09.27.04 - 4:38 p.m.
ZAP MAMA : live at the Fillmore, 9/23
In the last couple of years, I've come to expect more from live
performances. It used to be that I would go to a show just because I
liked the band's CD or mp3s. But I am old and cranky now, and the
bar has been raised. If you want me to get up off my rocking
chair and stand in a loud room for 2 to 3 hours drinking overpriced
cocktails and experiencing mild back pains, you better fucking
PERFORM!! Wimpy indie rock bands, I am mostly talking to you.
When I went to see Jill Scott last month, I had a great time, even
though the only thing I knew about her was that she sang R&B, which
you will rarely if ever find me bumping in my ride. Her exuberant stage
presence, her band's musical virtuosity, and the 'omegrown we'd
smoked outside of Bimbo's all combined into an experience that
reminded me why I go out in the first place. The crowd was giddy, and
we all knew we were feeling some magic that night.
When Az. and I arrived at the Fillmore on Wednesday, it was unclear
whether or not any magic would be transpiring. Four
figures wearing traditional African garb were tinkling on xylophones
and beating drums, while sporadic clusters of hippies danced on the
mostly empty floor. The music sounded like bad calypso, although to
be fair, I can't think of any circumstances under which I would use
the phrase "good calypso."
I wondered if this was Zap Mama. Did I mention I had no idea who Zap
Mama is? Well, I didn't. The only time I'd ever heard of them was a
few years back, when I saw a beat boxing documentary at Res Fest in
which their lead singer, Marie Daulne, featured prominently. She was
an easy woman to fall in love with—strikingly tall and elegant,
sophisticated and cosmopolitan, with a voice that was melodic even
when just talking. She was one of the only female beat boxers in the
documentary, and although she didn't actually do traditional breaks,
you got the sense that she could make any sound she wanted to without
breaking a sweat.
fig a: the cutie from Djibouti (note:
not actually from Djibouti, but what rhymes with Zaire?)
Upon sidling up to the bar, I encountered Nick the architect, who told
me Zap Mama hadn't come on yet. (I am contemplating labeling all
people I mention in this journal, because that way you can at least
form some mental picture of them. For instance, you have probably
already deduced that Nick wears horn rimmed glasses and stylish
jackets.) With time to kill, I wandered around, taking in the ambiance.
The nice thing about being in the Fillmore is that the entire building
is imbued with a historical aura. There are posters from
concerts plastered all over the walls in neat rows and columns. To
escape the calypso, I headed up to the dining area on the second
floor. Rather than pay $37 for a plate of congealed nachos, I chose
to feast on the myriad examples of psychedelic 60's design. Every
other poster seemed to feature Jefferson Airplane, who must have been
annoyingly ubiquitous back in the day. A lot of the Jefferson Airplane
art was done by this SF illustrator Wes Wilson. He created a font
that is now almost synonymous with 60's rock. It's quite an
achievement to have your design pass into the annals as signifier of
fig b: best song title ever: "A Short Stop At The
Transylvanian Brain Surgery," by Amon Düül. That doesn't relate to anything, I
just wanted to throw it out there
After some rubber necking, I headed back down. By now quite a crowd had
gathered. It was a diverse bunch of people,
ranging from the hippies who'd been dancing earlier to suavely dressed
urbanites to mothers and children. Our friends Nicole and Sven had
brought their children India and Severin, and it was nice to see the
whole family assembled. The lights went low and people started
cheering. Then, as the stage lights came on, we saw the whole Zap
Mama band assembled on stage.
In a further parallel to the Jill Scott show, there were three backup
singers dressed in elaborate slinky gowns. An obese man dressed from
head to toe in camoflauge manned the bass, and there were various other
instrumentalists here and there. It was a big band. As the crowd's
cheers grew to a crescendo, Marie Daulne strode onstage, resplendent
in a crazy patterned gown and an enormous wide-brimmed purple hat.
She looked every inch the diva.
As soon she came out, the crowd started going WILD. The band started
into their first song, and the crowd responded with a level of
enthusiasm normally only seen at Raiders games and witch-burnings. I
thought the music was kinda eh. The next few songs continued in a
similar vein, and despite the palpable energy all around me, I wasn't
feeling it. It is a strange sensation to be in a crowd full of people
who are crazy about the music, and not be enjoying it yourself. (cue smug
Homer Simpson: "Everybody's stupid except me.")
The music got better as the evening progressed. Zap Mama's sound is a mixture
traditional African melodies, polyrhythmic scatting, R&B and hip hop.
Their first few songs veered more to the R&B side, but soon they had
veered into leftfield. Marie Daulne was at the center of it all,
whooping and hollering and exhorting the crowd to dance.
I think liked most about the show was the liberating looseness of Daulne's
performance. I am normally not a big fan of cries for audience participation,
particularly at hip hop shows. I hate it when I’ve paid $20 and then some men
on stage start barking orders at me. “Throw your hands in the air!” You throw
YOUR hands in the air! I’m the one who bought a ticket! They always ask for
the same thing, too. One can only throw one’s hands in the air so many times
before getting bored.
But Daulne took the audience participation thing to another level. At times it
felt like she was a choregrapher coordinating a bizarre yet festive dance
routine. She had us hopping, spinning… I think at one point frog-jumping? I
might have made that up. I definitely remember chanting “mama say mama sah ma
ma koo sah," a la Michael Jackson, for what seemed an eternity. She also made
us shake our keys, which produced a deafening din and had me worried that the
Fillmore chandeliers might collapse on our heads. The band was clearly
enjoying it all, trading licks with verve, while the backup singers added
gospel-fervency to the mix.
Zap Mama played for about an hour, with several costume changes along the
way. Their set concluded to uproarous applause, which lasted into their encore
and after. Trapped in the traditional post-show Fillmore chaos, I had two
thoughts. 1) If there was a fire in the building, we were all going to die.
2) I don't have to like a band's recorded music in order to enjoy them
live! There doesn't have to be any connection at all! Thankfully, the second
thought was enough of an epiphany to keep my mind off the first.
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