A favorite pastime firmly rooted in the modern day has become looking over people’s shoulders at shows while they compose texts-in-progress. At last night’s Mos Def show in San Francisco, dude next to me gets another one of many Facebook updates throughout the night on his iPhone: “So-and-So commented on your status: ‘You’re updating your status more than you’re watching the show.'”
His response, thumbs twitching with Mos Def less than 10 feet away: “I’m pissed and he’s boring.”
Indeed, the crowd last night was subdued to Ritalin-like extremes while Mos Def pulled almost exclusively from his new record, The Ecstatic. And in a way, that album’s version of Hip Hop 2.0 isn’t entirely conducive to losing your shit. Like other off-kilter artists—Georgia Anne Mudrow, Shafiq Husayn, Declaime, Erykah Badu’s recent material—Mos Def is riding a weird phase where driving boom-bap beats have given way to implied rhythm. At one point last night he told people to stop clapping, which says a lot about where he’s at. He also stopped the show early on to ask the sound man for “some of that psychedelic sound” on his red bullet mic. The relatively low volume of the Independent’s sound system magnified it: this was not music for getting down to.
And people weren’t having it. Requests for “Definition,” “Respiration” and “Ms. Fat Booty” were met by Mos Def with a shit-I’ve-heard-this-so-many-time look and a schooling. “Stop doing that. That never works,” he said. “No one ever does the song you yell for. I create the magic of rock. You enjoy it.”
What people got instead was, to my mind, a really good look at an artist who’s trying, despite his fans’ reluctance, to stretch hip-hop into unchartered territory. It’s not just jazz and it’s not just rock. It’s a weird world of Mos Def’s own making, and which even he might not be comfortable in just yet. But he has his enablers, especially in the form of Jay Electronica, who was billed as an opener but essentially co-headlined. Jay’s famous for releasing 15 minute-long songs with no drums whatsoever and bursting lyrical over looped samples from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He has no official album out, just internet mixtapes and a huge buzz.
So Jay Electronica came out and killed—lots of a capella, lots of drumless samples—and for a while there Mos Def spent a good deal of time showering praise on Electronica (“You’re a genius, man”) and criticism on a heckler who kept shouting for “Exhibit B.” (“There is no Exhibit B! Exhibit C is Exhibit B! You’re shouting for something that doesn’t exist!..” ad infinitum.) Jay’s highlight was his one-two of “Exhibit A” and “Exhibit C,” and when he left the stage I counted four people around me leaving the show.
At the end of the set, Mos Def finally announced “Okay. And now… for the classics.” But the plural was a cruel tease. “Umi Says,” the most Ecstatic-like track off Black on Both Sides, closed the show. There was a lot of head-scratching out on the sidewalk, but I left feeling like at least someone is trying something new. And I say that as a fan who sold back his copy of The Ecstatic after a week.
Also—and I feel bad mentioning this at the end—the night was a benefit for Haiti, and organizers didn’t skimp on the pressing need for help. Pierre Labosierre of the Haiti Action Committee and Walter Riley of the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund both spoke very, very eloquently about the history of Haiti and the truth about the situation on the ground. Freestyle whiz Supernatural did his usual amazing act while dropping “Liberation,” “Unity” and “Hope” into his “Three Words” routine. Mos Def talked about how Haiti’s independence represented the first uprising against slavery in history, and “When they’re suffering, it’s not just Haiti that’s suffering. It’s… it’s…”
“Freedom!” someone yelled.
“Right! Freedom. It’s freedom that’s suffering.”
(“Latinos!” yelled the Exhibit B guy. “I’m not sure what that has to do with what we’re talking about,” Mos Def replied dryly, “but right on.”)
So for real, whatever you think about his new album, or the show, or his direction, you’ve got to admit that the Haiti aspect of the night was a success. At $35 a head I’m sure it sent a lot of much-needed help, plus it did what a benefit should do, by both educating and entertaining the people. That is, if you were actually paying attention and not composing useless passive-aggressive tweets about the drunk girl next to you who kept hitting you with her purse.
Most people will view this Ticketmaster auction for tickets to Radiohead’s just-announced Haiti Benefit in Los Angeles this Sunday at the Henry Fonda Theater as a unique, outside-the-model way to raise money for earthquake victims.
Look at it again. Look at it. You are looking at the future of ticketing: a straight-up auction model.
It’s especially terrifying because it makes perfect sense. Instead of short-changing their profits with fixed prices and watching tickets to sold-out shows sell for four or five times face value on the scalper’s auction market, Ticketmaster has actually developed a platform to sell tickets to the highest bidder while stunting the middlemen down the line.
