Much of the East Coast spent last week huddled beneath an onslaught of wintry mix — but down in balmy South Beach, the glaciers of ice were embedded in the lyrics of Raekwon the Chef. See, at Art Basel, the annual art festival that has rippled outward to become a monsoon, the stout Wu-Tang swordsman was omnipresent. It was unclear if gallery-scene Illuminati Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian had blessed him with an elaborate induction ceremony, but the Chef was reveling in the moment.
On Thursday night, Raekwon was poolside at the ritzy Delano Hotel, attending a fundraising event for an organization that uses proceeds from art auctions to provide dental care for kids. When bidding for an album cover signed by Jean-Michel Basquiat petered out in the mid-thousands, he barked on the microphone to encourage big spenders. “Put your hands together for this fly, international, luxurious art,” he said. Not coincidentally, Fly International Luxurious Art — or F.I.L.A. — is the title of his forthcoming album. (As an aside, it still sounds amazing when he just talks, like the dude is simultaneously eating Legos and commanding a platoon to flank its enemy.)
Monday night, Staples Center, Los Angeles, North America. Headliner is Aubrey Drake Graham, representative from Young Money/Cash Money/October's Very Own family of labels, and of north North America, specifically Toronto. Time ticket says show starts: 7 p.m. Meaning of "7 p.m." in this context: 7 p.m.! Therefore: Representative from Grantland dot com arrives late for opening set by Future. Representative from Grantland dot com is still finding seat as Future, leather-pantsed, begins climactic spin through hits: "Turn on the Lights"/“U.O.E.N.O."/“Bugatti." DJ for Future stops music before "Bugatti" line RE: smoking "good Jamaican" so Future can instead praise/toke California's native cannabis. Purple-lit fog fills stage during "Honest." Future acknowledges lone stage-right audience member waving "KISS ME" sign, seems sincerely appreciative. DJ for Future exhorts crowd: "If you from California, make some noise!" Crowd, by volume of reaction, is predominantly from here.
Future's stage set: Minimal. Consists of DJ podium decorated with Ramonesish "Freebandz" seal, DJ, and Future. Stage set for second opener, Miguel, involves many Tetris-block banks of lights. Assembly required. Primary set-change activity for Drake fans at Staples Center: Selfie-taking. Representative from Grantland dot com has sensation of being repeatedly/inadvertently immortalized as weird guy in background of multiple selfies. Representative from Grantland dot com reflects on institution of ever-more-stringent anti-smoking laws and concurrent uptick in popularity of selfie-taking. Replacement idle-hand activity? Representative from Grantland dot com reflects on Drake's music — intimate/confessional, remote/calculated, by turns — as expression or possibly endpoint of a "selfie" aesthetic. Writes "like a musical selfie" in notebook. Ponders phrase "musical selfie": Too Entertainment Weekly? Too Lisa Robinson? Probably is. Also, "selfie"= terrible word. Like poking tongue in rotten tooth. Representative from Grantland dot com ponders alarming red spider crawling past sneaker toe, stageward bound. Hashtag RIPDrake, hashtag spiderbite?
Before lining up to check my coat on Friday at Terminal 5 in New York, I peek down over the balcony. A packed floor stares at a purposefully weird act called Doldrums. No one in the crowd's doing anything except pointing their faces in the right direction. It's a bad omen — I'm not here just to see a show; I'm here to try losing control for the first time in a long while.
I find a spot near the front, shunted way off to the right side, past the stage. I watch (the?) Doldrums, looking for the part of myself that used to give fair shots to opening bands I'd never listened to. A red LED display at stage right says it's 9:25; Sleigh Bells aren't scheduled to appear till 10:50. Watched clocks have always ticked slower at concerts than anywhere else for me, but it worsened once I could get into bars. Suddenly there was no bigger miscalculation than entering the venue any earlier than midway through the band before the band I actually came to see. Tonight I'm early, interested to see if the wait will help me remember an old anticipation — not the kind I can tweet, but the kind that'll fill me with adrenaline and poor decision-making skills.
