Thirty Hertz Rumble

A bl-g about movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick

Category: 30Hz Bl-g (Page 13 of 22)

Yeasayer @ Mr. Smalls 7/31

Yeasayer's Odd Blood

Odd Blood

Yeasayer’s second album, 2010’s Odd Blood, remains one of my favorite recent rock albums. Side A contained four songs that made the first cut for my 2010 Best Of list. Leading up to this show on Tuesday I had the record on repeat, all over again. And I found these songs just as fresh as I did upon release, the perfect balance between experimental electro-pop and indie-rock.

Their latest record, Fragrant World, comes out on August 21st. I’ve listened to a stream of the record and the band has taken the next step in fully embracing that electronic undercurrent that existed as only a twinkle on their debut. The album is more experimental, a little more elusive. A record like this takes time to digest, thus I’ve withheld judgment until I can get my hands on the record proper. The thing needs to simmer.

I had these thoughts about the new record in mind as I made the trek out to Millvale for the Yeasayer/Daedelus show. How much of the new stuff would Yeasayer play considering no one would know the material? A band will sprinkle a new track into a live set here and there, but being this near the release date, would Yeasayer treat the show as a Fragrant World tour?

Yeasayer

Yeasayer

I park myself in the boozers section at the back of the venue. This is where Mr. Smalls sequesters those with the liquor from those freewheelers without. Buying a Magic Hat #9 upon arrival has become my tradition. This is also where concert-goers can find a television in front of which to idle. The MLB trading deadline had come and gone that particular day so I found myself drawn to the television because I wanted to see how Travis Snider, the new Pirates’ recruit, would fare in his first game with the team. Beer, baseball, Android Twitter and shortly thereafter, Daedelus, an electronic artist in which I’d only been marginally interested when I was actually into electronic music. It was a veritable cornucopia of multi-tasking and attention deficit.

Daedelus

Hello, did you know I spell my name with an ‘e’ where an ‘a’ should be? The more you know…

If you’ve attended a minor electronic music show, you’ll know it’s like watching professional golf from the 7th tee . It’s just a guy standing behind a box. Daedelus is a talented guy but I was distracted by baseball… and that’s just how it goes sometimes. Travis Snider, by the way, hit an infield single with his first at bat before being plated by a Neil Walker grand slam. You were concerned, I’m sure. Long story short, I was more impressed with his paisley ascot and the magnitude of the dude’s chops than I was his ability to command the crowd. He dresses like a host for BBC’s Masterpiece Theater.

Round of applause. “Yeasayer’s coming up next.” More applause. Daedelus exited stage right, chilled at the swag table.

I went back to watching the baseball game and Tweeting nonsense. It’s the fourth inning by now and AJ Burnett hasn’t given up a hit against the Cubs. To be fair to the Cubs, they are the Cubs (a AAAA lineup), but good for AJ, nonetheless.

Yeasayer, Mr. Smalls 7/31/12

Obligatory nondescript shit on stage picture.

Yeasayer arrives on stage at the end of the 5th, all business, their entrance prefaced by a mix of someone saying “Pittsburgh” over and over again. Without any hesitation they launch into an electronic-heavy song I didn’t immediately recognize. A new song, of course. During shows I like to make notes about the setlist for my write-ups. After the third song, I put my phone and it’s notepad away. Three songs. All new. The crowd’s into it. There’s a nice beat, creative synth, etc. But the show’s growing flatter with each new song. I’d never seen a show start with a handful of songs plucked from an album that hasn’t yet been released. And not once did the band address the crowd. I know some people crave that band/crowd interaction because they want to experience a band’s personality, but I just don’t consider it necessary. If they’re cool with chatting the crowd up, then that’s a bonus. But we came to hear music and music they were going to play. Beirut, The Twilight Sad, all business, no problem.

Rogue Dead Guy on tap

If you see this guy, tap it.

