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Review: Rasta Thomas’ “Bad Boys of Dance” weren’t really that bad

BBofD
Photo provided by Bad Boys of Dance via the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of catching the last performance of Rasta Thomas’ “Bad Boys of Dance” at the Annenberg Center. It was both exactly and nothing like I thought it’d be: a little heavy on the cheese factor, but pleasantly populated by six exceptional male physiques.

If I had to describe the nature of the dance, I’d call it a pop and hip-hop ballet. The program notes very plainly list the song choices, and some, from my perspective, are just plain bad ones, while some others made perfect sense. It was by no means a bold or revolutionary artistic statement; ballet gets bred with other dance forms across the world on a daily basis. But was it fun? Did I giggle a few times, utter “Wow” reflexively and bob my head more than I have at any other ballet show in Philadelphia? Absolutely.

To be blunt, the first act was pretty off-putting. Titled “Don’t Stop Believin’,” it started out with promising playfulness, including a one-two-three introduction from Kanye West (“Stronger,” f-bombs and all), The Knack (“My Sharona”) and Robert Palmer. “Simply Irresistible,” to a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, is so firmly aesthetically anchored with slicked-back hair, cheesy red sports cars and those weird blade-wielding and whip sound effects that underscore the chorus. The idea of the song is kitsch. But the one female dancer—presumably Adrienne Canterna, the company’s co-artistic director (also listed as a dancer in the program)—finished the track with a few of the most startlingly awe-inspiring series of spins of the entire night.

See, Thomas came out to introduce the show and said that ballet is always at the core of their dance. And there were a large handful of moments in which the stark juxtaposition between hip-hop and ballet were perfectly paired—from a breakdance headspin to an elegant split; fully-extended leaping revolutions punctuated with braggadocious posturing; a feat of flexibility paired with a little robot; a gracious pose with pointed toes followed by a suggestive crotch thrust.

All of that was great, until this brutal run of the program (featuring some of my least favorite songs and artists of all time: Dave Matthews’ “The Space Between,” Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” and “The Scientist,” and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing”). It was at this point that I visibly grimaced and had a hard time enjoying the athleticism and artistry of the seven performers on stage. It was also terribly distracting that the guys were wearing jeans and polos. (Less so the jeans, but polos, to me, are so very far from anything “bad boy.”) The finale of Act I was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and by the time we arrived at an interpretive pop ballet being danced to the guitar solo of a Journey song, I was uncomfortably squirming in my seat. It was as off-putting as it sounds.

Luckily, the second act saved the whole affair from being just plain weird. In fact, the second act, titled “We Are the Champions,” could have made for a great show on its own. It was longer, badder and held nearly all of the show’s sex appeal that I’d been hoping for. A good amount of Michael Jackson and Robin Thicke got employed, as was, naturally, some Queen and some Queen with David Bowie (“Under Pressure”). They even mined some favorites from the era of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s that were pleasant to revisit: EMF, INXS and George Michael. They came out in black dance pants and tucked-in white tanks. They were soon wearing blazers and skinny ties, and then the shirts came off.

It’s here that I’d quickly like to clue you in on who their audience was: old white folks, single ladies, kids and a smattering of gay men. But primarily, it was the first category: I saw a solid trio of bald white-haired gentlemen who also had ponytails. So, it wasn’t entirely surprising when things got sort of Chippendale-y towards the end, with some flexing, some suggestive grinding and some man-meat posing. There was even an LMFAO moment (“Sexy and I Know It”) to make sure the audience was fully aware that sex was on display.

So, even though the first act nearly lost me real early in, they managed to bring it all home with a bit of Justin Timberlake (“Sexyback”), some Outkast (“Hey Ya”) and Usher (“Yeah!!!”), a little Chris Brown, and even some Bee Gees. It was just a little cornier than I thought it would be, but I would happily take my mom and my girlfriends for a fun girls-night-out the next time these “Bad Boys” come around.



Key 2014 Grammy nominations: Who should win vs. who will win

Grammy noms

The 56th Annual Grammy Award nominations were announced at a concert at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles on Friday. Do you care? Maybe a little. Even though we’ve seen the Grammys get it all wrong in the past, and the Academy has a pretty deserved reputation for stuffiness and an unwillingness to nominate the good weird stuff we all love, they’re still an institution. We talk about the accomplishments of an artist by tallying their accolades, and the Grammys are often a great source of vetting – How many times have they been nominated? What categories have they won?

