Miguel Pimentel is a 25-year old singer, songwriter and producer from Los Angeles who has made one of this year’s most bewilderingly satisfying albums, Kaleidoscope Dream. His music is R&B in the same way that Lionel Richie’s solo hits are R&B—instead of simply smoldering rootlessly in the modern formula, it assimilates both pop tropes and sonic experimentation in the pursuit of access to the part of one’s brain that processes an elusive strain called “catchiness.” (Miguel would never stoop to “Dancin’ on the Ceiling,” but a burner like “Runnin’ With the Night” is up his alley.)
His songs, most of which he writes, are incredible, but there’s little clue on Kaleidoscope Dream toward what kind of performer Miguel might be in a live setting. Does he play guitar like Prince, a clear inspiration? Does he pace back and forth, hunched over? I wasn’t sure until, at the Oakland Arena Friday night opening for Trey Songz, the lights went down and the pitch of the audience’s screams went up. Miguel emerged through wisps of a fog machine dressed in a custom-tailored suit, wingtip shoes, acutely tapered slacks, a silver lame shirt, dark shades and his signature hair. He then proceeded to dance with precision and unimaginable verve over every square foot of the stage.
Eminently healthy, Miguel moves like a less-furious James Brown, mentally separating the top portion of his body from the lower wind-up toys that other people might call legs. He is unafraid to laugh at the outrageousness of his own physical ability, as when he executed the famous “falling microphone stand” trick, or when he leaped from the side of the stage, over a six-foot gap, to land standing atop a stack of the arena’s bass woofers.
While all this is going on, Miguel manages to sing far better than most singers who just stand there. Yes, those high falsettos on “Adorn” were perfect. Moreover, he’d change melodies slightly, in subtle ways. On the chorus of “How Many Drinks,” a pyrotechnic singer like Mariah Carey might warble and flutter and yodel all over the chord changes; Miguel sung the sixth instead of the fifth. Simple, and effective.
The set only featured five songs from Kaleidoscope Dream, the rest coming from Miguel’s first album, his mixtapes or his guest spots. Sources mattered little; “in the palm of his hand” is the best description for where he had the crowd. “Thank you so much to the Bay Area,” he said at one point. “You guys supported me before my hometown did. It’s crazy, every time I come to the Bay I think about this special someone who inspired me to write these songs. Maybe you know her.”
“Do You…” might’ve lacked the machine-gun drums and popping disco bass of the original, but segued neatly into Bob Marley’s “Stir it Up”; “Lotus Flower Bomb” turned into an enthusiastic singalong; and when Miguel ripped off his shirt during “Pussy is Mine,” well, he basically rendered the arena a helpless pool of female squeals. “Adorn” ended the set, and Miguel, legs flailing as ever, danced back to the uppermost riser, jumped high into the air, and landed perfectly, in the splits. Incredible.
How Many Drinks
All I Want Is You
Do You Like Drugs
Lotus Flower Bomb
The Pussy is Mine
The L.A. Times has a review of Nicki Minaj’s L.A. show that criticizes the singer for having too many personas, which I think misses the point. What Nicki Minaj is is too many personas. Nicki Minaj is a bunch of unrealized, scattershot ideas. Nicki Minaj is a schizophrenic 12-year-old with tourettes who’s drank three mochas and has been handed a mic. Because of this—this barrage of short, quick information blasts one experiences while listening to the 29-year-old’s music—Nicki Minaj mirrors the 21st century and its nonstop information overload. It’s a genius, prescient presentation, that happens to fill the important role in teenage pop music of driving older people crazy.
Nicki Minaj is also Katy Perry for the fuckups, evinced by the crowd at the Paramount Theater in Oakland on Thursday night for Minaj’s first-ever headlining tour. In every direction: neon wigs, tight dresses, high heels, high hems, low necklines, lace tutus and gratuitous cleavage, but, like, with intentionally messed-up makeup, or ripped fishnets, or tattoo sleeves. One could easily people-watch in the lobby and feel like the $100 tickets were already money well spent.
