Monday, August 28, 2006

'The Beat's' review of Idlewild

"Idlewild" is a movie for Outkast fans who will recognize every song and reference to their music within the film. But that doesn't mean it successfully translates the group's musical talent to the screen.
The movie is a beautifully rendered but sometimes poorly fleshed out adaptation of the duo's last album, "Speakerboxx/The Love Below." A double disc of solo offerings from group members Big Boi and Andre 3000, it was packaged as a group album even though each disc could have stood alone as a solo effort.
The movie takes elements and, in some cases, whole songs from the album and structures parts of the narrative around the song. The movie itself is about a fictional small town in Georgia called "Idlewild," where Rooster (Big Boi) runs a speakeasy called "Church." Rooster hires his childhood running mate Percy (Andre 3000) to play piano.
Rooster is a renaissance man of sorts, a bootlegger and club manager and ladies man who is the resident singing star at "Church." He's also a family man who can't quite keep his promises to his wife and five kids.
Percy, meanwhile, is the son of a mortician who is the opposite of Rooster. An introvert who isn't above throwing up while on stage, Percy wouldn't have much ground to stand on were it not for his homeboy Rooster.
Percy and Rooster make a great team onstage, with Percy writing the songs and Rooster taking the lead. Songs like "Bow Tie" and "Throw Your Neck Out" get great visual treatment from director Bryan Barber, who turns the rap songs into swinging prohibition-era dance numbers. Big Boi's music works well on screen.
Things get complicated when a goon named Trumpy takes over the club. Played with particular menace by Terance Howard, Trumpy keeps Rooster on edge, while Percy deals with a brooding father and his newfound love interest Angel.
The story stutters between music numbers and an uneven plot. Howard starts off great, but runs out of things to do by the middle of the movie. And Percy's character is bogged down with a bit too much pretense that takes too long to develop. By the time you figure out the reasons for his depression, you pretty much don't care.
In fact, it's Andre 3000's performance as a whole that kills the movie's momentum, surprising when you consider that Andre was supposed to be the character of the group. His turn as Percy is on the surface brooding, but so stilted that he's almost completely unengaging. His romance with Angel creates no real spark and the musical numbers are boring. It isn't until the end, when Percy does a big band routine, that you get any sense of life from Andre 3000.
In contrast, Big Boi carries the movie with both swagger and vulnerability. Although his pimp with a conscience routine falls short at times, it's not for lack of trying. Rooster is a fully realized character, and proves to be a better actor than his counterpart.
In all, Idlewild is a hit or miss at best. Visually, it's a stylistically stunning update of the musical set to a hip-hop groove. But that doesn't save it from being a clunker of a movie that doesn't live up to all of its, and the groups, promise.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rock The Bells Festival with Wu-Tang Clan, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, De La Soul and Redman

I attended Sunday's Rock the Bells concert strictly for leisure purposes. I made no attempt to get press passes or set up artist interviews.

I wanted to enjoy the show without the hassle of bringing along a notepad and scribbling down every damm thing that I saw (honest, this show review gig is fun, but you look mad nerdy when you're in a dark club taking notes).

But the show was good. Damn good. Too good to pass up talking about in my little blog space.

For those of you that don't know, Rock The Bells festival has turned into an annual event in California, in it's fourth year. Hosted by Guerrilla Union, it has turned into one of the most exciting hip-hop festivals in the country. An all-day event, the artists on the lineup were some of myf avorites: De La Soul, Black Star, Wu-Tang Clan, Heiroglyphics, Zion-I, Redman.

I joked that they should have changed the name to "Marc The Bells."

So, since I didn't take any notes, I'll just filter through some of the highlights from my day. Next year, I will go ahead and hit up those publicists for a more in-depth look.

- We got to the show at 2 p.m. (four hours late) and left at approximately 9 p.m. (about a half-hour early). We still managed to see seven hours of non-stop music, which was pretty good for the $40 ticket price.

- Got to the venue in time to catch Immortal Technique, the Harlem rapper who reps for Latinos to the fullest. He was flanked by members of the Watsonville and So-Cal Brown Berets. It was pretty wild to see the Berets khaki'd up and passing out literature/fliers. Que Viva La Raza!

- De La came on stage and just absolutely wrecked it! I've seen them a few times before, but this time, they pulled out all of the stops. Brought out Dres from Black Sheep and Phife from A Tribe Called Quest (although I was looking around for Q-Tip. Oh well, I guess I'll have to track them down when they perform in Berkeley next month).
De La did this freeze tag thing at the end of their set. They performed the song "RocKokaine Flow" and at the part where the beat breaks down into a stuttered crescendo, they froze on stage in tune with the beat. They repeated this three times, each one building on the momentum of the last. It was some nice showmanship on their part.

