Eager energy and chants for “D-M-X” filled the Tribeca nightclub S.O.B.’s Thursday night in anticipation of the Yonkers rapper’s first New York City show in years; it was dark, and the venue was beyond hot. Uncertain of what to expect from the artist who barks, growls and is known for his well-documented turbulent past, concert-goers were pleasantly surprised when the star, slated to appear on VH1’s new show Couples Therapy this spring, pulled off an almost two-hour long gig full of heartfelt sincerity and animation.
In addition to performing a few new tracks (including Machine Gun Kelly-featured single, “I Don’t Dance”), X took us back to his heyday in the late 90s and early 2000s, performing a number of fan favorites like “Party Up,” “How’s It Goin’ Down,” “It’s All Good,” and “Get At Me Dog.” Joining him on stage for hit “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” a song that DMX revealed he wasn’t initially on-board to record, was a towel-swinging Swizz Beatz who then showed allegiance to his longtime comrade by remaining front and center for the duration of the show. “I didn’t want to do the ‘Anthem,'” admitted X to the crowd, explaining that it was the now Megaupload-tied NY producer whose plea he submitted to during their gritty Ruff Ryder era.
Reminding us of his untamed personality and raw artistic chutzpa, X’s antics throughout the show were entertaining, but by no means out of control. Hyper-sexual comments about his nether regions —that led to him, shirtless and sweating profusely, getting wiped down by a female fan— fell between powerful a capella verses and call-and-response interaction with the audience; X would shout “Flesh of my flesh,” and his disciples would answer emphatically: “Blood of my blood!” Reiterating comments made earlier that morning regarding both Drake and MMG ringleader Rick Ross, The Dog touched upon today’s boastful themes in hip-hop and took time to explain how tacky and redundant he feels that kind of bragging over bars can be. Lacking the filter that many of today’s artist strategically craft, X’s honesty was refreshing without being too overbearing; his intention was not necessarily to insult, but rather to take contemporary hip-hop overall to task. Just like he did 10-plus years ago.
Back in the late eighties, MTV broadcast a series of concerts called Live At The Ritz, which aired on Saturday nights and were filmed at the famous concert venue in New York City’s East Village. A number of notable acts appeared on the program (The Cult and The Smithereens are two examples), but there’s only one episode of the show that is considered canon-worthy: Guns N’ Roses‘ February 1988 visit to the intimate rock club. It’s an incredible time capsule of GNR performing while at the peak of their powers, having just released the stone classic Appetite For Destruction and having not yet succumbed to the jealousy, in-fighting and substance abuse that eventually tore the group apart. The concert is especially memorable because it was filmed just before the band graduated to stadium-sized shows; Watching the videos, it’s remarkable to witness the palpable sense of electricity that existed that night between the band and their rapturous audience.
Now, I don’t need to tell you that the Guns N’ Roses of 1988 bares little resemblance to the Guns N’ Roses of 2012. But you know what? That’s perfectly okay with us, in a whole “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” sort of way. (Translation: I, too, bare little resemblance to the 1988 version of me, and I’d bet you dollars to donuts that the same is true of you.) It’s true that the only constant between the two eras is one W. Axl Rose, but when news broke late last month that he would be taking Guns N’ Roses out on a rapidfire mini-tour of club-sized venues, rock and roll fans instantly snapped up tickets for a chance to re-connect with Axl in a way that has not been possible since the Reagan era.
In a nod to the famous concert that took place there 24 years ago, New York City’s Webster Hall rechristened itself as The Ritz for last night’s Guns N’ Roses concert (for one night only). The set time was billed only as starting “after 10 p.m.” and, true to form, the band didn’t take the stage until 11:54 p.m. The crowd didn’t seem to mind in the slightest, though; it was as if everyone in the audience stepped through a time portal as they entered the venue and were instantly granted the stamina (and alcohol tolerance) they had back in ’88. The crowd was well-lubricated and excited to connect with the mysterious enigma and consummate showman that is W. Axl Rose, so no one gave a rip about either the wait OR the fact that the band’s first song was “Chinese Democracy” and not their traditional show opener, “Welcome To The Jungle” (that song came second).
“We gon’ step on all those lines that separate us tonight; you’re about to witness music at a very high level.”
