Last night at Manhattan’s posh Hotel on Rivington penthouse suite, HP and blogger Arjan Writes presented a special preview of “Halcyon,” the new album by British pop sensation Ellie Goulding. Best known in the United States for her monster hit, “Lights,” Goulding has gone on to great success stateside, appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “Saturday Night Live,” as well as a special guest appearance at the White House last December, where she sang Christmas carols onstage with Barack Obama. For all of her enormous success in the last few years, though, Goulding is a very humble, down-to-earth and endearing personality.
The evening began with a bit of background on Goulding, who grew up in the small town of Hereford and got heavily into music early on. “My mum was cool with music,” she says. “She would buy every new thing that was out. We really had no money, but whatever we did have, she’d spend it on CDs and tapes.” Idolizing singers like Bjork, Joni Mitchell, Beyonce and Stevie Nicks, Goulding says she quit college because “something was pushing me into music.” Elaborating on what that something is, she also says, “Having people come together for the same cause is really important. The fact that I can do that with shows is really awesome.”
Delving into “Halcyon,” we heard samples of a few tracks, including the clearly Bjork-influenced “My Blood,” which shares thematic water imagery with other songs on the album. Goulding says, “I have a fascination with the ocean, being lost at sea. I kind of want to be a mermaid.” The title track, “Halcyon,” addresses another theme of the album in its plaintive chorus: “When it’s just us, you show me what it feels like to be lonely, you show me what it feels like to be lost.” “I write songs out of being alone,” Goulding says. “I’m around people all the time, but there’s a theme of loneliness on this album.”
That is not to say the album is relentlessly downbeat or somber, however, as Goulding is quick to point out that “I like making things that give people hope, I suppose, in the least cheesy way possible.” Ellie Goulding’s career certainly seems to show a lot of hope, with unreleased collaborations with the likes of Skrillex and Swedish House Mafia possibly on the way “in the next couple of years,” proving her mantra that anything could happen.
Last night at Manhattan’s East River Park, the legendary Lyricist Lounge continued their 20th anniversary celebration with a free show featuring two of Hip-Hop’s all-time greatest producers and deejays, Pete Rock and DJ Premier. Hosted by Lyricist Lounge founders Danny Castro and Ant Marshall, the show was dubbed “Pete Rock vs. DJ Premier,” though it was really less a battle than a collaborative showcase. Castro began the show by schooling the audience on a bit of trivia about the East River Park bandshell, which is where the finale of the 1983 Hip-Hop classic “Wild Style” was filmed.
Unfortunately, before they could get into the golden era of ’90s Hip-Hop, including the promised battle of their own productions and a promised special guest rapper (who, based on the outstanding scope of their past collaborations, could have been virtually any heavyweight emcee still alive and breathing), there was a power failure that brought the show to a premature end. I thought it was a gimmick at first, and much of the crowd began chanting “Hip-Hop,” as if our true belief could bring the lights and sound back on. Sad to say, in a city with subways full of ads featuring the slogan “Never be powerless,” the promoters and technicians were unable to bring the show back. It was a disappointing ending to an otherwise enjoyable evening of music brought to us by two of the greatest deejays alive.
The Upright Citizens Brigadetheater, nationally renowned as one of the absolute best resources for improv and sketch comedy in the country, presented a couple of its best troupes last night in New York City’s East River Park, as part of the annual SummerStage festival. Showcasing two distinctly different collectives with a brief intermission, the show was a great example of how good improvisational theater can be when carried out by skilled performers adept at thinking on their feet. It was a unique treat to be in attendance, especially since this particular show will, by definition, never be seen again.
The first troupe, known as The Pox, followed the format of UCB’s celebrated “ASSSSCAT!” show, featuring a monologist telling a personal anecdote based on an audience suggestion, followed by a series of improvisational sketches based on that monologue. Their skits revolved heavily around the experience of out-of-towners visiting New York, such as a scene in which a tourist is robbed at gunpoint in Central Park, then decides that video of the robbery would be a great souvenir of his visit and begins directing the robber while his friends film it. Another highlight was a sketch in which a teacher ruins the joy of swearing for her twelve-year-old students by telling them that Shakespeare coined many of the English language’s best curse words. One of their best ideas, however, was the last scene of the first set, in which a man gives god credit for everything from work promotions to his wife’s pregnancy (“No, I think I knocked god up … or god knocked himself up”), then likewise shifts the blame for a car accident in which he is at fault onto the almighty.