I get my second beer, a Rogue Dead Guy. AJ’s still throwing that no-hitter in the 6th. Yeasayer finally plays their first “recognized” song. I’d tell you what it was but as I said, I gave up on the notes. If I’m tossing out names, I’ll say it was “I Remember” from Odd Blood and move on from there. The crowd jumps into full-on sing mode. Muscle dudes in tank-tops are bobbing, likewise, the PBR sippers. A lively reaction for a mid-tempo rocker from a crowd starved for familiarity.

After only a couple more familiars, Yeasayer continued with the new tracks. Still no introductions, chatter or whimsy. And I realize why it’s sometimes useful for a band to address the audience. People have more fun at shows when they know the music, there’s an intimate connection with a song you love and have listened to a few hundred times. Fans notice subtle differences, and the choices a band makes in its live set provide some nice watercooler conversation around the old blogosphere. The crowd’s being treated to some great music but when that familiarity’s not there, the song doesn’t register and therefore no connection. Even minimal interaction with the crowd could have created some grounded anticipation. Instead those new Yeasayer songs just washed over me without leaving any particular lasting impression. During a Swell Season show a few years ago, Glen Hansard prefaced each song with a one sentence synopsis like “So, I wrote this when I had my heart broken by a pretty girl from London,” which was pretty much his backstory for every song. Even this would have offered the evening some shape. Even now, one day later, as I try to remember details about their set, I’m grasping at air.

With “Ambling Alp,” sanity is restored and I can’t help but think that we’re being treated to a band at the height of it’s powers, bolstered by fan expectation for the third album, an album that,  due to its more experimental nature, can never really succeed in the same way as Odd Blood. The more ambitious sound lends itself to close examination rather than immediate gratification. It is a stark contrast to what has come before it, e.g. “Ambling Alp” and the still unplayed “Madder Red.” And then as I’m thinking all of these self-proclaimed profundities about the liquid awesomeness of this band, they hop off-stage, concluding their set.

I check the baseball score. End of the 7th. Was that a short set? Or was that just me?

Wendy's Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger

Why would I crave you again? Bah. I do. I want one.

The band returns a minute later, concludes their set by playing the remaining necessaries and then vacates, once again, all before the conclusion of the 8th inning. On one hand, I’m disappointed. The first album remained ignored. I felt like the entire act came and went faster than a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger. During those Odd Blood Side A tracks, I saw a crowd ignited by music, wanting more more more from this band, and the band responded by dancing to the beat of their own drum, almost oblivious to the audience’s cravings (speaking of cravings, I could go for a Jr. Bacon right about now). The concert-going experience proved to be analogous to my early feelings about the new album. I’m excited for the prospect of growth. I desperately want to know what this band can do, but I’m conflicted; I really want to hear “Madder Red” and “O.N.E.” and “Ambling Alp,” but Yeasayer seems content to tell me that I’ll like the new stuff better. And while that might be true, I’m just not ready to open my heart to a new record.

On the other hand, the show ended early enough that a bunch of guys, myself included, sidled up near the televisions to watch AJ try for the no-hitter and talk Pirates baseball. Something that, quite frankly, has never happened in all of the years I’ve lived in Pittsburgh. Burnett lost the no-hitter with two outs in the 8th. Many Wrigley faithful, with very little to cheer about on the home side, stand and applaud. I throw the gathered gents a nod and wander out into the night, chewing reluctantly on my conflicted thoughts about the concert, the new Yeasayer tracks and a near no-hitter because I know that my Wendy’s has already closed.

A.J. Burnett's one-hitter against the Cubs

The Cubs’ lineup card. That has to be a welcome sight for any opposing pitcher.

Notes:

I’ve said it before. Why do guys in madras shorts constantly date girls well above their pay grade? I spotted at least another three, maybe four guys wearing madras shorts at this concert.

Why was Mr. Smalls showing the WGN feed of the Pirates’ game? This bothered me for hours. But do you really go up to either bartender to be the dick that says “Hey, you know the local feed for this game is on another channel.” No. You don’t. Because they get your beer and you don’t jeopardize that relationship.

