Archive for February, 2010

in performance: chuck prophet and the mission express

chuck prophet. phot by scott compton.

chuck prophet. photo by scott compton.

“I can’t think of a more absurd song to sing,” remarked Chuck Prophet, launching into a solo acoustic version of Summertime Thing last night at Cosmic Charlie’s as the temps outside dipped into the 20s.

Absurd? Not a bit. But it was atypical. Stripping the closest thing the veteran San Francisco rocker has had to a radio hit into a folk-pop sing-a-long was the only real breather offered in what was otherwise a galvanizing, two hour rock ‘n’ roll show.

The rest of the performance relied on a repertoire that ran from Prophet’s days with the punkish Green on Red (its 1989 cover of the Waylon Jennings hit We Had It All, sung as a duet with wife/keyboardist Stephanie Finch) to tunes from eight of his nine solo albums (the debut Brother Aldo was the only exclusion) to healthy pickings from the recent Let Freedom Ring (highlighted by a riotous reading of Hot Talk that ripped the lid off the studio version). A pair of choice cover tunes (a World Party-like rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s For You and a surf-savvy take on Alex Chilton’s Bangkok) were offered as encores.

But mostly, a natural mix of spontaneity, soul and humor drove this performance that is inherent in all great rock shows. Such a blend provided a sunny cast to heavier songs, like the contemporary hard times saga You and Me Baby (Holding On), and an even greater celebratory vibe to the vintage Prophet party piece Diamond Jim.

The point of reckoning in this loose, infectious rock ‘n’ roll circus turned out to be 2004′s You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp). Working off a flavorful pop bounce that couldn’t help but get lodged in one’s head, Prophet and co-guitarist James DePrato offered up lanky solos that began with Neil Young-like urgency before splintering beautifully into shards of bluesy psychedelic fun.

It was a fitting coda for a hard hitting performance packed with the kind of rock ‘n’ roll heart that only the best pop craftsman and stage performers can muster. Last night, Prophet possessed such heart in spades.

current listening 02/27/10

+ Pretenders: Live in London (2010) – “This is one for all the gentlemen in the house, if there are any,” says the magnificently ageless Chrissie Hynde on this jaw-dropping-ly great CD/DVD package. Here, her present day Pretenders (still with Martin Chambers in the drum chair but now fortified with pedal steel demon Eric Heywood) rip through two dozen rockers new (Boots of Chinese Plastic) and vintage (Precious). What a blast.

+ Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (1969/2003) – Quite possibly the most accessible album Dylan ever made. And on the 2003 remastered edition, its country ambience sounds even more spacious. That’s especially true on one of my all time favorite Dylan tracks, Tell Me It Isn’t True, where pedal steel and organ seem to echo for miles. Of course, having an in-his-prime Johnny Cash helping out on Girl from the North Country is pretty cool, too.

+ Aretha Franklin: Live at Fillmore West (1971/2006) – Her hysterical new TV commercial for Snickers (“everytime you get hungry, you turn into a diva”) prompted a friend to ask what my favorite Aretha album was. This is it, hands down. On a 2006 double-disc edition, there is, as they say, more to love. Shoot, Aretha is so cool with her King Curtis-led band that she even makes Bread’s Make It With You sound soulful. And that’s impossible.

+ Focus: Live at the BBC (2004/1976) – For an archival album like this to even exist, one has to believe the BBC has retained recordings of every live performance it blasted across the airwaves during the ‘70s. But this is a real find – Dutch rockers Focus playing in 1976 with the Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine in the place of the great Jan Akkerman. The result is a jazzier take on Focus’s prog sound. A beautifully dated, neo-fusion getaway.

+ Joe Martin: Not By Chance (2009) – I did something I almost never do with this record. I bought it based on a review written by someone else. But the rave from The New York Times proved worthy. Bassist Martin is an in-demand jazz cat in New York and Not By Chance is a warm, unassuming post-bop session that employs two of his former employers – pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Chris Potter – as bandmates.

our man chuck

chuck prophet. photo by suzy poling.

chuck prophet. photo by suzy poling.

