How much does J.I. love Nasty Nas? Let us count the ways. Let’s see ... He habitually forgets the words to his own lyrics and we forgive him -- now that’s love. On Wednesday (Dec. 26), Nas shut down New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom with his 2nd annual day-after-Christmas concert.
“While all the executives are on vacation in St. Barts, Nas is in New York City with y'all mutherfuckers," said Nasir Jones. "I love y'all.”
Backed by a three-piece band and with hip-hop icon Marley Marl as his DJ, Nas ran through hits like “Street Dreams” and “Affirmative Action.” Unfortunately, neither AZ or the incarcerated Foxy Brown were around to perform their verses for that last song. Sad face. But Grammy–nominated songstress Chrisette Michele (we told ya’ll she was dope) made it out for “Can’t Forget About You.” Though her short-cropped haircut was a bit too much like her labelmate Rihanna's, we’re supporting her experiments with new looks. Always gotta switch it up.
Busta Rhymes popped up for “New York State of Mind” and “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See.” Before he left, Busta Bus said, essentially, that a lot of rappers call themselves the King of New York (shout to Biggie, Frank White and Christopher Walken) but that Nas actually is. Wonder who that sneak diss was for? Perhaps someone who recently quit Def Jam? You be the judge.
In addition to Nas forgetting his lyrics at least nine times (yes, we counted), one funny part of the show was the full-length performance of “Ochie Wallie” starring the fame-starved Bravehearts (Nas’ brother and bodyguard). Now J.I.’s not mad at their performance -- it’s a hot joint -- but did we really have to hear
the WHOLE SONG? Nas is headlining the show and he barely performed any of his songs in their entirety.
When Nas closed with “Made Ya Look,” J.I. realized that we love him, even if he can’t remember the words to “Halftime.” I mean c’mon! That was over 10 years ago, right?
Remembering The One And Only Evan Farrell
I had the pleasure of knowing Evan since 1995, when our paths crossed at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. I was introduced to him by two friends named Mark, who went on to live with Evan in a famed off-campus house on University Street.
There was always music being played in that house, whether it was one of the Marks doing vocal warm-up exercises so loudly that he could be heard from the front lawn, Bob (a jazz guitar instructor) practicing fanciful licks in the basement or Evan and the other Mark switching on the four-track to commit to tape whatever funny fragment they'd just come up with.
The house was so noisy that it often prompted angry phone calls from the elderly gentleman that lived next door. For a time, they were so frequent that the residents of the place and all their friends had the conversation down pat: "Mark, hello, this is Peter Vaughn. I think you know why I'm calling..."
I will always think fondly of one such night when Mark and Evan were recording and venting some frustration about a female friend of ours. At one point they handed me a guitar to join in on the fun, and for some reason Evan and I both remembered the experience so clearly that we brought it up to one another almost every time we hung out in the ensuing decade.
Evan was also a member of Japonize Elephants, who were like the Marx Brothers crossed with a gypsy band. They'd often just show up, all eight or nine of them, at a house party and proceed to gloriously wreck the place. The next morning, there'd be flour, muddy footprints, about two-dozen empty beer cans and maybe one of the members strewn across the living room. They signed to Bloomington label Secretly Canadian in its infancy, ensuring local cred way before SC became the national powerhouse it is now.
One of the Marks remembers unsubstantiated rumors of something called "cess," which was "some sort of living compost that the Elephants were always working on. Basically a vat of bacon grease and refuse of the like allegedly being stored in a tub for possible dumping or even stage dressing." Luckily, it was never unleashed.
Toxic substances or not, Evan was the life of any party, and often he got a little too wild and crazy for some people's tastes. Although it took some getting used to, one of his most endearing qualities was his smell; he seemed to be perpetually unshowered and unshaven, but that's how we liked him. He was always up for a good time, and he also had an encyclopedic music knowledge. Mainly though, he was one of the sweetest people you could ever hope to know: a guy who genuinely cared about the people around him.
I lost track of Evan for a few years in the early 2000s, until one night when I went to see Rogue Wave at New York's Mercury Lounge. While I was ordering a beer in the front bar, Evan casually walked past me. I exclaimed, "What the hell are you doing here?," and he told me, "Didn't you know? I'm in the band now!"
At that point he hadn't yet recorded with the group but his presence is everywhere on their 2006 album "Descended Like Vultures": you can hear Evan's wordless sound effects during the dramatic segue at the 2:35 mark of "Love's Lost Guarantee" and also during the swirling midsection of "Are You on My Side."
Evan left Rogue Wave early this year, apparently under not the best of circumstances. I never pried, and he never exactly explained what happened. But he kept playing music, and he was enjoying reconnecting with his Japonize Elephants mates. In fact, he had gone out to Oakland to play some shows with them before the holidays.
Evan leaves behind two young sons. A memorial fund has been set up via PayPal and can be accessed by clicking here. Farewell, my friend. Your zest for life will be sorely missed. -- Jonathan Cohen
Keys To The Kingdom
If there was any doubt we were in Akron, Ohio, the enormous rubber tire hanging from the stage during the Black Keys' Dec. 22 set at the Civic Theatre was a dead giveaway. In this once prosperous factory town, the Keys have become something not seen since the days of Devo and the Pretenders: a nationally known rock group that is not only immensely proud of its Ohio roots, but is nurturing other up-and-coming talents while it achieves mainstream success on its own terms.