Well, the biggest nominees were in the rap category this year, with Jay Z earning a whopping nine. He’s the highest nomination-earner, with four musicians right behind him garnering seven nods: Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore (& Ryan Lewis), Justin Timberlake and Pharrell.

Let’s break down the big categories and pick some winners!

RECORD OF THE YEAR
“Get Lucky” by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams
“Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons
“Royals” by Lorde
“Locked Out Of Heaven” by Bruno Mars
“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke featuring T.I. & Pharrell

Should win: Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, aka Lorde, captured America’s attention with her brain-needling hit of the year. It’s so good, still. She’s (newly) 17 and wrote it with her producer, and it’s basically just those two who can claim credit for a song that’s reached platinum status in multiple countries.
Will win: “Get Lucky.” Because everyone loves a big dramatic comeback from well-established artists collaborating with other very well-established artists (Nile Rodgers). It’s a great song, but there’s not very much of a narrative to their success. Mysterious French producer/DJs who’ve been churning out amazing records for decades put out one more. Shrug.

SONG OF THE YEAR
“Just Give Me A Reason” by Pink featuring Nate Ruess
“Locked Out Of Heaven” by Bruno Mars
“Roar” by Katy Perry
“Royals” by Lorde
“Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert

Note: The difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year? ROTY honors the performer and the production team, but SOTY celebrates composers and songwriters.

Should win: Tough one here—because when you try to boil down artistic merit and look to the quality of the lyrics, you’ve got some strong contenders here. Sure, we want our girl Pink to take this one home, even if she has to share it with Nate Reuss (and Jeff Bhasker); and it is a great song that the masses are still willfully consuming. But “Roar” is so much fun, and “Same Love” is so damn heartwarming. Bruno Mars is legit, and we love him and all, but don’t we love that song for the Michael Jacksony production?
Will win: Something tells me the feel-good anthem in “Same Love” is something the Grammy committee wants to pat on the head.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
The Blessed Unrest by Sara Bareilles
Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City by Kendrick Lamar
The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red by Taylor Swift

Should win: Well, we know who should not win, right? The fuck’s with this Bareilles nod? This record is like a glass of tepid milk with Cheerios and a side of tofu, plus a wale smoothie to wash it all down. C’mon, how boring. Kendrick should take this trophy home because it’s a stunner from cover to cover. When was the last time a hip-hop album took the night’s arguably biggest honor? Oh, it was Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below 10 years ago.
Will win: Macklemore & Lewis. See above.

BEST NEW ARTIST
James Blake
Kendrick Lamar
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Kacey Musgraves
Ed Sheeran

Should win: Again, King Kendrick deserves this one. He’s a breath of fresh air in a number of ways. James Blake—despite how great he is and how much we love Overgrown—doesn’t feel much like a new artist (his self-titled debut came out in February of ’11). By the time the ceremony rolls around, the first singles released from The Heist will be two years old.
Will win: Taking a look at the history of the award, you can see that all kinds of losers have beat artists who’ve gone on to overshadow the winner. Love Esparanza Spalding, but she shouldn’t have beat Drake and Biebs. Last year, fun. beat Frank Ocean. So, it’ll probably be Musgraves.

A few more categories we’ll keep our eyes on:

BEST DANCE/ELECTRONICA ALBUM

Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
Settle by Disclosure
18 Months by Calvin Harris
Atmosphere by Kaskade
A Color Map Of The Sun by Pretty Lights

BEST ROCK ALBUM
13 by Black Sabbath
The Next Day by David Bowie
Mechanical Bull by Kings of Leon (Booo.)
Celebration Day by Led Zeppelin
…Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stone Age
Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young with Crazy Horse

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case
Trouble Will Find Me by The National
Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails
Lonerism by Tame Impala
Modern Vampires Of The City by Vampire Weekend

BEST R&B ALBUM
R&B Divas by Faith Hill
Girl On Fire by Alicia Keys
Love In The Future by John Legend
Better by Chrisette Michele
Three Kings by TGT

