The following reviews, which unanimously favor snotty skepticism over sincerity, are in no way indicative of the psychic gestalt of the author. I’m really a pretty nice guy.
Digable Planets is the latest in what is becoming a long line of bohemian rappers. Multiculti unity, jazz heritage and bong sucking are all key elements to rap’s pacifist wing, and Digables specialize in all three. Theirs is sometimes referred to as “alternative” rap—while the mass perception of rap is one of thuggish bravado from the mean streets, the alternative generally has a sunnier, more easily digested outlook.
The Digables, on the whirlwind success of their funky single “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” from their debut LP Reachin’ (a New Refutation of Time and Space), packed Tipitina’s on Monday, the 22nd of March. Their jiffy pop to stardom saw to it that upwards of 700 or so ticketless groovers were turned away. That the Digables have already been added to next summer’s Lollapalooza extravaganza (headlining with Alice in Chains, Arrested Development, Primus and Fishbone) is proof positive of the troupe’s barrier-bashing likeability.
At Tip’s, lead Planet Butterfly called out, “Are there any jazz lovers in the house? Are there any political people in the house?” and the two-tone audience cheered that succinct characterization of themselves. The band employed a trumpet, sax, upright bass, drummer and turntable DJ to pleasing effect onstage. Given the set-up, they were less jazzy than I expected, as punchy horns and a Philly soulful drummer ratcheted up their sometimes snoozy album tracks to fist-waving level.
The reader may detect a hesitance on my part to praise the band. Despite their friendly advances and a commendable agenda (Miles worship, pro-choice concerns, high introspection and brain calisthenics), Digable Planets just strike me as too damn cute. Even their encore refrain was dimply: “dang diggy dang uh dang uh dang diggy diggy.” The prim record industry may want to cuddle its rap acts like stuffed animals; I don’t.
Rising stars out of the band breeding ground in Boston, Orangutang played the Howlin’ Wolf on March 24, fresh from a SXSW appearance in Austin on a bill with Cowboy Mouth. They have a metallic crunch that’s tempered with singer Christian Dyas’ lightly cloying, loopy delivery. They play up nicely to college rock’s affinities for both brutish sonics and a superior smarm that mocks the vacant musicians of brutish sonics.
Unfortunately, Orangutang’s local appearance didn’t hold up to the promise of its debut six-song EP, The Rewards of Cruelty (Imago). Dyas’ vocals were thin and tentative and the band aired out some problematically raw new material. Their most convincing song wasn’t by them but by Beantown old-timers Human Sexual Response.
Still, their balloonish gestures and crafty wordplay are a hoot to those of us who sometimes feel guilty about the hedonistic but thoroughly dumb pleasures of good thrash music. In spite of their N.O. layover, I recommend the record—songs like “Leo Tolstoy” and “SNAFU” have all the humor and guitar arrogance necessary to send up hair bands that Orangutang didn’t have live.
Newly signed to Warner/Reprise, Mudhoney’s version of rock has been truly grungy since the band’s inception. It is guitars’ answer to knee-high muck, as opposed to their more MTV-ready counterparts’ carbon copies of ’70s-style caveman tub-thumping. So when this long-in-the-tooth Seattle band opened its set at Tip’s on the 31st with “Suck
You Dry,” “Who You Drivin'” and “You Got It,” three lessons in woolly economy, I hunkered down for another joyously messed up performance by this band. Sadly to report, they lost their grasp of hooks early on and lapsed into wankery, a rock and roll trait unforgivable to a band modeled largely on ’60s protopunks.
Mudhoney singer Mark Arm’s lyrical obsession is with the scatological and the orgiastic. Like Orangutang, Mudhoney are ironists, finding something to sneer at in the humdrummery of being and also in how ridiculously macho their own songs are. Chalk this show up as a down outing by an up band.
It’s been said that comedy is the one entertainment form which can’t be written about—the only recourse the reviewer has is to retell the jokes. Well, here goes. Hardcore mouthpiece Henry Rollins spends over 100 nights a year doing spoken word engagements which are, in effect, comedic routines. On April Fools’ Day, he brought his microphone to
Tulane’s McAlister Auditorium (note: it really was at Tulane, unlike last month’s reading by poet Gary Snyder at Loyola, which I inexplicably—and soberly—placed on the Tulane campus in last month’s column).
Rollins, best known as frontman for the latter-day lineup of L.A. punk band Black Flag and for his own heavy Rollins Band, is also best known for songs and spoken-word recordings which plumb the human penchant for downward-spiraling misery and ire. At his speaking gigs, however, he marshals his unstoppable energy and perverse charm into a laugh-riot stream of anecdotes about slow people in line and hamster harassment.
At one time a longhair, Rollins has forged himself into a tattooed, muscle-bound coil of venom with a military issue buzzcut. His carved persona has landed him a leader’s role for the youth of the ’90s, and the slackers seem to relish his ordering of their thoughts and ideas.
Rollins spouted long and often about lame products of the entertainment machine, and he’s a credible critic. He railed against easy targets like Vanilla Ice and Stephen Seagal, but suggested that real, prolific genius suffers when consumers are swamped with endless remixes and iconizations which ultimately lower their expectations. Rollins is fully aware of the impact musicians make on impressionable minds, and he stressed that the role of role models is to inspire, not to inspire awe. “Never ask for an autograph unless it’s on a check,” he offered.
With deep-seated passion and a built-in stethoscope to the pulse of a young, uncertain nation, Rollins gets away with the sort of “I’m OK, you’re OK” philosophy which can be as hard to stomach as Pez. He’s an absurdist, a primal scream therapist and a headbanger, in no particular order. He’s also become a modern-day acidic social critic in the vein of Jonathan Swift, or Allen Ginsberg, or at least Chuck Barris.