Patti Smith ends another rainy day at Jazz Fest.
It looks like we may be finished with the rain, but Thursday it took it's toll on me, partly in the constant donning and shedding of rain gear, of living inconveniently under a poncho, and of choosing footing semi-carefully, trying to find the closest thing to a dry path - or at least not a soggy one. I was solid through Pokey LaFarge's charming set at the Fais Do-Do Stage, where he and his band showed off not just vintage finery and the musical product of a killer record collection but genuine chops. He took the blame for the rain after singing the lovely "What the Rain Will Bring" from his upcoming album.
By Patti Smith, though, the inescapable dampness left me with a low threshold for her hippie shaman persona - always the least convincing part of her art for me. When she said, "I am everywhere" with a straight face, I'd have done a spittake if I'd been drinking. It's the side of her that flirts with pretension, and one that's balanced by the record obsessive and punk chick. When she referenced CBGB in a story about watching UFOs in the alley with Tom Verlaine, it didn't help.
She connected New Orleans and her native New Jersey as hurricane victims and sang Easter's "Ghost Dance" for both, with its repeated line, "We shall live again." Since I saw Smith live up the legend with a remarkable show at Tipitina's a couple of years ago, I wasn't compelled to stick the show out until it got more to my tastes and made deep, squishy footprints for the exit. Alison Fensterstock stuck it out; here's her report. Wish I'd have seen "Born to Lose" and "Land," but little else made me regret my choice. I respect her artistic decisions, but on a rainy day, they weren't for me.
Elsewhere at Jazz Fest
- My threshold for rocked-up country music is low as it often seems like a goof on southern culture, whether it's on the skids or not. Too often, the singers come on like the yokel who embarrasses the rest of his yokel clan, but not so Kevin Sekhani, singer for Lafayette's Mercy Brothers. At the Gentilly Stage, he was overcaffienated, but he sang the hillbilly gospel - traditional, ironic and post-modern - right on the line between celebration and satire. It wasn't clear how he and the band felt about Jesus, but the band was well past "Hicks - laugh at them," and it was abundantly clear that they love the music.
- As abstract as Kidd Jordan and the Improvisational Arts Quintet is, one of things I love about their music is its intense physicality. Punk bands don't play harder, and the music's a constant test of the physical limits of the instruments. Jordan's known for the intense, ripping sound he can generate, but he started the second piece with a pronounced honk, followed by a warmly melodic passage, far more so than his rep would lead people to expect. He punctuated it with echoes if that opening honk and reached for a screech or two as he continued to explore the melodic thought, but it was a reminder that when gets out, it's a choice not a default setting.
- "The only person who has more samples than me is James Brown," Roy Ayers says with pride in the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage.
- The first few times I saw rappers bring live bands, it spoke to me, adding energy and power. Watching Dee-1, though, I wanted a DJ, partly because I didn't love this band, but like so much hip-hop, his music is turntable-based, and elements of the sound that Dee worked to create are lost when parts are revoiced for live instruments. Dee usually made it work, starting an unrehearsed "Only God Can Judge Me" as a freestyle, challenging the band to figure out what to play behind him. "S.U.A.G" faired the best, but too often, the show relied more than it should have on his energy, skills and charisma.
During the set, I overheard someone say how much he liked Dee-1, and how he is someone young people today need to hear. It's a common comment, and I always hope that the people who say that are responding to the specifics of him and his story - his flow, creativity, and pro-Christian, pro-education, pro-social consciousness point of view - and the thought isn't code for "Hip-hop is good when it's not angry and doesn't make me uncomfortable."