BEST RAP/SUNG COLLABORATION
“Power Trip” by J. Cole featuring Miguel
“Part II (On The Run)” by Jay Z featuring Beyonce (So good.)
“Holy Grail” by Jay Z featuring Justin Timberlake
“Now Or Never” by Kendrick Lamar featuring Mary J. Blige
“Remember You” by Wiz Khalifa featuring The Weeknd

BEST RAP ALBUM
Nothing Was The Same by Drake
Magna Carta… Holy Grail by Jay Z
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City by Kendrick Lamar
The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Yeezus by Kanye West (One of two nominations, and of course he’s pissed about it.)

The show will broadcast live from the Staples Center in L.A. on Sun., Jan. 26th.



‘Tis that season again: The 50 best albums of 2013

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Participating in the great tradition of year-end album-ranking in December, here is a list that reflects, essentially, the LPs that worked their way into my head and heart on a regular basis over the past 365 days. Navigating the heaps and mountains of music at our collective fingertips is no small feat, but you learn over time that the ones that you keep going back to, the ones you can’t get enough of, are just really good records. Simple as that. Hopefully, dear readers, this list will at least give you a good start on future listening as we bound towards 2014.

1. Disclosure, Settle
2. Bill Callahan, Dream River
3. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
4. HAIM, Days Are Gone
5. Mutual Benefit, Love’s Crushing Diamond
6. Phosphorescent, Muchacho
7. Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
8. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
9. Bilal, A Love Surreal
10. Tegan & Sara, Heartthrob
11. Pusha T, My Name Is My Name
12. Lorde, Pure Heroine
13. Sky Farreira, Night Time, My Time
14. Mikal Cronin, MCII
15. Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience Part 1
16. Rhye, Woman
17. DJ Koze, Amygdala
18. Chance the Rapper, Acidrap
19. Danny Brown, Old
20. Kanye West, Yeezus
21. Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt
22. Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana
23. Jay Z, Magna Carta Holy Grail
24. CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe
25. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
26. Kelly Rowland, Talk A Good Game
27. Blood Orange, Cupid Deluxe
28. King Krule, 6 Feet Below the Moon
29. Lucius, Wildewoman
30. Laura Marling, Once I Was An Eagle
31. David Bowie, The Next Day
32. Charli XCX, True Romance
33. El-P and Killer Mike, Run The Jewels
34. Brandy Clark, 13 Stories
35 Jose James, No Beginning, No End
36. Baths, Obsidian
37. Fantasia, Side Effects of You
38. James Blake, Overgrown
39. Classixx, Hanging Gardens
40. Jon Hopkins, Immunity
41. Cate Le Bon, Mug Museum
42. Local Natives, Hummingbird
43. J. Cole, Born Sinner
44. Dismemberment Plan, Uncanney Valley
45. NIN, Hesitation Marks
46. Dr. Dog, B-Room
47. of Montreal, lousy with sylvianbriar
48. Autre ne Veut, Anxiety
49. Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Day
50. Charles Bradley, Victim of Love

Also enjoyable: Queens of the Stone Age , …Like Clockwork; M.I.A., Matangi; Arctic Monkeys, AM; Franz Ferdinand, Right Thoughts Right Word Right Action; Deerhunter, Monomania; Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park; Pissed Jeans, Honeys; Midlake, Antiphon; Atoms for Peace, AMOK; Unknown Mortal Orchestra, II; Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic and Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus.

Noticed this on lots of lists, but I kindly disagree: Savages, Silence Yourself; Arcade Fire, Reflektor and Volcano Choir, Repave.