- Living Legends came on and were just okay. Probably the only let down of the night (for me, at least). Murs rocked a nice live set to open up, but their music was just too slow. On a big stage like the Pavillion, you need extra-hype music. I give them props for doing their thing, but next year, they might want to shorten up their set by only doing portions of songs instead of running through the whole thing (their set dragged a bit due to some songs that lasted 4 or 5 minutes). They all looked good on stage together.

- Redman did a hyper active set, lots of funk tracks and Red just sounded great through the large sound system.

- Talib Kweli came out and got the crowd the loudest to that point. He brought Dave Chappelle out during his set. Chappelle grabbed the mic for a quick second and yelled "Hyphy, Bitches!" to uproarious laughter.
Kweli seemed to lose steam for the Black Star portion of his set. Joined by Mos Def, Kweli seemed reserved, almost holding back. He's on the road a lot, especially for a solo rapper, so I imagine he was trying to pace himself. It kind of took away from the Black Star set, but Mos made up for his partner's lax delivery.
Mos shined like a superstar. He played beats from his new album, titled "Tru3 Magic." He sang a lot, told everyone he wasn't doing interviews with hip-hop magazines or tv shows (he didn't give a reason as to why). He performed songs from both of his solo albums, and during "Ms. Fat Booty," he flipped from Gregory Isaac's "If I can't Have You," to a dubbed out rendition of "Bonita Applebum" back into his song. His DJ also did a nice break-beat set, mixing breaks from some of the artists of the night. Mos sang the Fat Lip verse from the Pharcyde's song "Passin' Me By." He ended his night with "Umi Says," which got everyone to singing.

- Wu-Tang finished up with a rowdy set, but had to deal with sound problems all night. Capadonna's mic was turned down for both of the songs he performed. Method Man got he crowd the most hype when he ran through the length of the floor seats. The gave a tribute to ODB, inviting his mom on stage. They followed this up with a raunchy version of Ghostface's "Cher Chez Le Ghost."
Ghost killed it, along with Raekwon, on songs like "Ice Cream" and "Incarcerated Scarfaces." There was only one real problem: The RZA was nowhere to be found. It wasn't a full clan reunion, but it'll have to do for this year.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Aesop Rock performs live in Santa Cruz

Aesop Rock may be one of the most perplexing MC's going these days.
A white rapper from New York, his skinny frame, shaggy do and bug eyes betray any sense that he's a rapper's rapper, that flip title bestowed upon wordy rap artists heralded by their ilk. Pharoahe Monch is sometimes lauded as an underground rapper's rapper. Ditto for Eminem in mainstream circles.
But Aesop's stream of consciousness rhyme patterns, filled with stark imagery and observation, has brought him critical acclaim amongst indy rap and rock critics. The lead singer of indy rock group The Mountain Goats is down with Aesop. Ditto for rappers like Zion I and Slug of Atmosphere.
So it was intriguing to see how his wordy rhyme play would translate on stage. Performing his first ever gig in Santa Cruz, Aesop Rock's Thursday night show at The Catalyst brought out a crowd of curiousity seekers and fankids from as far as the San Francisco Bay Area. Aesop recently moved to San Francisco with is wife, the newlyweds escaping babylon for the left coast.
He opened up to th strains of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodo Chile" before DJ Big Wiz switched it up to the Masta Ace classic "Born to Roll." It made ironic sense for Aesop to flip the original song's "Brainiac dumb-dumbs/Bust the scientifical" line into a nerd rap chorus line.
Aesop was flanked by Rob Sonic, a robust rapper (dude was BIG) who did his best to keep pace with Aesop. I must admit, I don't know that much of Aesop's catalogue (the only CD I own of his is "Bazooka Tooth" and that got stolen from my car). His first song, with the chorus chant "I Alone" had one of the best lines I've heard at a live hip-hop show this year: "If the Revolution ain't gonna be televised, than fuck, I probably missed it."
His voice, a deep, twangy toad's belch that is awkwardly on-key on record, transferred well on stage. The muffled sound added some smokey depth to the backing music, giving it a gutter NYC feel that I hadn't noticed in his music before. And his DJ Big Wiz was just murdering it, flipping from LL's "Booming System" too A Tribe Called Quest's "Hot Sex (On a Platter)" with seamless mixing.
My favorite Aesop jam, "NY Electric" came on about four songs into the set. It's a slumping, slow-rolling tidal wave of a track, molasses-thick bass sopped up by Aesop's equally chunky vocals. The slow burner packed a powerful punch live, and I was impressed at how well his multi-syllabic rhyme patterns, especially the hooks, worked in performance.
The opening act, an MC named Mr. Sayre, had the crowd about 50/50 in favor of his performance. At his peak, he managed to come off as confident and human, giving props to his girl in a touching display of b-boy love. His set-ending acapella was a nice show-stopper, sealing the deal with an abundance of heart.
A nice touch was his DJ's grunge-rock set, mixing Nirvana and Led Zepplin, among other hard-rock tracks, to the delight of the SC crowd. I don't know where this guy comes from or what material he has out there, but Sayre showed a lot of promise.

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