Daedelus spells his name with that random ‘e’ and not the, you know, according to the Daedalus of Greek mythology that fathered Icarus. So my bad about all those misspelled Tweets, dude.

 

 

 

Best Drinking Music

We’ve all been there. It’s 2am. You’ve been drinking since dusk and you’re just not tired enough to go to sleep. Collapsed on the couch, music plays. You might not be sure how or when it started playing, but there it is. On the turntable. The iPod dock. Maybe a Sony CF530 Boombox. If someone is there, you will tell them “Goddamn, that’s the most perfect combination of mellow inebriation and killer jams in the whole goddamn universe” If someone’s not there, you’ll say this out loud anyway. And you will wholeheartedly agree with yourself.

BUT…

What if it’s not? What if you’re nursing that ideal buzz and a favorite go-to artist is playing, but that perpetually perfect tune is suddenly wrong, all wrong, so wrong, in fact, it has killed the buzz and all you want to do is go to bed, hide under the covers and listen to the Insanity Workout infomercial because you know it’s on, it’s a constant, 100% guarantee. And at that moment, all you want is the world to make sense. Don’t lie. You’ve been there. We all handle certain liquors differently. So it should be no surprise that the right music can be the lime to your tequila, the salt on the rim of your margarita, the maraschino cherry to your Manhattan… you get the picture.

 

Craft/Microbrew Domestic Beer

I’m not talking Miller 64. Something with flavor. Brewers like Victory,  Great Lakes, Rogue, Anchor, Troegs, etc. Read some Beer Advocate if you don’t know anything about these beers. Educate yourself, hipster. The world should not be fueled by PBR. Level-headed drunks drink craft/microbrews. Excellent, Americana-flavored indie-rock requires an excellent domestic beer. It’s right there on the cover of Delta Spirit’s Ode to Sunshine. He’s drinking, having fun and most assuredly listening to “People C’mon.”

Delta Spirit

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Kyyjd0234w&feature=related[/tube]

Runners up:

Deer Tick
The Hold Steady
Devotchka

 

Shitty Domestic

Unfortunately I think we all know what happens to people when they drink American beer-flavored water. We know this because it’s a phenomenon that crosses generations, state lines, racial divides. I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve lived, in bars from Atlanta to Boston. If there’s Budweiser on draft, then there’s CCR on the jukebox and “Bad Moon Rising” on heavy rotation and for good reason. Also based on the album cover represented above, I feel it is safe to assume that there are people in Europe who also drink American beer-flavored water as well. These are the beers that go along with the Chappelle’s Show’s Samuel Jackson beer sketch. People drinking this stuff just want to get drunk (and somewhere along the way they killed all their tastebuds) and sing loudly. Credence might just be part of our DNA because have you ever met someone that didn’t know the words to “Bad Moon Rising?” Even if the say the don’t, they do and just don’t want to admit it.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BmEGm-mraE[/tube]

Runners up:

Bon Jovi
John Mellencamp (w/ or w/o the “Cougar”)
Bob Seger


Rum

I want badly to write this off as a category owned by Bob Marley, but Marley has eclipsed typecasting to one kind of liquor. Besides nobody gets toasted on piña coladas and thinks “Damn, I wish I had my Bob Marley records around.” Jamaica. Rum. Rum. Jamaica. Right? Well, only in theory. Reaction to rum runs the gamut of emotions. Rum is one of those drinks that isn’t symbiotic with 30Hz. In drinks like the Cuba Libre, it goes down far too easily. As a solo libation, I find rum intolerable. So what happens when a party degrades to the point that it has gotten rum punched? If you’re squeamish I encourage you to page down right past this one. You may not want to know the truth about rum as I’ve found it retards musical taste more than any other alcoholic beverage. But under the influence of rum, Sublime sounds like a band worth listening to again. Just don’t let those rum goggles continue to influence you the next morning.