It was in the days that followed the release of his acclaimed The Hurting Business album in 1999 that Chuck Prophet first came to town to play the campus area haunt known as Lynagh’s Music Club.

There was debate back then as to whether or not the West Coast rocker/songwriter made his Lexington debut with that performance. A few patrons seemed to think he had been around these parts in the ‘80s with the punkish Southern California troupe Green on Red. Regardless, this post-Hurting Business concert set a longstanding personal and professional relationship with Lexington into motion.

With a singing voice that sounded like a non-Southern variation of Tom Petty’s rockish howl, a writing style that possessed a gift of narrative as socially surreal as it was literary and a glossary of pop references that gave his music – and especially his live shows – a commanding immediacy, Prophet was a frequent and anticipated presence at Lynagh’s right up until when the music club shut down in 2002.

The closing didn’t keep Prophet away from Lexington, though. He made a few stops at The Dame’s now-demolished West Main location as albums like No Other Love (which earned him a long overdue radio hit in Summertime Thing) and Age of Miracles began to expand his national fanbase.

Prophet was also in Lexington in late 2007 to help cut 13 songs he co-wrote with Alejandro Escovedo for the latter’s Real Animal album at Saint Claire Recording Company.

But Prophet’s Saturday concert at Cosmic Charlie’s has the unavoidable air of a homecoming simply because the club operates out of the same Woodland Ave. facility that was once home to Lynagh’s Music Club.

Different club. Same space. Different decade. Same artist.

Best of all, the Cosmic Charlie’s show will give us a live listen to tunes from his recent Let Freedom Ring album. The songs’ storylines mirror a bleak and battered America where faith and hope become hard won commodities

“When you got asbestos in your Kool Aid for breakfast, there’s no good way to look alive,” sings Prophet in Barely Exist. “No good way at all.”

There is a sense of irony about the album’s construction, as well. Prophet recorded it in Mexico City, which, in the album notes, he terms “the Rosetta Stone of our own urban future… it’s only three hours from the West Coast but might as well be the other side of the moon.”

Still, Saturday’s show should be a riot. Recent setlists from Prophet’s tour have balanced Let Freedom Ring material with the social twang-fest Doubter Out of Jesus, the ultra cool discourse in pop linguistics You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp) and, of course, Summertime Thing.

If you’re planning on attending Prophet’s Saturday performance – and, you know, you really should – don’t operate on “club standard time” protocol. Doors will open at 7 p.m. A full second show at Cosmic Charlie’s by Lexington vintage blues and swing specialists The Swells is scheduled to get underway at 11.

Chuck Prophet  performs tonight at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. $12. Doors are at 7. Call (859) 309-9499.

toots sweet

toots thielemans

toots thielemans

He has played with such jazz royalty as Charlie Parker, Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson and Dinah Washington

In a turn toward the pop generation, his playing has also been featured on charttopping songs by Paul Simon and Billy Joel.

But that’s not why you should know the name Toots Thielemans. The Belgian born musician created a singular, groundbreaking jazz voice for the chromatic harmonica over a half-century ago. In his hands, the instrument bears an unmistakably warm, lush and inviting sound no artist has equaled. Few have even tried.

We’re telling you this because, at age 87, the mighty Toots will be making a ridiculously rare concert appearance this weekend in Louisville. He will perform a duet concert with pianist Kenny Werner, who is a bit of an extraordinary player himself, at 3 p.m. at the University of Louisville’s Margaret Comstock Concert Hall.

Tickets are $15 and $25. For ticket info, call (502) 852-6907.

This is living jazz history in action, not to mention part of the only United States tour Thielemans has scheduled for 2010. Treat yourself, please.

We will offer a review of the concert here at The Musical Box on Monday.

