was pretty fun to see, though things got a bit weird at the end when he refused to leave the stage and played “Gone Till November” a second time. Wyclef will never be taken seriously as a rapper again, but he’ll always have white kids. (Fugees reunion watch: no Fugees reunion.)
Never in my life have I felt more like an alien than I did when 311 was playing. Like, did you know 311 was still popular? They are! People were going nuts for them! The band played for a really really long time, playing a whole lot of hookless soupy limp songs that I sort of recognized from the radio. They also treated the whole mash-up concept with absolute contempt, inviting Wyclef onstage to sort of rap on one song and then continuing on even fucking longer after he left.
Snoop Dogg has a kajillion hits and an easy, affable charisma, but none of that stopped his set from falling flat on its face. He played with a live band that added a queasy session-musician gloss to the show, completely missing the chilly G-funk lope of his best tracks. The whole point of “Drop It Like It’s Hot” is that it’s all spare and minimalist, right? So it shouldn’t have any drum fills on it? They didn’t seem to have that figured out. The best moment of the set came during the obligatory Biggie tribute with the appearance of the P. Diddy of rap, P. Diddy, fresh off the name change I just ignored. Diddy walked out onstage, danced to “Hypnotize” for a few seconds, smoked some of Snoop’s weed, and then disappeared without saying a word. Thrilling.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers stuck almost exclusively to boring recent material, treating a show in front of tens of thousands of people like just another paycheck, except for one amazing little moment when they covered Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” with John Frusciante on vocals. The mash-up thing was a ten-minute version of “Give It Away” with Bootsy Collins playing bass and Snoop playing occasionally-rapping hypeman. This turned into “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” (Snoop’s second time doing that song), which turned into James Brown’s “Sex Machine”, which turned into an endless boring jam. I left before it was over because I had a dog to walk and because fuck that shit.