For a few seconds after Jeff Mangum walked out of the wings at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Monday night, there was only one prevailing collective thought. “Holy shit, he’s real,” said almost everybody to themselves. For a certain fraction of the sold-out crowd, that moment could have begun and ended the show. We were, after all, paying to see the most mythical figure in music since, I don’t know—Syd Barrett?
Mangum’s story is so compelling, and his In the Aeroplane Over the Sea filled with such brilliance, that when he disappeared it truly felt like a betrayal. How could he give the world this work of beauty and then retreat? What if he never wrote another song again, ever? Just where is he, anyway?
So in the short time it took Mangum to walk to his chair at the center of the stage, pick up a guitar and start strumming “Two Headed Boy, Pt. II,” the theater was already fully satisfied: There he is, hallelujah. Naturally, it just got better from there. No longtime Neutral Milk Hotel fan could have possibly left the Fox Theater disappointed. Mangum’s voice, penetrating as ever, filled the large theater like xenon, and I was relieved to find that it hasn’t changed one iota in the last 13 years. Still a reedy, forceful instrument unto itself, and still capable of hitting high notes, like the climaxes on “Oh Comely.”
I was also worried that the crowd would be so overcome they’d sing along to every word, and even though it happened, it wasn’t irritating. Mangum himself encouraged it, especially on the iconic “King of Carrot Flowers” and encore “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” He spoke little between songs, and what he said was muttered and hard to hear. It was really, really fantastic to hear Mangum introduce “True Love Will Find You In the End,” by Daniel Johnston, and I heard that the next night, during Tuesday’s show, he dedicated a song to the Thinkin’ Fellers Union Local 282, which, wow.
People hung on his every word, of course, and being revered has its privileges. When, at the start of the set, Mangum asked someone to stop filming, they instantly complied. In fact, in my section of the theater, it seemed like everyone got the memo. Barely anyone had their phones up in the air. And other than singing along, no one made a sound while Mangum unfurled brilliant song after brilliant song: “Holland, 1945,” “Ghost” and “Two-Headed Boy,” which ended right on the beat with a familiar drum-and-tambourine cadence emanating from backstage, and guest horn players Scott Spillane, Laura Carter and Andrew Reiger waltzed out to a perfect reprise arrangement of “The Fool.” The place went nuts.
At the end of the night, when Mangum walked off the stage after his encores, after the house lights came up and music started playing over the P.A., I saw something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in all the shows I’ve seen. The wildly cheering audience would simply not give up. They kept clapping. They kept screaming. It got louder, and louder. This went on for a long time. Come back, Jeff Mangum, come back, the roar said. Don’t go away again. Come back, come back. Louder, and louder, and louder.
And then the lights went back down.
Mangum came out one last time, and played “Engine,” a b-side. A thrilling end to a special evening.
1. Somewhere I still have emails between Mac and Laura and myself about publishing for “Two-Headed Boy.” (It was 2003, and we wanted to release a cover of it.) And in one email Laura says “Is this something we should get in touch with Jeff about?” and I was like NO WAY HE EXISTS.
2. No new original songs were played. Mangum’s been honest about his chances of writing a new record: “Sometimes I kind of doubt it,” he’s said. Without new material, it’s questionable how long he can stay satisfied playing the same old songs, and based on his demeanor I get the impression these shows he’s playing might be rare.
3. We were talking on the way back to the car about Aeroplane and its place. “It’s like the Blonde on Blonde of our day or something,” I theorized, but Hoyt one-upped me: “No, no. Forever Changes. It has horns.”
4. The show helped heal over a decade of regret: I actually had the chance to buy tickets to see Neutral Milk Hotel at the Bottom of the Hill in 1998. I hated the Jesus Christ line. So I didn’t.
5. Here’s the setlist:
Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2
The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1
The King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. Two & Three
Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone
True Love Will Find You in the End
Song Against Sex
Ferris Wheel on Fire
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
The-Dream has played only twice before in the Bay Area—once opening for Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z at the Oakland Arena, and once opening for Keyshia Cole at the Paramount Theatre. Finally, on Thursday night at the New Parish in Oakland, he headlined here, and played a nearly two-hour set with a live three-piece band. The show was tremendous. The-Dream’s been on tour for a while now—Jay-Z and Beyoncé showed up to his tour opener in NYC—and at this point he’s totally honed his set.
