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I’ll tell you something: the Perceptionists at Valentine’s.

photo:Joe Putrock

Songs of Freedom
By Kirsten Ferguson

The Perceptionists
Valentine’s, April 14

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.

“If 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!”

Cool for the Few Cats Who Showed Up

Glenn Tilbrook & the Fluffers, John Brodeur

Revolution 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.

—David Greenberger

Subtle Spirit

Charles Lloyd Quartet

Chapin 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 attack).

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.

—David Greenberger


Still on the (Anti)-War Path

photo:Alicia Solsman

Famed 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.




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