For a long time, Akronites didn't have much to be proud of. Akron is a wonderful place to grow up, but since the rubber factories fled for other states or even Japan, there's been no overarching identity to the place. For most, it's somewhere you leave when you're 18 and only return to on occasion to visit Mom and Dad and wolf down a few Skyway double cheeseburgers.
But Black Keys principals Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney are doing it differently. Instead of fleeing their hometown at the first sign of bigger things on the horizon, they've hunkered down, building their own recording studio, playing local shows whenever their schedules allow and working with other area acts (Carney recently released a compilation of them on his own Audio Eagle imprint) to establish a long-absent musical identity for Akron.
So this pre-Christmas Civic show seemed like something extra special, to say nothing of the fact that concerts are a rare occurrence in a theatre where many local kids grew up watching cartoons and old movies. Tickets were a hot commodity; folks hanging out at the ice-skating rink behind the venue offered J.I. big bucks for an extra, which unfortunately we were unable to provide.
But Auerbach and Carney warmed the sold-out crowd up in a hurry, with staples like "Busted," "Thickfreakness" and "Stack Shot Billy" highlighting the early part of the set. Later, a few new songs pegged for the Keys' next album, produced by Danger Mouse and due in the spring, departed from their blues-rock roots.
Foremost was "Strange Times," which saw Carney's tempo rise to a near-manic rate, while Auerbach's vocals bordered on punk but still retained enough of his familiar soulful strains so as not to confuse die-hards. A cover of Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge" only reinforced the Keys' connection to the city.
And despite the fact that he's surely been enduring a lot of sleepless nights with a new baby at home, Auerbach's energy was boundless. And Carney's near-savage beating of his kit (which for still unexplained reasons is set up on the side of the stage) hammered home the all-around visceral experience.
Earlier, Jessica Lea Mayfield set the table with sweet tunes that seemed way too wise and road-worn coming from an 18-year-old girl. "Chittlin," as her bluegrass-musician family calls her, strummed a few solo songs before bringing out a backing band that included her brother on the stand-up bass and Auerbach (who is producing her recorded output) on piano and unusually high register backing vocals.
As we nestled in during her set and gazed up at the faux-starry night sky for which the Civic is well-known, we were transported back to formative experiences in southeastern Ohio, and reminded that even as times change, home, and a great night of rock'n'roll, is still where the heart is.
Alanis Over, Not Out
When Alanis Morissette recently took time out to talk to us about her forthcoming effort, it was clear that the singer/songwriter had a lot to say about the entertainment industry. And she should -- she wrote her first song when she was 10, in 1984, went on to star in "You Can't Do That On Television" (our fave! for real!) and then made dance records before she could even turn 20.
After the hoopla of never-ending hitmaker "Jagged Little Pill," the Canadian-American has had to face tough ordeals in the music industry, from self-image issues to negotiating licenses to one of America's biggest brand names, Starbucks.
"There have been so many times I've wanted to close up shop. Often, I'd work out the cricks and continue participating in all sorts of facets," she said. She's 33 now, how many times has she wanted to jump ship and leave music behind entirely?
And how many of those were over the last five years?
Morissette could only laugh. "Can I just make them into one long one?"
The singer also mentioned she has officially started writing her long-rumored memoirs/autobiography. "I wouldn't mind doing more public speaking and movies. Or be a painter and take photos. Sometime I'm just inches away..."
Crocodile Cafe, 1991-2007
J.I. has been a music fan long enough to know that rock clubs close all the time. They are often money-losers, difficult to manage and subject to the whims of fans and bands. Still, when we read about the sudden death of legendary Seattle rock spot the Crocodile Café, the news came like a punch in the gut. The Croc was more than just a café and live music space -- it was the epicenter of a scene, and represented the musical community we spent most of high school worshipping.
J.I. used to drive up from Portland for the Bumbershoot Festival every Labor Day weekend, and a trip to the Croc was always part of the itinerary. We were way too young to drink or see shows there, but we would always have a soda or a snack in the restaurant and watch for any Northwest rock celebrities who might be hanging out. “One day,” we thought, “we’ll see shows here, we’ll drink Rainier here, we’ll be part of the scene.”
The Crocodile was part of scene, one of the last great regional clubs where everyone knew each other, where regulars hung out, where people put their friend’s bands on the bill. The club hosted secret shows by Nirvana and Pearl Jam; it booked Beck and the Indigo Girls before they were famous; it gave time to thousands of bands that almost no one remembers but someone loved. For a weird teenager who wanted nothing more than to be part of the in-crowd, the Croc represented the ultimate clubhouse.
The last time J.I. was at the Croc, it was last spring, the night before we gave a paper at the Experience Music Project Pop Conference. We were getting ready to eulogize another great PacNW music institution, the Rocket, and we sat in the bar, drinking and chatting with the bartender. For us, it represented having finally made it on some level -- finally, part of the community we’d admired from such a distance long ago.
J.I. is planning on going to Seattle this summer for Sub Pop’s 20th anniversary party, and until a few days ago, was planning on hitting the Croc for post-party drinks. Perhaps the worst thing about the closure is that the club never got a proper funeral; there was no epic last show, no chance to break everything and drink the bar dry and go out in style. It simply vanished, one more magical place gone to the annals of an ever-distant history.