From the opening notes to the last bass hit, the show was one huge party, with a room full of fans reveling in song after perfectly crafted song. On the floor, grinding. Up in the VIP, ass-shaking. On stage, ruling it. For two hours, the entire club was awash in sweet release. You think I exaggerate, don’t you? Well, watch this video.
“I’ve had this Oakland cap on since I started this tour,” said The-Dream, pointing to his Raiders cap. “I remember. I don’t forget shit.” It was Oakland, he explained, that embraced his songs early on. His set spanned his first two albums, mostly, and pretty much ignored the vastly dull but critically praised Love King. “Shawty Is the Shit” was a perfect opener—those stories about never being able to hear the Beatles live, because of teenage girls screaming so loud? Yeah—and within 25 minutes we got “Nikki,” “Falsetto,” and a slowed-down “I Luv Ur Girl” that exploded the joint.
Radio Killa signee Casha joined Dream for “Hit the Lights,” his latest single, and then worked the stage solo to perform her Denice Williams cover of “Silly.” It was weird enough to include the song on his free album 1977, and a set-killer in the live show; the monitors must have been dead, because Casha sang it flat. (Other so-so choices: token versions of “Gangsta Luv” and “Throw it in the Bag,” the Snoop and Fabolous hits that Dream guested on, and a cover of LoveRance’s “Beat the Pussy Up.”)
“Walkin’ on the Moon” contained a brief Michael Jackson tribute, “Love King” was the one and only song performed from Love King, 1977‘s “Used to Be” scathed with fierce passion, and the epic “Fancy” was all backlight and mood, erupting with drummer Charles Chaffer’s entrance in the song. Even though just a three-piece, The-Dream’s band replicated his songs perfectly, and ably took cues from their leader when to deviate from the arrangements.
Between songs, The-Dream himself seemed energized by the love from the sold-out crowd. “Purple Kisses,” awash in purple lights, led into a spoken interlude:
“In case you forgot what kind of records these are… these are records to fuck to,” he said. “If your life is hard, if things ain’t goin right, you just ain’t fuckin’ the right bitch. Girls, you too. If things aint goin right, you just aint fuckin’ the right nigga. It’s that easy. I ain’t been fuckin the right bitch for the last two years. You could tell. So instead I wrote songs that made it sound like I was fuckin’ the right bitch.”
The-Dream has a new album out this summer, and based on the two new singles and the raw intensity of this tour, it’ll be incredible. After infamous snubs from the music industry and the threat of retirement, his return is welcome indeed—just ask the dedicated group of fans chanting for “Put it Down,” even after the lights came up and the exhausted crowd started filing out.
Love vs. Money Pt. II Intro
Shawty is the Shit
Kill the Lights (w/ Casha)
I Luv Your Girl
Walkin’ on the Moon
Right Side of My Brain
Throw it In the Bag
Beat the Pussy Up
Used to Be
Rockin’ That Shit
Let Me See the Booty
Kreayshawn—the self-directing, self-editing, mega-inhaling personality from Oakland—signed to Columbia this week. If you haven’t seen “Gucci Gucci” yet, you might not know what this means. Check it out below, and then try to get it out of your head.
Kreayshawn came up in the hyphy craze, keeps good ties with Lil’ B from the Pack, and tweets with Mistah F.A.B. Though she’s in L.A. these days, hanging out with Odd Future and Soulja Boy, she still reps Oakland pretty hard wherever she goes.
It’s easy to be conflicted on Kreayshawn. Let’s face it, it’s been a while since there’s been a rising star out of the Bay Area, let alone Oakland. (Keyshia Cole’s got love for the city but moved the hell out, and when I asked her once in an interview what East Bay spots she like to hit up on tour, she couldn’t name any.) So it’s exciting to have some Bay Area action going on.
But . . . is “Gucci Gucci” really the face of Oaktown?
Behold, two girls fighting over who’s more hood!
