[15 February 2012]
It’s not just any day you get to see the private photos of Lenny Kravitz. Those muted moments of gawky teenage dances and childhood birthday smiles interrupted by a lineup of missing baby teeth. Or earlier times still when the now-dapper American rock star is coddled by his TV star parents, wearing nothing but coveralls and a bib. If you’re Lisa Bonet, you may have seen these in some ritual of courting that would be Cosby approved. If you’re Zoe Kravitz, no doubt you have witnessed these images and used them as blackmail to beat curfew.
But the average Joe and Jane who dotted the aisles in the opulent Chicago Theatre? Nope, this was a first-time invitation. And a humbling moment for a night that started gregariously with toned guns blazing from under a sleeveless vest and gams gracing the stage like it was a GQ-sponsored catwalk. If there was a turning point for the show, the moment that made it transform from glitter to guts, it was this, six songs in as Kravitz debuted the personally motivated title track from his newest album Black and White America (released last August on Roadrunner/Atlantic) while a film reel of dusty photos broadcast on a large screen behind him.
“God blessed me with a great childhood… with two strong parents who were completely different,” he divulged, hinting at the interracial union (his mother was African-American Roxie Roker, best known for her role on The Jeffersons; his father, Sy Kravitz, a Russian-Jewish NBC exec) that was molded in the ‘70s. “I didn’t know prejudice. That was something I learned later.”
The song details the story, “In 1963, my father married (a black woman) / And when they walked the streets / They were in danger (look what you’ve done ) / But they just kept walking forward hand in hand” before the chorus placates the injustice with a mirror of hope, “The future looks as though it has come around/And maybe we have finally found our common ground.”
While the melody is decidedly funkadelic, the song itself is soulful, imbuing the topic of race into a catalog brimming with rogue numbers about rock and romance. Perhaps its Kravitz’s growing maturity (he’s two years short of 50) that brings a sense of nostalgia to his latest retro-flavored album that some critics have called his best in years. While Kravitz has buoyed an attentive career on rock anthems (“Are You Gonna Go My Way?”), pop contemporaries (“Fly Away”) and a dabbling of Marvin Gave’s sensual spice (“It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over”), Black and White America is mighty in its salutation of a bygone era of hippie psychedelia, funk fusion, and early R&B, all brought to a boiling point in a melting pot of these American staples.
The night was rightfully dedicated to much of the new album, “Come On a Get It” opening the set while the Schoolhouse Rock-influenced “Stand” and bolder still “Rock Star City Life” distempered the more recognizable pellets in Kravitz’s arsenal. And the singer/guitarist, fresh from an extended tour of Europe, thankfully came prepared to traverse the sonic landscape of the album with a mattress of support from a six-man talent crew, including one of the best utilized horn sections seen at a rock show in recent memory. An all-hands-on-deck run-through of “Where Are We Running” quickly solidified this point.
When Kravitz wasn’t engaged in soft core shredding with his lead guitarist, he was genuflecting in the corner during the trumpeter and saxophonist solos, grabbing the gold chains around his neck and removing his sunglasses in reverent admiration. It was these moments, and not the rainstorm of strobe or fawning women or video montages of Lohan-looking girls dressed in cop costumes, that made the night truly rockstar.
While Kravitz has certainly led the life and may have in the past made tabloid covers as often as he has Rolling Stone; become as known as a debonair as he has a part-time actor (see him next in The Hunger Games), Black and White America should offer no grey area on where Kravitz stands as a true talent: in the studio, on stage, and if you’re really lucky, in cameos in home videos. Hopefully he had a Polaroid of this late January show, as it was surely one for his record books.