Friday, March 31, 2006

Clap Your Hands Say Nyah Nyah Nyah

Posted By on Fri, Mar 31, 2006 at 6:09 PM

Alec Ounsworth, Tyler Sargent, and Sean Greenhalgh, of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

We are surprised and elated — dare I say, clapping our hands saying "yeah!" — that our pal April got responses not just from the manager of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah but also a member. Read the previous post if you're lost, then, judge these responses for yourself.

First, from the dude in the band:

Hi April,

Thanks for coming to the show last night. We're very sorry for the misunderstanding. We agree that local music and the people who support it are vital to what we do and what we've done. I am continually amazed by the enthusiasm of music fans and the variety and depth of talent in each new city we visit. Our band has absolutely benefited from local support in NYC and Internet buzz and we'll never forget it. We're thankful and flattered to be able to do this music thing full time, whether it be in Kansas or NYC.

To set the record straight, we were indeed unaware that any band besides the Brunettes was opening last night until about 5pm. As I understand it, this was the venue's (i.e. local promoter's) oversight. They failed to inform us (and our booking agent) that a third band had been added. You ask if this is normal. I can only speak for the touring I've done since August, but I can say that in all of those situations (save for the gong-showesque CMJ and South By South West festivals), the headliner chooses the openers. We were chosen along with Talkdemonic to open for the National this past fall. We toured with Dr. Dog and the Brunnetes in Europe and stateside. Again, these bands were hand-picked. Out of the around 90 shows we've played since then, I can think of once or twice when we've played with a local opener. (As an aside Lee and Tyler's band before this one was "scheduled" for months to open for The Sea and Cake only to be cancelled last minute due to an oversight by, you guessed it, the promoter). This fact has nothing to do with any disdain for local bands, it's more about making sure that you're putting on a good show.

With no malice towards ad astra per aspera, we'd never heard their music before. I don't think it's unreasonable for a headliner to have control over whom they choose to play with. Again, with no offense to ad astra per aspera or the local music scene in Lawrence, just because a band is local and "indie" doesn't make them good. We had no way of judging either way, just a couple of hours before the show while we were soundchecking and getting ready to play. I don't think putting a local opener on the bill necessarily has anything to do with the quality of the show, and that's what we're concerned with.

I would hope that you came to see our music last night because you genuinely liked it, not because Pitchfork, the internet, or the scene told you to. While, all of these entities have undoubtedly accelerated and augmented the recent success of our band, I think at the base of it all, the songs are good and that's all that should matter.

I'm not really sure what "attitude" you're projecting upon us in your note. I can't really say that any of us have been affected by our moderate success, and your suggestion otherwise is too bad. Would we be justified in having an "attitude" if we'd sold more records? I don't get it. Personally, I'd prefer to play in a place like the Bottleneck to a theater or larger venue any night because of better sound on stage and proximity to the audience.

Sorry for the longwinded reply. Hope this sheds some light on your questions.

Sean

CYHSY

Sent from my BlackBerry wireless handheld.

And now, the manager's reply:

april,

i'm sorry, but we don't even know who ad astra per aspera is....our tour is with the brunettes and always has been announced as such. we don't have any third bands on this tour at all, for many reasons. one being that the stages aren't that big and there's alot of equipment. another being that with two bands playing before us it's very hard to get the sound good - it makes a soundcheck almost irrelevant. and another being that it allows us to keep our ticket prices low and makes it easier on the venue. nothing to do w/ supporting local bands, it's just the only way to make this tour work.

that being said, if you're angry at someone be angry at the venue, we had nothing to do with this nor do we know anything about it.

also, alot of hard work goes into being in a band, and making a band work. i'd like to think it's that hard work, good musicianship, and songwriting that makes clap your hands successful, not just a pitchfork review. I hope someday you'll try it yourself to know how hard it really is before telling me and the band who our success is owed to.

i hope you enjoyed the show. sorry about your friends band, but you're angry at the wrong people.

best,

nick

manager - cyhsy

Clap Your Hands Say What the F@$#!?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 31, 2006 at 1:54 PM

Ad Astra Per Aspera

It seems that while I was judging the Band Scramble last night, one of the best bands in the area might have been getting screwed. The following is an excerpt from an email I received from frequent Pitch contributor and Lawrence dweller April Fleming. The author would like you to remember that this was written late in the evening, spontaneously, angrily and not a little inebriatedly.

What happened to Ad Astra tonight?

oh, the commotion brewed among us... I spoke briefly with a lady I do owe much respect for bringing to us some excellent shows in lawrence and kansas city, Jackie Becker, and she pointed me to a hurried girl, Julie, who kinda gave me an answer... sorta. I saw Robert Moore leave the show early... what does that mean? I also spoke with Kurt and Julie from Ad Astra, who graciously didn't place blame but were bummed not to have played the show tonight. I guess no blame was deserved but something in me doesn't sit right. Who cancels a local band the caliber of Ad Astra? To be fair, this isn't unheard of, but it seemed a bit post-haste. Huh?

