Monday, January 23, 2006

"My Job Rocks" and other Friday night musings

"The Beat" has a lot of fun at work. Let me tell you.

How many folks can honestly say that they have to clock in at a punk rock show before blasting off to the Peninsula to catch a bonafide hip-hop legend in action? "The Beat" can say it, and in less than 1000 words to boot.

Friday night's festivities kicked off at The Cherry Bean in downtown Salinas, where The Achievement, Static Eccentric and Los Dryheavers rocked out. The crowd was a thick mix of shaggy skater punx and doe-eyed, Hot Topic-obsessed teeny-boppers, all pepped up on caffeine.

I missed the Achievement, and got to the venue towards the end of Static's set, which was loud and very loud. The entrance was blocked by a wall of on-lookers, so I scooted around to the back entrance. I walked in to find the lead singer on his knees, face purple, screaming into the microphone, looking like an indy-rock mess.

Los Dryheavers were greeted with all of the anticipation of a punk rock pep-rally. They looked at once road weary yet ready to rumble.

The lead singer publicly flirted with members of the other bands, made jokes about methamphetamines (saying one skinny member was on the "Jenny Crank" diet) and basically ripped a hole into the middle of old town, sending the crowd into a vertigous spiral of power punk chords and one-and-a-half-minute anthems.

By the end of the night, several youngsters were lifted to the rafters; mosh pits turned into free-for-alls, and a few guys did that funny-looking two-step dance that you always see people doing at punk and hard-core shows. I'll have to devote an entire review to their next local show because these guys kick a** in so many different ways (plus, I didn't take very good notes during the show).

Soon after the dust cleared, I was on Highway 68 heading towards the Peninsula and, more specifically, Club Octane. Normally, I don't go to super clubs : there's usually an overload of people, the drinks are always over-priced, and I hate anyplace that requires grown-ups to dress according to their standards. But the exception was this: Slick Rick was coming to town.

Yes, that Slick Rick. "La-Di-Da-Di," "Children's Story," a million gold chains and an eye patch-wearing MC Ricky D. It's rare when a hip-hop icon comes to my neck of the woods. When it happens, I'm all over it like plaque on a pair of rusty gold fronts.

Now for full disclosure: any top-name rapper/R&B singer making an appearance at a club in a small market (Monterey qualifies as a small market) is there for one reason alone: appearance fee. They're usually either on their way to a bigger show or have just gotten out of a big show and are making a little bit of extra cash because "the promoter knows a guy whose cousin owns a club, and could you please make an appearance and we'll hook you up-whoompty-whoomp."

So knowing that, I expected Rick to do 10 minutes, tops. He surprised me by doing about 20. I wasn't mad.

Slick Rick came out looking a lot more slight in person than he appears on television. Short and noticeably slim, the 200+lbs of gold and platinum jewelry seemed to weigh down his every step. He also sported a diamond and platinum encrusted eye patch, which is quite possibly the single-greatest conversation piece ever assembled by man.

On the drive up, me and my boy questioned whether Slick Rick had enough songs to rock a complete show. Although he's a legendary rapper and arguably hip-hop's greatest story-teller, we reasoned that he had four, maybe five songs tops, that a general club crowd would recognize.

Rick dove head first into his recognizable hits: Mona Lisa, La-Di-Da-Di, The Show, The Art of Story Tellin', and Lick The Balls. He sounded pretty clear with no backing track, and, amazingly, no hype man. The routine was seamless, and despite his ultra-laid back delivery (man, this guy makes it all look so easy) had the crowd waving and singing along from jump street.

But, going back to the whole appearance fee, he pulled off the ultimate performance faux paus: he kept asking the crowd "How you doing San Jose!" Not once, not twice, but three times. The first time, the crowd did its best to ignore it. The second time, you could see people turning to one another saying "Did he just say San Jose, again?"

The third time, folks pretty much slowed their roll and lost a little of their groove. Somebody from his camp must have tapped him on the shoulder and told him, because shortly thereafter he apologized.

It wasn't a Southwest Airlines "Wanna Get Away" type of moment, but it was uncomfortably close.

Rick ended the night with Children's Story, which I imagine, had half the crowd wondering when the hook from "This is How We Do it" was gonna come in. I bailed midway through the song: the mixture of smoke machine fog and jetlag got to me.

So on a Friday night in January, I got to run the full gamut of Monterey County's music scene, from quasi-Santa Cruz punk to cheesy night club fare. For "The Beat," it was another job well done.

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