If you are a fan of hip-hop, you owe it to yourself to catch the ‘Renegades of Rhythm Tour’ currently making its way across the states. For this event, two renowned turntablists, DJ Shadow (Josh Davis) and Cut Chemist (Lucas MacFadden) sifted through the historic and legendary record collection of Afrika Bambaataa to create a 90-plus-minute set encompassing all of hip-hop that they are currently touring (dates below). At New York’s Irving Plaza, Bambaataa himself was present in the balcony enjoying the proceedings and perhaps watching with a bit of diligence, given the duo were working with some rare acetates, demos, originals that he has owned, and maybe even performed with, for the past few decades. In an introduction, Shadow held up a record for the audience to show them the giant chunk missing from the near the edge, yet they still planned to spin it in their set. Also on site was hip-hop photographer Joe Conzo, both working from the pit alongside the media and displaying a gallery of his own legendary pieces of hip-hop history from the ‘70s and ‘80s in New York.
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It’s easy to miss Constellation—I nearly did. The venue, tucked into a small row of brick buildings in Chicago’s North Side, has no flashy sign or major distinguishing marker on its unassuming front face. Its placement near an underpass brings to mind the phrase “hole in the wall.” But on an otherwise ordinary Sunday evening, the intimate venue, which has the layout of a chamber theatre, was given a potent dose of music, spanning a broad range of contemporary art music. Quite a lot of music filled the small space.
NPR’s Bob Boilen introduced The New Pornographers with an explanation of the title of the band’s newest album Brill Bruisers. It had been inspired by the sounds and music that were written in the Brill Building - the same unique one-off venue that the audience was standing in. The Brill Building had ben home to numerous pop music publishing houses in the mid 1900s where many chart-toppers were written. However, the building is currently under renovation, which is why the audience (including Will Sheff of Okkervil River and Neko Cases’s parents) found themselves in a open and industrial-looking construction space for the temporary stage. Boilen was quickly gave the stage over to AC Newman, Neko Case, Kathryn Calder, occasionally Dan Bejar and the rest of The New Pornographers who performed an energetic and sweaty set of new material and older classics. Their set was furious and tight given they only had about an hour to play through songs like “War on the East Coast”, “Brill Bruisers” (which they performed just a block or two up at the Ed Sullivan Theater the night before) and “Backstairs”. Before the last song, “Bleeding Heart Show”, Newman suggested the band had to remember how to play this dusty old rarity but if the audience didn’t laugh at that joke they still appeared more than tickled as many were singing “hey-la” along with the band.
The Polyphonic Spree have over 20 members in their band (a smaller amount for this tour) and are currently wrapping up a Summer tour that supports their most recent album, Yes, It’s True. This was my first time seeing them live and, upon first glance at the band, I was immediately struck by two different visions of what I was seeing. Their ‘60s apparel, particularly band leader Tim DeLaughter’s shaggy hair and flowing shirt made it seem like I was either taking a peek into a party with a lot of marijuana smokers or witnessing a cult-leader try to persuade people to join his brainwashed masses. The spinning disco lights that lit most of the show furthered the first hypothesis, that and their Flaming Lips-esque trippy music of course. The show wasn’t sold out but the fans packed in tight near the stage to gaze rapturously into DeLaughter’s eyes presumably. It was such a positive experience that the band did their breakaway hit “Light & Day” twice back to back just wantonly throwing their positivity about.
It wouldn’t be hard to believe that Jack White, head honcho of Third Man Records, had a say in Saturday’s lineup at the Newport Folk Festival, given that many acts who’ve released something on the label or dabbled with him in the studio appeared that day. There was John C. Reilly and Pokey Lafarge just to name a couple (okay, you want a few more as proof? Try Chris Thile, Shovels & Rope and Haden Triplets). Plus I saw Beck wandering around on Friday (a few days later White made a guest appearance at one of Beck’s shows). White himself was taking in sets from various acts on Saturday, including young guitarist (and NPR-intern reject) Benjamin Booker, his own label’s Language Lessons reading series (Third Man now has a publishing arm) and taking Polaroid selfies with people.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it out on Sunday so I missed a ton of good photo ops but it was hard to even catch most of the surprise moments on the days I did go. I missed Mavis Staples do guest appearances at least twice - she joined Lake Street Dive on Friday and Lucius on Saturday for example. Of what I did see (non White-related), Reignwolf put on one of the most aggressive sets. Hozier was quite busy, with two short sets on Friday and Saturday and a proper set Sunday. Ryan Adams was thrilling to see live for the first time. Sun Kil Moon (who didn’t allow photos) expressed concern about the number of white people at the festival and how as he was getting older, his dick “wants to do things” but his body can no longer keep up before singing a song he wrote for his mother. Jimmy Cliff received round after round of applause for a set that included a fantastic cover of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World”.