I sent what I hope wasn't a terribly rushed email to the Clap Your Hands site. God, I do this. What's my problem? Who reads this now? Does the hype robot work nights to keep me in check?

Here's what I sent:

"hello sirs,

confused... thank you for playing at one of our local venues in lawrence, kansas... it was fun, but, i can't help but be confused... what happened between you and our local act, ad astra per aspera?

the word was (and i understand, word be what it is) that your agent told you and the sheisty venue (bottleneck) to cancel the ad astra because you were unaware you were playing with a local band. is that what happened? Is this normal? that seems odd, considering you owe your entire success to Pitchforkmedia.com and the internet community as a whole -- which is the same community (at least here) that supports local music.

this may be one of many stops along the way, but it left tens of us wondering if your management (who you chose to represent you) isn't interested in indie bands that like you, started from a humble place...

please help me understand. lawrence and kansas city, like many other towns and (sometimes) like new york city, is a town that absolutley thrives on local music and the creativity which flows through the people living among us. we love touring acts, but 30K in national album sales doesn't necessarily warrant that kind of attitude, especially in that dirty, cramped green room.

i do appreciate your music and your coming here but i can't help but be turned off by what truly seems like an unfortunate, coincidental slight. please prove me wrong. i truly want to think more of you as a live act. Too many excellent bands are destroyed by one hell of a hype machine. i want to think you're not one of them.

best,

april fleming"

This reeks of something I'll totally regret having sent by tomorrow, but it bothers me... I adore Ad Astra and wanted to see them play along with a great national act (who, all issues aside, was enjoyable, but not what I was hoping for, their show standing alone). What happened?

Alas, April, I wish I knew.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

At the Temple

Posted By on Thu, Mar 30, 2006 at 3:00 PM

Today, I'm handing the wheel over to co-worker Nadia Pflaum, who, this morning, produced a report on a pretty amazing hip-hop event last night in Lawrence. What follows may be one of the best essays on the current state of the art form you've ever read. Seriously. So twirl your thumb counterclockwise around the clickwheel of your iPod and listen up.

KRS-One, aka, The Teacher

When I heard that classic MC KRS-One was coming to the Granada and our own Joe Good was opening, I knew I'd go for sure. I've seen KRS in about a thousand hip-hop documentaries; to me he was always the guy who sort of looked like a hippo, talking about the Bronx scene in movies like Wild Style and The Freshest Kids. I hadn't heard anything about this new thing of his, the Temple of Hip-Hop and its Declaration of Peace. But when I heard he was speaking for an hour before the show, I went to the free talk as well.

At 7:00 the Granada was populated by a handful of mangy college kids and some of the bigger names in the Lawrence and KC hip-hop scenes. The stage was set to the side of the Granada's main stage, ringed with plastic chairs. A skinny white guy in a hat who said he was named Zin Aroo (yeah, that's a phonetic spelling) came out onstage first. I thought he was just there to announce KRS, but he started talking about the Temple of Hip-Hop. It's a hip-hop preservation foundation, he said, constructed to keep the original scene alive. They've written the hip-hop Declaration of Peace, and printed it up poster-sized, where it lists the Principles of Hip-Hop (example: May 3 is National Rap Day) framed by sepia-colored portraits of people like Slick Rick, Tupac, Kool Herc and, of course, KRS. Zin Aroo told us that now was the best time to join the Temple of Hip-Hop, because it's all just beginning -- the ground floor, if you will -- and it only costs $12 for full membership.

"Sounds like a pyramid scheme," a guy next to me muttered. Another college kid whispered to me, "I love KRS and everything, I really do. But the Temple of Hip-Hop sounds like a retirement community to me."

Things started sounding real creepy, perhaps because of the breathless, idolizing way that Zin Aroo spoke of his Teacher, KRS. Zin said that it was the Temple's responsibility to manage the way the media tells its stories. "We believe that we were divinely chosen to carry this message," Zin said.

"What message?" someone in the crowd wondered.

Zin answered, "...We teach that hip-hop is the promise that Martin Luther King dreamed of when he said that one day little white children and little black children..."

At that point, I started tuning out. Since when did KRS-One become a cult leader? Zin Aroo said that the Temple has an Oracle -- does it also have a secret decoder ring?

But mercifully, Zin finally stepped aside after introducing the Teacher, KRS, who walked through the crowd with an entourage like a boxer headed for the ring. He was all smiles.

"How can I raise my quality of life through hip-hop?" KRS said we must be wondering. "That's what I want to address in part today. That question is not for everyone. That question is only for people who find themselves asking these questions. Here are some stark-raving answers." He started talking about stuff like urban inspirational metaphysics. He spoke in that pedantic lecture style, full of pregnant pauses that make ordinary sentences sound fraught with meaning. My mind started drifting.

