Thursday, January 26, 2012

Colbert & Sendak, Pt. 2

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stephen Colbert interviews Maurice Sendak (Pt. 1)

This is a wonderful, hilarious and very smart exchange between these two men. Set aside a few minutes to just enjoy.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fight the Power

My review of the recent Chuck D/Public Enemy-headlining benefit concert here in LA is right here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mark Ronson feat. Erykah Badu & Mos Def

I kinda hate to follow a post about Erykah Badu with another post by Erykah Badu. But it's Erykah Badu, y'all...

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Erykah Badu in Concert

Erykah Badu & The Cannabinoids “Science of Addiction Tour”
Wiltern Theater/Los Angeles, CA; Dec. 8th, 2011

      As the theme to the ‘70s TV show Wonder Woman blasted through the house speakers, Erykah Badu sashayed onstage supermodel-style, extended her arms, and broke into the super heroine’s trademark spin, then came to a stop and feigned deflecting bullets with invisible wrist bands. The sold-out crowd went nuts.
      Before the night was over, Ms. Badu would don multiple femme guises – jazz chanteuse shimmying shoulders and sultrily swaying hips; Dirty South B-girl miming the act of locking & loading her gun; Afro-futuristic New Age priestess, arms stretched toward the audience as she soulfully covered “Believe in Yourself” from The Wiz. First and foremost, however, she was team-player for her latest project, the Cannabinoids, a band comprised of friends and longtime musical collaborators. (The band actually came into being a few years ago.) And she did it all with a single costume change, slipping off the gorgeous coat in which she made her entrance to reveal a simple black dress that hugged her post-mommy curves. Badu manages to be petite and bodacious, all at once.
      Against a backdrop of projected images that evoked an acid-trip inside a Mayan temple spaceship, the Cannabinoids and their leader nimbly worked and reworked their way through both new material and her vast catalogue. The murky sound system of the Wiltern obscured her vocals for much of the set, which made deciphering lyrics to the new songs especially difficult but didn’t prevent some dazzling moments from taking place. The band – whose members include producers Jah Born and Rob Free, musical director R.C. Williams, Symbolyc One, Picnictyme, DJs Big Texas and A1, and drummer Cleon Edwards – was top notch as they served a seamless fusion of electronica drenched jazz, soulful rock, and hip-hop.
      “The Healer” kicked off the set and was an immediate crowd sing-a-long, achieving dramatic effect when the music fell away to emphasize the words, “When niggas turn into gods, walls come tumbling…” The sensual “Umm Hmm” was given a real-time chopped & screwed overhaul at its end, while jagged electro flourishes illuminated the revamped “On & On.” On the latter, the muddy sound system created the old-fashioned home stereo effect of vinyl spinning against a dusty needle. A speed rap version of “Apple Tree” included Erykah both scatting and scratching her vocals, and sent the crowd into a frenzy, as did an electro funk segment that nodded reverently to old-school hip-hop. At one point, the simmering fusion of laptop wizardry, turntable overlays, and band jamming got so overheated that Badu turned to musical director Williams and laughingly asked, “What key is this muthafucka in?”
      On the quieter side, a hypnotic effect was achieved when she pulled the phrase, “There will be a brighter day,” from her classic ballad “Didn’t Cha Know,” and sang it over and over until it gelled into a moving hymn of affirmation. For “Bag Lady,” near the close of the show, she unhooked the microphone from its stand to walk the width of the stage as she sang, and she’s such a vibrant, larger than life performer that only at this point do you realize that she has stood (and danced) largely in one spot for most of the show. But for all the stage presence and star power she possess (and it’s a lot), it’s the lyrics of this crowd favorite that fill the room as this song, too, becomes a group sing-along effort.
      For sheer shock value and maximum payoff, though, nothing topped a wholly unexpected cover of Snoop Dogg’s raunchy classic, “Ain’t No Fun,” which she began singing almost sheepishly before amping the room with it. And yes, the women in the crowd out sang the men on the controversial, misogynistic tune.
      Not that the evening was flawless. Some self-indulgent scratching of pre-recorded vocals on her computer thwarted the momentum of “Window Seat,” turning an otherwise sublime performance into a bout of needless experimentation.

      Badu doesn’t get much radio play these days, aside from the hit singles from her groundbreaking 1997 debut album, Baduizm, and “Tyrone” from her sophomore live album. Those tracks are staples on R&B channels. It’s the great recyclers of our age, Lady Gaga and Beyonce, who rule airwaves and video outlets – the former with clunky identity-politic cheerleading, the latter with laughably facile consumerist McFeminism. Meanwhile, from pop culture margins, Badu has evolved into a true hip-hop MVP, one of its most visionary and versatile artists. Just as Miles Davis is the embodiment of jazz even as he transcends the genre, and Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul while demolishing genre categorization, Erykah’s artistic questing has led her to continually push hip-hop from the inside. She embodies and exercises the liberatory possibilities of the culture so deeply and thoroughly that she, paradoxically, transcends it. She has few working peers in that regard – male or female.
      Her fans span race, gender and sexuality categories; even I was surprised at the vast number of gay boys and lesbians in the house, repping multiple hues and generations. What keeps all her fans enthralled in the swirl of her evolution and innovation is a down home earthiness that shines in her lyrics and shines through her playfully haughty poses. She’s still very much the “southern gul” who will “split them vowels.” She illustrated that quality when, at the show’s end, she climbed offstage to walk and sing in the crowd – carefully tucking her dress, first, so as to not flash the crowd. Passing one beaming fan, she exclaimed, “Damn! You got some pretty teeth!”

This review originally appeared in the LA Times on Dec. 9, 2011