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Live in LA

Photo by Anh Nguyen

2005 BET AWARDS
at the Kodak Theater, June 28


Strolling down the red carpet: first Akon, then Slick Rick, John Legend, Common, Destiny’s Child, director Robert Townsend, hosts Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Magic Johnson, Ike Turner, Fat Joe, Ying Yang Twins and Halle Berry. And they got a show, beginning with the surprise reunion of the Fugees — Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras in a killer set highlighted by “Killing Me Softly.” Missy Elliott shook it with her new dance hit, “Lose Control.” The Game spat “Dreams” with a live orchestra and choir before duetting with Mary J. Blige. Best New Artist winner John Legend elevated “Ordinary People” before joining with Stevie Wonder on “My Cherie Amor.” Mariah Carey wailed in her alluring white dress; T.I. represented the Dirty South; Mike Jones and the Swishahouse crew turned in a crazy-bling performance — but Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Gladys Knight’s rundown of classics exploded off the meter, bringing the whole audience to its feet.
Ben’s Best:
Best Dressed:
Comedian-actor Steve Harvey and rapper T.I., both in sharp white suits. Harvey sported a white fedora; T.I. pulled off the pink shirt and tie.
Sexiest: Halle Berry looked hot in her orangey dress. Model-actress Eva Pigford steamed it up in her short flowery number. And Best Female Hip-Hop–winner Remy Martin modeled this short-short thingy: “Please nobody sneeze, ’cause you might blow my dress up.”
Best Date: Hip-hop artist Miri Ben-Ari escorted her violin.
Best Grilles: The whole Houston Swishahouse camp — Mike Jones, Slim Thug and Paul Wall all had, like, 20K rocks in their teeth.
The “Why Are You Here” Award: Tom Cruise.
Most Articulate: Crash and Hustle & Flow actor and presenter Terrence Howard encouraged support of black-owned businesses; asked about the characters he plays, he said, “I represent those that are neglected in the black community.”
Best Arrivals: The Game, in a black ’64 Impala riding with his son; and T.I. in a silver Ferrari, sipping a glass of Hennessy.
Biggest Entourage: Everyone was rollin’ deep, but Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson looked like he had the whole city behind him.
Best Place To Scope Out: The Renaissance Hotel next door was crackin’, with everyone from the Ying Yang Twins to Alicia Keys in the house.
Best Line: Steve Harvey: “Mexicans are black, too; they just have straight hair.”

—Ben Quiñones



 Annie blows a fresh Norwegian
breeze on L.A. trash.
Photo by Wild Don Lewis

ANNIE
at the Downtown Standard, July 3

With their nude lipstick, ’70s cop mustaches, terrycloth jumpers and insect-eye sunglasses, the crowd at the Downtown Standard works hard at portraying an of-the-millisecond Californian Nirvana. The looks are so studiedly trashy that high fashion often tips over into self-parody — or is it the other way around? Either way, when Norwegian pop-tart Annie, a.k.a. Anne Lilia Berge Strand, takes her unceremonious position behind the DJ table in the corner of the rooftop, smoky air wafting over from the concession stand, it feels authentically low-key, refreshingly free of conceit. The vibe fits her celebrated debut, Anniemal, a neat electro-pop construction of peppermint-cool melodies, Annie’s feathery voice, springy beats and the friendliest, most relaxed synths in ages.

Her first song, “Helpless Fool for Love,” goes down as easily as the complimentary Jell-O shots, but for Annie’s U.K. single “Chewing Gum,” a glittery stomp in honor of flings, the crowd commits, defaming the dance floor with awkward shimmies and robot moves. The petite blond performing in a jean mini, black flats and a short-sleeved off-the-shoulder sweatshirt smiles on them benevolently, calling out, “We’ve always dreamed of being here.” Anniemal co-producer Timo Kaukolampi, working the knobs, contributes fabulously cheeky Vocoder choruses and darker undertones till the song melts away.

As soap bubbles are whipped overhead by surprisingly nippy breezes, Annie sings the magnetic “Me Plus One,” hopscotching through its turbo-sugary jive like a Powerpuff Girl if she’d grown into a club-hopper, shooting “Material Girl” hiccups like little poison darts from her retro-bow. By the time she makes her way to her other hit, “Heartbeat,” her energy suddenly seems a tad wan instead of perfectly chill. All the same, her show comes off like the first daiquiri on holiday — icy sweetness, fully intoxicating.

—Margaret Wappler



Luther Vandross, 1951–2005

Since Lootha/Loofa’s debilitating stroke in April 2003, many still let themselves believe that he would one day get his fat/skinny/fat ass back onstage to shame the young guns who’ve let six-packs and glistening torsos turn R&B into a hollow exercise in marketing and megalomania. So when the triple-threat musician finally succumbed on July 1, fans were inconsolable.

Vandross was a peerless producer and arranger, especially of the powerhouse background vocalists he so meticulously layered. And blessed with perfect pitch, he was a technically flawless singer. But he could also lance whatever wounds lay deep within himself and the listener to release music so raw, so naked in its emotionalism, that it might be hard to listen to. Though Vandross crafted some sterling uptempo tracks, the ballads are what really vaulted him to King of R&B status in the ’80s and secured his place in musical history. You’d be torn: Should you let him be the soundtrack to your heart’s collapse, or avoid him for fear he’d push you over the edge?

He fused the mathematics and the lyricism of making music. Listen to “Promise Me,” “Never Too Much,” “You Stopped Loving Me,” any of the covers that he absolutely made his own (“Since I Lost My Baby,” “A House Is Not a Home,” “Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me,” “If This World Were Mine” with Cheryl Lynn), or his early work with the soul/disco outfit Change (“Searching,” “The Glow of Love”), and be staggered. Sublime balladeer, sensitive interpreter, poet — a Luther Vandross will not come again. Forever, for always, for Luther.

—Ernest Hardy