Since when did hip-hop require so much managing? Since people started realizing its power as a movement, and not just as a style of music. But once hip-hop becomes a movement, does it have to start being lame? Do we have to endure all this talk about hip-hop, all this metaphysical moping around, or can we just, like, be into the music? Classic guys like KRS start seeing young guys with bling, who consider Biggie and Dr. Dre to be "old school" even though they rose a full decade after Kool Herc and Afrikaa Bambaata, and start worrying about their legacy. They get on the lecture circuit. They start preservation societies.

"Twenty minutes, Teacher."

KRS spoke about how his albums had gone from selling two or three million, to one million, to a few hundred thousand. He did a soft drink commercial and got roasted for "selling out," even though such endorsements are par for the course today. He moved on to the university lecture scene, becoming sort of a hip-hop pundit. Which explains where all the speeches, like this one, were coming from.

And he started talking about some useful things, too. About how he was proud of the local scene for starting to sound like itself, for no longer emulating the East Coast and West Coast sound (an idea that was echoed when Joe Good performed his song with lyrics like, "KC, get that down-South dick out 'cha mouf!"). About how hip-hoppers have to find a way to get on the radio, to snatch down some economic power for themselves and to link up with each other in the local scene to make things happen without waiting around for a record deal. And that making money is not synonymous with selling out.

"I've seen growth here in self esteem," KRS said. "I'm glad to see the more you sound like the 'hood where you're from. Now, somebody from this town has to make an album that blows this particular town up. To grow that scene."

When the Q&A began, Necia Gamby, Joe Good's mom and the creator of the Hiphopkc.com Web site, had some knowledge to drop on KRS himself. "I've been to the Temple!" she said. "And I've seen your message boards and your forum, and what I want to see is direction, and a clear agenda that speaks to the rest of the world. Here we are, we're the Temple of Hip-hop. We're all here. Now, what do we DO?"

It was a good question. I never quite heard the answer.

Later in the evening, Joe Good rocked his show. He was furious and on fire, and someone, finally, was filming him (he's never had a film of himself performing live). The b-boys and b-girls from Kansas City and Lawrence crowded the foot of the stage, jumping up and down to the beat, hands in the air, and created a pocket of unrivaled hometown hype-ness.

And when KRS took the stage with his entourage (which included a rugged-looking Busy Bee, who you might remember as the skinny kid with glasses in the last scene of Wild Style), he dropped the hip-hop pundit thing and became what everyone loves him for — creator of some of the most classic hip-hop songs to date. He didn't look old. He didn't look like he was going through the motions of songs he's performed thousands of times. He looked like he was having a ball, like he'd discovered some fountain of youth through microphones and blown amps (they blew 2!). He encouraged pictures, and the crowd became a sea of flashes and LCD screens. He took some lucky audience member's cell phone and rapped into it, recording a video of himself and turning the lens around on the crowd. He called the b-boys and b-girls on stage and rapped as they each took solo turns center stage. He called up all the MCs in the crowd and gave them each 8 bars on the mic.

"You guys do not look tired," he said somewhere around 1:30am. "That's fine. I have TWENTY YEARS of joints. We can go ALL NIGHT LONG."

Suddenly, I realized I'd dropped all my skepticism I was holding from the creepy talk earlier in the day. This dude might have some lectures to give, but he's also preserving hip-hop in the best -- maybe the only -- possible way: by putting on live shows that please old-school heads and virginal college kids alike. It was undoubtedly one of the best hip-hop shows I've ever seen. It made the Ghostface show I saw on the same stage a week ago seem like a distant and boring memory. (Sorry, but it did.) And, um, the man is not aging. Maybe there is something to this Temple of Hip-hop. I'm totally sending in my $12, Teacher!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Fire-shooting genitalia, and other shows

Posted By on Wed, Mar 29, 2006 at 1:56 PM

Just another Thursday night for the Pornhuskers

Here's a roundup of some of the noteworthy shows that didn't make it into the preview coverage in this week's Pitch music section.

THURSDAY, MARCH 30

Band Scramble III at the Brick. A few weeks ago, local musicians dropped their names into a hat and were randomly assigned to different bands, with which they've been writing songs and rehearsing ever since. Tonight, they show their cards. Following past Scrambles, some of the bands have stayed together and gone on to make records and gig around; others, however, collapsed in humiliation and sucktitude. Survival of the fittest, bitch.

The Pornhuskers at the Record Bar. If you can't get in to the sold-out Clap Your Hands Say Yeah show, this is the next-best thing. In fact, it's way better: drunk veteran rock dudes cavorting with mostly naked chicks in a celebration of drugs, porn and punk. I'm gonna get fired for looking at their Web site right now.

