Not quite knowing what to expect, I went to a multi-artist concert curated by the Roots' Questlove at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Thursday (April 19). The hip hop drummer brought together an intriguingly disparate collection of electronic, classical, jazz, rap and rock musicians to reflect what he calls “Shuffle Culture.”
Intended in part as a musical tribute to the late Steve Jobs, Questlove explored the idea of performance in an iPod era where most people listen to multiple artists, songs and genres within the space of ten minutes. Ostensibly, this was a live concert experience suited to shuffling attention spans.
Engrossing and occasionally breathtaking, Shuffle Culture seemed less like a reflection of iPod shuffle temperament and more like a view into the incalculably varied tastes of Ahmir Khalib Thompson. The evening was far too experimental to suit the sensibilities of a serial iPod song-skipper, but it certainly suited the kind of crowd that would spend Thursday evenings at a concert venue referred to as an “Academy of Music.”
Positioned high above his chosen performers, Questlove spent most of the 75-minute set sitting quietly behind his drum set, a pick sticking out of his Afro as his head swayed to the strings of the Metropolis Ensemble or nodded along to Jeremy Ellis' DJ set and Deerhoof's art-rock riffs.
Although Questo was the mastermind behind this post-modern medicine show, he seemed as much an audience member as a participant. Instead of conducting his players exactingly, he was content to put the players together, set them in motion and just enjoy whatever unexpected musical pleasures they produced.
And the highlights were uniquely electrifying. Deerhoof’s fanciful noise-rock paired surprisingly well with orchestral strings, and Jeremy Ellis’ electronic soundscapes—which covered everything from Funkadelic to opera—were given extra life by Questo’s jazzy drumming. And the beatbox showdown between Rahzel and Kenny Muhammad was jaw-droppingly incredible: I've seen Doug E. Fresh throwdown his beatboxing skills and I almost think they could give him a run for his money. D.D. Jackson’s one-off performance on the ivories was an unforgettable highlight as well, with the jazz pianist hammering out an unhinged ragtime tune.
Sasha Grey (yes, the former porn star), gave an energetic, vulnerable poetry read that nevertheless felt limp and out-of-place. Her spasmodic dancing to Questo’s drumming received bigger applause, but her inclusion in the show was the only thing that truly stuck out as inorganic.
Overall, it was a fantastic experiment: An arty take on “Shuffle Culture” that nevertheless thrilled on a gut level numerous times. Head here to take a photographic tour of the evening and be sure to check out Fuse's backstage interview with Questlove.
PS: Props to Questlove for including Rev. Vince Anderson—whose Love Choir is one of Brooklyn’s most reliably rousing live acts—as the man shouting-out Questo’s “invitation to enlightenment” at the beginning of the show.