Child support doesn’t cover everything

The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV) July 30, 1999 | Ann Landers Dear Ann Landers: After reading the letter from “Been There and Done That in N.Y.,” I knew I had to write. “Been There” says he pays a lot of money for child support, and it’s not being spent on his two boys because he had to pay for their haircuts and winter coats. Well, I’d like to tell him MY side. website ingrown toenail treatment

Child support goes 100 percent for our children’s care. It pays for the mortgage, utilities, auto expenses, food, clothing and the day-to-day extras. I do not go out partying, nor am I dressed to the nines while my children are in rags. Our clothes come from secondhand shops, and I buy macaroni and cheese by the case. Sometimes, the kids don’t get haircuts because the electric bill was due or one of the kids got sick and I had to buy medicine.

“Been There” also says the children should live with him because they cry when they leave his house. Big deal. My kids do the same thing, but they also cry and cling to me when they leave my house to visit their father. These are children of divorce They love us both and wish we could be with them all the time.

My children have been able to live decently and continue their activities because I make sacrifices. There are many expenses that child support doesn’t cover – school dances, theater costumes, sports uniforms, swim goggles and musical instruments. When I ask their father for a little extra help, he says, “That’s what child support is for.” Please print this, Ann, so he can see the other side. – N.Y. Dilemma Dear N.Y.D.: Money is often used by one or both parents as a means to control the other. Unfortunately, it is the children who pay the price when the adults cannot get along. Parents, PLEASE remember to put your children first.

Dear Ann Landers: I, too, would like to know how to put an end to this nonsense with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. My father was a longtime alcoholic with advanced Parkinson’s disease. He was also stubborn and refused to stop driving. I wrote to the DMV and had his doctor fill out the medical history form. The doctor answered “yes” to the following: Has a history of alcoholism. Is on medications that shouldn’t be taken while driving. Has a condition that can cause sudden loss of motor function. In spite of his degenerative disease and the medical history on file, he received a four-year license. Two months later, he passed away. go to site ingrown toenail treatment

My family tried to get a very dangerous driver off the road, but the DMV insisted on licensing him to endanger others. Scary, isn’t it? – Los Altos, Calif.

Dear Los Altos: I have heard a lot of complaints about the California DMV, and your letter explains why. The best way to effect change is to complain to the state government and put your vote where it counts.

Dear Ann Landers: A while back, you printed a letter from a woman who was upset because her husband soaked his infected ingrown toenail in her crockpot. I can assure you, Ann, the crockpot is not what she needs to worry about. Five years ago, we buried our 24-year-old son who died because he neglected to treat an ingrown toenail. The infection spread to his bloodstream and killed him. He left behind a 2-year-old son and a pregnant wife.

Since this experience, my wife and I have heard similar stories about people who died because they neglected abscessed teeth or infected sinuses. Please tell your readers that no infection should be neglected. – Lafayette, La.

Dear Louisiana: Bless you for taking the time to write. There’s no question about it – you performed a tremendous public service by alerting my readers. Thank you for saving some lives today.

Lonesome? Take charge of your life and turn it around. Write for Ann Landers’ new booklet, “How to Make Friends and Stop Being Lonely.” Send a self-addressed, long, business-size envelope and a check or money order for $4.25 (this includes postage and handling) to: Friends, c/o Ann Landers, P.O. Box 11562, Chicago, IL 60611-0562.

To find out more about Ann Landers and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

Ann Landers

in performance: the peter brotzmann and fred-lonberg holm duo

fred lonberg-holm and peter brotzmann. photo by john corbett.

fred lonberg-holm and peter brotzmann. photo by john corbett.

Near the end of a second set that saw cello and reed duets lock horns with almost meditative resolve before blowing up into bits of blues, boppish frenzy and pure improvisational fire, Fred Lonberg-Holm thanked a packed and happily attentive crowd at Gumbo Ya-Ya in Bar Lexington for “supporting live music, corny as that sounds.”

His duet partner, European avant garde patriarch Peter Brotzmann echoed the sentiment succinctly: “Yah.” It was pretty much the only word the immensely prolific German born saxophonist uttered all night. As it turned out, it was all that was needed.

Over the course of the performance, Brotzmann and cellist Lonberg-Holm created dialogues rich in conversational fluency even though they seldom stayed anchored in one tempo, tone or temperament for long. Brotzmann opened both sets with abrupt, siren-like outbursts on alto sax that amounted to bangs on the proverbial gavel that called (and, later, reconvened) the performance to order.