Sublime - Second Hand Smoke

Sublime

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEYN5w4T_aM[/tube]

Runners up:

Jimmy Buffett
The Specials
No Doubt

 

Tequila

Now this is a combination I can wholeheartedly support, inside or outside the tequila bender. Slurred words, little bit of drool and high energy. Once again you’re faced with the logical cultural attractions. Can anyone, however, name one single Latin-inspired artist that really connected with tequila? I’m sure there’s some asshole out there that legitimately loves mariachi music and has a few mariachi bands on speed dial, but nobody actually wants to be a stereotype do they? I’d assume anyone reading my bl-g has more sense than that. Thus, in lieu of allowing a bunch of strange Mexicans in large hats free reign over your house, I suggest a band that’s part Rockabilly and part drunk. It’s not necessarily a logical fit– Rockabilly and tequila– but if you’ve ever been nursing that bottle of Sauza into the wee hours, I’m not sure there’s a better companion than the Reverend.

Reverend Horton Heat

Reverend Horton Heat

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYCPrLSnWbo&feature=related[/tube]

Runners up:

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Pylon
Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five


Whiskey/Bourbon

At last a genre of drunk that actually lends itself to colloquial trappings. I’ve been drunk on bourbon twice in my life. I do not fancy the stuff. But it happens. I won’t be as bold to suggest that you listen to bluegrass while drunk on whiskey no matter what Kentuckians might suggest. It’s a slow-crawl drink. Nothing happens quickly, or at all, and banjo-plucking might as well be a jackhammer on your skull. For whiskey you need to slow down, tap into some of country-music’s roots. Drunk or not, nobody should suffer mainstream country music. That last part was a public service announcement courtesy of 30Hz. Anyway, whiskey-drunk: Merle Haggard. You won’t be disappointed.

merle haggard

Merle Haggard

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gv61zBZacpo[/tube]

Runners up:

Gil Scott Heron
Connie Francis
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

 

Gin

So here’s the thing about gin: Gin is supposed to be a staple for the classy cocktailer. But have you ever seen what happens to people who’ve been drinking gin all. night. long? If you haven’t seen the effects of a full night of gin drinking, I encourage you (legal disclaimer: but do not endorse!) to try this on an acquaintance. Watch them devolve from a cerebral, witty caricature into a sloppy Peter O’Toole. Gin will convince you that opening a restaurant at the bottom of the ocean is a good idea. You’ll also be missing a shoe. But in my mind, there’s nothing better for a gin daze than jazz. Specifically Ella Fitzgerald, because scat-singing sounds just as intelligible as regular conversation.

ella fitzgerald

 Ella Fitzgerald

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFrz11K_i6k&feature=related[/tube]

Runners up:

Bonzo Dog Band
Guru
Four Tet

 

Vodka

Vodka holds the drunken world together, man and woman, bingers and sippers. Pairs with juices, Red Bulls, Vitamin Waters. If it’s in your fridge, there’s a good chance that someone’s paired it with vodka. But if it’s good with everything, consumed by everybody, how can you pigeonhole such an all-purpose libation into one artist? By justifying that artist as the hippest, chillest and most sampled artist in electronic music. And if you’re chill, you’re drinking from a squat glass with a clear liquid. Kraftwerk, like vodka, is the ultimate mood enhancer. Not too high, like tequila or rum… and not too low, like whiskey or gin.

kraftwerk action figures

Kraftwerk

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaScyfSHc-Y[/tube]

Runners up:

Booker T. and the MGs
A Tribe Called Quest
Hall & Oates

Peach Schnapps

If you’re of a certain generation and you get a little more than tipsy on Peach Schnapps, chances are you’re going to be listening to this guy and considering it a raucous evening. And quite frankly, I can’t blame you. Tom Jones makes that Schnapps worthwhile. Hell, I’d drink the schnapps just to justify the Tom Jones.

Tom Jones

Tom Jones

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec3jIipfBqs[/tube]

Runners up:

Robert Goulet
Neil Diamond

Barry Manilow

 

Everything

Only one artist that goes well with every drink, every drunk, and every stupor. 2am belongs to Tom Waits.

