The Week in Weird
After a lengthy holiday hiatus, live music has returned to South Florida with a vengeance that can be described only as deeply disorienting. So disorienting that we've temporarily shelved our plan to firebomb Ticketmaster and instead would like someone to prepare us warm milk with brandy. Lots of brandy.
This week's schedule might rank as the strangest slate of concerts in the long and storied history of South Florida rock journalism hyperbole.
You don't believe us? Let's rack 'em up, boys....
Official promotional drivel: Kenny G is the king of jazz!
It's tempting to ridicule Kenny G, because it's so easy. For example, there's a rumor about the nearly Jheri-curled saxophonist joining Michael Bolton, John Tesh, and Yanni in a supergroup. Cruel joke, right? Except the rumor and Mr. G's sober denial are both posted on his Website. (See for yourself, and adore many lovely photos, at www.kennyg.com.)
Few artists so readily invite the scorn of the musically erudite. Pat Metheny famously called Kenny G's cover of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" "a new low point in modern culture something that we all should be totally embarrassed about." Metheny added that G "shit all over the graves of all the musicians" who were inspired by Armstrong. Richard Thompson chipped in with a song that called G's thang "an abortion," and Mos Def ventured the opinion that "Kenny G ain't got no soul."
We could ream the guy, too, but that is not for what we are paid the big bucks. We are paid the big bucks for constructing elegant sentences like the preceding one. We also spend our waking lives iPodded to the bequeathals of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis (excluding the bossa nova stuff from '62 and '63), and Oscar Something, who banged the piano keys so hard.
Kenny G, on the other hand, set a world record for longest-held sax note. He won a Grammy. He's sold approximately 800 billion albums. He is to the sax what Chuck Mangione is to the trumpet, minus the running bit on King of the Hill.
Peterson. Oscar Peterson. Yeah, that's it.
Contract rider: Kenny G travels with his own chef and requires promoters to provide all the accouterments for an upscale dining experience. "No plastic, no Styrofoam."
Official promotional drivel: You gotta love John Mayer!
No other artist in the history of, um, art so carefully straddles the line between love and hate. Every time he does something laudable, he chases it with something despicable. He reverently pursues his other career as a stand-up comedian, but he's a big fan of Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy. He accompanies Dave Chappelle on a quest to make white people dance; then he tours with Herbie Hancock. He has tattoos, but he writes for Esquire. He toured with Sheryl Crow, but he dates Jessica Simpson. He stays connected to his fans by constantly blogging; he constantly blogs.
And round and round he goes. "Waiting on the World to Change" might be an anthem for the apathetic, but it's also solid proof that popular music and politics make for a lousy mixed drink unless you're Joe Strummer. Senator, I saw the Clash live, and you, Mr. Mayer, are no Joe Strummer. But you sure do have nice breath.
Contract rider: Mint gum, toothbrushes, lip balms, Altoids, mouthwash, a copy of the New York Times.
Official promotional drivel: Punk is so not dead!
There are five members of AgFro and nineteen former members. Such is the nature of the hardcore beast. Vinnie Stigma formed the group back in 1982, and he takes much pride in the fact that his band outlasted contemporaries such as Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys.
What does AgFro sound like? Grrrr. Subtle thrash-metal influences ... grrrr ... with touches of deathcore and neopunk underpinnings ... grrrr ... while holding true to the harmonic demands of pure hardcore ... grrrrrrr-rrrr-rr.
To put them in context, the members of Agnostic Front have never heard of Kenny G and would eat John Mayer's minty-fresh penis for breakfast. Agnostic Front's stated goal is to give voice to the oppressed, a noble pursuit that would be even more noble if you could understand a word they were saying. Then again, you have to love a band that titles anything Dead Yuppies.
Contract rider: What's a rider? What's a contract?
The Idan Raichel Project
Official promotional drivel: Ethiopian-flavor world music yummers! (We think.)
Any of you who missed his December shows in Beer Sheva, Tel-Aviv, Kibutz Beit Keshet, Tel Nof, or Kfar-Saba can now see him at this performance, which is sandwiched between appearances in Mexico City and Chicago. Pretty nice itinerary for an artist who, his own publicists admit, plays to the "ever-so-small niche of world-music fans on the Israeli music scene" and is "an anonymous composer/producer."
Raichel spent a decade playing keyboards and accordion, as well as producing, for a number of Israeli pop-rock acts. In late 2002 he released his soulful solo debut, built on a foundation of Ethiopian folk music and modern-urban loops, with a plan to gradually build an audience.
The plan failed. Israelis jumped all over the record, sending it straight to number one and elevating four tracks to hit-single status. Raichel was bombarded with awards: artist of the year, album of the year, song of the year.... Well, it was a very good year for our hero. His hymns and love songs are sung in Hebrew, but the real draw is the blend of traditional sounds and modern technology. We'd make a tasteless joke here, but you know how sensitive those Israelis can be.
Contract rider: All the food on the buffet must be Jewlicious.
Official promotional drivel: Live is still touring!
Throwing Copper sold eight million units in 1994. In the ensuing decade, the band's follow-up release sold roughly 24 units, proving that a rock act has an entire lifetime to create its first album and six months to create its second.
Okay, that's a stretch. Throwing Copper wasn't even Live's first album, technically. But we can't help being pissed that Live has spent the past decade in the wilderness. Ed Kowalczyk is still the best singer this side of Freddie Mercury.
Cool Live anecdote: In 2004 the group covered Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" before it became so fashionable to do so. It was a unique take on a classic tune. On a TV show called American Idol, a guy named Chris Daughtry covered the same song just the way Live had covered it. Controversy raged! The next week, Daughtry copped to the Live influence and noted it was one of his favorite bands.
What did this do to boost the group's popularity?
Contract rider: Any gratuitous comparison to Freddie Mercury forms the legal basis for a cancellation.
Official promotional drivel: Prince Rogers Nelson should always and only be referred to as a symbol!
In early December, a Washington Post music critic named J. Freedom du Lac posted a giddy blog entry announcing his intention to see Prince live in Las Vegas. This is funny on several levels:
1. Prince has been playing Vegas.
2. A music critic is excited about seeing Prince.
3. A music critic is excited about seeing Prince in Las Vegas.
4. The Post has a music critic named J. Freedom du Lac.
Which brings us to this: Many years ago there aired a television show called Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, whose titular host was a white and nerdy music industrialist with the worst diction ever. One episode showcased a tiny thing in an eensy wifebeater. The tiny thing was topped by lush, straightened hair piled in jet-black waves. It was neither man nor woman, nor black, brown, yellow, or white. And while Michael Jackson declared himself King of Pop, the tiny thing called Prince came to be regarded as the true musical royalty among colorless crooners.
He made The Black Album, suggesting he was bigger than the Beatles and, completing the dialectic, thereby bigger than Jesus. He claimed, astonishingly, that his record company was ripping him off. He etched the word slave into his face and sat around his South Beach club Glam Slam picking at the s and staring into space. Then his landlord, NBA star Carlos Boozer, sued him for redecorating, in purple, the mansion he was renting. "Tacky," alleged Boozer. And now Prince is starring in the Super Bowl, with a preview at the Hard Rock Live. He's just cracked enough to serve as the perfect poster boy for this week in live music.
Contract rider: Purple, purple, and more purple.
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