FRIDAY, MARCH 31

Hayseed Dixie at Davey's Uptown Ramblers Club. These guys have some original songs (my favorite: "I'm Keeping Your Poop"), but they specialize in "rockgrass" covers of classic rock songs and released an album of all AC/DC covers. Take your artist friend.

Booganmod and Last of the V8s play, of all things, a fashion show this Friday for at Cadillac Catering (20th and McGee). Booganmod provides runway jams at the 9 and 11 p.m. fashion shows with the V8s closing "with a lion's roar" around midnight. It's about time KC's fashionistas and dirty rockers got together.

SATURDAY, APRIL 1

Donkey Show XI at the Record Bar. In addition to sketch comedy and a paper, rock, scissors tournamanet, this eleventh installment of the popular local variety show brings to the stage It's Over, a hard-kicking, big-smiling folk-pop band new to the scene and gaining momentum.

SUNDAY, APRIL 2

Dave Brubeck at the Gem Theater. Homeboy's old, but he's still at it, this time with a new composition called The Gates of Justice, a piece of music meant to speak to the divide between Jews and African-Americans since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Pretty heavy stuff for a pianist once known for jazzing up the lighter side of the American songbook and takin' five.

TUESDAY, APRIL 4

The Drift at the Record Bar. Get your experimental, instrumental (but not temperamental) music fix on tonight with this four-piece from San Francisco. Unlike Black Dice and other avant noise acts, the Drift likes to ride a groove. Want some cheese with your Morricone?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sudden Death

Posted By on Tue, Mar 28, 2006 at 12:39 PM

I didn't know much about Nikki Sudden, the consummate rocker who passed through town a couple weeks ago and passed away yesterday at the age of 49. But Nikki had some friends in town who are gonna miss him. Here's a spontaneous, e-mailed eulogy courtesy of one of our own rock-and-roll torchers.

Joey Skidmore wrote:

I just received some really sad news: Nikki Sudden just died after playing a show at New York City's Knitting Factory. We just played the Outland and Mike's Tavern with him, and were finishing up some tracks together at Lou Whitney's Studio in Springfield, and John River's Woodbine Street Recording Studio in England.

Billboard online had a blurb about it, but didn't list a cause of death.

Nikki was really charming: a gentleman and a scholar. His last album "Treasure Island" featured Mick Taylor from the Stones, and Ian McLagan from the Faces. I think it was his best to date. He also played me a cassette of his forthcoming album, which was more stripped down, but really excellent material.

I'm proud that he was my friend, and I'm privileged to have had the opportunity to have worked with him.

Nikki Sudden

Check Joey out at www.myspace.com/joeyskidmoreband. And if you (like I) need to play catch-up with Sudden, there are quite a few free, Nikki-approved samples and downloads here. Looks like the guy was quite generous with sharing his music, which is no doubt serving his memory well.

It's also interesting to note that he was just about the only genuine, old-school rocker on prestigious indie label Secretly Canadian, which is home to coolkids I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness and Antony and the Johnsons.

Evidently, Sudden's impact on music was a lot stronger than we bumpkins in Kansas City realize. So let's get hip to Nikki, then let's get a little sad. It's the right thing to do.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Alacartoona Something's fishy when

Posted By on Mon, Mar 27, 2006 at 4:11 PM

Alacartoona

Something's fishy when it comes to Timothy Finn, pop music critic at The Kansas City Star, and Alacartoona, and I don't just mean their names (get it? "fin," "tuna,"!?!?LOL!!!). Seriously, though, I have to wonder what's going on. Finn wrote one big arse-licker of a feature in the Thursday Preview section on this band in March of last year, and just this past week, he wrote another Preview feature on the plight of Alacartoona frontwoman Erin McGrane as an understudy for a musical at the KC Rep. It was an odd little story, a portrait of a darling nobody. McGrane never gets tapped to be in the show, so the article's all about her standing on the sidelines. There's even a picture of her singing into a microphone on the set of the play, evoking the pathetic cliche of the would-be starlet stealing a few moments on the stage while the real actors are away. I can't figure out why, with all the genuinely interesting stuff going on in local music, Finn would want to feature a performer who is so explicitly not stealing the show.

Well, maybe it's because he's got a huge freakin' boner for McGrane and/or Alacartoona. Take that story from a year ago. Here is an excerpt of one of the many laudatory passages. After establishing how drop-dead sexy McGrane (aka Ruby Falls) is, Finn writes:

And like the classic film "Cabaret," Alacartoona mixes music with satire, drama, farce and social commentary during a period of unease and dissent. At uncertain moments like these, any bartender has what can help you forget, but Alacartoona has what it takes to escape.

Theirs is "modern" cabaret because Alacartoona takes some of those traditional elements and applies them to other, contemporary ideas. So an Alacartoona show is a little "Rocky Horror Picture Show," a little David Bowie as Lady Stardust, even a little Queen -- any concept that uses music and theater to mess with sex and gender roles and the ambiguities that can arise between them.

