As P Diddy’s only non-reality TV generated musical fosterage, Janelle Monae consequently possesses immense talent—and by default star-quality, because why else would Diddy be in the same sentence? And as Diddy’s new dauphin she is at once retrograde and innovative, feminine and masculine, mature and youthfully exuberant. She has chosen to craft her image and persona (thus ultimately controlling it to a large extent) as a nostalgic nod towards saddle shoes and Billie Holiday while at the same time writing songs about cyber-girls and alien invaders. All this mixes into one unflinching caricature, much like Stephen Colbert is impenetrable as a G.O.P. stalwart. She opened with her most popular song, “Violet Stars Happy Hunting!”, a galactic funk dance number that catapulted her energy into the set. But she then slowed it down immediately, singing a gorgeously slow and moving solo, accompanied only by electric guitar. What comparisons have been made to Holiday strike me as without merit. I found her stature and sheer singing might align with the French sparrow, Edith Piaf. Most of her songs revolved around her sociological alien experiment theme—a reaction to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis–singing, “Are we really living or just walking dead?” Though she never fully answered the question, her inexhaustible energy led her to moonwalking (Michael Jackson’s moves were practically hereditary at times) both into and on top of the crowd. As the complete package Janelle Monae is a name I expect we’ll hear a lot of.
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Being that I’m a cynical ass and this here is a “Music From Ireland” showcase, for a brief moment I fully expected that I’d be starting this recap with a joke about potatoes, or maybe car bombs (the drink), or Lucky Charms, or car bombs (the unconscionable acts of Euro-terrorism), or the pompousness of Bono, or… well, gosh, the possibilities are endless!
So much for that plan: Giveamanakick deserve to be taken seriously. The diagonal engine-revving of the opening guitar riff caught me in the throat as soon as I walked in, and the next forty minutes were positively unrelenting. Train-wreck-in-a-box vocals, Tom Morello vertical contours, guttural kick drum rolls, and, at one point, a power chord juxtaposed against a droning high E string which were positively transcendent together, especially in this particular context.
See, the depth of arrangement was stunning for a duo, but at the same time, with just two grumbling Irishmen on stage, it was almost like a minimalist reduction of punk—the genuinely aggressive kind, not just the regional-flavor Dropkick Murphy thing. That’s still an oversimplification, though: It was too jagged and prog-rock and stuttering and, well, too admirable and difficult. I’ve met a fair number of punk rock kids over the years, and they generally can’t do anything remotely like this because they just don’t practice enough. It’s not actually loose and reckless—you just have to make it look that way.
Having discovered these guys, CMJ suddenly makes sense again. The sheer number of shows and the alarming who-the-hell-is-that ratio can be pretty intimidating, and sometimes enough to overcome even the most meticulous of logistical organization attempts. But all across the city, new under-appreciated treasures are popping up in front of music lovers as if in a game of rock-and-roll Whack-A-Mole. Eat that, Guitar Hero. I stumbled upon this accidentally, instead expecting the Autodrone set that’s going down a couple blocks away, but it’s far and away the best thing I’ve seen this week so far. I’ve been drinking sponsored-by-Red-Bulls for days, but come tomorrow morning I’ll finally be re-energized for real.
Let’s set the record straight here, the Gallery Bar is chic, but it’s also the most unorganized place I’ve ever been to. They proceeded to let people in… then kicked them all out because they didn’t check RSVP’s at the door. Oh, it gets worse. We then waited in line for nearly two hours just to get inside, and the music started 2 hours late. So those there to see Madlib and J-Rocc had to wait until the wee hours of the morning. Thankfully, despite the wait and the disorganized nature of the venue, the Stones Throw cats delivered.
Obviously the warm-up DJ, Mayer Hawthorne kept things old school as we were walking into the venue. Spinning strictly old soul tracks, he set the tone for the rest of the night. Not exactly an easy task considering who is up after you. DJ’s are less of openers and more of vibe setters, so if one DJ can’t deliver then the whole vibe of the night is ruined. With Stones Throw, you need not worry about the vibe ever being killed.
Peanut Butter Wolf
When Peanut Butter hits the decks, you know things are about to get serious. While some of the DJ’s were using Serato throughout the night, Peanut Butter Wolf was having none of it and spun the real wax. With a stellar mix of soul, hip-hop, jazz, and funk from around the globe, people started dancing whether they wanted to or not. Peanut Butter Wolf has enough skills for an entire wrecking crew of DJ’s, and frankly puts many of what’s “hot” out there to shame. This stuff is timeless. Not to mention, he’s got style
To be honest, this was the highlight of the showcase. I once heard from a DJ’s perspective, that you are only as good as the last record you played. If that’s the case then Pants just kept getting better and better. He understood the crowd in front of him first and foremost, but he was playing tracks that people recognized from hip-hop hits, such as original samples from the likes of Biz Markie. It was like playing musical trivia with this man, but no one stopped moving long enough in order to figure out what exactly he was playing. They got lost in the records—in my mind, a perfect turntable set.
One of the newest cats on the Stones Throw crew, Funk brought a different vibe than the rest of the crew. Playing more dance-worthy tracks and heavy beat based down-tempo records. The crowd ate it up just the same. Somehow melding that slow down style into a hip-hop electro jam was beyond my knowledge and grasp of the turntables. Once again, if you run with the Stones Throw crew, you roll with the best of the business. If you can scratch faster than Qbert but don’t know your records, this is a crew you won’t find yourself hangin’ with.
I had heard mixed reviews about Marnie Stern’s live set. I was told it was either going to be her with a band or her with an iPod. I was praying for the former, and thankfully she delivered, performing with a band that provided the perfect backing for Stern’s optimum shredding. Her records have never completely captivated me, but she is one hell of a performer. Everything is secondary to her guitar playing, and you have to admire that. It’s easy to forget about the quality of song when you’re shredding, but Stern never forgets that if the song is no good, then people aren’t going to listen.