News: Boot & Saddle, plus Jay and Kanye

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BOOT & SADDLE

We’ll go further in depth with Sean Agnew in a couple weeks’ time, but for now, we’d just like to rejoice in the impending arrival of a brand new concert venue just south of Washington on South Broad—and it looks like it’s gonna be a honey. Getting the old gentifrication touch, Mr. Agnew’s spearheaded these kinds of moments a couple times already, turning the Spaghetti Warehouse into the phenomenally successful Union Transfer and converting the Dolphin into a totally respectable South Philly late-night haunt (not that the old Dolphin wasn’t). Well, it looks like it won’t be getting a name change, but it’s getting a serious facelift and getting loaded up with all of the bomb sound technology we’ve come to know and love at the glorious Spring Garden music house that can entertain up to 1,000 concert connoisseurs. Boot & Saddle won’t be nearly as large, but last week, we got this info in an email:

imageWe are opening a brand new venue in South Philadelphia … The Boot & Saddle! Shuttered in 1995, this iconic Philly landmark will be opening as a 150-capacity live music room and 60-seat restaurant. We’ll be celebrating our grand opening with Aimee Mann & Ted Leo on Monday, September 9th. Tickets are on-sale now!

Already on the calendar are bills featuring Palma Violets, Sir Sly, Grails, Crocodiles, Quasi (feat. Janet Weiss from Sleater Kinney/Wild Flag), Nightmares on Wax, Those Darlins, Black Prairie (4 members of The Decemberists) and tons more – all experienced in an intimate back concert room featuring the same d&b Audiotechnik sound system that has earned Union Transfer accolades as one of the city’s best sounding venues. This distinguishes Boot & Saddle as one of the only small-size rooms in the US to boast this critically acclaimed sound system, guaranteeing the best experience for you!

Looking forward to the big open, for sure, but it looks like opening night is sold out. You can get a pretty good look at the already bumpin’ roster they’ve booked for September and October on their Ticketfly site.

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JAY Z AND KANYE

Magically, pretty much within 24 hours of each other, two of the biggest names in hip-hop have announced Philly tour dates as part of giant national outings. They’re not together, and they’re not even all that close to each other: Kanye’s Yeezus tour will stop in on Nov. 16th at Wells Fargo, while Jay’s Magna Carter World Tour will hit Philly (again at Wells Fargo) on Jan. 29th. Tickets for their respective tours go on sale one day apart from each other: Jay’s first on the 12th, next Thursday, and Yeezy’s on Friday, the 13th. Yes, Jay did just tour with Justin Timberlake with their Legends of the Summer tour, but this is Kanye’s first solo tour in five years. You know what’s lame, though? Kendrick’s the big co-sign to follow Kanye around the world, but he won’t be present for the Philly date. The Philly.com story, though, does suggest that a surprise guest is TBA. Still exciting news, though, no doubt.



The best 20 albums of 2013 so far

Disclosure-Control-by-Ben-Murray-Ross-McDowell2
No, it’s not month six, nor is it the end of 2013. But it’s been a pretty good year for album releases. Especially electronica, dance music and hip-hop. What was going to be a Top 10 list quickly turned into 15 and then 20. And then we have a hefty list of some honorable mentions, too. S’where you’ll find Daft Punk, which some folks’ll probably freak out about. And Yeezus isn’t anywhere near the top. Hopefully, a year-end Top 50 will be completely reworked with new additions and grown feelings about records that we’re just now starting to get obsessed with (again), like this Jon Hopkins record. Comment on thoughts!

1. DisclosureSettle
2. PhosphorescentMuchacho
3. Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City
4. David BowieThe Next Day
5. Justin TimberlakeThe 20/20 Experience
6. Chance the RapperAcid Rap
7. DJ KozeAmygdala
8. RhyeWoman
9. Charli XCXTrue Romance
10. Laura MarlingOnce I Was An Eagle
11. Jay ZMagna Carta Holy Grail
12. James BlakeOvergrown
13. Mikal CroninMCII
14. ClassixxHanging Gardens
15. J. ColeBorn Sinner
16. Killer Mike and El-PRun The Jewels
17. Kelly RowlandTalk a Good Game
18. Jon HopkinsImmunity
19. Kanye WestYeezus
20. Local NativesHummingbird

Honorable mention: Pissed Jeans – Honeys, Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze, These New Puritans – Field of Reeds, Everything Everything – Arc, Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus, Tricky – False Idols, Suede – Bloodsports, Baths – Obsidian, Fantasia – Side Effects of You, Jose James - No Beginning No End, Daft Punk – Random Access Memories