Well, order may not be the right word. The five extended improvisations that made up the concert seemed to work largely off instinct. After indulging in electronic enhanced static that served as one of the primary augmentations for his cello playing in the second set, Lonberg-Holm opted for a more organic sound made by playing the underside of the strings with a bow before sticking it between the strings and the instrument’s neck, allowing him to create a brittle, percussive picking sound.

Brotzmann, meanwhile, shifted between tenor-like ferocity on the alto sax and runs on the clarinet-like tarogato that offered a level of intensity that wasn’t always measured by volume. Most the improvs, in fact, were brought home not with abstract tradeoffs or blood-boiling solos but with hushed conversations where single notes dictated how and when conclusions were reached.

The entire concert, in fact, drew to a close when Brotzmann offered a mere puff of air into the reed as a coda. It was a gorgeous moment. That the crowd was quiet and attentive enough for the finale to resonate was even better.

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The strings of West Africa sing generously on two new recordings by acknowledged masters of the guitar, harp-like kora and lute-like ngoni. Their sounds might seem reserved, even foreign, to American ears. But their lyricism, rhythmic immediacy and almost ethereal grace are welcoming to any culture.

The aptly titled Ali and Toumani is the final instrumental duet album by guitarist Ali Farka Toure and kora guru Toumani Diabate. Cut over three afternoons in London in June 2005, it sports sublime dialogues that possess an effortlessly – and often deceptively – light timbre. On the opening Toure tune Ruby, Diabate’s kora strings dance elegantly about dark, almost bluesy patterns designed by Toure. But on Diabate’s brief Fantasy, we hear the gorgeous, whispery spaciousiness of Toure’s playing expand with almost orchestral elegance.

Toure was in ill health during the making of Ali and Toumani. His struggles with the recording sessions are documented in candid detail by Diabate in the album notes. The guitarist died eight months after the record’s completion, but you hear no pain in these sessions. What dominates is the hushed, rootsy spiritualism of two pioneers that fashioned the majestic music of West Africa for the world.

Kouyate – who has collaborated extensively with Toure and Diabate and, like Toure,  grew up along the banks of the River Niger – is viewed as a defining generational voice of the ngoni. A stringed instrument shaped like a small cricket bat, it reveals numerous rhythmic, harmonic and percussive sounds.

The debut American release for Sub Pop’s New Ambience label, Kouyate’s I Speak Fela is a beautifully textured work that unfolds with animated passages on the ngoni and chant-like vocal passages led by Amy Sacko (Kouyate’s wife). Such inspirations converge during the dance-like elegance of Torin Torin while Diabate adds kora colors to the lightly percolating rhythms of Jamana Be Diya and Tineni.

But the highlight is Musow, which reflects the electric pulse and propulsive rhythm of a world – be it Africa or America – in unceasing motion.

… and then there were two

fred lonberg-holm (left) and peter brotzmann. photo by john corbett.

fred lonberg-holm (left) and peter brotzmann. photo by john corbett.

Near the end of an introductory improvisation on an album curiously titled The Brain of the Dog in Section, Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm bring their meshing of saxophone and cello to a solemn but thoroughly unstudied halt. It is the sound of a conversation concluded with both parties seemingly content at having had their say.

Of course, in the 14 preceding minutes, the duet turned into something of a shouting match with rugged tenor sax squalls from Brotzmann – who, at age 68, remains an acknowledged forefather of the jazz avant garde – answering strident, almost percussive scrapes on the cello strings and occasional electronic ruptures from Lonberg-Holm, 47. The latter is one of a legion of Chicago-based players that have helped further Brotzmann’s presence among American audiences.

The two have collaborated in ensembles large (Brotzmann’s mammoth Chicago Tentet) and small in venues around the globe over the past decade. But they have gone head-to-head as a duo only twice. The second instance, a November 2007 Chicago session, became The Brain of the Dog

Now the cross-generational improvisers are taking to the road for their first ever duo tour, which stops in Lexington as part of the ongoing Outside the Spotlight Series on Tuesday. It’s a continuance of a long, fruitful artistic alliance, in some ways. But for Lonberg-Holm, it will be a chance to explore music that is anything but familiar.

