tell you something: the Perceptionists at Valentine’s.
Not many groups can take a caustic political rap and turn
it into a rousing party chant, but the Perceptionists did
at the start of their Valentine’s show last Thursday. “We
got one question for G.W. Bush,” boomed Boston hiphopper Akrobatik
as he and rhyme partner Mr. Lif jumped headlong into the chorus
of “Memorial Day.” The antiwar narrative was written from
the perspective of a soldier sent to fight for specious reasons:
“Where are the weapons of mass destruction/We’ve been looking
for months and we ain’t found nothing/Please Mr. President
tell us something/We knew from the beginning that your ass
was bluffing.” With the large crowd in front of the stage
singing along, the energetic track was both party-starter
and political statement.
The Perceptionists are a bit unusual like that; they’ve got
the brainy lyrics and political consciousness of certain indie
hiphop groups, yet their live show is as much about “rocking
a jam,” to quote Akrobatik, as it is about bringing a message
to the masses. Mr. Lif and Akrobatik are both Boston-born
rappers known more for their celebrated solo careers, until
now at least, than for their recent collaboration as the Perceptionists.
Together onstage they make perfect counterparts, trading vocals
line by line, Akrobatik’s old-school steadiness offset by
Mr. Lif’s faster, Caribbean sing-song style. Physically, they
are near-opposites: Akrobatik a beefy, athletic-looking guy
in a sleeveless Adidas jersey; Mr. Lif a bohemian type with
glasses, plaid shirt and dreads piled high under his hat.
DJ Fakts One, the third member of the group, was absent although
advertised; he was replaced by Akrobatik producer DJ Therapy.
Many headlining hiphop acts seem to start too late in the
night and then end too quickly, but after an opening warm-up
by members of the local Pitch Control crew, the Perceptionists
were on time and played a full set that featured tracks from
their new Definitive Jux album, Black Dialogue. The
show was not without its glitches: Therapy’s spinning skills
were crippled by technical difficulties that left him with
only one turntable, but the Perceptionists stayed positive.
The soundman failed to notice when Mr. Lif gestured desperately
in the air for louder vocals, but Mr. Lif merely gave up and
moved on, doing a breathless freestyle that linked McDonalds
and fast food to the “apocalypse.” The squirrelly Mr. Lif
hopped from one side of the stage to the other on the lighter-hearted
“Love Letters” before the group returned to more serious subjects.
you love your freedom, make some noise,” Akrobatik called
out. He wasn’t talking about the sort of so-called “freedom”
that inspires W bumper stickers everywhere, but rather freedom
of individual spirit and being. The next song, as written,
largely addressed the black community, but Akrobatik’s enthusiasm
hardly seemed dampened by the fact that the packed crowd was
almost all white college kids. You really had to hand it to
the Perceptionists for that; they promoted crowd participation
throughout the night, regardless of whether their song messages
were geared toward a different audience.
The show closer, “Five O Clock,” was a universal affirmation
for working-class stiffs, punctuated in the middle by a rowdy
call-and-response appropriated from the Beastie Boys. “What’s
the time?” shouted Akrobatik and Mr. Lif. The rest of us yelled,
“It’s time to get ill!”
for the Few Cats Who Showed Up
Glenn Tilbrook & the Fluffers, John Brodeur
Hall, Troy, April 15
Glenn Tilbrook is in a curious and perhaps unenviable position.
His defunct band, Squeeze, had an enormous worldwide radio
hit, “Tempted,” which is well-known beyond the name of the
band. (Yes, yes, and they had other hits as well, lower-charting
ones here in America, higher on their home soil in Britain.)
Furthermore, Squeeze presented themselves infrequently on
their album covers, so discernible characters were never an
anchor point for audiences, nor were their individual names
spoken by public at large.
So if it’s quite a drop from the number of people who know
their hit and to those who know who did it, even fewer know
the name Glenn Tilbrook. As lead singer, he sounds like Squeeze
even by himself, but news of his arriving in these parts,
if not accompanied by “formerly of . . . ,” is guaranteed
to keep the dance floor unscuffed.
Touring in support of last year’s Transatlantic Ping Pong,
Glenn Tilbrook & the Fluffers played Troy’s Revolution
Hall to an enthusiastic but sadly underpopulated audience.
This being his second solo release, he’s now got a couple
dozen post-Difford-Tilbrook songs under his belt. The show
was divided into two sets; the first featured a handful of
songs from Ping Pong, though it was made clear with
the second song (“Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)”) that
he was not turning his back on the catalog for which he’s
known. His band—keyboards, bass, and drums, with Tilbrook
on guitar—matches the Squeeze lineup minus the second-guitar
spot of erstwhile partner Chris Difford. What was clear in
the Squeeze days was made unshakably obvious: Glenn Tilbrook
is also a formidable guitarist. The opening of the second
set brought that point home with a wallop, as Tilbrook took
the stage and launched into a solo rendition of Hendrix’s
“Voodoo Chile.” Following “Some Fantastic Place,” he led the
audience out onto the back patio, there performing “Goodbye
Girl” and “Black Coffee in Bed” as everyone sang along. He
and the band wrapped up the night with a final handful of
songs, including intoxicatingly propulsive versions of “Up
the Junction” and “Slap and Tickle.”
Astute readers will be able to identify the opener, John Brodeur,
by his other, daytime activities. One man, one acoustic guitar.
He was decidedly not folk—playing songs with a bandleader’s
sensibilities, he drew from a decade of past band activities.
In a bold move he even covered Squeeze’s “Is That Love?” A
highpoint of his set was a newer, yet-unrecorded song, “Movie
of the Week.” Its spare chordal structure allowed the concise
but eloquent melody to be cast in hues of fragile beauty.
Charles Lloyd Quartet
Hall, Williams College, Williamstown, Mass., April 16
Saxophonist and flautist Charles Lloyd came to prominence
in the ’60s. At the time, his quartet albums featured the
young Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. Several of those
Atlantic label releases were big sellers, becoming entryways
(or, in some cases, as far as they went) into the world of
jazz for collegiates and hippies alike.
Where the version of the Charles Lloyd Quartet from four decades
ago had a sprightly, near-poppishness to them, Lloyd’s subsequently
been exploring more open-ended compositional structures and
improvisational platforms. His performance at Williams College
last weekend featured the band (with a switch in bass players)
and material from his newly released ECM disc, Jumping
the Creek. As was the case in his earlier ensemble, the
pianist creates the overt architecture that anchors and creates
a home for Lloyd’s melodic inventions, while the drummer matches
the leader’s adventurous flights while giving slyly propulsive
bedrock support. In this case, the former is Geri Allen (whose
own album of last year, The Life of a Song, is an understated
masterpiece) and the latter is Eric Harlan (a marvel to watch,
he’d coax metallically ringing overtones from a cymbal, gleefully
double-timing the bell with what was, amazingly, a one-handed
The majestic solemnity of Chapin Hall was ideally suited to
the subtly nuanced playing, as well as the the music’s overriding
spiritual bearing. Saying nothing between numbers, Lloyd simply
acknowledged the applause with a slight bow before he and
the band embarked on another vignette-scaled journey.
on the (Anti)-War Path
as a poet and early punk-rocker, Patti Smith came to Albany
Saturday to turn her performance to another thing she’s nearly
equally known for: activism, especially antiwar activism.
Smith performed at a rally with Ralph Nader calling for the
withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.