Monday, April 25, 2011

Duff Gig Review: Big Audio Dynamite at the Roseland Ballroom (4/19/11)

While some of the New York music critics were less than impressed with Big Audio Dynamite's show at the Roseland Ballroom on April 19, 2011 (read Jon Pareles' review in The New York Times here and an even more curmudgeonly one from Dan "Headphones" Aquilante in the NY Post here), it really all depended on what your expectations were going in to the concert. I'd wager that the majority of those present were BAD fans from back in the day and wanted one more shot at seeing the original line-up in action (and quite honestly, how many more times are we going to have the opportunity to see Mick Jones from the Only Band That Matters performing on stage?!)

Likewise, I don't think Jonesy had any illusions about what the people wanted (to hear BAD's hits) and why (nostalgia for the music of their youth--that's why I was there). This re-union tour was not about deconstructing and re-imagining BAD's canon from a 2011 musical perspective. It was about authenticity--faithfully recreating BAD's sound and vibe from a couple of decades ago that the fans love and cherish. (According to MOJO, for this tour BAD performed using their original 1980's gear and samples--can it get any more real than that?!)

In 1985, when BAD unleashed This is Big Audio Dynamite and its even better follow-up a year later with No. 10, Upping Street (Trouser Press has spot-on write-ups of each release), its mash up of post-punk, reggae, hip-hop, funk, spaghetti Westerns, and B-movie audio samples was not exactly revolutionary (the distance between "This is Radio Clash" and anything off This is Big Audio Dynamite isn't as far as you'd think). Blondie, Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club, Afrika Bambaataa's and John Lydon's Time Zone, and dozens of other bands that fell under the New Wave umbrella had all ventured into this territory to a certain degree, and the first generation of underground hip-hop artists were reverse engineering their sound by sampling from everywhere and everyone else. However, there was still a major color divide in pop music at the time--the seismic crossover between "black" music and "white" mainstream rock audiences didn't come until 1986 with Run-D.M.C.'s classic rawk Aerosmith cover "Walk This Way" and the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill album. Yet BAD had created a fresher sound that was still on the outer limits of underground-alternative-New Wave scene and would end up significantly influencing countless bands to come. (Compared to the Bernie Rhodes' mad scientist attempt to reanimate/exploit The Clash's corpse--the disastrous Cut the Crap, which was released almost simultaneously with BAD's debut--This is Big Audio Dynamite sounded all the more brilliant and cutting-edge.)

However, a quarter of a century later--long after BAD's mutant DNA has been absorbed by the constantly and rapidly evolving beast known as alternative music (one of their most recognizable descendants has to be the Gorillaz, no?)--BAD's cuts now come across more like great pop tracks. Indeed, at the end of the Roseland show, my friend Marc Wasserman (Marco on the Bass) commented that BAD was really an "arena rock" act, which struck me as both odd (when considered in their original, 1980s context), yet completely accurate! We weren't meant to experience the reunited BAD in an illegal loft space in Bushwick, but in the weirdly decadent airplane hangar that is the Roseland Ballroom. In doing so, we lose the intricacies and layering of the rhythms and samples (I'm not sure if the sound mix was muddy or if Roseland's acoustics just make it so), but in The Clash, Mick Jones was always most concerned about them becoming the greatest rock band ever (and relentlessly seeking out and assimilating the newest underground sounds), while Joe Strummer wanted to cure all social injustice through the power and conviction of The Clash's music and lyrics.

At BAD's Roseland show, most of the cuts were almost exact reproductions of their recorded versions, which worked well with the songs that had relatively fast tempos ("The Bottom Line," "C'mon Every Beatbox," "Rush," and "Just Play Music") or an intensity to them ("Bad" and "E=MC2"). But other tracks (that I happen to love like "V. Thirteen" and "Beyond the Pale") kind of plodded along and would have been more compelling at faster speeds. Yes, there were few surprises (apart for a backing tape screw up on "E=MC2" which forced them to re-set everything and start the song over), but the mere fact that the show was happening in the first place was the pleasant shocker that sent the fans (me amongst them) out into the night sated and happy (days later, I still have passages from "E=MC2" and "The Bottom Line" running through my head).

Below are the videos I shot with my (now sadly outdated) Flip. Sorry that some of them are a little shaky. We were towards the back of the dance floor and I had to hold my arm straight up to shoot over the heads of all the tall people in front of us. Just to orient you, Don Letts is at the keyboard on the left hand of the stage; Mick Jones is next to him on guitar; Leo "EZ Kill" Williams is on bass; Dan Donovan is on the keys at the right of the stage; and you can sometimes spot Greg Roberts at the drum kit in back.

+ + + +

For another (positive) take on the show, check out the Brooklyn Vegan review, which includes some great pix and the complete set list for the night (which seems to be the same for any gig on their tour).

+ + + +

Lastly, my son, who is a big Clash fan, was kind of bummed that he couldn't go to the BAD show to see Mick Jones (the tix were mad expensive, yo!). After watching some of BAD's videos on YouTube, he had spotted the BAD hip-hop styled baseball caps that the band sported on the cover of No. 10, Upping Street and asked me to pick up one at the merch table as sort of a consolation prize. I told him that I would, but warned him that I didn't think it was likely that they'd have them all these years later.

So whaddaya know, when I walked into Roseland they were selling BAD caps (for a reasonable $20)--I picked up one in black corduroy with BAD spelled out in red letters. Needless to say, he was psyched when I got home and presented it to him. He's got to be one of the few 13 year-olds in NYC with a BAD hat, but I'm proud to say that's just the kind of kid he is.

No comments: