All Ages

The BUZZCOCKS, May 8, 2010, Fillmore Irving Plaza

Dense, spirited crowding of bodies—just enough to make one heartsick for bygone days of all-ages shows in smoky clubs, of foolish jubilant jumping, of secretly being in awe of while gingerly dodging the scariest slam-dancers’ windmilling arms. Nostalgia simply to stand at the frontmost pit’s innermost edge, a few yards from the stage, elbow or palm at the ready to gently bounce any body crashing in one’s direction back into the frenzied middle. To witness again the mutually protective ethic, the essential professionalism—most knowing how to handle themselves, briskly helping up the fallen, not spilling beer.

Crowd-surfing slightly sad: over the course of the show only half a dozen bodies made it aloft, and even then buoyancy was brief and the return to ground precarious, upper body often dropping first. But this isn’t exactly mosh music, and the floor nonetheless throbbed with jumpers. One guy grabbed strangers’ shoulders left and right, sometimes as impromptu half-hug, sometimes to get more height when it came time to jump. Sweetly, none of his conscripted supports seemed to object. The mightiest jumper was practically gymnastic, if weirdly arrhythmic, buff in a teddy-bear way, who knew all the lyrics despite his (apparent) relative youth. The most memorable figure in the pit, however, was a tall, silver-maned, silver-bearded magus-like elder jacketed in black leather who swayed and tossed himself about heftily, as if with both abandon and gravitas, like some venerable punk immortal.

The Buzzcocks were their adorable selves: Steve Diggle all impish mischief and delight, Pete Shelley stout, ruddy, hearty, ironic—a pair of characters one could imagine as sagely buzzards in some animated series.

Sole pity was the opening band, the Dollyrots—dull bubblegummy girl band from LA Audrina Patridge would probably nod along with, glassy-eyed.

Bomb scare outside venue.


Basement Bhangra 13th anniversary Friday at the Fillmore Irving Plaza: a re-inspection after many years away. The combination of busy yet puzzling performer line-up with low bhangra-to-hip-hop ratio, and probably roomier venue, and probably too-predictable playlists, resulted in a night of fits and starts and mostly waiting. Nina Sky: cute; random. Raghav (who he?): low-blow attempts at crowd-arousal, launching each song with the hook of some trusty evergreen (“Choli ke peeche,” “Ek ladki ko dekha”) before plummeting treacherously into his own bland work (one song built on a trope about “peanut-butter cups”). On the floor one saw moves tested out, practiced, repeated, repeated—the peril of the dance lessons? Missing were the large dance circles, except one that lasted all of six minutes. Energy fields generally curdled into clusters of those who’d come clustered to begin with. People were friendly, people were ready; there was just too little impetus supplied for collective enthusiasm. An imperfect night to re-rapprocher with this scene.

From 01450 to 10031

“It was a great party — if you’ve never been to a party before.” Several though not all of the following recent excursions brought to mind those words by Truman Capote.

Lakeside barbecue in Groton, Mass., at a plush and cozily posh house at the edge of the woods, rented for the year by a trio of graduate students living the rustic writerly life. An impressive though not all covetable existence. Pleasant as intrastate tourism, even if socially we never left Cambridge. Neat-o New England trivia of the sort I’ve come to take for granted: a great-great-grandson of Ralph Waldo Emerson owns the house. Party population: c. 16.

Keg party of baffling decency in Livingston, NJ, in the company of recent Brown graduates and twentysomething Goan-Americans. The suburban wilds of New Jersey were still all new to me, and the experience felt distinctly cinematic, faintly B-moviesque. In effect a college reunion for many, it hosted small pockets of rekindling drama at the pool table, by the beer-pong table, along the carpeted stairs. More ethnography. Party population: c. 60.

Harlem block party on Hamilton Place, where a couple of hip-hop DJs rocked the streets well into the evening hours and during which, not surprisingly, even (or especially) elementary-school kids danced better than anyone getting down at, say, Redline. In spite of steady gentrification and gorgeous brownstones — townhouse prices have nearly doubled in the last three years — Hamilton Heights seems to remain primarily low-income. No non-black, non-Latino residents showed up at this event, anyway, although I spotted one white guy looking on from an adjacent block while talking on his cell-phone — ever the reliable prop. Harlem Week occasioned concurrent festivities elsewhere uptown. Party population: c. 150.

In lieu of catching Talib Kweli and Kurtis Blow at Hot 97’s Harlem Week live broadcast, however — not to mention Nas for free at Summerstage — I spent yesterday afternoon watching India Day performances on Madison and 23rd. Model-turned-actor (and ex-beau of model-turned-actress Bipasha Basu) Dino Morea appeared alongside composer A.R. Rahman as guest of honor. Dressed head-to-toe in distressed denim (why o why), Morea bounced about the stage shouting “I love you all!” until asked to freestyle to a song from one of his movies — whereupon his usually choreographed-for feet fidgeted and ran out of ideas. Rahman, on the other hand, was stingy with stage time and barely addressed the crowd: furnished with a Yamaha keyboard, he launched into “Vande Mataram” at the top of his strained lungs, then reluctantly, half-heartedly, sang a signature snatch from “Dil Se Re” only after the audience begged for an encore. As usual, youth performances were more memorable; the finale featured the most graceful bhangra dancers I’ve ever seen. Flag-waving and rallying cries (“Bharat mata ki jai!” “Hindustan zindabad!”) filled the gaps between acts. Party population: c. 800.