“This chick @KREAYSHAWN is a rapper…yes. But hood? NO. She knows nothing about the streets she’s not half as hard as she comes off as,” tweets Harmony Gabriel, from Hustler and HBO’s Cathouse. “Makes me sick..maybe if she was some type of hustler or came from the streets or had some type of ambition but she’s trash to me. White chick acting hard throwing up gang signs from home made gangs…. #FAIL.”
Lest one doubt Harmony’s inherent hoodness, the credentials come forth:
“I got people in REAL hoods that can vouch for me I’m not hood now cause I GREW up I get big girl $ now but believe me I come from ‘hood.’”
This triggers Kreayshawn’s response:
“shut up with yor rants I’m from east Oakland u skanky.”
“Who’s hotter? Who’s the realest? @KREAYSHAWN or @HARMONYG? #ImJustSaying”
At this point, if you’re thinking it’s time for Kreayshawn to take the high road, you’re right.
“your a trip chicka I’m from east Oakland you can come visit my hood and tell me what you think… much luv anyways.”
None of this sits too well with Harmony Gabriel, unfortunately.
“@KREAYSHAWN Yea that’s all you got? Cause your mom happen to have you in east side oakland your hood!? Hahahaa!! Ask about me!! Buy my mags!”
Sensing unneeded drama, Kreayshawn then advises that she will “only reply to positive things from here on out,” and Harmony Gabriel, after reminding people “I sold pussy” and telling them to wait for her upcoming rap video, declares herself the victor: “the title is mine the crown is mine.”
And that, dear readers, is the hood battle of the day.
P.S. If you’ve been following the phenomenon of Kreayshawn, this excellent piece by Meaghan Garvey irons out a lot of conflicting feelings.
The problem with being a jack of all trades is that no one believes you can really do it all. Just like people grow up to accept weird maxims like “more expensive is better,” so the pervasive line that artists with varied mediums of output are somehow always “spreading themselves too thin.” For some reason, we live in a world that demands the convenience of specialty—excel in your field, it says, and stay there.
Aaron Cometbus is well-known for his writing and his bands, but I’ve always rued the fact that his distinctive Xerox-style artwork hasn’t gotten its deserved due, and long wondered why he’s never had an official art show. Tonight, that oversight was remedied as 1-2-3-4-Go Records in Oakland hosted a long-overdue gallery opening of Aaron’s work.
Why did it take so long? As owner Steve Stevenson put it, “Aaron said that no one’s ever asked him before.”
Whatever the reasons for delayed appreciation—and really, I see no reason why Aaron’s art won’t be in the SFMOMA someday, probably after we’re all dead—the modest little curation of flyers, record art and personal archives on display at 1-2-3-4 Go through the end of February is a must-see, covering some classic icons (an original Crimpshrine flyer with the Cometbus #24 Peggy Lee image) and barely-seen innovations (an incredible flyer for a club’s last show, with photos of and word-bubble quotes from regulars about its importance).
Much of the art is wonderful, of course. But underlying Aaron’s transparency manipulations and intricate patterning is something deeper and more universal. The right of flyering as freedom of speech for the underprivileged is the concern of one beautiful 11×17 diatribe, expertly explaining a dilemma all to familiar to those who’ve hit the town with a bag of flyers and an Arrow T-50 stapler.
“The people with money have allotted the people with no money only certain spaces where they are allowed to be heard,” he writes. “These are called “community” spaces. These spaces total about 30 feet for an entire city’s communal needs. Thirty feet for all the lost dogs, lost wallets, charity raffles, punk shows, political rallies, summer sublets, yard sales, runaway children, art, and ideas. The posters pile up and are torn down, competing for the tiny amount of allotted space. How can you cover up a poster for a cute little lost puppy in order to advertise your cultural event?”
Aaron’s working methods have always been fascinating, and even after being tipped off, 20 years ago, that he used a Kodak IM-40 for halftones and reversals, no one could ever achieve the same effect on the same machine. Many cumulative hours can be spent staring into his layouts, wondering how the hell he got just the right look. Some tricks are hinted at in the show by revealing different stages of work—the various stages of the art that became Pinhead Gunpowder’s Compulsive Disclosure, for example, or the series shown at the top here that resulted in the flyer below—but as he said to me tonight, “It’s like magic. You don’t want to give away too much of the process.”
