25 August 2006
Herbert + Skye
Sorry for the break. Good news: This riff will be syndicated.
Skye is the Morcheeba chick, who could have been a pretty hip/cool high school chorus instructor ($25/hour) if she hadn't right-place right-timed herself as trip-hop's last girl scout. Pretty voice, "velvety" they say (she is, in fact, black), the kind of pretty, velvety black voice people without girlfriends think people with girlfriends make out to--this voice, and a few cover songs, was enough for most people at Irving. Behind Skye were some pretty frumpy looking dudes on bass guitar keyb, who for the most part kept things smooth, chill, good-time-havin', etc. The mostly young crowd crunched up to the stage when Skye launched into this dramatic, no drums version of Gorillaz's "Feel Good Inc."--because this song's melody is actually beautiful, guys, it's not just about the jam--and when the crowd uncrunched themselves, they all had bags around their eyes, erectile dysfunction, overdue alimony.
Sideline: Obviously I'm vexed by the prospect that one day I might like or even love Skye Music. I saw it happen to my parents. Dad was a bad-ass drummer who knew all the parts to every Kansas song. Once Mom played "Making Time" on the Wurlitzer. Now they both think Russ Freeman and the Rippingtons are the new MAZE. They both hear that Chuck Mangione song on the car radio and drive by the house and roll the windows down and yell at my brothers and sisters and me, "Quick get in the car! Your favorite song is on! The funky part is coming up!" And I really don't want to get in the car.
Funny thing re supra is I could totally say the same about Matthew Herbert. He's a British house producer with dogmatic, occasionally self-spiting obedience to an insane sampling code--all his source material is sampled conceptually, not merely aesthetically, e.g. recording the sound of fifteen phonebooks dropping from a window as a metaphor for the civilians killed in Iraq (I know I know I know)--but when he sticks to dance tempos he's pretty much irrefutable. Integral to Herbert's sound too are Dani Siciliano's vocals--understated, present but fragile, a counterpoint to euro-house's huge soaring no-nonsense female anthems (in general). Granted, sometimes Herbert writes some serious duds which she can't sell at all, but in general she's sultry--look it up in the book.
And yet she wasn't there--replaced, in fact, by a DUDE, which threw me hard and right away. A laidback sortasoul groove that never bucks or pitches fever, "Something Isn't Right" has this beautiful male-female call-response motif where the man says "There must be something wrong," then the woman says, "I don't feel love," and a second after the song ends you realize that "something isn't right" is what a person who doesn't feel love SAYS when she's in love. It's one of my favorite songs of the year, but live it felt like a lie--like half the story.
Herbert With Live Band is at best something of a paradox, at worst something confusing and special: live musicians playing sample-based music that's meant to sound live. The new album Scale has more songs than process-based results (cf Herbert's Radio Boy albums), which makes this concert remotely possible at all for the drummer, bassist, keyboard guy, horn players, and the Siciliano fill-in who signed on for the tour. Herbert, meanwhile, takes on the position of mission control/mad scientist/w.h.y., processing the band's sounds real-time, amplifying crescendos, puzzling the rhythms, sampling the parts and retriggering them at will, in general complicating and cluttering otherwise straightforward pop-orchestral arrangements. He wore a bathrobe and when he bobbed his head he looked like Niles from Frasier.
Which, again, is my big worry re: Herbert, that he's going to such sophisticated lengths to make, in the end, possibly, just dolled-up Skye Music. Live the slow jam "Birds of a Feather" had the benefit of a nice kick-up in tempo and more of a pronounced downbeat and plenty of whirling, twirling flute and vocal overdubs courtesy Herbert's knobbery. Really beautiful, but I wonder whether I'd fall as hard if, say, Norah Jones played it the same. "Moving Like A Train" I absolutely adored, a bouncey disco with a big syncopated thump on the bottom, gooey string swells and showtune horn punches throughout--but then I just as easily could see Jamiroquai jamming on something like this and me saying, "Oh, that Jamiroquai, up to no good like usual," and walking around my apartment completely normal as a parody of the "Virtual Insanity" video.
So chalk it up to details and whatnots and what-have-yous--I couldn't tell you why I like Herbert's songs more than Skye's except that Herbert's physical sounds are always slightly off, tweaked one way or another to make me feel the slightest on edge and more than piqued, with Herbert exaggerating the sounds even more live. That, and the more he masks the politics of his samples in his songs, the more I tend to like the songs and the more I'm interested in those very politics. It's a honey on the medicine chalice thing, a spoonful of sugar, etc., which is something that only made complete sense to me when I realized that the man who wrote all these songs is standing in front of me in a satin bathrobe, and copious amounts of chest hair are erupting out from underneath.
21 August 2006
And the Livin' Is Easy
In the tradition of hearing things in Tompkins Square Park and reporting back to the internet at large, Sunday I saw an old black man sitting on a bench, playing George Gershwin's "Summertime" on the tenor saxophone. He was more of a grandpop-style old black man than a Morgan Freeman-style old black man or the old black man from Requiem For A Dream who facilitates the "ass to ass" line, and he was wearing those high crotch pants that, upon sitting, pretty much guaranteed him an artificial pants boner. He had brought a collapsible music stand, set it up in front of him, sat down on the end of a bench, right at a crossroads where anybody who's walking through the park has to hear him play "Summertime," right at the edge of the bench, perfect posture, exquisite fake boner, runs through some long tones and scales, and then fucking bombs "Summertime," one of my all-time favorite songs ever. No note went with the other, one too sharp the next too flat, and thank the Criz he only played the head. After he got through the song, he would catch his breath more or less, look around to see if anybody might protest, then go back to murdering the song, "Summertime," in the summer, get it, ain't that nice.
Now pardon me if I see an old black man holding a beat-up tenor saxophone in Tompkins Square Park, sitting on a park bench in front of a collapsible music stand, perfect posture, running through some scales then turning to "Summertime" (for our benefit, not his--he obviously knows this song by heart), and I expect him to rip shit like no other. Pardon me. But this is Tompkins Square Park we're talking about. This is a very special park. On Wednesday, e.g., the park is having a Dog Prom, and several dogs will probably be dressed in tuxedos while other dogs are dressed in dresses and, this being T.S.P., there will probably be some dog protesters too, and that's pretty spectacular. What I'm saying is that this park has standards. You'd think an old black man with a tenor saxophone and a pants boner would respect the park.
There is no age cut-off for instrument-learning or park-playing or oldman-being, granted. I fully advocate more men and women (the old kind) to take up an instrument, woodshed a lessonbook, play with those Jamey Aebersold music-minus-one tapes til they feel comfortable taking their jams to the clubs, buy a pair of pants with at least partial boner-proofing--honestly, whatever they want to do. There are not enough old people making music right now and I think that's a lie, a huge problem, considering.
All I ask, old people, is that you look at this:
Is it a guy playing jazz on a sax, or a lady's face?