Hot fusion

A couple of months ago, This American Life on NPR featured the extraordinary profile of Chaim, a young Hasidic Jew who redubbed himself “Curly Oxide” and became something of a Williamsburg punk-rock star before marrying and returning to the life of Hasidim. Along similar lines, sans reversion, an emerging Hasidic reggae star of dubious talent but well-pitched niche named Matisyahu has hit the scene, performing at Joe’s Pub last week and scoring an interview on WNYC. Still more press has been accorded to 50 Shekel and his Jew-Unit, named one of the “Nine Most Remarkable Things in Culture This Month” by the December 2003 issue of Esquire Magazine. I must say that “In Da Shul” — his rewriting of the 50 Cent song — is pretty darn endearing; read the lyrics here.

Among ethnically inflected renditions of “In Da Club,” my personal favorite remains Tigerstyle‘s bhangra mix — a mainstay on BBC One’s Bobby Friction & Nihal and Punjabi Hit Squad’s Desi Beats shows. Speaking of bhangra (as I always seem to be), this recent Washington Post article takes a fresh approach, emphasizing the dance-form and actually encouraging readers to attend bhangra classes and club-nights, much as one would go salsa-dancing. Balle balle!

As Bollywood buzzes about the possibility of Hrithik Roshan starring in a remake of Superman (Dharmendra starred in the Hindi para-original), Gotham Comics and Marvel team up to bring us Spider-Man India. In addition to Spider-ji, of course, the world is also big enough for Spider-san, a (theoretical) Spider-jew, and a (newly imagined) Soviet Superman. For those curious about further case studies in the globalization of the comic-book, this site inventorying major superheroes around the world is a good place to start.

In more crossover news, The Pet Shop Boys have composed a new score for Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, which the Dresdner Sinfoniker will be performing at Trafalgar Square September 12. Neil Tennant writes about the project in The Guardian. Letters to the editor clarifying the history of the film’s scorings are also worth a read.

Cold fusion

Today’s not particularly critical Critic’s Notebook (“India Resounding in New York”) in The New York Times surveys the overseas South Asian music scene — as every major NYC-centric generalist periodical seems to every seven months or so, whenever some nominally new item prompts re-inventory. The special occasion in this case may be Bombay Dreams on Broadway, an event too tepidly received to garner much prose of its own. Jon Pareles does an adequate job but little more than naming the usual names: Basement Bhangra, Bollywood Disco, the dear-departed Mutiny parties, DJ Rekha (materfamilias of the whole scene and single fixture of every article ever written on Desi music in the US), Nitin Sawhney, Karsh Kale.

Earlier this week, at Club Passim’s Arabesque Mondays, I saw a performance of classical Indian song and Indian-Arabic fusion by Falguni Shah (a.k.a. Falu), a vocalist on Kale’s Realize album and whose clarion and elasticity of voice surpass anyone’s I’ve heard in months. Accompanied by another singer/sitarist and an Indian-tabla player, she opened with a set of ghazals and qawwali (including “Allah Hoo” and “Tery Bina,” made famous by Nusrat’s recordings); in the second half they were joined by an oudist and an Egyptian-tabla player (Boston’s star percussionist Karim Nagi Mohammed). Falu is one to watch. Over the summer she can be seen in New York at the CBGB 313 Gallery and Mercury Lounge. Only after the Passim show did I realize I’d seen her before, when Karsh Kale and the Realize Live Band headlined Six Degree Records‘ Asian Massive Tour in October 2002 — a lively show, at S.O.B.’s in Tribeca, especially memorable for the turntablism of DJ Cheb i Sabbah. As Pareles mentions, Kale now has a residency at Kush (currently on summer hiatus).

On wunderkind A. R. Rahman, composer of Bombay Dreams, Pareles’ critical faculties and/or fact-checkers could do better: “while the Broadway show hints at styles from across the subcontinent, many numbers end up sounding like mildly exoticized Andrew Lloyd Webber.” No surprise there: Lord Lloyd Webber produced the entire show — the West End original as well as the Broadway retooling — having called up Rahman with the very idea in 1998. And it would be more accurate to say that those numbers sound like mildly de-exoticized A. R. Rahman. While Pareles notes influences on filmi music from “electro to salsa to surf music to funk with vocals that hint at ancient Indian traditions,” many songs in Bombay Dreams are undisguised rearrangements of Rahman’s earlier hits: dance-floor warhorses “Chaiyya Chaiyya” from Dil Se (1998) and “Mujhe Rang De” from Takshak (1999) become dance medleys, the twinkly ballad “Ishq Bina” from Taal (1999) loses luster in English as “Love’s Never Easy.” US reviews of the show I’ve come across consistently fail to acknowledge this recycling, which is also to miss a crucial point of its appeal for Bollywood-wise audiences: sing-a-long-ability. Still, as with many crossover projects, the songs of Bombay Dreams are ultimately so unsatisfying because they’re neither here nor there, rather than, say, the best of both worlds. The show’s primary appeal for me when I saw its March 29 preview was Farah Khan’s choreography: winsome razzle-dazzle, a lot more impressive than any chorus line.

Further proof of the affinity between the Victorian novel and Bollywood cinema: Farah Khan was hired by director Mira Nair (of Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding) to choreograph a scene in her forthcoming adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, starring Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp. (The lengthy trailer looks pretty good. Nair talks about the film in this interview.) It’s in academia, too: UC Berkeley Victorianist Priya Joshi’s next book will be on nationalism in Bollywood.

Incidentally, Farah Khan also choreographed the dances for this $60-million château shaadi.