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Christine and the Queens at Webster Hall

by Steven Pisano

  Christine and the Queens
(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

To an English-speaking audience, the name Héloïse Letissier (le-TISS-ee-ay) was probably destined to drop to the bottom of the sea. But, reimagined as the semi-alliterative Christine and the Queens, Ms. Letissier has surfed across the Atlantic on a perfect wave of media hugs and kisses from Spin, The New Yorker, Pitchfork, and others, who have heralded not only her brightly appealing dance pop, but also her gender-bending persona, often dressing in men’s-style suits.

Touring this fall in support of Marina and the Diamonds, Christine and the Queens headlined the Grand Ballroom at Webster Hall on November 11, playing to a sold out audience including a sizable French-speaking contingent. Technically speaking, Christine and the Queens is not a group, but a solo project. But Ms. Letissier tours with others—in this case, two dancers, a guitarist, and a guy on keyboards and electronics. She likes to run back and forth on the stage, moving in a manner that reminds some people of Madonna-style vogueing.

Ms. Letissier is an extremely beguiling performer. She's a bit goofy, a bit romantic, screams, whimpers, and throws herself headlong into every song. In her own words, she is your weird cousin who sits at the end of the table during dinner, playing with her fork. Her English is flawless, which should help her bypass the resistance some Americans have toward Continental Europeans.

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Talib Kweli (and friends) at Brooklyn Bowl

by Steven Pisano

  Talib Kweli

Brooklyn’s own Talib Kweli, a star in the world of hip hop for almost a generation now, brought his expanding hip hop universe to Brooklyn Bowl for two nights last week, spotlighting some of the talent now recording for his new independent music label, Javotti Media. As Kweli turns 40 years old this year, he clearly has plans to continue having an impact beyond his own recording career by supporting young, up-and-coming talent.

On Thursday, the music kept coming for four hours, so the sold-out crowd definitely got its money’s worth. First up was MK Asante, who rapped stories from his best-selling memoir Buck (published by Random House) about growing up on Philadelphia’s tough-luck streets, to find his place now as a professor of creative writing at Morgan State University.

MK Asante

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Jeremy Loops at Brooklyn Bowl

by Steven Pisano

Jeremy Loops, City WineryLast Friday, Jeremy Loops played Brooklyn Bowl on the final night of a U.S. tour aimed at introducing this South African folk singer from Cape Town to American ears. Over the last few years, Loops has garnered a solid reputation in his homeland as a first-rate live act, earning him invitations to several worldwide festivals.

Loops isn't Jeremy's real surname, but a stage name he adopted based on his use of a loop pedal board to create layers of sound as a one-man band. Loops creates a beat with his mouth, plays it back through the loop pedal, then layers on top a chorus, harmonica and guitar - all of which plays under his own distinctive singing. This DIY approach was developed over the course of a number of years working on yachts in the Mediterranean after graduating university, alone in his cabin, creating his own musical world on the high seas.

These days, Loops plays regularly with two other musicians from South Africa, rapper Motheo Moleko and saxophonist Jamie Faull, so he technically doesn’t need to use the loop board to make it sound as if he has a full band. But, he still uses it to build a rich layered sound, recording samples from his bandmates and adding them into the mix. At this show, they were also joined by Mr Sakitumi on electric bass. (I couldn’t tell if that was his real name or a play on the old “Laugh-In” line, “Sock it to me.”)

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Calexico and Gaby Moreno at Bowery Ballroom

by Steven Pisano

calexico "Bowery Ballroom"The Arizona-based band Calexico was in the city on Sunday and Monday nights at the Bowery Ballroom as the last stop of a US tour before jetting off to Europe for much of this summer. Many of the songs they performed were from their most recent full-length album, Edge of the Sun, but over the course of the set they delved back into their early albums as well, all of which have been received well critically.

Calexico has been around for 20 years now, and they remain true to their Southwestern sound, a mix of indie rock, mariachi, norteno, and Latin jazz, depending on the mood of any one song. Band leaders Joey Burns and John Convertino have been supported by different musicians over the years, and the current line-up is first rate, lending support on steel guitar, baritone guitar, ukulele, double bass, piano, accordion, and trumpets. Not to mention cow bells, tambourines, and assorted other percussion.

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