SONIC REDUCER Wassup Lauryn Hill? Well apparently she's been busy morphing into Sun Ra.
A staight-skankin', massive fro–sportin', partyin'-with-Method-Man-at-the-Clift-Hotel, "la, la, la, la"-ing Sun Ra.
The lady had about 13 people onstage at Great American Music Hall on June 29 for two last-minute "rehearsal" sets: two drummers, two keyboardists, at least three guitarists, the works. Because the lady clearly wanted to play a bandleader from a galaxy far, far away — and frankly, I haven't been so interested in Lauryn Hill in years.
She was an artist in her own little world, all right — miming Bitches Brew, turning her unrehearsed Arkestra into an engorged rock-steady big band, and at around 2 a.m., at the end of the second show, launching passionately, stubbornly, into her most popular tunes.
The lights went up. The stage lights flicked off. The power to the mics finally ebbed. And Hill had found her own power trip of a groove — in the dark, where it's safe — and the audience was in deep doo-doo in love, shouting, "One more! One more! Lau-Ren! Lau-Ren!" At about 2:15 a.m., after much shushing, she began singing "Killing Me Softly" a cappella. Softly. Then she descended into the crowd like an empress to meet her biggest fans.
FISHIN' MUSICIAN But enough Arkestra-ted diva tripping, we gotta work together, so follow the lead of Aesop Rock and longtime Bay Area artist Jeremy Fish, who have done an ace job in collaborating on a new book playing off those golden children's record-and-storybook combos. The release of their The Next Best Thing book–7-inch comes with a mini-multimedia promo juggernaut July 6: Fish (who has a load of product in the works, including a new vinyl toy and a board series and short film for Element Skateboards titled Fishtales with a soundtrack by Rock) will show his paintings at Fifty24SF Gallery. And then later that night Aesop Rock will bump up against Rob Sonic, DJ Big Wiz, Murs with Magi, and producer Blockhead at a benefit concert at the Independent for 826 Valencia.
The pair met through a mutual friend and discovered that they're mutual fans: Rock owned a Fish piece, and the artist had been an avid Rock listener for years. "I saw a lot of his work had cute stuff mixed with evil stuff, which is a lot like what I write about," says the jovial Rock.
Aesop Rock, of late, has found his work skewing toward the more narrative side of hip-hop: He already has about five "really linear stories" for his next album, expected in 2007. That recording is likely to include more instrumentation by musicians like Parchman Farm, which includes Rock's wife, Allison "the Jewge" Baker.
Rock moved from New York City to San Francisco to be with her. Romantic — not many superstar underground rap bros will drop everything and uproot for their, um, ho, no? As a result, the music has definitely become "reflective in the sense that I moved out of New York City, turned 30, and got married all in the same year," he explains. "Those three things all have me doing stories about random childhood stuff, super-folktaley story songs that are almost like the stories you'd read to a child."
CORE CREW Director Dick Rude was enlisted to make Let's Rock Again, a documentary of his friend Joe Strummer's time with the Mescaleros around the time of 2001's Global a Go-Go. And he captured Strummer in deep working-musician mode. "Having done the Clash and having reached that height of stardom, he was really just consumed with getting his music heard and not reaching that level again, so there was a real humility and passion to his approach on the tour," says the LA videomaker. "It became about breaking the record so he could have a chance to record another record."
Rude, who met Strummer while he was working as an assistant to director Alex Cox on Sid and Nancy, calls the film — which will be screened one time in San Francisco and is now out on DVD — more of a "memoir of that time" than a biopic of Strummer.