Thursday, March 02, 2006

Quick Review: Dave Chapelle’s Block Party

A couple weeks ago, I sifted through my email until something caught my eye and shot me with a bolt.  Dave Chappelle at Verizon Wireless!  Onsale now!  No-brainer.  To this day, I’m still kicking myself for passing up an opportunity to see him locally two years ago over newlywed-induced finacial woes.  Besides, this show was only a week away and as far as I knew, tickets had been on sale since Saturday.  I jumped in, grabbed 4, and happily strolled in 7 days later.  

The most fitting part of the “Block Party” name was the line to get in the doors, so long it took most people 45 minutes to get past security.  Not being a big line person myself, I pulled my crew to a second story bar to watch the line crawl from above with seats and drinks.  We hashed over what might come, with my betting on 20 minutes of Talib Kweli followed by 30 minutes of Erykah Badu and finally a 90 minute Dave Chapelle show.  WRONG.

If I had a beef with what was a very grounded and strong show, it was the very misleading notion that this was a Dave Chapelle show.  It wasn’t.  It was a 2-part concert MC’ed by Chapelle.  This was unfortunate in the “I thought the grey poupun was butterscotch” sense; easily more than half of the audience was made up of people that planned on putting up with a couple of openers to get to Mr. I’m James Brown.  Instead, they rapidly discovered that they were only getting sprinkles of Dave and then heavy doses of music they were mostly oblivious to.  I would have to think that the dazed and confused crowd didn’t thrill the artists (including Mos Def) either.  Comments from the stage about the number of white people in the crowd somewhat confirmed that, and it can quickly become an annoying cliché.  Badu was particularly obnoxious in this respect by “observing” how scared/intimidated the white audience members were during her ultra-mellow set.  Sure.  More likely it was an indication of the artists’ discomfort with an audience so departed from their norm.  Unfortunate, in any case.

And unfortunate may be the best way to sum up what was a truly impressive undertaking by Chappelle and his friends.  My impression is that Dave Chappelle walked away from his white-hot show and Comedy Central’s $50 million dollars because he was conflicted between his show’s message, his celebrity, and the Islamic socialistic values he wishes to follow.  This concert was a far more substantial piece of entertainment than any sketch or stand up routine, but it was not what the audience was led to believe it was going to be.  It’s a pity that such a strong show may have been underappreciated because of that.    

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Quick Review: The Flecktones’ The Hidden Land

Bela Fleck, brothers Victor & Roy Wooten, and Jeff Coffin took a 2005 hiatus from touring as the Flecktones but have rewarded their fans going through withdrawl with their first effort since the 3-disc juggernaught Little Worlds.  The Hidden Land was billed as a return to the band’s original focus to create musical art without studio magic, and it lives up to that billing.  No lyrics are to be found, no guest artists, and no potential singles.  Unlike many jamband cousins, this quartet fiercely resists commercial pressures and has remained remarkably creative and true to themselves over the years.  

Hidden Land is clearly meant to be a single piece of work, with many of the songs leading into one another almost seamlessly.  The album kicks off with a rendition of Bach’s Fugue No.20 (Bela Fleck often indulges in classical music guilty pleasures) that is interwoven into the subsequent P’lod in the House.  Couch Potato was seemingly developed to be a vehicle for the band’s live showmanship, driftng into nearly absurd tangents before suddenly snapping back its central hook.  Weedwacker and Misunderstood punctuate the Flecktone’s uncanny ability to make musical pieces of art rather than simple melodies.  The music reaches its height when the 4 members sacrifice their individual jazz virtuosity and become a completely blended unit in tracks such as Labyrinth, Subterfuge, the Whistle Song, and at an apex with the Persian-tinged Chennai.    

A strong effort from the highly underappreciated Flecktones.