Unlike a conventional art show, nearly all of the pieces are photocopies and none are for sale. No one explains this better than Aaron, so I’ll just quote an excerpt of his artist statement:
My medium—pen, paint and xerox—was probably my mother’s fault. She was an artist, working in fiber and textiles. I was inspired by her use of shading and ability to define form with just a few lines, but I was also depressed to see her one-of-a-kind pieces go to rich collectors, never to be seen again. If I hadn’t already been drawn to means that were mass-produced, that would have done the trick. Xeroxing or silkscreening became an integral part in my creative process. Without that final step, the work feels incomplete, which is why—with few exceptions—it is copies you see on the walls here rather than the original cut and paste.
And so there you have it. Basic Radio’s “Meat Market” played on the sound system, a coffee pot that Aaron brought in himself sat upon the counter, the place filled up beyond capacity and a lot of overdue praise was lovingly heaped on Aaron Cometbus—artist, writer, musician, and a positive cultural instigator who’s never been content excelling in just one field. Thank goodness.
The Cometbus Art Show runs through the end of February at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records, 423 40th St., Oakland. Open everyday from noon to 7pm, with an excellent selection of punk and indie vinyl. 510.985.0325.
More Photos Below.
I have laughed out loud for protracted moments over rap lyrics twice in the last month, and you probably have, too, if you’ve seen this collection of ridiculous rap lyrics that’s been going around. My friend Brian, who tutors at a high school in San Francisco, sends something even better—a proper-English translation of Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance.” The attendant story is that an Oakland high school sponsored an English contest and this is the winning entry, although that’s apocryphal at best. Just read it and laugh.
1. If Beyoncé were placed inside a time capsule and sent into space, aliens would immediately decide to become friends with Earthlings.
2. Every outfit Beyoncé wore last night at the Oracle Arena in Oakland showed off her legs.
3. Three cheers to the cameraman for putting a feverishly hugging gay couple on the jumbotron during “If I Was a Boy.”
4. Beyoncé is like every pop superstar before her wrapped up in one but without the narcissism. “Ave Maria” was pure Streisand, leather beefcake dancers pure Madonna, ever-increasingly noticeable doses of Michael throughout.
5. Beyoncé now has the most touching tribute to Michael Jackson yet. End of the show, during “Halo,” a canned but nonetheless incredibly moving speech about how he showed her the way—preceded by a video of her when she was a child, emulating his moves, and concluded with altered lyrics about his lasting influence. It beats any other token tribute I’ve seen.
6. Mid-show: bass solo, behind the head, to “Billie Jean.” Beyoncé’s band is all-female, a fact she has every right to point out three or four times throughout the show.
7. Sorry, took a break there. Did I mention Beyoncé is our Earth’s ambassador to space?
8. The feminism of Beyoncé is what the Spice Girls always promised but never delivered: the “Be sexy, but own it, be in control of yourselves and support each other” feminism. Snippets of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and Alanis Morisette’s’ “You Oughta Know” proved she knows her Lilith Fair history, but she makes being a strong woman seem way more exciting than the Lilith Fair ever did. (My heart will actually stop if Beyoncé adds “Double Dare Ya” to her set on this tour.)
9. Beyoncé’s brand of feminism also leaves little room for women who don’t look like Beyoncé, so the point might be moot.
10. People-watching prize: the group of middle-aged women wearing matching custom T-shirts, reading “Fun and 50.”
11. I did not text my special message to the jumbotron before the show, but the girl who told the entire arena she was going to lose her virginity after the show definitely did.
12. There’s a go-to look of wonder that Beyoncé splashes across her face at a moment’s notice, like she’s seeing God or something. Most of the time, I believe her.
13. Okay, okay—walking down the aisle, singing directly to her fans. Oh shit, singing directly to a small child! Holding his hand, looking right into his eyes, singing straight to him—and the kid looks bored, like he’s in math class. 20,000 lbs. of envy in the room.