The second troupe, Sandino, was even better, weaving their sketches seamlessly together into a bizarre, alternate-world scenario until, by the end, they felt less like random sketches than cohesive scenes in a play. Using a shouted audience suggestion, “P90X” (which further research tells me is some sort of workout program for which I am undoubtedly too lazy), Sandino improvised a dystopian tale of a world in which robots are programmed for only three functions – rage, sex and boredom – and people have jobs like drunkenly dancing nude in glass towers. Though the set begins with two of the performers working out, the phrase “P90X” ended up referring to a prisoner who has become a problem for his captors, one of whom suggests that the solution is to let him loose in Detroit and see who survives, him or the city of Detroit. This is all part of an evolutionary experiment he feels is vital to the human race, and later this same character reappears to serve an arsenic-laced dinner to a friend, for the same reason. “It’s not a lethal dosage,” he insists. “It’s just going to hurt real bad.”
It’s truly amazing how well Sandino incorporated elements of all their sketches into one large narrative, to the point that the final revelation that prisoner P90X is actually Virgin Group mogul Richard Branson (who designed the boredom robot in order to gain perspective on his overly exciting life) made perfect sense. This is a tremendously talented group of performers, and while I feel privileged to have attended their only performance of this specific material, I certainly hope a video recording is made available in the near future.
Forty-three years after their original 1969 formation, the legendary band War can still rock a stage with the best of them and provide a funky good time for audiences of all ages. Of course, the only original member still in the lineup is keyboardist and current lead singer Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan, but since the band has cycled through more than 25 members since its original inception, this is no surprise. The band, in its current seven-piece configuration, played a free show at Queensbridge Park in Queens, New York, last night as part of City Parks Foundation’s annual SummerStage series. Probably about 400 people, ranging in age from toddlers to elderly folks, were in attendance, and War played an excellent two-hour set full of positive energy and musical prowess.
After an hour-long warm-up from DJ Felix Hernandez’ Rhythm Revue, War opened their set with the funky, upbeat “Me and Baby Brother,” from their 1973 gold record “Deliver the Word,” and the already dancing crowd really began to get down. Jordan is an exceptionally charismatic frontman who really commands the stage even when boxed in behind his keyboards, but he stepped out early on in the show to lead an audience sing-along to the 1972 hit “The Cisco Kid.” He joked that if anyone in the crowd could tell him how many other War songs contained the word “wine,” he would let that lucky fan buy him a glass of wine.
Jordan then slowed the upbeat set down a bit with the more serious jam “The World Is a Ghetto,” from the 1972 album of the same name, taking time to speak off-the-cuff about changing the world for the kids in the audience. He referred specifically to an adorable toddler dancing near the stage, of whom he couldn’t quite identify the gender, saying, “They don’t know when they’re that age anyway. Let ‘em worry about all that when they get older.” The band also catered to an unexpected fan request by playing the gorgeous, tempo-shifting instrumental “City, Country, City,” also from the “World Is a Ghetto” album, which really gave saxophonist Fernando Harkless and harmonica player Stanley Behrens a chance to shine.
Though the overall set was mostly very up-tempo and danceable, War took time for a couple of slow love ballads near the end. Jordan took a lengthy vocal and keyboard solo for the beginning of the beautiful 1973 title track “Deliver the Word” before letting the rest of the band join him to jam it out, and drummer Salvador Rodriguez sang a love ballad of his own before War broke out their two biggest hits. On “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” from the 1975 album of the same name, each of the seven members of the band sang one two-bar verse, except for percussionist Marcos Reyes, who relegated the last small verse to an audience sing-along.
They closed with the iconic hit “Low Rider,” from the same album, and of course the crowd loved it, many of them begging for one more song. Unfortunately, the free outdoor show had a strict ending time, but it is a testament to War’s energy, vitality and long list of beloved hits, that a two-hour set could still leave us wanting more.
Halle Berry launched a new Revlon ad campaign this month for the new ColorStay Whipped Crème Makeup. This beautiful photo of Halle was from the launch last month at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York. We love the longer, curly hair that she’s showing off in this photos. She’s a talented actress and one of the most beautiful women on the planet so this is another coup for Revlon. Look for her later this year starring in “Cloud Atlas.”