But mostly, Alacartoona is about love and escape, about living at the edge and submitting to your temptations and entertaining your impulses because, as Ruby Falls will warn you: "Who knows about tomorrow?"

Alacartoona showed its gratitude for the story on its Web site (Keep in mind, by the way, that whoever writes PR for Alacartoona -- McGrane, presumably -- refers to the band collectively as if it were an individual female. This facilitates the cloying, purple prose she/it produces for the site and in emailed press releases):

tim finn hasn't just fallen in love. he's proposing marriage. silly boy...alacartoona has much too much love for one man. however, he can be assured that the next time she sees him, any doubts of her appreciation will be ridden from his mind.

if you're curious about the proper way to write about a musical experience, let this be your guide. click the logo to the left to read the article. the kansas city star archives its old stories in a pay-per-download database, so alacartoona won't bother linking to the piece. however, if you would like to express your own bit of gratitude to the paper or mr. finn, click here.

Way to go, Timmay! From the way that sounds, you got some kind of reciprocation for performing journalistic cunnilingus on Alacartoona.

I remember when that story came out. That very night, I went to Molloy Bros. (now the Record Bar) to see the Scottish band Aberfeldy, a show that had gotten some day-of buzz thanks to the promotional efforts of Sonic Spectrum host Robert Moore. Guess who was there? Members of Alacartoona. Guess which one was carrying that day's issue of Preview, showing it to her friends? Ruby "Shameless Self-Promoter" Falls.

By an odd coincidence, Aberfeldy returned to Kansas City a year later and played Molloy's/Record Bar on the same day Finn's second ode to McGrane came out in Preview. Guess who was there this time? Members of Alacartoona and Tim Finn himself. On a side note, it was a disappointing show. I love Aberfeldy's music, and they played well, but singer Riley Briggs was pissed off about having to play a 7 p.m. show because other bands had been booked that night, so he withheld all his charming showmanship and let loose with sarcastic comments about the situation between songs. He also thanked Alacartoona for no visible reason, because that band wasn't even playing. However, I noticed later that night, when my friends and I were at Jilly's and Aberfeldy came streaming in, led by Erin McGrane herself, that Aberfeldy and Alacartoona have some sort of relationship, one which I hope does not exact some sort of parasitic toll on the former.

Speaking of parasitic relationships, at the Pitch, our legs are completely Alacartonna-leech-free (if you hadn't guessed already). In fact, the band's web site seems to make a couple of veiled jabs at us. On the press page, directly above the de-capitialized text of a Pitch Best Of award — text that I wrote, I'm ashamed to admit — Alacartoona says, "even the pitch can't ignore ruby's obvious charms." Even the Pitch? What is this passive-aggressive bullshit? It gets even murkier. Scroll down to the last item on the page, where there's a link to a blurb that Pitch staffer Annie Fischer did on Alacartoona for which she interviewed McGrane. The accompanying text: "annie fischer wasn't actually listening to ruby during this interview. but really, despite ruby's adept conversation skills, don't we all find it a bit difficult to listen to her when we're looking at her?" McGrane never indicated to us that she was misrepresented in the piece, and if you read it, you'll see it's quite good press for the band. But what do we care? We do what we can for bands, sometimes more than we should, and if they don't like it, it's their problem.

Anyway, the trouble with all this press from the Star is not so much that Tim Finn may be friends with someone he finds excuses to write big stories about once in a while. The trouble is that though Erin McGrane is spectacularly good looking and has a good voice, her band is wholly mediocre. I've seen them maybe four times and only the first time was in any way compelling. Without the musical chops to back it up, Alacartoona's shtick wears thin fast. For all the over-the-top antics of Ruby Falls and her male counterpart Providence Forge (who powders his face white, puts on lipstick, wears a wifebeater over his jiggly gut and contorts his face into maniacal expressions that could traumatize small children), the band's original material is weak. With minimal percussion, an accordion (the only good part of the musical performance), occasional acoustic guitar from Ruby Falls and electric bass guitar from Providence Forge, the musical portion of Alacartoona is little more than that of a vaguely European jugband. The more they pour into playing dress-up, the more half-assed they come across (especially when Ruby wears the same costume and Providence the same non-costume every show).

Get a stand-up bass -- hell, get a real backing band — and play some real songs. Do Kurt Weill tunes and quit pouring all your creative energy into masquerading as the sexiest beings on earth. Maybe you can fool a writer at the daily paper and a handful of people who think interactive dinner theaters are the shit, but the rest of us are ready for either the music to start living up to the hype or for Alacartoona to shut her fatuous mouth once and for all.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Going Beerback

Posted By on Fri, Mar 24, 2006 at 9:53 AM

Quite a town it is where you can go out to a dive bar on a Monday night and discover something you hadn't known about before — some small token of goodness hidden among the ankle-shredding brambles of Western Civilization.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the beerback.