14. The only thing more exciting than “Crazy in Love” is taking a bathroom break and seeing the Giants’ no-hitter up on the lobby screen. SO CONFLICTED.
15. Scratch everything I’ve just said. The most important thing about Beyoncé is that she resurrects the pop music ideal of mass emotional oneness: everyone feeling like everyone else feels exactly the way they do at that precise moment. This is actually her greatest tribute to Michael Jackson, whether she knows it or not. Evidence during last night’s show included a YouTube collage of “Single Ladies” dances (Hey, we all did that!), footage of the Obamas dancing at the Neighborhood Ball, during “At Last” (Hey, we all watched that!) and allowing the entire crowd to sing “Irreplaceable”’s first verse and chorus (Hey, we’re all doing this, right now, here, together!). Michael had that effect in droves across the world; no one besides Beyoncé has had it to such a degree since.
16. (Side note: “Minute” does not rhyme with “minute.”)
17. Those in the $500 front-row “diva zone” seats were deservedly doted upon, with multiple sweat-towels thrown, hands touched repeatedly, and one guy from Hawaii with a sign that said “It’s My Birthday” who got “Happy Birthday” sung to him. We’d joked about the people who paid $500 for seats, but damn.
18. Second stage, in the middle of the floor, about 25’x25’. Crazy-intimate. Everyone standing on chairs, crowding in tight, taking videophone footage, especially during “Video Phone.” Beyoncé crouching down, talking to fans, reaching out, “seeing God” wonder-face in abundance, genuine gratitude, asking people to say her name. People 100 ft. away in “diva zone” bummed.
19. “She’s sexy, but she’s sexy like a man,” says Liz.
20. End of show, after child-serenading, after Michael tribute, after walking through the crowd flanked by security, after outpouring of love in both directions, the phrase “I Am…” flashes on the screen. “I Am.” Surely, “Sasha Fierce.” No? “I Am…” “YOURS.” “I am yours,” Beyoncé says. “I will give you 100% of everything I have.” Unfuckwithable, because even though in reality Beyoncé’s one of the most private celebrities in the world, she’s just created a sociological time-emotion-music-love vortex in Oakland. How is it possible, night after night? With absolutely pitch-perfect, non-lip-synched singing? Is she even from this planet? Someone please explain.
Everything was rolling along nice and fine during Keyshia Cole’s show at the Paramount Theater in Oakland Sunday night when halfway though the set, to join Cole on “Let it Go,” who should grab a mic and emerge from the wings but… Lil’ Kim!
If the City of Oakland ever needs a fairly dependable—and loud—way to reenact the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it should just let Lil’ Kim walk out onto the stage. The 3,000-seat theater went absolutely apeshit. Walls rattled. Fans rushed the aisles. For sixty seconds, it was uncontrolled mayhem, as if an violent act of nature was running its course. Then, with the song over, with a quick hug to Cole and a wave to the crowd, she was gone. Shit calmed down again.
Cole never quite had the crowd in her hands the way Lil’ Kim did, although not for lack of trying. Her nonstop choreography, her three wardrobe changes, her elaborate sets and gymnastic vocals all added up to an impressive display of hard work. But hard work alone is just that, and the sweat and energy Cole expels doesn’t cover up the fact that she’s touring on her weakest album yet. If Cole can get back to having classic material like “Love” and “I Should Have Cheated,” and if she can make performing those songs seem natural and effortless, she’ll be able to achieve her stated dream of headlining arenas instead of opening them—as she did the first two times I saw her, on tours with both R. Kelly and Lil’ Wayne. She’s got more talent than almost any other singer in R&B right now. She should have material to match.
After Lil’ Kim shook things up, a surprise guest visit by Too Short on “Didn’t I Tell You” was a welcome aftershock , and at the end of the set Cole took a few minutes to stop the music and thank her friends, family and fans in her old hometown for their support. She shouted out neighborhoods: “We got Murder Dubs in the house? You know I’m from Oakland when I say somethin’ like that.” It was a genuine moment, made more so at the end of a razzmatazz-filled spectacle. Then some dude took the mic and got the address of the afterparty wrong.