“Playing with Peter is not your average gig,” the cellist said. “That’s for sure. In some ways, it’s just like working with any other improviser. You try to go into the performance with an open mind, see what happens and try to work with what’s going on. You want to make the music something that is not pre-conceived.

“But Peter has such a big sound, such a strong sound and a really focused way of working with the music that you have to be even more on your toes than you might be normally. I just try to psychologically prepare myself to run the gamut of all the kinds of sounds I can possibly make with the cello when I’m working with Peter.”

For Lonberg-Holm that can mean manipulating the already broad and immediate music he produces on the strings with electronics that augment, amplify and color his playing in some instances while providing sounds of corrosive static and ambient dissonance at others.

You hear such an expansive sound not only in the wilder sections of The Brain of the Dog, but in a string of extraordinary solo cello recordings Lonberg-Holm has released in his homemade Flying Aspidistra series (including a 2009 concert recording Cabin, Cemetery, Forest) as well as with music made with his Valentine Trio and collaborative ventures with the Chicago Tentet, the Vandermark 5 and Fast Citizens. Lonberg has performed in Lexington with all of those ensembles, as well as in a solo setting, for the Outside the Spotlight Series.

“When I play with Peter I definitely benefit from having a lot of experience working with electronics in conjunction with the cello. Unfortunately, with amplified strings, if you’re not careful, you can end up with everything sounding basically the same in a weird way. What you play just sounds pushed. So we work on that.

“I like bringing in the electronic component to Peter’s music as opposed to just a straight acoustic vibe that is amplified. I don’t want normal cello played louder. I try to make it into its own instrument.”

The German-born Brotzmann, in turn, has been playing off such musical invention for over four decades. Initially a visual artist (an exhibition of his woodcut prints and watercolors opened over the weekend in Chicago), Brotzmann grabbed international ears with the 1967 free jazz octet recording, Machine Gun. Brotzmann has been widely viewed as a champion of the European avant garde as well as a masterful composer and improviser on saxophone, tarogato and clarinet ever since.

Brotzmann is also a frequent visitor to Lexington. In fact, a June 2002 concert with Lonberg-Holm and the Chicago Tentet at the Univeristy of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall was the unofficial kickoff to Outside the Spotlight.

“When Peter plays something, he means it,” Lonberg-Holm said. “He’s committed to it. It’s not the idea of something. What he plays is the thing – the object itself. It’s right there and he doesn’t back down.

“In the duo, there is no playing around the edges, no sizing each other up. There will be no teeny little sounds. It’s like, ‘Here I am. This is me.’ And from there, we work through the music. After we throw down our hands, the negotiations get started and we get into some areas that only the two of us can get into.

“I know when I play with someone else we would never get to those places. And I would like to think some of those things don’t happen when Peter plays with other people.” 

The Peter Brotzmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm Duo performs at 8 p.m. Feb. 23 at Gumbo Ya-Ya in Bar Lexington, 367 E. Main. Admission is $5. Call (859) 523-9292.

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bottle rockets bursting in air

the bottle rockets

the bottle rockets: bassist keith voegele, drummer mark ortmann, singer/guitarist brian henneman and guitarist john horton.

In its best songs, The Bottle Rockets summon a sense of dark nostalgia often set within remote rural settings.

Such is the make-up of Way It Used To Be, one of the highlights from the veteran Festus, Missouri rockers’ recent Lean Forward album. The title alone spells trouble as the story unfolds of a domestic split and a resilience to (or complete lack of acceptance of) the resulting change that must come with it. It’s a bit of a head game song, too, as isolation sets in along with a growing hint of paranoia.

“The things that bother me are the things no one can see,” sings Bottle Rockets singer, co-guitarist and chief songsmith Brian Henneman over a typically lean whiplash of ‘70s style guitar riffs and crisp percussive hooks.