Jay-Z made this characteristically bravado-laden declaration three songs into his set at New York City’s Carnegie Hall last night, the second of two charity shows benefiting the United Way and the Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation that he performed this week. Much has been said about cultural ramifications of a night like this, a triumphant chapter in a rags to riches story so improbable that Horatio Alger himself would never have envisioned penning it. It was clear from the outset of the show that Jay-Z had every intention of delivering on that ambitious bill of goods —when was the last time anyone attempted to put on a hip hop show featuring a 20-plus piece symphony orchestra for an audience filled with (primarily rich white) people in suits?—but by the end of the show, I couldn’t help but feel like he wasn’t quite able to achieve both of those audacious goals equally.
First, the scene. Carnegie Hall is one of our country’s most legendary musical venues, and also one of our most exclusive. Not just anyone is allowed to perform here, nor is just anyone necessarily allowed to attend a gig there. As a means of showing respect to the 121-year-old venue and all that it symbolizes, attendees of this two-night stand were encouraged to dress formally for the occasion; like a good general, Hov made sure to follow his own directive. Taking the stage a few minutes after 10 p.m. in white tuxedo jacket, black tux pants, a dapper black bow-tie and stylish shades, J-Hova looked like the long lost sixth member of the Rat Pack as he performed “Public Service Announcement” off his 2003 LP, The Black Album. The audience ate it up, leaping to their feet and waving their well-manicured hands in the air like they just didn’t care, perhaps no one more so than his wife Beyoncé. The new mom snuck into her box seat (stage right, closest to the stage) just as the house lights dimmed and proceeded to emphatically dance in a standing position for most of the show’s nearly two-hour runtime.
You might not know the name Graffiti6 yet, but there’s a very good chance that you would recognize some of their tunes. Even though their debut album, Colours (listen to it on Spotify), has only been out a week, nine of the 12 songs on the album have already been licensed, appearing on television shows like VH1’s Basketball Wives, MTV’s Teen Wolf, NBC’s Parenthood and the FIFA 2012 video game. They were here in New York City this week promoting their new record, and in addition to a performance on the set of Big Morning Buzz Live (which you can see above), they opened for Augustana at a sold-out show at Manhattan’s Gramercy Theater on Wednesday night.
From our stage right vantage point, we overheard a couple of twentysomething girls talking about the group before the show. “I like Augustana, but I don’t know Graffiti6 at all,” one said to the other, but by the third song of Graffiti6’s set, they were bantering back and forth about how they couldn’t wait to see the group again. Lead singer Jamie Scott has leading man looks and a tenor voice that reminded us more than a little of Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, but the two band’s dynamics could not be more different. Whereas Maroon 5 specializes in disco-driven pop, Graffiti6 fuses hip hop inspired backbeats with widescreen sonic textures courtesy of producer/guitarist Tommy D. Songs like “Annie You Save Me” and “Stare Into The Sun” come off a bit more propulsive in a live setting than their more layered studio versions, which really served to engage the audience, most of whom didn’t seem to be familiar with this new act when the show began. Consequently, by the time Graffiti6 got to their set-closing new single, “Free” (the music video for which we told you about earlier this week), there’s no denying that the band had won themselves a couple of hundred new fans. Read more…
“Keep in mind I’m not here, I’m from a different world.”
That line is from the chorus of “Different”, the lead single from Ximena Sariñana‘s recent self-titled album, and it speaks volumes about where she is as an artist at the moment. Her debut LP, Mediocre, was released in her native Mexico in 2008 and performed well both commercially and critically, earning her two Latin Grammy nominations, but when it came time to record her second record, she was faced with a dilemna. “Either stay in my country, where everyone knows who I am, or start from scratch and convince people that I’m worth it,” Ximena was quoted as saying. Well, she chose the latter, and her efforts are just starting to pay off. She was named our You Oughta Know artist last August, she played a gig for a couple of hundred die-hard fans at New York City’s Mercury Lounge last night, and she was able to land a highly-coveted spot at this year’s Coachella Festival, too.
Ximena’s set last night was a mix of songs from her first two albums; she sung three songs in Spanish, and the remaining seven were in English. The 25-year-old stood confidently center stage, singing and playing her Nord keyboard (accompanied by a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and a percussionist), and slowly sipped from a single glass of whiskey throughout the course of the show. “I’m totally drinking whiskey instead of water,” she bantered. “It’s like the worst thing for a singer, but it’s either my voice is better, or my general mood and perkiness.”
Back in November, word leaked out that Van Halen was planning on releasing a new album and embarking on a North American tour to support it. Classic rock fans were cautiously optimistic about the news, seeing as how prior reunions had ultimately fizzled out because of the legendarily testy relationship between guitarist Eddie Van Halen and loquacious frontman David Lee Roth. After a rumored reunion performance at the Grammy Nomination Concert Live!!! concert back in November failed to materialize, Van Halen fans were understandably nervous about the band’s current stability. However, during a 70-minute set at Manhattan’s tiny, 280 person capacity club Cafe Wha? tonight, the group looked happier to be in each other’s presence than they have since the early Eighties and, as a result, turned in a performance that David Lee Roth himself proclaimed as one of the best in the group’s storied history.