The-Dream is one of the greatest songwriters of the new century, and I’ve written about him a few times now. His records are brilliant in the way that early Prince records are brilliant (one of these days he will have his Purple Rain), and The-Dream’s hits for other people—“Single Ladies,” “Umbrella,” “Touch My Body”—need no introduction. But could he pull it off live, I wondered? Such is the post-ProTools landscape. I didn’t even know if the guy could sing on key.
Color me faithless. The-Dream was incredible live. Yes, he sang on key. More than that, he was simply electrifying to watch. He, too, talked openly to the crowd. Introducing “Falsetto,” a song about the noises one makes in bed, he instructed fans that “if y’all are sitting down for this song, then you’re getting’ old and you don’t know how to fuck.”
The night before the show, I drew up a set of dream Dream songs. My friend balked at “Purple Kisses,” and I felt redeemed that it was played. “Love vs. Money” also matched my expectations by being accompanied by guns fired in time to the intro’s gunshot sounds—a trick I’ve always wanted other bands to do—but died on the vine in the second verse after backup dancers interpreted a clock ticking down. Also: the first verse and the first verse only of “Sweat it Out,” rendered acapella.
The-Dream knows his hits. He interpolated both Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” at the end of “Nikki” and the Force M.D.s “Tender Love” at the end of “My Love.” He took his hat and glasses off and looked more like a completely different person than any other singer I know who takes their hat and glasses off. He swore often when talking about record executives choosing the wrong singles and his enthusiasm for the crowd’s support. His last song was “I Luv Your Girl,” and bearing witness to a theater of thousands of people singing its key line louder than any other line of the night was nothing short of incredible.
More Photos Below.
The Malcolm X Jazz and Arts Festival is a sprawling celebration of the life and teachings of Malcolm X, spread out over a large field and four tennis courts at San Antonio Park in an area of East Oakland known more for the nightly news than for daytime festivals. Sunday’s celebration marked the ninth year of honoring Malcolm X’s life and message, and the positive vibe throughout the park was one of community empowerment and self-esteem. The lineup, too, was outstanding, with two of the finest living tenor players in the world today, David Murray and Howard Wiley.
Around the perimeter, numerous booths and soapbox stages broadcast the message of self-determination. A banner with a cleverly modified BART ticket paid respects to Oscar Grant. The food court adjoined a popular hip-hop stage with mostly younger dancers, bands and MCs. A skateboarding and graffiti court was filled with murals, some painted on cardboard, some painted on car hoods. A large memorial for Richard Masato Aoki stood between the park stages, where festival co-founder Marcel Diallo’s collective group Black New World alternated on the flatbed truck stage with headlining acts.
With all this activity, it pays to get there early. We arrived at San Antonio Park with a good four hours left of the day’s festivities, but would find we’d already missed David Murray and Howard Wiley. Murray I’ve seen before in New York, but Wiley lives up to his sly surname; I interviewed the brawny tenor player five years ago, but I’m 0-for-3 on seeing him live.
Little did we know what was in store—a welcome surprise in the form of Abraham Burton.
Burton introduced himself to the mid-afternoon scene with a subtle and wordless introduction that exploded into fire and grace with his trio. Playing both intensely and thoughtfully, his explorations cast an upper-register Coltrane-like quality with an even more abstract edge—imagine if Coltrane had recorded for ESP-Disk. After soundchecking with the instantly recognizable first four notes of A Love Supreme, he dropped both “Naima” and another Coltrane original into the set, segueing through “A Night in Tunisia” and a handful of others.
Burton, who’s recorded with a veritable who’s-who of talented underdogs including Louis Hayes, Horace Tapscott and the fantastic Japanese trumpeter Terumasa Hino, said few words to the crowd—verbally, that is. His playing nonetheless spoke volumes on its own and his trio, with childhood blood brother Nasheet Waits on drums, washed over the congregation on the lawn. The backdrop of an empty lot, an abandoned church and the distant ocean slowly turned pasty and bright as the sun hung low. Laying in the grass, eyes closed, you’d swear you were at Newport in 1965.