Even more sobering is Kid Next Door, a remembrance of a football playing, hip-hop loving neighborhood youth, liked and celebrated by the community, who goes off to war but never returns (“I watched him grow, I watched him go; now he ain’t coming home no more”). All of that is then weighed against the ultimate question posed by war, especially to the rural communities that send so many soldiers into conflicts far removed from their home – did such a death have any purposeful effect on the battle’s outcome? (“Did it change the bottom line? We keep on living while we keep on dying.”)

Tunes like that are big pay offs for the Bottle Rockets (Henneman, longtime drummer Mark Ortmann, guitarist John Horton and bassist Keith Voegele). The rest of their music is just as rural in scope, although with few exceptions (the merry mix of mandolin and fiddle on the blue collar but green-savvy Get on the Bus is a rare example), the songs steer clear of what is conventionally viewed as country. The album’s – and indeed the band’s – overall mood is actually quite cheery – faithful, even.

On the album opening, The Long Way (co-written by Ortmann and Henneman), road travels through the wide open West (no doubt inspired by the band’s mammoth touring schedules) yield an unexpected affirmation. “The long way isn’t the wrong way and a wrong turn isn’t the end,” sings Henneman. “If it’s understood, maybe something good is coming at you ‘round the bend.”

And for a reflection of the celebratory, elemental rock ‘n’ roll charm The Bottle Rockets are perhaps best known for, check out the riotous Bo Diddley drive that propels Nothin’ but a Driver.

Not doubt having Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who produced the breakthough albums The Brooklyn Side and 24 Hours a Day for The Bottle Rockets in the ‘90s back in the producer’s chair helps give Lean Forward such urgency. But Henneman and the Bottle Rockets have been on a roll of late. Its 2006 album Zoysia was one of the band’s strongest efforts. Lean Forward simply moves on from there with another expert scrapbook of rural Midwestern snapshots.

Some are uplifting. Others carry more pensive memories. All possess a vivid, emotive and very human immediacy. And isn’t that what always makes up great rock ‘n’ roll?

The Bottle Rockets with Grayson Capps and The Stumpknockers perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Phoenix Hill Tavern, 644 Baxter Ave. in Louisville. Tickets are $12. Call (502) 636-0405 or go to www.ticketweb.com

in performance: keb' mo'

keb' mo' performed last night at the kentucky theatre.

keb' mo'

“I heard backstage that they promised you some blues,” remarked Keb’ Mo’ early into his very easygoing performance last night at the Kentucky Theatre. “Then I got all nervous.”

Yeah, right. For nearly two decades, the singer and guitarist born Kevin Moore has been versed enough in the blues to use it as a musical calling card, even though his exceptionally sunny songs seldom mirror the blues in either temperament or tone.

So after that little confession, Moore sat down with a shiny steel guitar – a prime utensil of the well-schooled bluesman – and played a solo version of the title tune to his 2006 album Suitcase. The wiry lyricism echoed Delta blues, but Moore’s playing was as casual as the storytelling element of his often folkish songs. In the case of Suitcase, the theme was the transient nature of relationships – something that might seem a touch cosmopolitan to really be viewed as blues.

Match that with the smile that stayed plastered on Moore’s face throughout the show, not to mention his genuinely upbeat stage disposition, and you have to wonder where all this talk of the blues comes from.

The blues? Moore was too hopeful, too jubilant to embody the traditions (or even the stereotypes) of the blues. He clearly was having too much fun last night for any of that.

With the highly versatile Chicago songstress Susan Werner as an accompanist on guitar, mandolin, keyboards and occasional harmony vocals, Moore basked in the sunny soul, pop and folk that took as prominent a place in his music as the blues. The crowd, quite rightly, loved every minute of it.

The romantic regrets in Rita (another Suitcase tune) sounded keenly chipper, the cosmo-fied country blues accents of the show opening Let Your Light Shine (from 2004′s Keep It Simple) amounted to an affirmation and the title tune to 1996′s Just Like You was sung with the whispery comfort of a lullaby. And as Werner wound up a piano-driven ode to her adopted hometown, Chicago Any Day, Moore re-entered the stage not with the severity of a bluesman, but with feet in motion, happily dancing to a bright melody.