Beerbacks and Mike & Ikes.

On a recent Monday, after a heavy meal at Rudy's and a nap during which the fajitas I devoured sludged through my system like a sack of bean-flavored gravel, I decided to rejuvenate myself with a walk to my favorite dive in the universe, Dave's Stagecoach Inn.

There's always something going on at Dave's, some familiar face or a friendly conversation to be had with one of the bartenders. Sometimes, you might even get to help one of the staff eject a drunk or drugged, off-the-street intruder from the premises (I did this once; it involved me pretending to call "security" on my cell phone). Even on a Monday night, the place is an excellent retreat. In fact, it's sometimes better to hit Dave's early in the week because the local musicians who have gigs on the weekend often cool their heels there on nights off. Also, with the hands-down-best jukebox in town, Dave's is a great place to go have a few cheap drinks and soak in some recorded sounds.

When I walked in, I looked toward the back and spotted Dan Weber, bassist for Buffalo Saints, The String and Return, the Occupation, and, most recently, the Belles. He was shooting pool with some friends, and at his place at the bar stood two glasses, one, a Bushmills on the rocks, the other, a small highball-like glass of beer. I'd seen such small beers before but thought they were too European to inquire about. But knowing Dan wouldn't chuckle like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in The Talented Mr. Ripley and saunter away, I asked him what was up. And that's when I met my newest friend, the Talented Mr. Beerback.

Until recently, Dave's gave these free mini-beer chasers to regulars who ordered whiskeys. Now the bar charges one dollar for the privilege of lookin' sophisticated with two glasses in front of you at the bar. I immediately forked over a George Washington for a sampling of the experience (choices: Bud or Bud Light), coupling my ice-cold, diminutive draft with a J&B on the rocks.

I knew better than to challenge Dan in pool, however. Several months ago, on a night when some Westport wacko shot out a few streetlights on W. 40th behind Sun Fresh and the police (according to rumor) took down the trigger-happy miscreant with rubber bullets, a friend and I laid down the gauntlet on Dan's pool table. Shortly after, my friend and I drunkenly and courageously laid down some money, and after a few masterful shots by Dan and his partner, my party's funds were shamefully no more.

But I did talk to Dan about his band the Occupation (March 10 at the Brick). The band has no Myspace page or Web site where you can download mp3s, and you should feel lucky for that, because if they did — and assuming they're proficient recorders of their own sound — the music exploding through your headphones in the insulation of your home would lacerate your ears close to your skull and fling the severed lobes into the ceiling fan. This is a band that needs to be buffered by several stiff drinks and a surrounding crowd in a bar.

Heavy and aggressive, the Occupation (named after the ongoing outrage in Iraq) is a departure for Dan and most of his bandmates. The singer, Bill Cave, is an artist without much musical background; but on stage, his red hair, contorted, scarecrow-like stance and barking vocals make him the perfect frontman for the band's stylings: short blasts of intricate, mathematically precise, incindiary hardcore rock.

Back at Dave's, someone had lined up a shit ton of Beatles songs on the jukebox, and Dan and I talked about how the whole whose-side-are-you-on-Beatles-versus-Stones-fans conflict was bullshit. Come on people — it's OK to like them both. Several beerbacks later, plus a gin and tonic for my wife, who arrived from a late play rehearsal, and it was time to head out. It was, after all, a work night.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Van Superfan

Posted By on Thu, Mar 23, 2006 at 9:24 AM

KCUR's Cyprus Avenue deejay Bill Shapiro's top 5 reactions to hearing Pay the Devil, the new Van Morrison country album:

5. Clears his throat so forcefully that a fist-sized lump of phlegm rockets out of his mouth and knocks over a lamp.

4. Dresses a supermarket turkey in a bra and wig, cuddles with it for three hours (until it begins to turn), calling it his "brown-eyed girl."

3. Begins thinking of all the ways he can use the word "legendary" in describing Van on his next episode of Cyprus Avenue. (Decides not to mention the singer's legendary, pendulous breasts, even though, in 1976, Shapiro built shrine to them out of his own earwax.)

Bill Shapiro

2. Having spent all day with the album, in the middle of the night, Shapiro launches into a Van-esque extended, repeating vocal riff in his sleep. Unfortunately, he'd also listened to "Let it Bleed" by the Rolling Stones earlier that day, so he begins singing, You can cum all over me, and continues to the break of dawn. The nieghbors dial 911, a fireman arrives and mercifully hoses Shapiro in the face with a fire extinguisher.

1. After listening to the album on repeat for a week, Shapiro decides he doesn't like it that much after all. Begins to feel a deep-seated rage toward Van Morrison. Calls the station manager and demands his show be retitled Tupelo Honey Tastes Like Ass.

