Sunday, August 26, 2012

2 Skinnee J's Jet Back to Willy B, Gangnam Style

Last night's concert at Music Hall of Williamsburg marked my tenth 2 Skinnee J's show, and my first in their homebase of Brooklyn.  A live band that never disappoints (Well, more on that in a bit...), 2SJ are hard to define to your friends.  "They're rap but with rock music."  "Like Limp Bizkit?"  "No."  Not only is their music more inspired by power pop than metal, their scholarly lyrics reference Shakespearean sonnets and name-check Eugene V. Debs, Socialist Party candidate in the early 20th century.  They also have three songs dealing with Star Wars.  If that sounds too nerdy to you, go listen to Rick Ross and Lil Wayne.  You don't deserve the J's.  But if you're willing to take a listen and see one of their epic live shows, replete with choreographed dance moves, roadies dressed as bunnies, and enough fist-pumping to give you tennis elbow, you're in for a real treat.

Unfortunately, after being jerked around by their label, the band gave it up in 2003, embarking on the "Fuck You, We Quit!" Tour. I saw them twice on this farewell journey, including the quintessential show at the Norva in Virginia, forever immortalized on the Enter the Gold Hat DVD.  The boys put away their microphones, Stevie Spice auctioned his keytar on eBay, and the band that had rocked scores of educated fans in the Mid-Atlantic region for over a decade, were done.

A reunion show, sans Spice, occurred about a year later, on a cruise in NYC.  In 2005, they reunited again, Spencer Albee on keys, for the Five Nights of Fury Tour, where they became the only band I've had the pleasure of seeing perform two shows in one day: outside at Artscape and then indoors at Sonar (Download the show here.).  In 2008, they did a two-night run at the Fillmore NY.  2010 saw them stripping down to an acoustic act, doing a Q&A in between songs.  A pattern had been established: 2 Skinnee J's will come back every few years to "show up, set up, get up, and rock spots."

So when the J's announced they were doing a pre-apocalypse-themed tour for 2012, I was not surprised.  I bought tickets for the Irving Plaza show on May 19th the day I found out. What was different was that these tickets cost over $30, a rarity for a 2SJ concert.  I had no problem forking it over, the eight amazing shows under my belt justifying the inflated price tag.  But when I arrived at the venue to find it not sold-out and the scalpers having trouble pushing tickets, I realized something was off.  Maybe the tickets cost too much?  Perhaps too much time had gone by without new music (Aside from a rarities disc in 2008's box set, the last album was released in 2003.)?

When the lights dimmed for the pre-show video announcing the Mayan Judgment Day, and that by attending the concert, we would be boarding a spaceship bound for a never-ending party (à la Scientology), I was super-pumped.  The video urged us to make noise...louder...I can't hear you!  And then the band drifted onto the stage instead of erupting with a rager.  "It's been a long time," remarked J Guevara with a smirk.  With a crash of Andy Action's cymbal, they stumbled into the "big green bus" intro to "The Best."  Arguably my favorite 2SJ song, it was too soon in the set and lacked the raucous energy it   typically has.  But wait a second!  Where the fuck was Stumpy (A.J. "Stumpy" Johnson, the band's owner and spiritual advisor)?  He was in the video intro.  Maybe he'd come out later?  But he never did.  Despite excellent performances of "Pluto" and "The Whammy," the show didn't really reach classic 2SJ proportions until "BBQ" fifteen songs in; not exactly the dizzying, hard-hitting set in a maelstrom of green balls from four years earlier.  Finishing the encore with "Sugar & Candy," which has never been my favorite song, gave the band a chance to space out at the end without torrents of rhymes overtop, but I was left in a weird place.  I brought friends so I could show off one of my favorite bands, and I found myself making excuses.

When they revealed one more date at the end of the summer at Music Hall of Williamsburg, I was skeptical.  Would the show just be a repeat of Irving Plaza?  Would Stumpy even show up?  With the revelation that they'd be shooting HD video of the performance for a DVD, I decided I didn't want to let the Irving gig to be my final 2SJ show.  I'd never seen them in Brooklyn before and this was their chance to dispel the slightly sour taste from May.  

I got to the venue at 9pm when opener, Exes of Evil, were to start.  The crowd was barely twenty people, so they delayed their set until more showed.  An electronic pop band, EXOE's songs' subject matter reflected the group's name.  They were decent enough to watch because they so genuinely believed in their tunes, despite their superficial lyrics.  Sadly, a laptop played all the infectious synth parts, while the lead singer remained curiously instrument-less.  If he can learn to play keyboards and vary his songwriting a little, they'll definitely improve.

Burlesque act, the Wau Wau Sisters, came next, moseying onto the stage in matching cowgirl outfits.  The beer-swilling ladies belched, "You may have heard we're dirty.  
We're fucking filthy, y'all."  Incestuous double entendres and yeast infection jokes abound, the Wau Waus had the crowd laughing from the start.  Over my left shoulder, the guffaws were coming from Special J and J Guevara.  The sisters claimed they were an "acroband" and sang irreverent country ditties while one would balance the other on her legs, sort of like playing "airplane" but with a guitar in your hands.  After dressing two male members of the crowd in their cowgirl garb, they even lifted them up with their legs, one dude weighing upwards of 250 pounds.  The girls ventured into the crowd to have audience members disrobe them, revealing black panties reading "FUCK" and "YEAH" stretched across their toned asses.  The two women climbed onto a solo trapeze hanging from the proscenium and proceeded to do an awe-inspiring gymnastics routine to the tune of "Welcome to the Jungle."  See them.

