Last Friday, the 16th, D and I went to see Mos Def at BAM, kicking off the Brooklyn Next festival. Marty Markowitz introduced the Mighty Mos, and kind of rapped, actually. I know next to nothing about MM--for all I know, he might worse than Marion Barry, but I couldn't help liking the guy as he (awkwardly but enthusiastically) spit lyrics from the Black Star album.
Mos' stage presence was great--kind of sly and shy and at the same time quite powerful--like a huge fire contained in an underground furnace. At times he would just flare up and ignite the whole space, then kind of sidestep and burst forth unexpectedly somewhere else.
The band was incredible. I counted 14 or 15 musicians. The pianist, Robert Glasper, started the show with a solo that was effortless and utterly beautiful--as if wind and water and sunlight had suddenly decided to get organized and say something.
Mos seems to have organized this sprawling, collaborative mess onstage as a kind of sandbox/mudpit to inhabit and play in, and play he did--shapeshifting from crooner to mighty rapper to just another instrument among many--always sharing the spotlight, always trying to stay inside the thing itself, rather than selling the idea of the thing. It felt good. I was chuckling to myself like a lunatic the whole time.
Strangely, I was kind of alone in this. Maybe 20% of the audience was smiling, nodding to the beat, or otherwise showing signs of life/enjoyment. Part of the problem was the space--the BAM Opera House is kind of stiff and formal. The seating arrangement discourages movement. More than once I was moved to dance, and was reduced instead to a kind of davening--rocking back and forth and drumming in the air.
I haven't read any reviews of the show, but I imagine that many people there found it confusing--too sprawling or abstract to relate to.
Not me, though, and not D. We loved it. Mos has wit, power, courage, and so much respect for music itself that he refuses to accept even the hype he deserves--refuses even to stay in one place long enough to remain recognizable.