On the Record: Kanye West, J. Cole, Primal Scream, Empire of the Sun, Mac Miller and Statik Selektah

imageKanye West
Yeezus
(Def Jam)
Sounds like:
Yeezy’s seventh is a pretty solid collection of more simplified rhymes, atypical West production—he got lots of help—and always flavored by that ego.
Free association: Why does Justin Vernon have to be on so many hip-hop records?
For fans of: Dre/the Game/A$AP/Jay-Z, Missy x Frank Ocean, Chicago in Paris.

imageJ. Cole
Born Sinner
(Columbia)
Sounds like:
A strong sophomore showing from the Jay-Z protege, proving he can write and produce—and that he may be way more than a flash in the pan.
Free association: Tight guest game, thoughtful rhymes and headphone delights.
For fans of: Drake x Wale + Bow Wow, Miguel/Kendrick Lamar, sophisticated samples.

imagePrimal Scream
More Light
(Ignition Records)
Sounds like:
The Scottish legends of psychedelic and beat-friendly dance rock nail their 10th, and, yes, 30 years in, they stay relevant and fresh.
Free association: Required listening. You should give 1991’s Screamadelica some spins while you’re at this.
For fans of: Stone Roses x UNKLE + Saint Etienne, U.K. psych + electronica/trip-hop.

imageEmpire of the Sun
Ice on the Dune
(Astralwerks/EMI)
Sounds like:
The Aussie electro duo specializing in sci-fi funk and futuristic pop ride the wave of their debut’s acclaim with more, pretty dancey pop bliss.
Free association: Remember how we used to care about Justice? EOTS do it better.
For fans of: Hot Chip x MGMT + Yelle, role-playing nerd house.

imageMac Miller
Watching Movies with the Sound Off
(Rostrum)
Sounds like:
PA pride! The Pittsburgh emcee’s second is damn good for a 21-year-old white boy whose friendships with the black hippies are doing him right.
Free association: Pretty sure Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul are rubbing off correctly.
For fans of: Earl Sweatshirt/Action Bronson/Jay Electronica, Macklemore, youth.

imageStatik Selektah
Extended Play
(Showoff Records/Duck Down Music)
Sounds like:
The New England DJ and producer’s fifth is a mixed bag of guests on every track over Statik’s hardening beat parade, and it’s all a little much.
Free association: When you have 20 guests on an LP, it’s hard to make it cohesive.
For fans of: Danger Mouse x DJ Premier/Funkmaster Flex, supreme/deluxe things.



“Bow Down,” Says Queen Bey

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I guess this is how things work now. This super-weird song appeared on her Soundcloud, and she posted the above photo of her in pageant gear surrounded by trophies via Instagram on Sunday. We don’t even know what to make of it; it doesn’t really seem like a single. We have no idea when a new LP is coming. She’s told the press a little about the nature of the record, who she’s collaborating with and where the inspiration comes from. In this NME post she’s reported to have divulged:

I’ve been working with Pharrell and Timbaland and Justin Timberlake and Dream. We all started in the ’90s, when R&B was the most important genre, and we all kind of want that back: the feeling that music gave us.” When asked about the influences on the album, she said: “Mostly R&B. I always have my Prince and rock/soul influences. There’s a bit of D’Angelo, some ’60s doo-wop. And Aretha and Diana Ross.”

OKAY! Sounds good to us. But this weird two-songs-in-one track, “Bow Down/I Been On” seems to strive for some hardness (which isn’t exactly what’s suggested in the above quotes). The quickly infamous couplet, “I took some time to live my life, but don’t think I’m just his little wife.” We like this. It hints at a little feminism, a little independence in the face of her questionable impending world tour’s title, The Mrs. Carter Show. However, the track features production from Hit-Boy, whose much-lauded production on her husband’s (and Kanye’s) hit “N*ggas in Paris.” Which suggest, just a little, that the power couple gets to share producers for their own successes, no?

Nevertheless, this stunt’s got people talking. She’s always gotta keep her public wanting more and arguing about the spring(?)-released follow-up to 2011’s 4. And after the Super Bowl and HBO documentary stuff, it’s kind of like, damn – she’s going HAM on maintaining global domination. That same NME post notes that her UK and Irish dates sold out in 12 minutes. Oddly, not so sure that’s the case here in America (and more to the point, Philly – she lands in Philadelphia on July 25th).



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