As they came down from the bar, the crowd roared.  J Guevara laughed nervously, "We have to follow that."

After the same video introduction from May, 2SJ made their way to the stage, with Stumpy in their ranks.  Donning a getup resembling Sacha Baron Cohen's in The Dictator, Stumpy took his place house left.  How much difference does it really make to have your manager onstage, standing there, stone-faced, only moving to drink from a beer bottle?  Apparently a lot, because the J's totally made up for the disappointing May show.

J Guevara's worries about succeeding the Wau Wau Sisters ("Dial that energy back to about a 6.") were assuaged almost immediately as the band propelled into "Pluto."  "Friends Don't Let Friends Listen to Rap Metal" (I guess they had trouble with the Limp Bizkit thing too.) started off the medley that most have come to call the "Force Trilogy," the three songs that sample sound effects from Star Wars.  As the cream of the cookie sandwich, "Irresistible Force," came to its close, the J's shouted "Gangnam Style," and leaped into the ridiculous Korean dance craze that was reprised four times throughout the evening.  After riding their invisible ponies, it was time to finish it off with "Mind Trick," right?  Wrong.  They surprised everyone by forgoing the end of the trio, instead segueing into "The Best."
These were the J's I was looking for three months ago!  By the time the band got to "Loud Neighbors," the crowd was going nuts, throwing cups full of beer around the room, and cheering at the sequence where the whole band mimes the slow-motion antigravity of the moon.  And Stumpy was there, so we got "Smack That Ass, Stump," although a relatively tame version where none of the band members got in on the spanking, only rabbit roadie butts.  I didn't see any video cameras, so I think they ditched the whole DVD plan, but controlled the projected images on the screen behind them with her keytar.  While new keyboardist Cassius J is no replacement for Stevie Spice, if you had a nickel for every time a member left 2 Skinnee J's you could probably buy a ticket to the show.  For the encore, the band had us crowdsurf a "slow children at play" lawn ornament shaped like a young boy (They stole him from outside someone's house and are mailing back photos of him in debaucherous situations.), as they picked up the lost member of the trilogy, "Mind Trick."  Segueing into the Brooklyn anthem "(718)," I pretty much lost it.  I don't remember the last time I fully jumped into the air at a concert, but I'm pretty sure it was 7.18.08 for the J's.  "Think of Us" finished it out, the band letting us know, "We'll miss you," as they shot confetti cannons at us.

But why must they miss us?  Why must we wait so long between shows?  One of the rewards for the Kickstarter for the DVD is free tickets for life, but what's that: eight shows every three years?  Perhaps this is the reason it has yet to reach its goal.  I understand J Guevara lives in Spain now, but he even he expressed his uncertainty with the euro crisis before launching into "Sgt. Stiletto."  How about coming stateside and making some new tunes?  Aside from the addition of "Science," from the aforementioned rarities disc, the setlist would've contained the same songs in 2003.  They could be content as just a revival act, but with almost ten more years of knowledge inside their skulls, just imagine what the J's are capable of.  Now, there's even a genre of music called nerdcore, of which they are the unmistakable pioneers.  And their issues with labels are now moot, with today's technology allowing the recording and distribution of music to fall into the hands of the artists.  So 2 Skinnee J's, if you're up for it, it's time for a grassroots comeback.  Eugene V. Debs would be proud.


Ahh > Cheater Cheater / Die Alone / Satellite / Crazy / Do You / Take My Number / Come Back

2 SKINNEE J’S – 08.24.12 – MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG (1 hour, 32 minutes)

Pluto / Friends Don’t Let Friends Listen to Rap Metal > Irresistible Force > The Best / Wild Kingdom / Pass the Buck / One Summer / Deal of the Century / Loud Neighbors / In the Clutches of the Diabolical Sgt. Stiletto / Big Beat Evangelists / Girl with the World in Her Eyes / Science / The Good, the Bad, & the Skinnee / Get in the Van > Smack That Ass, Stump > 3 Minutes / Riot Nrrrd > BBQ / Sugar & Candy

Mind Trick > (718) > Think of Us

2 SKINNEE J’S – 05.19.12 – IRVING PLAZA (1 hour, 31 minutes)

The Best / Friends Don’t Let Friends Listen to Rap Metal > Irresistible Force > Mind Trick / Organic Machine / Get in the Van > Wild Kingdom / Pluto / Girl with the World in Her Eyes / Big Beat Evangelists > You’re a Champion / The Whammy / Deal of the Century / One Summer / BBQ / Science / The Good, the Bad, & the Skinnee / Loud Neighbors > In the Clutches of the Diabolical Sgt. Stiletto / Riot Nrrrd

(718) / Sugar & Candy

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