As a cultural mecca of sorts, L.A. has many extracurricular options on any given Saturday night. Catch your struggling actor friend’s one-man sock-puppet show in Hollywood’s theater row. Sip Pabst tall boys at your struggling stand-up friend’s UCB debut. Or flirt with a vegan while ignoring your struggling musician friends’ set at the Echoplex. But sadly, L.A. lacks a tentacle-porn karaoke theme bar with an NC-17 beat-poetry open mic night. Fortunately, Archer Live! came to town this weekend, and for two glorious hours, Club Nokia was transformed into a debauched den of hypersexual animation, casually spewed racial epithets, and unapologetic alcoholism. You could smell the bourbon fumes at the Kings game across the street.
If, like me, you are only now catching up on FX’s brilliant, twisted James Bond animated parody from the Adult Swim impresarios behind Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo, Archer Live! is basically the traveling road show they (and the voice talent behind the series) put on to promote the upcoming season, which debuts on January 15. Of course, “promote” may conjure images of stifling Comic-Con panels where stars fight flop sweat while trying to sate rabid fan boys with adequate answers about their character’s extended family tree. Not that there wasn’t a foaming-at-the-mouth, boundary-crossing element to the night’s proceedings, but at Comic-Con you won’t catch Aisha Tyler (who voices over-endowed and overqualified ISIS agent Lana Kane) practically ripping the wax off a handle of Maker’s Mark that a fan would later chug onstage. Nor do Comic-Con Q&As typically involve earnest public requests for a threesome from a pregnant couple, which Tyler artfully dodged by saying, “I’m so … kind of flattered?” Oh, and Sterling Archer himself, H. Jon Benjamin, would mock-fellate executive producer Matt Thompson before the night was over. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It’s been six days since Reflektor, Arcade Fire’s fourth LP, leaked, and I truly believe that most people spent the first three trying to sort out whether it’s better than The Suburbs, or even Funeral if they were feeling frisky. Maybe people are still grappling with that question, but as the workweek commenced, it feels like the latter half of those three days have been dedicated to the more serious matter of determining whether Arcade Fire is cool. And that’s been far more eventful. By the time Reflektor actually hit stores and Arcade Fire prepped to play in front of Capitol Records last night as quasi alter egos the Reflektors, here’s where I think we stood: This is a seriously uncool band trying to embrace its uncoolness, and that just smacks of effort, man. And, if we’re to trust a much-discussed review I refuse to link to, they’re probably boring in the sack because they aren’t funky and white people are terrible in the sack.
So that's where we all stood Tuesday, as a Grammy-winning rock band that will almost certainly have the no. 1 album in the country come next week (don’t count out Trace Adkins) was preparing to play a free show in front of Hollywood’s most iconic monument to the record industry.
Everyone tells you about White Jesus, but nobody talks about the monster. For the first half of Kanye West's two-hour-plus set Saturday night in Los Angeles, an abominable-goblin-esque beast with flashing red eyes lurked on the peak of the already thoroughly Instagrammed mountain that serves as the imposing centerpiece of the Yeezus tour. It would reappear and disappear for a few minutes at a time, seemingly without rhyme or reason, providing an elliptical footnote to whatever else transpired onstage. Unlike the headline-friendly Son of God, it never interacted with Kanye, never even got within close range of him, but it left a chilling impression, an almost too-literal shadow over a show that dared you to parse (or mock) the bombastic earnestness of its execution. The monster refused to let you get comfortable, ostensibly because Kanye's not comfortable. Not that "comfort" was anywhere to be found on the multicourse tasting menu of West's own psyche that he and his DONDA crew elaborately presented to us that evening.