Tune in to Cyprus Avenue on FM 89.3 KCUR, Saturdays from 12 to 2 p.m. Hear Bill talk about all things "seminal" and cite Rolling Stone extensively.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Humble Pie

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2006 at 11:33 AM

I went to G's Jamaican Cuisine on a recent Tuesday night because the hip-hop scene is divided in half. No, I didn't think an order of oxtails or jerk chicken would solve the problem or seal the division. (Though it would make an interesting movie to adhere two rappers together using a powerful glue made from goat curry, conjoined-twin style -- one a hip-hop kid, the other a gangsta rapper -- and make them run from the sheriff, becoming best friends in the process.) Rather, I went because I'd heard that G's, a storefront joint on Troost near 79th Street, hosted an open-mic night that had begun doing for the hard rap scene what Hip-Hop and Hotwings at the Peanut Downtown has been doing for the conscious hip-hop scene.

So, I went all Jen Chen and gathered a research assistant in Nadia Pflaum, a colleague of mine and a hip-hop aficionado. Also, there's no better protection for a white-as-hell music editor than an attractive female companion.

Walking into G's around 10:30, however, was like walking into some kind of trap. The problem was maybe six people total were there, and one of them was doing stand-up comedy. After paying the fucking outrageous $5 cover (no wonder no one was there -- geez, G's!), not only were we immediately identified as Pitch staffers because I'd called there earlier in the day to see if the open mic was on (fuck you, caller ID!), the guy on the mic immediately started talking to us.

He asked if we were a couple. I said no, we weren't. "Oh, y'all are just sleeping together, then?" I spread my hands and shrugged and said, "No, it's totally platonic." The host replied that he thought that only happened on TV. For a moment, the spotlight shifted off us, but, oh, it would return.

The place had a vaguely tropical bar along one wall, a Rastafarian-looking door man, and a big dining area with cheap tables, fluorescent lighting, and, in back, a carpeted stage flanked by huge PA speakers. Nothing fancy, but it wasn't a total dive, either.

Next, the host, whose name was Daz (NOTE: I'm guessing at the spelling of all the names in this entry) and who had confessed to having smoked a good deal of weed before the evening had begun, instructed us to take a seat at one of the tables near the stage. An older black couple — a full 40% of the audience — appeared to take us under their wing by inviting us to sit at their table. Their names were Forrest and Jaquita. At that point, I was still pretty eager to see what the night would offer.

Daz asked me and Nadia why we'd come to G's. I said it was to see some hip-hop. "Oh, you want some hip-hop," was the gist of his reply. After getting the audience to clap together on a beat, Daz launched into an "Acapulco" rap (his word for "acapella") that had some lyrics about being a gangsta and driving around with a gun and having a hard life or something. The lyrics were a little too serious for me at that point, but Daz's Acapulco style was pretty cool, and at least I got the chance to show that I can keep a beat. The rest of the night, Daz was actually pretty damn funny. I wasn't sure about the tattoo on his forearm, however: Mickey Mouse with horns and giant erection under the words "horny little devil."

Daz later would say that this night's been going for years without a single incident of violence. I'd heard a similar claim from a promoter and artist named F.L.O. (not to be confused with the popular Midtown dragqueen), who has put on 25 or so G-rap shows at various places including El Torreon and G's without a fight or shooting. Also, I should mention that Joe Good was my tipster on the night at G's because he's performed there before. I asked him to come out with me and Nadia, but he was recording. By his, Daz's and F.L.O.'s accounts, sometimes the mic night at G's actually draws a crowd.

A rapper named Precision came up next. He was rail thin with the typical big T-shirt, baggy shorts and sneakers. He set a precedent that would be followed by most of the other performers that night — I swear, they just started coming out of the woodworks — and that was rapping over already-recorded vocals. He was rapping over himself, basically, along with doubled or tripled backing vocal tracks. It sounded like there were four Precisions up there, three on tape and one in the flesh. Nadia pointed this out as being not quite up to professional standards.

Our tablemate, Forrest, was then invited to take the mic, which surprised me because the dude seemed pretty mellow. About 40 years old, wearing sweats and a ball cap, he looked like a Chiefs superfan on a day off. When he got going on the mic, though, things started getting really interesting.

He stood in front of the stage, about seven feet from me, and his comedy routine consisted of making fun of everyone in the room — mostly me. He asked me if I'd ever smoked a blunt. I said no. "You haven't?" came Nadia's voice over my shoulder in a sort of "you're still a virgin?" note of surprise.

"No, I just smoke joints," said I. "But I smoke a LOT of them," I lied.

"We call those white boys," said Forrest.

I think he then made a few half-joking comments about white-vs.-black pot consumption. I remember saying, "Yeah, that's what we do — get high and listen to Pink Floyd."