Tom Waits, the ruler of 2am and beyond

Tom Waits

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovuPvITFptc&feature=related[/tube]

 

Everything Else

Sometime Tom Waits doesn’t sit well, like bad sushi. Blame the bartender for watering down the drinks and you having too too many too quickly or your friends for enabling the consumption of mass quantities. When this happens, and you’ve blown right past the Tom Waits threshold, there’s only one place to turn. And, again, I must warn you… if you’re squeamish, turn back now. Stop reading. If you’ve never been this drunk and still conscious, then maybe you don’t want to know the truth about flat out, dumb, stupid tipsy. I wouldn’t blame you. But if you’ve been there. You most likely found yourself in a karaoke bar. And if you went dumb, stupid tipsy and found yourself in a karaoke bar, someone in your group, perhaps all of you, sang the Spice Girls.

spice girls

Spice Girls

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJLIiF15wjQ[/tube]

 

Yellow Ostrich/Los Campesinos! @ Brillobox 6/24

More often than not lately I buy tickets to shows just because I want to see the opening act. I went to see Hospitality and stayed for Here We Go Magic. I make the easy agreement with myself that if I’m not enjoying the show, I have my own 100% permission to bail, no guilt. But I don’t bail because more often than not I find something in the live act that I’d not heard previously on the studio recordings. So it went, most recently, with Here We Go Magic. I’d always liked the band, but heavy rotation wasn’t in their past, present or future. Now I have Here We Go Magic’s debut record in the easy-to-access stack of vinyl next to the turntable.

Yellow Ostrich, Mistress

I’ve been following Yellow Ostrich since I heard John Richards spin a track from their EP Fade Cave on KEXP in 2009 (stream the radio station on www.kexp.org). Smitten, I downloaded both the EP and full length Mistress without hesitation.

Side note: listening to KEXP is the always the worst thing for my music budget. On any given day I’ll hear three or four new bands that I buy or toss on my wishlist. It’s a disease. Also, I trust John Richard’s taste in music more than my own. Dude is absolutely infallible. By the way, I’m listening to him now as I write this and just threw the new Exitmusic release in my to-buy list. And now he’s playing the Cure. If I were more awesome, I’d be John Richards. But I digress.

Sunday, Yellow Ostrich opened for Welsh pop-punkers Los Campesinos! (though none of them are originally from Wales), a band I perpetually enjoy but never love. A few tracks have really grabbed me.

For example, this track from Hello Sadness made my Best of 2011 list.

[tube] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOseg2IktAE[/tube]

Yellow Ostrich did not disappoint. I put up a little write up for the band’s new release on my intermittent 30Hz Recommended posts and wrote the review for Spill Magazine. From that review:

“Strange Land is the intersection of the familiar with the surreal. Frontman Alex Schaaf, a mad musical professor, under the moniker Yellow Ostrich, recorded the Fade Cave EP and The Mistress at his home in Wisconsin. In 2010 he moved to New York, released The Mistress on Barsuk Records and found himself a legitimate full-blown three-piece band, adding multi-instrumentalist Joe Natchez and drummer Michael Tapper. The songs on The Mistress are minimalist, vocal loops and solo instrumentation mixed into something raw and personal. Schaaf’s journey from the familiar (Wisconsin, working solo) to the surreal, the strange (New York, bandmates) influences everything on Strange Land, an album that embodies the schizophrenia of a man caught between two worlds.”

Alex Schaaf

Alex Schaaf

Schaaf and co. didn’t disappoint. Their live orchestration was tight and Schaaf’s performance made it clear that he pours his soul into his music. Every song sapped his energy and only the promise of performing the next one revived him. I’d been most curious how the full band would handle Schaaf’s compositions from his earlier, solo work from Mistress and Fade Cave. Both “Whale” and “Mary” sounded very similar to Schaaf’s solo mad-scientist recordings but with more depth. A live performance with more musicians, inevitably, has that effect. Just hearing the live version of the fragile “Whale,” in particular, made the show worthwhile. That was the song that caused me to buy the small Yellow Ostrich catalog back in 2009 and it still stood out as a unique and brilliant song among the new material.