The Yeezus show is long and physically and mentally exhausting, and I wouldn't take out a minute of it. Even from my seat — which was close to the stage but suffered from less-than-ideal sound, I found myself absolutely rapt by everything that transpired on that mountain and the hydraulic Pride Rock that extended from it into the floor of Staples Center. Most of the people seated around me felt differently; as the hours wore on the seats neighboring mine slowly vacated, couple by couple, until I had the whole row to myself (save for the seats the college boys behind me had propped their feet up on for their fourth-quarter naps). Like the album that is its namesake, the show was relentless and abrasive, yet somehow lush in its severity. It had more in common with Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void than hometown hero Kendrick Lamar's tight, crowd-pleasing opening set.
Last night, Molly Lambert and Tess Lynch ventured once more into the Hollywood Bowl, for the Katy Perry We Can Survive breast cancer benefit concert. It was truly the night of a thousand women. Well, OK, seven — Bonnie McKee, Kacey Musgraves, Tegan and Sara, Sara Bareilles, Ellie Goulding, and the lilac-lipsticked "Roar"-meister herself. We wondered how the Katy experience would measure up to the fine evening we spent at the Bowl with her boyfriend, John Mayer, earlier this month, and we traveled up several flights of stairless escalators to survey the Katycat scene.
Molly Lambert: It was another gorgeous night in the most beautiful venue in L.A., but with a totally different demographic than the Mayer concert. For one, there were children. Lots of them, everywhere, in tutus and glitter and rainbow-colored wigs. It was like being at a baby rave. Plus, instead of last time's garlic mayo–and–weed smoke vibe, Katy Perry's curated night smelled like caramel popcorn.
Tess Lynch: A kid fell onto our feet on the escalator, and we realized that instead of the drunk couples roaming around at the Mayer concert, this crowd was super-buzzed on Mountain Dew and Swedish Fish. The energy was crazy, plus all the musicians kept thanking everyone for buying tickets in support of the Young Survival Coalition, so in addition to the sugar and caffeine, everyone was feeling pretty good about themselves. Katy Perry handpicked the other artists, too, and was pretty candid.
Lambert: It was an inspiring night. Is it OK to say that? That I felt uplifted and inspired?
In the 11 years that I've been faithfully listening to Pusha T, not once did I think he'd ever become one of our brightest stars. There have been glimpses of it for a long time — many of which have contributed to his lengthy career — but I never thought they'd be anything beyond that.
But I never knew why. The talent has always been there. The Clipse albums Lord Willin' and Hell Hath No Fury are both important rap records. And during this era, he continued to deliver above-average verses that separated him from much of the pack and occasionally even from his brother/fellow Clipsian, Malice.
"For the third anniversary of Film Independent at LACMA's Live Read, we have a story about a boy and his pet." Critic and LACMA curator Elvis Mitchell typically introduces the semi-regular Live Read with a wry bon mot describing the film he and filmmaker Jason Reitman have selected, and this is how Mitchell prepared a packed house for the first film of the new season, Boogie Nights. (For more on how the unrecorded, one-night-only Live Read events work, see here.)
Boogie Nights, of course, has only grown in stature since it was first released 16 years ago. It is an uncommonly ambitious, devastating, absurd Scorsese-esque look at the rise and fall of a small enclave of pornographers living in the San Fernando Valley in the late '70s and early '80s. I've always thought of it as a hilarious tragedy. Last night may have inverted that idea.
On Saturday night, Grantland sent Tess Lynch and me, Molly Lambert, to the Hollywood Bowl for the Los Angeles stop of John Mayer's Born and Raised tour. We were excited to bond with our fellow Angelenos in the comfort of a legendary venue after a humiliating week of having to tell our friends that our Saturday night was blocked out for a John Mayer concert. As other reviews have noted, this tour has been a bit of a redemption arc for Mayer, who went silent after a few rounds of exceptionally bad press and an emergency throat surgery for granuloma. Mayer was in a mellow mood, serving up past smashes and future ones, almost all of them fairly midtempo. We watched couples bunny-hug and vulnerable female fans lose their shit, all while we listened to Mayer's legendary guitar prowess with the bonus of seeing the accompanying legendary guitar face. Would Mayer slip up and say something uncouth? Would he bring Katy Perry onstage to duet? Tess and I spent a magical night at the Bowl pontificating on Mayer's new country/classic-rocker image and music, his fans, and where that aioli smell was coming from.