It was then that he pointed out that my ears had turned a bright shade of red. Shit. He had me, and I played even deeper into his hands by saying, "Come on! It's not fair! You people don't have to worry about that."

"Us people!?" shouted Forrest. "What do you mean, 'US PEOPLE'!?"

"You know, blunt smokers," I said tentatively, not sure whether I had really said something offensive, and probably only making it worse by inadvertently implying that all black people smoke blunts.

"Go on, say it," Forrest bellowed. "Niggers. Say it! Niggers. Say it..." he was moving closer to me, and before I new it, the mic was to my mouth.

"I love you," I said, weakly.

Forrest laughed. "He said, 'I love you.'" I don't know if anyone else laughed, but, however lamely, I had saved my own skin. At the end of his routine, Forrest credited Nadia and I with being black under our white trappings, adding that my head was too big for a white guy, anyway.

When Forrest returned to our table he became serious and silent, a complete 180, because evidently Jaquita had not enjoyed his routine. Perhaps he shouldn't have done that bit about what a drag it is being married (I forgot to mention that). A white guy making a comment about racial differences in a black club may be close to social suicide, but hell hath no fury like a woman pissed at a dopey husband. I know this from personal experience, too, and Forrest, all I can say, man, is I hope you're right with Jesus.

There was some more karaoke-style rap and at least one R&B number. The best act of the night consisted of two women half-singing-half-rapping and all-booty-shakin' without benefit of a backing vocal track. But honestly, there was nothing to justify either the $5 cover OR the $5 well rum and coke that came in an airline-sized cup.

That doesn't mean I won't go back, though. I'd take a roasting from a guy like Forrest any day of the week. It's always good to be reminded that having a master's degree in English just ain't 'hood.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Deliver the gangsta, not the angsta

Posted By on Tue, Mar 21, 2006 at 5:28 PM

I was considering writing a review of the P.O.S./Mac Lethal show last night at the Record Bar, but two things stood in my way: (1) I missed Mac Lethal because I forgot about the damn thing and didn't get there until midnight, and (2) I just found a very good review of the engagement at What the F#@% is This?, a brand-new blog and print 'zine launched anonymously that covers all things pertaining to local hip-hop. Some really great turns of phrase in that review. Damn. I may be out of a job soon. The writer's take on Mac was affectionate and almost poignant — it was good to see that piece come out at a time when Mac could either become taken for granted or baselessly resented by locals for starting to become successful. That said, I wish Rhymesayers would fucking hurry up and release his album. That guy's working his ass off on tour, has worked his ass off on the album, and deserves to start getting real paid.

So, because the review side's covered, I can focus on another matter that many of you may be aware of but some may not. KRBZ 96.5 the Buzz has a fairly new Sunday night hip-hop show called the Jump-Off, hosted by Mac himself and Slimfast, who is best known as the victim of his boss Lazlo's caprices during the very popular and very commercials-and-bad-music-choked "Church of Lazlo" afternoon show. I ran into Slimfast at the RB last night, and he said he had beef with me for not mentioning the Jump-Off in a recent story I did in which I talked about how the commercial hip-hop stations (Power 103 and 95.7 the Vibe) don't play local artists. Well, the Jump-Off does, according to Slimfast, but it seems to me like their focus is mostly on introducing locals to national, non-mainstream rap, such as that produced by Rhymesayers artists, and also a lot of East and West Coast conscious rap. As one writer of mine, Andy Vihstadt, would say, they deliver the angsta, not the gangsta. They don't, however, deliver shovelfuls of spins of local records, or they would have had a few local shows on that 3/12 playlist, don'tcha think? However, until I'm sure they don't do all-local shows once a month or so, I will refrain from reaming Mac and Slimfast (actually, it would be boss Lazlo's decision -- according to Slimfast he's been a hard sell on hip-hop, period).

There is a show that does quite a bit of local spins, and that's the "Show-Me Mix" on KKFI 90.1 on Saturday nights hosted by DeShai "Mz. Shai" Hampton. Go to www.myspace.com/urbanmotion for info and to listen to her own specially recorded theme song. Though I haven't listened to it once yet, the Show-Me show, however unhiply named, seems a lot more street and definitely a lot more locally focused than its Buzz counterpart.

One thing that drives me nuts already about Mz. Shai, however, is her overuse of exclamation points and capital letters in emails. Local rapper Reach does it, too. I'll get an email with a subject line like "THIS FRIDAY AT THE JACKPOT!!!!!!!!!" and the message, too, will contain similarly grating visual noise. WANT TO GET YOUR MUSIC HEARD??? COMPETE ON THE AIR ON THE SHOW-ME MIX SHOW!!! Shit like that. To someone who spends pretty much his entire waking life dealing with written words, caps lock and exclamation point abuse is like SCREAMING!!!

Think about it, and calm the fuck down. Let the music do the screaming.

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