The blues were at work here somewhere. But throughout the 100 minute performance, they never slowed nor threatened the life parade that Moore so cheerfully subscribes to.

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in performance: the black eyed peas with ludacris and lmfao

Fergie rocked Rupp Arena last night with The Black Eyed Peas. Photo by Mark Cornelison.

Fergie rocked Rupp Arena last night with The Black Eyed Peas. Photo by Mark Cornelison.

It was a rave and a club date, a rock show and a dance party. It was about getting into a groove and busting up more than a few stylistic barriers – at least, within an arena settting.

Mostly, though, last night’s Rupp Arena outing by The Black Eyed Peas before a crowd of 12,000 was about riding a hearty and refreshingly upbeat vibe. By taking hip hop roots and blowing them up into blasts of soul-pop electronica that were alternately retro and futuristic, the Los Angeles quartet came up with an evening of studious raps, siren-like singing and an acre full of audience friendly attitude that made Rupp less like a rock palace and basketball haven and more like a mammoth dance club.

Opening with – what else? – Let’s Get It Started, the Peas popped up from the floor of a two story stage with looks as distinctive as their musical personalities. Will.i.am was dressed like a sequined marching band leader with a facial mask seemingly borrowed from Phantom of the Opera. Fergie, the standout singer in a team full of rappers, was dressed in a silver body suit that made her resemble a borg alien from Star Trek but with, shall we say, more impressive contours. The mohawked Apl.de.ap and leather clad Taboo completed the foursome.

A five member band assisted the Peas, working with programmed beats to ignite the ‘80s flavored dance pop of Meet Me Halfway early into the two hour program. But the musicians were relegated to the top level of the massive stage, as if they were playing in an attic. Such was the clear preferential distinction within the concert’s makeup. This was a program clearly about the Peas themselves. With the exception of a guitarist who journeyed centerstage to ignite the Dick Dale surf guitar rumble from Misirlou for the Peas hit Pump It, the musicians mostly remained in the attic.

A team of dancers, often dressed in costumes that covered their faces, made frequent appearances, most prominently as a chorus line of dancing stereo speakers.

But the Peas proved to be an impressively complete ensemble even without the bells and whistles. Will.i.am freestyle rapped at one point, using text messages sent by audience members as material for rhymes. As the Peas’ de facto frontman, he defined a new school of beat and groove that made the performance quite unlike anything Rupp has seen before.

That was especially apparent during a DJ segment where Will.i.am manipulated tunes ranging from Michael Jackson hits to Nirvana rockers from a laptop on a slice of stage runway that lifted him over the arena floor. In lesser hands, this could have been a time-killing disaster – a marquee pop star offering what might have been viewed as little more than a live mixtape. But Will.i.am was essentially a cheerleader for the canned material. Admittedly, the segment could and should have been shorter. But it was still a very intriguing glimpse of DJ culture let loose in an arena environment.

Fergie offered a three-song selection from her 2006 solo album The Duchess highlighted by Big Girls Don’t Cry – a pop-soul delicacy fueled almost exclusively by her rhapsodic singing and the accompaniment of two acoustic guitarists.

The beat turned decidedly rockish for Now Generation, where the four Peas orated from four separate podiums on the stage. But the big hits – the robotic Boom Boom Pow (performed with the dancers as faceless live action computer animations) and the ultra-summery I Gotta Feeling – merrily wound the party down.

Veteran rapper Ludacris – with a bass drenched Dirty South set that offered hits new (How Low) and old (Pimpin’ All Over the World) – and the Will.i.am-produced electronica/hip hop duo LMFAO opened the evening. Both sets had moments, although LMFAO’s dim-witted I Am Not a Whore was vastly more ludicrous than Ludacris.

Ultimately, both acts succumbed to cheap audience pandering, dime-a-dozen obscenities and unremarkable rhyme schemes. Compared to the bigger stylistic carnival the Peas offered, they were merely sideshow attractions.

(To view more of Mark Cornelison’s photos of the concert click here.)

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