This might be no big obstacle if you want to go see some low-level act like, I dunno, Matisyahu. But what if you’re a 12-year-old girl from a low-income family and you’re dying to see Beyoncé?
Already, we’ve seen VIP tickets and “Fan Experience” tickets for more in-demand arena shows sold by Ticketmaster for inflated prices. During Beyoncé’s last tour, for example, front-row tickets sold at face value for $500—roughly what could be expected from the second-hand market. (Meeting Beyoncé in person, after the show, cost $1,000.) Those hoping to luck out with an affordable ticket for a good seat still had hope.
I hope I’m wrong, but staring at this auction page feels like looking into a crystal ball of plutocracy for the future of ticket sales.
I know Radiohead is doing a charitable thing with this ticket auction, and I know that people are going to be talking about the “Radiohead model” with this ticket sale. But unlike their pay-what-you-will approach to albums, which humbled the recording industry into submission, this pay-what-you-will approach to tickets is a valuable springboard for the ticket industry, and it’s only going to put a lot more power and money into their greedy, uncaring hands.
In this space, I’ll be updating the many charity benefits for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti that have been hastily thrown together in the North Bay. It goes without saying, but the destruction in Haiti is immense and heartbreaking; if you can’t attend one of these benefits, you can always help out by donating to one of these organizations.
Are you hosting a benefit? Please let me know by emailing me here.
Thursday, Jan. 21
Linda Ferro has organized a benefit called ‘Reach Out to Haiti’ at the Last Day Saloon to benefit the Red Cross. Featured performers include the Linda Ferro Band, the BluesBurners, Dr. Joel Rudinow and Rude Notes Galore, Levi Lloyd and the 501 Band, the Pulsators, Seraphin, Spencer Burrows and Kris Dilbeck of Frobeck, the Thugz and DJ Sister Yasmin spinning music from Haiti. Presented by Keynote Productions and sponsored by 95.9 KRSH-FM and the Last Day Saloon. 120 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. 6pm. $10. 707.545.2343.
Friday, Jan. 22
Students Mari and Casey Castaldi have organized a benefit called ‘Shake the World’ at the Phoenix Theater to benefit the Red Cross. Featured performers include Decent Criminal, Bum City Saints, Ben “Sudman” Suddth and Gigio. Sponsored by the Phoenix Theater. 201 E. Washington St., Petaluma. 8pm. $10. 707.762.3565.
Sunday, Jan. 31
The Baby Seal Club has put together a benefit auction called ‘To Haiti With Love’ at the Hopmonk Tavern to benefit Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders. Each guest is encouraged to bring an item worth $25 or more to donate to the auction. From their description: We also encourage gift certificates, artwork, event tickets, coupons… Please let us know by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) what you will be donating. Auction items may be dropped off in Santa Rosa at New Arts Project, 606 Wilson St. Please consider making a donation even if you can’t make it to the event. Many store owners and wineries already have! (Though discouraged, items will be accepted at the event if early drop-off is not possible.) Those looking to volunteer can respond to the email above; those looking to attend will find plenty to bid on. The Hopmonk is donating 50% of each drink sold during the event to the cause. Music and DJs well into the night follow, starting at 10pm. Presented by Baby Seal Club and sponsored by the New Arts Project, the North Bay Bohemian and the Hopmonk Tavern. 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol. Doors 2pm; auction at 3pm; cash or check only. $20-$25. 707.829.7300.
Sunday, Jan. 31
The Muir Beach Community Center hosts a benefit for Partners in Health and DG Educational Services Haiti. Mark and Myriam Pasternak of Nicasio will speak about their experiences working with relief efforts in Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. The event will include a supper of organic foods from local producers, including Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, Della Fattoria Bakery and the Straus Creamery. Sponsored by the Muir Beach Community Center. 19 Seascape Dr., Muir Beach. 5:30pm. $50. 415.300.6686.
Friday, Feb. 5
Cellars of Sonoma and Aioli Delicatessen have paired together to create a fundraiser for the Red Cross’ Haiti relief fund. A $20 cover charge gets you a flight of four wines; $10 of the cover charge goes directly to the Red Cross. Aioli will be providing tapas for $1.00 each with all proceeds going to the relief fund. There will also be a silent auction with massages, magnums of wine, auto and computer repair and more. Please call 707.887.2476 to RSVP or to donate an item to the auction. 133 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 6pm-9pm. $20. 707.887.2476.
Ongoing Through February
D’Argenzio Winery is donating 100 percent of their tasting fees from now until the end of February to the relief effort in Haiti. The D’Argenzio tasting room is located at 1301 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.280.4658.