Raekwon might be responsible for one of this year’s best albums but as his Washington D.C. fans found out earlier this week, he’s far from infallible. To be fair, the deck was stacked against him from the start: it was a cold Tuesday night and the 9:30 Club was less than half full. After a brief DJ set heavy on classic ‘90s cuts, the Chef came out swinging, digging deep with Wu classics like “C.R.E.A.M.” and old solo favorites like “Ice Cream”. Problem was, without the much-needed assists from his fellow Clan members, the songs were sapped of much of their momentum. Tracks from Raekwon’s latest opus, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II fared far better, with both “House of Flying Daggers” and “New Wu” being delivered with particular urgency. The night’s guest stars, however, left something to be desired. Though billed as Capone-N-Noreaga, the latter was a no show, though that didn’t stop Capone from trying—and failing—to carry the weight of the N.O.R.E. hit “Nothin’”. Still, Capone managed to cultivate some good will by effusively professing his love for the District, though it was immediately squandered by a hype man who mistakenly yelled, “Pittsburgh, make some noise!”. A lot of noise was indeed made, though it was probably not the kind he had had in mind.
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Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker, better known as the acid jazz downtempo sensation Zero 7, performed to a near capacity crowd at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre not quite two weeks ago. The duo, based out of London England and supported by vocalists Eska Mtungwazi and Martha Tilston, was in town for the first time in three years to promote their new album Yeah Ghost. The contributing artists accompanied Binns and Hardaker’s signature synth-driven melodies with a plethora of traditional and unique instruments, often giving the impression that you were listening to totally different bands from one song to the next. The songs constantly transitioned from jazzy numbers, like “Pop Art Blue” with its soulful lyrics, to bass heavy instrumentals, such as “Seeing Things,” that were reminiscent of early “808 State” songs and had the crowd dancing around with reckless abandon. This variety of tempo and style kept the performance unpredictable and very entertaining to watch. A lively three-song encore that included “In The Waiting Line,” “The Pageant Of The Bizarre,” and “All Of Us” concluded an already strong performance and left fans shouting “Zero 7 rules” and clapping long after the band left the stage.
Last June I was informed of a band, Fanfarlo, and was offered their album, Reservoir, for a $1 download. So nonchalantly I purchased it. It wasn’t until the end of summer though, after I heard they were playing NYC with Jonsi and Alex (Riceboy Sleeps) DJ’ing the same show, that I finally listened to their CD. It did not sink in right away, but I soon found myself listening to it repeatedly. As an aside, Peter Katis, of Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, CT, is the linchpin in this string of relations as he produced both Reservoir and Jonsi’s forthcoming album Go (as well as the new Swell Season album, Strict Joy, amongst others.)
Emulating the first actual cold winter’s night of the season the Phenomenal Handclap Band began their set with the opening track from their eponymous debut, “The Journey to Serra da Estrela.” Its spaced out moaning winds echoed those outside, creating the perfect beginning to a celebratory night (the band returned to New York after months of touring) that was punctuated with repeated surprises. Unfortunately none were musical.
I’ll say this much for Ghostland Observatory—they have a great lighting rig. Wafer-thin sheets and spires in all manner of colors peppered the room the moment the lights went down; it was hard not to get excited with the visuals alone, but just in case, the band members also wore sparkly garb to heighten the effect. Frontman Aaron Behrens’ voice is rubbery and unpredictable enough to be engaging almost no matter what the context, but for the most part this is a duo so dependent on autopilot that there will rarely be more than 1.25 people actually playing anything at any given time. Thomas Turner, actually rocking a cape (sparkly), did his part by pushing the various triggers and play buttons, but Behrens’ purpose is apparently primarily to make it appear as though there is more than just that happening. It only worked sometimes, the most notable shortcomings being the faux-abstract portions that inevitably screamed either FUN WITH PRESETS or else ROSS HAS A KEYBOARD. Oh, and then there was the talkbox, for which Turner channeled not Frampton nor Kanye, but Richie Sambora. (So are we actually supposed to be distracted from the music by all these shiny things?) I think we can all agree that seeing this band is a hell of a lot better than merely listening to them, because this was a wonderful presentation of largely boring songs. But hey, welcome to the music industry.