About 30 minutes after the doors opened, the bar area of Greenpoint’s Warsaw was already full and “Eisbar” was playing on the jukebox. In the main space, someone was up on stage DJing with about 40 people gathered in front of the stage. I got a bit closer, and to my great surprise and pleasure, I discovered the DJ was New York City’s own Bhangra player, DJ Rekha (who was billed only as “Special Guest”). I usually don’t like making grand, sweeping statements, but I’ll go out on a limb here and just say that DJ Rekha may be one of the most interesting and fun persons having anything to do with music in NYC. After five years of rave reviews for her club night “Basement Bhangra”, it’s nice to see Rekha getting out playing gigs as an opening act to audiences that may not be too familiar with the Bhangra scene. This night she was getting things going with what I would call deep and dubby-sounding Bhangra. I was loving it, but the growing crowd seemed barely responsive. She even dropped a track using the instrumental (bootleg?) of the super popular “Good Morning” by Panjabi MC and no dancing ensued. But Rekha had other things on her mind. After her set, she announced that the US had just started bombing Iraq. After a really enjoyable set, this news hit like a ton of bricks.
As her turntables were taken off the stage, a bit of lover’s rock reggae was appropriately being played over the PA in preparation for the Streets to take the stage. A handful of tunes later, the stage lights dimmed and a bassist, drummer, and keyboard/Powerbook player took the stage. The opening strings sample for “Turn the Page” started up, and with the lights still dark and no Mike Skinner in sight, the MC’s voice came over the PA to huge cheers from crowd. At this moment I felt like I was about to see the best show of the year, and, accordingly,I started getting goose bumps. The lights then came on strong and out came Skinner with fellow MC Kevin Mark Trail launching into a full on British Hip Hop assault. Skinner was wearing track pants and a Nike shirt, looking more like a certain white American rapper than the Fred Perry-sporting bloke I was expecting.
Throughout the set Skinner was all over the stage, drinking a Heineken or proudly sipping a glass of whiskey (I think he had five, but who’s counting), pouring beer down the throats and over the faces of people in the front row like a frat boy. He also seemed rather excited to be in NYC, as he had the crowd scream “Newwww Yorrrrk” a few times. He also engaged Kevin Mark Trail in a few beer splashing wars. Skinner even did a bit of crowd surfing. There was nothing that wasn’t lively about the set, and the sold out crowd seemed to love every second of it. Personally, the most exciting thing about the set was the intro and the first song. After that, the energy was pretty high, if maybe a bit forced.
They walked off the stage, predictably without having played the biggest Streets hit. A few cheers and handclaps later, they came back on and played “Weak Become Heroes”. Hail to the drummer who excellently played the UK garage-style beat live, something I have never seen done before. This was exciting, but did not match the excitement level of the opening number. After one encore, they said good night, the lights came up, and everyone left happy they just saw a good show. The Streets may very well be the British hip hop act most welcomed by American audiences, and maybe it’s because they’re nothing like what’s going on over here. Or are we just a bunch of anglophiles who also like hip hop? Whichever, the Streets seem to be here for the long haul.