Last night, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson played the second of three planned reunion concerts as the Replacements at Riot Fest in Chicago. The group will travel with the festival to Denver next weekend, after which Westerberg and Stinson may or may not launch a tour. (I would bet not, but you never know.) A lot was written about the first reunion gig in Toronto three weeks ago — the most circulated review was an exhaustive, 9,000-word account by Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus that was published by Spin. It’s not surprising that the Replacements would inspire that absurd amount of ink metric tonnage — when it comes to pontificating about the ’Mats, music scribes tend to sound like old baseball writers mooning over Willie Mays.
At the will-call table outside the taping of the James Franco roast, I'm handed a manila envelope with my name and affiliation written on it in Sharpie. Inside that envelope, there's a smaller black envelope, and inside the black envelope there's a thicker envelope of glossy white card stock, held together with tabs, like the little document pouch that comes with a new iPhone. The word FRANCO has been die-cut into the top flap, with scorched edges, as if from a brand or a wood-burning kit. Inside this envelope, there is the actual ticket to the James Franco roast, and a pass to the after-party on a little chain, and underneath that, printed on the inside of the last envelope, there is a picture of James Franco making a sexy face. He has a little mustache in the picture. It's kind of the first James Franco joke of the night. Although I guess the truly Francoesque envelope would be a series of envelopes within envelopes within envelopes. Each one would be (deceptively) transparent, but no matter how many you opened, there would always be another layer between you and James Franco and his little mustache.
Let's get this out of the way: There's no particular reason to go see the VMAs live. This thing is not a live show that happens to be televised: It's a performance-first, production-heavy event, rendered in MTV's signature jump-cut OCD style for TV consumption. And so the plebes in attendance can sometimes feel like second-class citizens, caught trying to stare around the epic giant inflated Moon Man's left leg, where Daft Punk and Pharrell and Nile Rodgers are apparently palling around up on camera. This doesn’t apply to the famous people, of course. The famous people get the proper vantage points they, by rights of their fame, totally deserve.
Speaking of the beautiful people: MTV had them all huddled in one well-lit section to the right of the stage, where waiters with drink trays were omnipresent. You got to see every last ounce of Taylor Swift's carefully cultivated reaction shots, in crisp HD. I and the rest of the norms in section 112 craned our necks to figure out which of the Taylor Swift–like shapes was actually Taylor Swift. Until, like, 30 minutes in, I didn't know that the crazy big-haired lady in the bikini was Lady Gaga. Honestly, if you wanna know what it is you "didn’t see on TV," it’s a whole bunch of dudes in cargo shorts and head sets. Also: When Macklemore thanked "all the homies nominated," it seemed uncouth to, as you certainly would in the comforts of your own living room, scream out "this fucking guy."
Dave Chappelle’s last visit to Austin was — depending on your tolerance for hecklers, crowd/performer jousting, and comedians with close to no prepared material — a complete disaster. A hastily planned show that was booked and announced roughly 24 hours before the former Comedy Central star took the stage, the June 2012 performance saw Chappelle roll into town on his motorcycle and go ahead with a two-hour set marred by half-formed jokes, bouts of prolonged silence, and audience members repeatedly yelling requests and inane attaboys to the comedian who has spent most of the last decade in his own creative wilderness.
That mess of a visit apparently forgiven or ignored, roughly 14,000 fans turned out at the Austin360 Amphitheater on Friday to see the first night of the Chappelle-headlined Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, which is his first formal return to show business since hitting the eject button on his Chappelle’s Show sketch series and the $50 million contract he’d signed for its third season in 2005. After warm-up sets from the likes of Jeff Ross, Demetri Martin, Hannibal Buress, and co-headliners Flight of the Conchords, Chappelle’s most public return came with a standing ovation after the white scrim in front of him disappeared to reveal a buff and intense but still perplexed stage master who was just a few hours away from his 40th birthday.