Whale (recorded live at KEXP in 2011):

[tube] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfWDmDPKKDE[/tube]

After the Yellow Ostrich set, as I have made a habit of doing, I hung out by the swag table to buy a record and chat. Schaaf hung around for a few minutes receiving some much deserved fan adulation. I only chatted him up for a few minutes about his abbreviated two week tour with Los Campesinos! that concludes in Miami of all places. He lamented the termination as the band must then spin their van back back down the long road from Florida to New York City while Los Campesinos! hops on a plane back to the UK. He seemed like a genuine guy with an easy sense of humor.

Los Campesinos!

Los Campesinos!

Los Campesinos! bounds on stage. I knew very little about the band’s makeup. Suddenly there’s a flood of musicians on the tiny Brillobox stage. If you’ve been to the Brillobox venue here in Pittsburgh, imagine a cluster of seven musicians on that miniature platform that’s more like a soap box. Led on stage by lead singer Gareth (an apparent well of infinite enthusiasm despite claiming to have been exhausted by taking to a Southside pub for the afternoon football match), the band launches into their opener and the crowd immediately begins fist-pumping and bouncing and screaming lyrics. Easily the most energetic crowd I’ve witnessed at Brillobox and probably the loudest show. Seven bandmembers, seven instruments play loud but the cacophony somehow doesn’t overcome the long, rectangular space. Their brand of indie-pop is raucous with a post-punk twist. Think Built to Spill with Joy Division and a dash of the Clash and Belle & Sebastian.

Between the two- or three-song blocks, Gareth once pauses to berate the crowd for being “so damn nice” (and he follows this by clarifying “And that’s not a good thing”) and mocks the gathered for cheering whenever he says “Pittsburgh.” “It’s such a silly American thing, all this irrational civic pride” he says and from there on refers to Pittsburgh as “the place that shall not be named.” His banter is good-natured and very British, which allows him to get away with saying pretty much anything he likes. He has the shiny, happy hipster crowd of 120 eating out of his hand. By the time the band plays “You! Me! Dancing!” the venue erupts and I’ve got to wonder what the show sounds like to those gathered in the bar downstairs. The floor bounces and the united patrons scream the chorus in perfect synchronicity.

“You! Me! Dancing!” off Hold On Now, Youngster (2008) is just pure joy. I couldn’t find a live version with decent audio. A shame.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj6SO_yKMe8&feature=list_related&playnext=1&list=AL94UKMTqg-9CDeaGmzyVa06JZTtdb_KWj [/tube]

It’s one of those live music moments you’ll want to bottle and remember every time the song plays. The band milks the live show for everything they’ve got. It’s no wonder they’ve built such a positive reputation for their shows.

Every time I hear Los Campesinos! I’ll still have that live performance informing all of those studio recordings. And now the previously flat music has a life and vigor that didn’t exist previously. If this tour happens to stop in your town, just go. Hang out, have a drink and enjoy some great music the way it was meant to be heard.

Notes:

Modelo EspecialIf you’re at a bar noted for its selection of microbrews and craft beer do not stride confidently up to the bar and order “the cheapest, shittiest beer you’ve got.” When a great beer, on tap, costs $5, it’s just weird. I really wish I had a picture of the guy that hopped up on the bar stool, made this request and then sat there sipping a can of Modelo (which, btw, was the cheapest, shittiest beer they had).

If you go to these shows in Pittsburgh and you see some asshole standing by himself using Twitter as company before a show, it’s probably me. Feel free to say hello, unless you just hopped up on the bar stool next to me and ordered something “cheap and shitty” because I’m probably Tweeting about you.

I paraphrase everything. Don’t think that just because I’m using quotation marks around a phrase spoken by the lead singer that I’m repeating anything verbatim. Because 1) I’ve been drinking. 2) I’m not recording the show because I see the guy that stands there recording everything on his phone and he always looks like an asshole. Just enjoy the show, dude.

