Few performers can brag of a die-hard, whistle-blowing fan base these days.
Only the occasional house diva, the rare oldies circuit disco star or a dancehall king like Mark Anthony Myrie, better known as Buju Banton, can create an environment so charged that people feel comfortable enough to express their appreciation of the music by tooting through an entire show.
At the Crossroads on Saturday night, there was not only blowing of whistles, but also beating on bars, smacking of walls and other physical actions that communicated approval as the Jamaican superstar took to the stage. "Greetings I bring!" he shouted, pausing to recognize the capacity crowd after a warm-up that included the pulsating "Only Man" and "Champion."
Backed by the Shiloh Band, the reformed nasty man who converted to Rastafarianism in the '90s, performed with the slack off, forgoing the bawdiness in favor of the culturally rich roots-influenced dancehall he has been perfecting for the last decade. The show was heavy on songs from " 'Til Shiloh," the hit-filled 1995 masterwork that sealed his transformation, such as the anti-violence "Murderer," which places Banton's gruff, urgent voice over the dallying "Far East" riddim; and "Untold Stories," where various tales of poverty and struggle told over basic guitar chords are separated by the somber chorus, "I could go on and on, the full has never been told."
The tone became more joyous with the help of tracks that explored faith from 1997's "Inna Heights," including the short prayer "Our Father in Zion," and "Destiny," and the mood became positively euphoric with obviously celebratory songs such as "Bonafide Love" and "Pull It Up."
-- Sarah Godfrey
Mos Def and Talib Kweli
As solo artists, Mos Def and Talib Kweli are among hip-hop's finest lyricists, and they're even more powerful packaged as a set. At the 9:30 club Friday night, as part of the Breed Love Odyssey Tour (along with K'naan, Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch), the Brooklyn MCs gave solid individual sets, but they were tiptop when they came together as the best alliance in hip-hop, Black Star.
The reunion came right after Kweli's performance, highlights of which included his cartoon-worshiping verse from the MF Doom duet "Old School," the socially conscious anthems "I Try" and "Lonely People" (which takes its chorus from "Eleanor Rigby"), and the airy reverb and thick bass line of "The Blast." During his last number, "Get By," Kweli, who has a new album out ("Right About Now"), was joined onstage by Mos Def.
The duo served up only a few tracks from the group's self-titled 1998 Rawkus release, among them the dancehall-inflected "Definition" and lyrical "Respiration," before it was time for Mos to go it alone. The rapper-turned-actor ripped the stage with "Ms. Fat Booty" from 1999's "Black on Both Sides" and the hurricane-themed single "Katrina Klap." He announced that his upcoming album will highlight his bellowing singing voice, and he proceeded to preview the new material.
Mos's set was punched up by an interruption just after midnight, when all the performers came together to wish Grae a happy birthday and the headliners presented her with a gift everyone could enjoy: a serenade of the Black Star favorite "Brown Skin Lady."
-- Sarah Godfrey
After 10 years of unexpected success with a fictional character, the electrifying singer-songwriter known as Mary Prankster has called it quits. Friday night's performance at a sold-out Jammin' Java was one of just a small number of farewell shows the hilariously profane Prankster is to do before retiring from the stage. The Baltimore native recently relocated to New York to pursue other interests.
The verbally boisterous crowd let their heroine know she will be missed, as the words "We love you!" were shouted as often as requests for favorite songs. Alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, garbed in a festive red pantsuit with a dipping-to-the-navel neckline as daring as some of her lyrics, Prankster ripped through two sets of fast-strummed rock-and-roll that, like the constantly smiling performer, never got tired.
"Stars," "Lemonade," "Brave New Baby," "La Resistance," "Blue Skies Over Dundalk," "Student Loan" and "Irresponsible Woman" were typical of Prankster's sharp-edged, cynical and sarcastic songs about life and love that also were pointedly politically charged as well as humorously politically incorrect. The melodies were built around smoothly constructed, ridiculously mnemonic chord progressions that made the songs memorable despite the breathless pace at which she performed them.
Prankster saved the crowd-pleasers for last, including a few songs with titles we can't print, and rarely has there been a moment at Jammin' Java as transgressive as when what seemed to be the entire audience spontaneously sang along to the second set's closing song involving a part of female anatomy and whiskey.
The third encore was the rarely performed "Love You Better," a sweet -- no kidding -- love song she issued softly and heartfelt, like the last good-night kiss at the door. Like all good kisses, it only left one wanting more.
And with that, Mary Prankster was gone.
-- Buzz McClain
Buju Banton, shown at a New York concert, performed at the Crossroads on Saturday.
Mos Def (in a photo from Nov. 3) was part of the Breed Love Odyssey Tour at the 9:30 club.