Politically 4th Street
Photo by Jay Muhlin
BRIGHT EYES, JIM JAMES, M. WARD at the Orpheum, October 14
My Morning Jackets Jim James had the gorgeous autumnal songs, the high, soaring vocals and the affable stage manner, but all night long it was Bright Eyes 24-year-old singer-guitarist, Conor Oberst, who received the (generally female) between-song hollers of Owww-woooo!, I want to have your baby! and Youre a genius!
Fiddling with his black hair, motioning for a vodka tonic, Oberst studiously ignored the mating offers, but after his strong midset suggestion that Kerry be every audience members choice, one woman finally got a reaction with Less politics, more music! Fuck you, snapped Oberst, and, as the sold-out house applauded, he added with a half-smile, Its all politics, people.
Is it, though? Oberst stuck exclusively to his emo-folk-rock bands melodically anemic material, which meant plenty of petulance, relationship neurotica, small-life details and other emo specialty fare: clever couplets about coupling. Fine as far as it goes, but it doesnt go far beyond the personal is the political, and, sheesh, calling this solipsistic stuff political in these times of war, torture and eroding civil liberties seems a bit disingenuous. Oberst is steeped in politics: He just participated in the anti-Bush swing-state tour, hes an outspoken advocate of grassroots principles, and corporate-driven cultural homogenization has been the driving subject of his other band, Desaparecidos. So whats with the Young Werther routine?
Much of this evening M. Wards curly hairharmonicagruff half-sneer, the mass cover of Girl From the North Country, the Bob Dylan/Band-ish way the musicians drifted on and offstage, singing harmonies on one anothers songs recalled Dylan, but something was missing: Dylans reckless, Ginsbergian refusal in the mid-60s to divide the inner from the outer, the journal scribblings from the evening news. That was genius, and I wasnt hearing it tonight.
Guerilla Black (Photo by Jonathan Mannion)
GUERILLA BLACK at the Key Club, October 13
On the Bob Marleysampled Hearts of Fire from the new Guerilla City, Guerilla Black spits, He look like Big/He sound like Big. Thats right, but 27-year-old Charles Williamsons similarities to the late Notorious B.I.G. end there: He represents the Guerilla City, Compton, a world completely different from Biggie Smalls Brooklyn. Still, when he shouted, Whats pop-lockin, West Coast? over gunfire sound effects as he took the stage wearing a black beanie and a white T-shirt, four huge cross chains hanging around his neck, the 6-foot, 300-pound Guerillas appearance, baritone voice and hyperactive flow on the opening rap, Guerilla Nasty, couldnt help but remind you of Biggie. Guerilla struck next with the reggae-based radio favorite Compton, a heater featuring Beenie Man on background vocals Im B-L-A-C-K from the C-P-T/Where they dip them cigarettes in P-C-P. On his third excursion, the catchy Youre the One (which featured Mario Winans on the album), G.B. showed he can move for a big dude; sweating, towel in hand, he danced around the stage like he was on Soul Train. But then he walked off.
After the diverse crowd representing Inglewood, Gardena and Watts chanted for more, Guerilla came out and sang a personal a cappella dedicated to four recent deaths in his family. Thats it? everyone seemed to be asking. Yes, Comptons Most Wanted needed to deliver more than three songs. Dude is a really BIG talent, but the West Coast deserves more.
CAETANO VELOSO at Royce Hall, UCLA, October 13
Just one of the American songs on Caetano Velosos recent A Foreign Sound failed to come off live: Dylans Its Alright, Ma (which supplies the albums title). The arrangement was fine tighter and smoother than the disjoined hip-hop of the recorded version. But on the night of the final Bush/Kerry debate, lines like Even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked shouldnt have been read from a music stand.
Aside from this bit of stage business Veloso knew all the other songs cold the show, like the disc, perfectly balanced intelligence and sheer musical pleasure. Dapper, graying and Bowie-slender, Veloso was in gorgeous voice, with a sweet, androgynous falsetto and impressively true pitch, especially on an a cappella Love for Sale, and his six-piece band, anchored by cellistmusical director Jacques Morelenbaum, blasted through DNAs Detached and caressed jazz warhorses (Body and Soul, Cry Me a River) with equal conviction. Velosos critical distance from the sexist chestnut Try a Little Tenderness and the Hollywood-does-Rio exotica of The Carioca was evident in his precise second-language delivery, but backed by the players effortless rhythmic lilt, the tunes melodic grace was undiminished.
Despite the English-language emphasis, nearly a third of the show was aimed at the audiences large Lusophone contingent, including Manhã de Carnaval (from the film Orfeu) and a two-song tribute to fellow pan-American star Carmen Miranda capped by guitarist Pedro Sás extended wah-funk solo. The most affecting moment placed the two languages in dialogue, pairing a cello-and-voice take on Rodgers and Harts witty Manhattan with Velosos more ambivalent (and funkier) Manhatã. Veloso bridged the two with a brief passage from his memoir, Tropical Truth, written well before September 11; even then, he read, he viewed its skyscrapers as if they had been demolished many centuries ago.
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