Yellow Ostrich frontman Alex Schaaf recorded a re-imagining of Radiohead’s Kid A using two pianos, two violins and two cellos. It’s pretty fantastic. Listen and download here: Schaaf’s Kid A

Also, for reference, a picture of the Brillobox stage.

Those Darlins at the Brillobox, Pittsburgh

Photo by Hugh Twyman

30Hz Recommended: Curumin

CuruminIn the spirit of World Music Day, or because I just happened to stumble across this release in the KCRW Spotify App on World Music Day, I’ve got to journey to the highest mountain and spread the word about Curumin’s Arrocha. And by journey, I mean take a break from work for a moment. And by highest mountain, I mean my bl-g, which is more of a glorified mole hill. The Brazilian artist Curumin combines jazz, samba, bossa nova, hip-hop and bleeps and blips into something entirely unique and essential. World Music rarely excites me. In fact, the term seems like a misnomer and reeks of American ethnocentrism. It’s not worldly, it’s just “other.” You speak the anglo or you don’t. True World Music, it seems, should bridge cultures and musical genres. Thus, in the spirit of true Wordly Music, I give you São Paulo’s Curumin.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvTkk_gLzEg[/tube]

Childish Gambino @ Stage AE 6/18

Childish Gambino, Donald GloverThe rap concert is an unnatural phenomenon. Rap is a Frankenstein genre, cobbled together from samples and beats and lyrics culled from life, other songs, other genres. Beats are made. Rhymes are written. And then all is combined and mixed in a studio. The system is not unlike any other style of music; however, rap differs because the subsequent components of a rap record are rarely organic. Rap has more in common with the electronic- and DJ-fueled genres, yet rappers perform in traditional concert venues because they are unshackled, unpredictable and the beating heart of the Frankenstein monster. For all its posturing, rap music is less a spontaneous creation than a practice of restraint and calculated excess. Rap concerts have a tendency to take on a life of their own, for better and for worse. The Wu-Tang Clan created the most influential rap album of the last twenty years, yet I attended a concert of theirs in 1997 that I recall as perhaps the worst exhibition of “music” I’ve ever seen. The phrase herding cats might as well have been “herding stray Wu-Tang Clan members.” ODB just didn’t show up. Method Man was late and the rest treated the performance like a freestyle battle gone horribly wrong.

Shaq Diesel

1 million sold, m’f’ers.

To further confuse the balance of spontaneous art and beats/production, the platform supports vanity entertainers with regularity. This introduces that final silent component of rap music, reputation and swagger. How else can you explain Shaq Diesel going Platinum? That’s one million copies sold. Allan Iverson, Chris Webber, Ron Artest, Roy Jones, Jr. have also all tested the rap game with lesser success. Therefore, at face value, it’s easy to be skeptical when Donald Glover, a comedian and notable TV actor and writer (for 30 Rock), releases a record. A quick sample of his Camp LP dispels any questions you may have had about his intentions (even more so when you learn that he’s been creating beats and writing music for more than six years, having already released three independent records prior to Camp). Glover is a capable beatsmith and MC (even if he borrows much of his style from the Kanye-school of swagger) but where he excels is his creative wordplay and rhymes. He alternates brash with hyper-sensitivity. His songs are laced with pop-culture references and cynicism regarding the genre’s predictable tropes. Personal themes of childhood bullying, alcoholism and failed relationships are littered throughout. As Childish Gambino, Glover is a self-aware artist that refuses to break the “Fourth Wall” – to borrow a term from film theory. Despite being an excellent stand-up comedian, the Renaissance man in Glover refuses the audience a campy wink-wink of acknowledgment. What he’s doing is serious business and he’s doing his damnedest to ensure that he’s accepted as an artist who excels according to the rules of each of his endeavors. He does not succeed as a rapper because he is an actor. He does not excel as an actor because he is a comedian. Each talent exists in a separate vacuum, a truly remarkable feat of career management.

