7 June 2002: Irving Plaza New York
Two Tribes (Go to War)
Meshell Ndegéocello is not a mere popstar, but a woman with a mission. A sonic revolutionary, if you will. Thus the questing masses were out in force at her Manhattan date to receive the Message. Ndegéocello’s current new release, Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape (Maverick), displays her as not merely an enthusiast for hard-edged black poetry from various eras of the last century (spanning from the publicly closeted Harlem Renaissance master Countee Cullen—who was once wed to deified New Negro scholar W.E.B. DuBois’ daughter Yolande—to prison poet and habitual junkie Etheridge Knight) but also the devotee of the best of polemical soul music as embodied by the late great Curtis Mayfield. The lugubrious and smoky stage space, in addition to intermittent sociopolitical musings, seemed to transform the Ballroom into the Bottom Line and similar rooms wherein black artists of the ‘70s golden era recorded live albums which are now the stuff of legend.
From the Cookie-derived opener “Pocketbook”, Mama Meshell’s legend continued its progression, ratified by giddy critics, comely Afro-chic lesbian couples, hip-hop heads, aging hippies, wiccans and regular working class blackfolk enlightened enough to embark on adventure with Urbanworld’s own Joan of Arc. The crowd was rewarded with precious few bass popping interludes from her—my sole gripe, other than the absence of revisiting “Leviticus: Faggot”—yet hung on her every utterance and sigh nonetheless.
“I like blue,” she said, constantly urging the techs to eliminate the stage lights. Ultimately, Ndegéocello was nothing but a shadow in a blue gloom, a limned being from whom flowed wisdom and Mellow. She stayed away from any up-tempo material, beyond a heartening Go-Go breakdown (for those of us DC natives in the house) and Peace Beyond Passion‘s great “Deuteronomy: Niggerman”. The Funkadelic cover “Better By The Pound” (as on disc) was slowed down and stretched out almost beyond recognition, the famous refrain of “There’s a tidal wave of mysticism surging through our space-age generation It’s all designed to take us to the sky” echoing again and again across the room like a wave, inferred as her personal mantra. Certainly, with each subsequent recorded offering, Ndegéocello’s cosmic consciousness has seemed to grow by leaps and bounds, reflected in the complexity of her lyrics and arrangements.
The guiding voices of Gil Scott-Heron, Angela Davis et al so prominent on the record were absent live, one of the stray references to that cache of “primordial” wisdom being a jazzy exploration of Stevie Wonder’s “Too High”. Beyond the sharp “GOD.FEAR.MONEY” and the satirically scathing attack on bling-bling subculture that is “Priorities 1-6”, the music expanded into one virtually amorphous suite, the intimacy and muted energy attributed to Sunday night. The focus was on the new album’s sensual explorations such as “Berryfarms” and harkened back to older sultry standards such as “Stay” and “Let Me Have You”. All was awash in mind-and-mood altering eroticism, the laidback band supporting the endeavor to turn everybody out and free our asses.
Chocolate Genius aka Mark Anthony Thompson might have done better to hang out over the intervening week until he could open for Nashville Pussy. Heralding Meshell’s show, The Genius’ sly raps about the alienation of playing Wyoming and suffering audience abuse in the Motor City seemed somehow more appropriate to the rowdy crowd Nashville Pussy draws—as his music and madness were largely lost on the Bowery Ballroom attendees. Surely the tune he wrote upon discovering black Jamaicans’ love of country music, entitled “Niggabilly”, just begs for collaboration from Pussy lead guitarist Ruyter Suys. Clever as he is, Thompson would likely have appreciated this other side of the Booty Nation, a fellow pierced and tattooed tribe under the sway of Eros and flame-thrower guitar.
Our favorite Atlanta-based Hellbilly-metal combo returned to the Apple last Friday to kick some ass, onstage fire-breathing receded into their Myth but semi-kitschy sexual innuendo well intact. She may not be a 6-foot plus Glamazon yet new bassist KatieLynn Campbell—who looks like she could be the sister of Big Sister’s guitar goddess Shelly Prior—certainly held her own, her laidback and mysterious brand of sexiness perhaps even more compelling. Campbell served as the perfect foil and counterpoint to Suys who remains an endlessly energetic she-devil of the six-string, an unholy and vainglorious Athena to The Nuge’s Zeus. All hail the Queen with her blonde corkscrew curls flying and tongue poking out whom made damn sure the band pushed the volume well past 11. Suys was making the sainted Allen Collins on high mighty proud. And yep, her convulsing with her axe in her bra is enough of a visual to make folk of every orientation horny.
Lest you miss the parallel with Meshell, Nashville Pussy has got a message to spread as well. Their new disc Say Something Nasty (Artemis) contains words of wisdom for the booty and the intellect, especially if you dwell in the milieu where wang dang sweet poontang is always uppermost on your mind, you know how to keep your cocaine usage manageable and you invariably drink your breakfast. The disc also features a cover from the ‘70s heyday: “Rock N Roll Hoochie Coo”. Jams new (“You Give Drugs a Bad Name”, “The Bitch Just Kicked Me Out”) and old (“High As Hell”, “She’s Got the Drugs”, “Go Motherfucker Go”) reaffirmed the band’s rawk bona fides as did an impassioned citation of Nueva York as a rocknroll town for spawning a legendary group that influenced them: The Ramones . . . Dee Dee RIP (not so subtly getting in a dig at the lackluster Strokes and the much-hyped Brooklyn colony of Fischerspooner et al). There was even a large black and silver banner hung behind the drum riser, embellished with an eagle, stars, a banner bearing the national symbol for spirits and burlesque XXX and proudly stating “In lust we trust.” I believe people think The Pussy are not to be trusted, white trash purveying high-octane metal and pushing the trailer aesthetic over the top. To be sure, these heirs of ZZ Top, The Dictators, Motorhead and Skynyrd don’t make southern rock as complex as Big Star or even their contemporaries from Athens, the Drive-By Truckers. Yet, in the grand tradition of Funky President George Clinton and his guitar army of Afronauts, this quartet strives to rescue rock ‘n’ roll from the blahs. When lead singer/guitarist Blaine Cartwright rasped out a verse of the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See” as preface to his own “Go To Hell” and the band appeared onstage shortly after Robert Plant finished wailing “What Is and What Should Never Be” over the PA, it is possible to flash on The Pussy’s trickster fusion. They are successful by spurring misrule as the means to subvert Aryan ideals of grueling work ethic, industriousness, health and sobriety.
This last was underlined as Cartwright brought the show into the home stretch by dousing his wife Suys with a long-necked bottle of Bud and making her fellate it while she delivered a blistering solo on her knees. The crowd at Irving may have been less reverent and more sparse but it is impossible to claim they were not as moved as the silently rapt followers at Ndegéocello’s concert. The Pussy’s Redneck Manifesto could rival the scope and thrust of Meshell’s trenchant investigations of the State of the Black World. Moreover, Meshell and Blaine were essentially on the same page, the former almost nonverbal, the latter strident. Obliquely echoing his comrade across the funk-twang continuum, making like a badass trailer outlaw version of Mario Savio, he closed the Nashville Pussy show exhorting the crowd to “Keep on fuckin’!!!” Any ol’ way you choose it, them are words to live by.