Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wednesday Night in Crown Heights: "Tribute to the Classics" - Black Moon and Smif n Wessun w/ Live Band in Brower Park

We had the good fortune of getting to Crown Heights' Brower Park tonight to see Brooklyn hip-hop legends of the '90s, Black Moon and Smif 'n Wessun, performing some of their classic albums Enta Da Stage and Dah Shinin' with a great live five-piece band.

We got on the B43 bus at Graham Avenue at Metropolitan, just a few blocks from Dumbo Books HQ, and made a speedy trip south on Graham, then Tompkins, then Brooklyn Avenue and got off near the new Brooklyn Children's Museum. As we passed the new building, we recalled a very odd and detailed memory of when we were just 7 years old and in class 2-1 at P.S. 203 and were taken on a class trip to the old Children's Museum, housed in what seemed like a warren of Victorian houses, which were long ago torn down.

We were sitting with the class in a room at heavy (but low to the ground) wooden tables, waiting for a lecturer or workshop leader. Although we can't remember what our activity was, we remember our thoughts as we waited silently and looked around at our classmates - Linda Konner, Lindy Krulewitz, Billy Sherman, Steve Kahn, Clifford Schwartz and the rest - and at the dark paneling of the room and at the trees and grass outside from the windows. And we had the weird notion that time would pass and one day we would be grown up and so would all the other kids and that things might change in a way that seemed scary but kind of interesting.

Anyway, we passed the basketball courts and could hear the recorded music of the DJ at the portable stages the parks department brings to some of these events. There were few people around, but it was early, and we went to sit on a bench.

We were in Crown Heights a good deal when we were little, because our eye doctor, a German refugee lady, and our mother's doctor, had nearby offices and we used to love the dairy restaurant Famous on Eastern Parkway at Utica (McDonald's has been there for decades), where we'd always order the vegetable cutlet though our Grandpa Herb swore by the proto-steak. In 1964-65, we used to catch the special buses to the World's Fair from Crown Heights with our friends.

The music wafting over was old stuff but great stuff - Biggie Smalls, Brand Nubian, A Tribe Called Quest ("Now here's a funky introduction of how nice I am / Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram") and other rappers back in the day when we were amazed by the clever wordplay and rhythm. You could tell the rhymes were old by the proper names - Robin Leach, Dan Quayle, Dick Cavett (rhymes with "bad habit").

We were in UF law school in Gainesville and then working there as a staff attorney at the Center for Governmental Responsibilty and teaching nights at Santa Fe Community College (the Florida one) and in our early 40s during the heydey of Black Moon, Smif 'n Wessun (then still pre-lawsuit Smith 'n Wesson, we think) and Boot Camp Clik and the rest came out, so we were pretty oblivious to what people in New York were doing in hip-hop.

If you want intelligent commentary on tonight's show, you'll have to go elsewhere. There were lots of clued-in people eventually, all of them younger than us, mostly black but of various ethnicities, and we're sure some of them have more interesting things to say. We're elderly amateurs here, with a crappy cell phone camera (many others had real cameras and video recorders).

Here's a video preview of the show from last fall at The Knitting Factory (coming to Metropolitan Avenue near Dumbo Books HQ soon!):

And Brooklyn Vegan, who always has excellent commentary and pics, was there at "Tribute to the Classics."

When they announced the show would be starting in fifteen - no, five, they said - minutes, we got up close and stayed there for the first fifty minutes or so until we started feeling claustrophobic and moved to the rear. We were standing next to a good-looking white Jewish guy we recognized as someone in the hip-hop world we should know, but senior moments prevented us from remembering it was Dru Ha until he stepped onstage towards the end of the show and took the mic for a bit.

David and Shia from CityParks Foundation came onstage, as they did last night at Red Hook Park before the Lisa Lisa show (we spotted several people who were there tonight, including the woman we heard on the cell phone leaving Red Hook Park saying you can catch a free concert in Brooklyn every night), to talk about CPF's work and upcoming shows and also the all-ages rap contest they're having; all entries must contain the historically-correct lyric "Hip-hop started out in the parks."

DJ Evil Dee was onstage, as well as the band - an excellent five-man group whose name we caught as The Cypher or something sounding like that [as we said, we're ignorant, even at doing effective online research here].

At first it seemed we were only going to hear a little from them but two songs dragged onto more, and then an improvisation, and then it seemed like something was up.

We saw Dru Ha and others conferring and heard people say "They ain't here yet" and "They can't find it." That made us feel less stupid; we may not know shit about music, but as a Brooklyn native, Brownsville-born, we can find Brower Park.

Finally - the crowd seemed only slightly restless, but by now it was big, and crowded up front where we were - we heard Smif 'n Wessun from offstage and could see Tek at a mic on the stairs to the stage. As at the setlist Brooklyn Vegan posted from the Knitting Factory "Tribute" show, Smif 'n Wessun came on first, then Black Moon, and then they mixed it up together and apart and brought on a couple of others.

It was a great show. Our pics are pretty sick, in the regular-folks-like-us meaning of the term, but we'll post them anyway. Here is a video, though, of Smif 'n Wessun posted to YouTube by phalary42:

And here's phalary 42's YouTube video of Black Moon:

It was thrilling to hear songs that now indeed seem like classics, such as "Bucktown" . . .

and "Wreckonize" which we actually think we did see on The Box in Gainesville.

Tek and Steele are older but their voices are still fine

and they know how to work a stage.

There were a lot of shout-outs to Brooklyn neighborhoods (Brownsville, Crown Heights, Park Slope) and streets (Lexington, Pennsylvania and Linden Boulevard, and our own grandparents' East 43 Street).

Black Moon was great on "Who Got the Props?".

They brought three little boys onstage - their sons - and the boys mostly stood around looking cute although one got on the mic for a little bit.

You can get an idea of their performance of "Powerful Impak" on this YouTube video, shot at the Toronto Opera House a couple of weeks ago.

We put our right hands up too.

They were all in good form, and DJ Evil Dee was superb, but we sort of favor 5ft.

Towards the end of the show, when we stood in the back, Buckshot was talking about Brooklyn - like Lisa Lisa last night, a lot of the performers said they had friends and family in the park tonight - and about people they grew up with who are now dead.

He was telling us to enjoy the rest of the summer, to live every day as if it were our last, "because this might be your last summer." Kind of a weird down note for such an upbeat crowd, and we found ourselves tearing up a little.

We wish we knew the name of that Jamaican-inflected MC who came up after Dru Ha and took the mike. Anyway, the show's finale was spectacular. The crowd had gone wild a few times with enthusiasm.

"This was better than Lisa Lisa," a guy said to his girlfriend as we shuffled away after the show. Along with a couple of others from the concert, we walked across Kingston Avenue and caught the B43. Around Throop and DeKalb, we saw some cops handcuffing another teenage boy, just like on Monday night. Our older friends worry about us traipsing around Brooklyn at night when we might be in danger from presumably out-of-control teenage boys. It appears that we're more likely to be left alone by teenage boys in Crown Heights or East Flatbush than teenage boys are likely to be left alone by cops.

But we likely carry type e4 for apolipoprotein E. (APOE) with us when we travel, so what do we know? Before dementia totally sets in, at least we're thankful we can still enjoy free concerts like tonight's Tribute to the Classics with Black Moon and Smif 'n Wessun.

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