The Fourth Wall

Danny Brown opened. While I’m warming to Brown’s lyrical style (which seems to be a mish-mash of Das Racist and Shabazz Palaces), his strength is also his creative use of humor. The performance, however, lacked energy. Other than the moment when he pulled a fan up on stage (a hipster Chris Elliott), Brown and his DJ seemed oblivious to the crowd. Hipster Chris Elliott rapped along the entire time and Brown lent him the microphone to punctuate particular phrases. Still, the unusually attentive crowd (for an opening act) ate it up.

Childish Gambino Stage, Stage AE

When the very first beat from “Outside” dropped, Glover turned the attentive but lax sold-out crowd at Stage AE into a fist-pumping party. His stage act is frantic and high-energy. “First time in Pittsburgh. We gotta do this right,” he proclaimed early on, and throughout the show Glover beckoned the audience to keep the pace. Backed by a full band, the music filled the space with more than just an obligatory distorted bassline. Two drummers, guitar, keyboards and the occasional violin. The musicianship transcended a standard hip-hop show.

I’d always wondered about the identity of the Childish Gambino fan demographic. These are things about which only those who write about music wonder. And as I nodded along with the beat appreciatively, I couldn’t help but take an unofficial and superficial survey of the demographics. Those most enraptured by the performance were A) Young; B) Twenty-something; C) Caucasian; and D) Female. Not what I had anticipated. If I’d taken a picture of the crowd you’d never have guessed the act. It was a cross-section of Pittsburgh youth culture. Glover requested a roll call of minority females in the crowd before “You See Me (UCLA)” and had to search to locate a few of them, including the one Indian girl who Glover called out for hiding from him. Welcome to Pittsburgh, Donald Glover.

Anyway, back on track. Surprised as I was by the overwhelming reception for the Childish Gambino act (as I mentioned, a large, sold-out venue), I was more surprised by the knowledge of his back catalog, all independently released. Chalk it up to an Internet-savvy generation with too much time on their hands. I don’t particularly have an excuse other than having mild OCD. Also I don’t sleep much. While Camp favorites “Bonfire” and “Heartbeat” received raucous welcomes, it was tracks from his older releases that lit a fire with the audience. Much of the crowd knew the words “Freaks and Geeks” and “Culdesac” and sang right along, prompting Glover to offer the microphone to the crowd to jump in during the chorus on a number of occasions.

While I should have just been proud of Pittsburgh for coming out and actively supporting a quality artist, hip-hop or otherwise, I was still just a little confused. Who are these people? The last notable hip-hop act to come through Pittsburgh was Shabazz Palaces and I doubt more than a handful of this crowd knew Shabazz at all. I don’t intend this as a knock on Glover or the fans of his music, just that Childish Gambino has attained a crossover appeal that’s difficult to label. Is it because Glover is unintimidating? Small in stature? That he’s “hard,” but not too “hard?” That he raps about universal human conditions rather than drug abuse, objectification of women and violence? Or is it merely that he tells jokes and plays Troy Barnes on Community?

Troy Barnes (Donald Glover) on CommunityAnd though the comparison lacks realistic connectivity, I couldn’t help lament that fact that if all of these people watched Community the show wouldn’t be on such tenuous ground. But, again, I digress. The only explanation for his widespread appeal is that despite Glover’s ability to maintain separation of music and television stardom, he is incapable of escaping (nor does he necessarily want to) the connectivity to the global idea of “fame.” Music and image, after all, go hand-in-hand, like beats and rhymes. And fame can be wielded in many different ways. The only way for Glover to continue to succeed independently in TV, music and comedy is to continue pretend that he is three different people, each operating freely, without the baggage of his alter egos. Fans will continue to be drawn in by the idea of his fame as long as he pretends to recognize that it doesn’t exist. But however it is you’re doing all that you’re doing, Troy Barnes/Donald Glover/Childish Gambino, don’t stop doing it because you are a true entertainer.

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