We spent most of this weekend hanging around New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom, checking out the rehearsals for VH1 DIVAS Celebrates Soul (which, if you haven’t heard yet, is airing TONIGHT on VH1 at 9 p.m. ET). We were lucky enough to grab some time with some of this year’s featured performers as they prepared for the show, and one of the questions we were most curious about was what gave the cities that they hail from so much soul.
First up, we asked Philly natives Jill Scott, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Adam Blackstone their thoughts on why the City of Brotherly Love (the latter two of whom served as the Musical Directors of the show) was the most soulful city in the world. Jill Scott reckoned it has something to do with “dirty water” of the Schuylkill River, while Questlove and Adam explained that the city’s proximity to New York City forced the musical community to diversify their sound to establish their own unique identity.
We know how anxious you are to see VH1 DIVAS Celebrates Soul, which airs tomorrow night, Monday, December 19 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, only on VH1. The show taped tonight at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, so we’re going to give you a little teaser on the way the show went down. (Spoiler alert: It was AMAZING.)
Below, you’ll find a complete set list of songs as performed by our DIVAS tonight. We hope you can sleep tonight, knowing what’s in store for your viewing and listening pleasure tomorrow! Don’t forget to watch, and if you’re gonna tweet (which we hope you do), be sure to use the hashtag #VH1DIVAS. Read more…
“There’s white people in the house, I must be blowin’ up or somethin’!”
Robin Thicke sounded genuinely surprised when he made this statement about halfway through his 19-song set at Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom last night. Arguably the most successful white R&B artist of the last decade, Thicke has earned himself the adoration of ladies of all races, creeds, and religions, many of whom showed up in their finest Friday wear to squeal and scream their enthusiasm for the 34-year-old crooner. Thicke’s new album, Love After War, hit streets this past Tuesday, and is another outstanding collection of brassy, high-energy jams and soulful, babymakin’ mood music.
After an errant fire alarm and persistent strobe lights delayed the start of last night’s show by a good 30 minutes, Thicke and his four-piece band belted out from backstage and shook the crowd out of their stupor by serving up the Stax style funk of “An Angel On Each Arm,” the lead track on his new LP. Thicke was wearing the same Aviators that he wore during his appearance on VH1’s Big Morning Buzz Live earlier this week, and posed a question to the largely female audience: “Can I take you to the mountaintop tonight?” Judging by the volume of shrieks and the way Thicke exploded into an ear-to-ear grin, the answer was a resounding “Yes, please.”
Whenever studies about the behavioral patterns of Millenials get published, words like “positivity” and “individuality” and “idealistic” make frequent appearances; if you believe what the academics and marketing folks tell you, this is a generation that believes that the world can be saved solely by the power of a tweet. However, anyone who has actually spent any significant amount of time with people who fall into this age-range know that they aren’t this shallow nor as eternally optimistic as the so-called experts suggest, and are just as apt to fall under spells of disillusionment and succumb to periods of disenfranchisement as the rest of us (whether you’re Gen X, Gen Y or a Baby Boomer). Well, after seeing Skylar Grey perform at a small industry showcase in Manhattan last night, it’s pretty apparent that she is an artist that is well-positioned to resonate with this “darker” side of Millenial culture.
Skylar Grey rose quickly in the Interscope farm system over the last eighteen months and change on the strength of her ability to write massively catchy hooks; she’s responsible for the sing-along choruses of Eminem and Rihanna‘s “Love The Way You Lie,” Diddy-Dirty Money‘s “Coming Home” and Dr. Dre‘s comeback single, “I Need A Doctor.” She’s now attempting to launch a solo career of her own, with an album of original material likely to materialize sometime in 2012.
Grey emerged on stage last night at the tiny club Dominion dressed in full, gothy Lisbeth Salander chic (aka The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) — jet black hair, tight leather jacket, Doc Marten-esque boots and a pair of plaid pants worn well below her waist with a wallet chain attached; Katy Perry, she most certainly is not. Like her stage name* evokes, Grey stands in stark contrast to today’s bubblegummier pop stars (think Demi Lovato, think Selena Gomez), delivering lyrics like “I’m addicted to your torture”, “I’m proud to be your f***in’ weirdo” and even something that sounded a lot like “Come here necrophelia” with a whispery, attitude-laden intensity.