Common at Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY
Part of the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival
Prospect Park Bandshell, June 5, 2018
Ed. note– Does a joint review of Common and DJ Questlove go way far “beyond thrash?” Yes it does. But every show I see this summer falls under the Fasso Summer 2018 Thrash World Tour. You’ll have to ask Heather Elle about this, as she’s the one who came up with that title. It’s all her fault.– P.F.
Coming off a weekend in which Sarah and I saw 8 bands at two shows in two states, it might seem odd that I’d want to go see another show the following Tuesday. It would definitely seem even odder that after coming off Slayer, Mastodon and Primus, I’d check out Common. But sometimes an offbeat sequence of events leads me to places I never thought I’d go, such as the Common show I ended up at in Prospect Park Bandshell.
Try to follow this. A few days before one of the other shows, I followed a link to try and win free tickets. I figured if I won, I’d put the ones I already paid for on Stubhub and that would be that. On that link page, I saw an announcement for the Breeders show at Prospect Park Bandshell. I remembered that Mike Cucinotta had posted recently how he loved the Breeders. So I found my way over the BRIC site, where I then found the calendar of events. The Breeders show was the last of the series on August 11, and it was a free show. I chatted up Mike and set up for us to go. The first show of that series was on June 5, a few days later. It was also a free show. Common was performing. It also turns out that after 10 weeks of training at my new gig, I got stationed in Antarctica… uhhhh, Flatbush, Brooklyn. A five minute walk from Prospect Park.
So why not? Common wasn’t anyone I was dying to see, and I couldn’t name a single song of his off the top of my head. Whenever he comes up, the first thing that comes up is his performance in JOHN WICK 2, which also stars indie badass Kelly Rae LeGault in a minor role. But the show was free, it was a five minute walk from work, and it would be yet another new experience. I’d never been to a hip hop show before, and this fell perfectly into convenience.
So I stayed at work til 4:30, an hour past the time I promise myself I’m to leave every day. I grabbed two 25 oz. beers out of the fridge, paid and put them in baggies, and I was off. 50 oz. of beer for $7 is quite the deal, but I should’ve known better than to mix a coconut flavor with a blackberry. Man was that a gross mix! I wandered Prospect Park looking for the bandshell for a bit, and by the time I found it, the beer was done, there was a line extending several blocks in length for general admission, and it was early. Way early. The show was letting in people in at 6:30, and goddamn, Common wasn’t slated to come on til 8 pm. All that beer slogging around in me called for food, so I went and grabbed some cash from an ATM in a bodega—Brooklyn, the only borough I know without a Chase bank every 12 feet—found a halal cart and chowed down, polishing off the food with a nice Diet Coke. Summertime in the park, with some beer, some food in buns, warm weather and a Diet Coke. If I took out Brooklyn, this was a nice scene.
Holy smokes! When I backtracked to where the line had ended earlier, it had extended by a country mile! It now ran all the way to the park entrance and wrapped around onto the sidewalk for almost half the length back to the bandshell. Would I even get into the show? At that point, I thought I had no chance. Waiting around for hours to see an act I wasn’t even committed to, only to be shut out would be a complete waste of an evening. I hung out on line, and once it started moving, it was brisk. Not only did I get in, but from the looks of it, probably upwards of a thousand made it in after me. I gather the free admission had a lot to do with that, but a lot of fans of hip hop came out to enjoy. The crowd was ethnically diverse, with age ranging from babies thru grandparents, all in on the same vibe.
The bandshell setup is pretty cool. There’s a number of food vendors set up to stage left, with some exotic food items. On the other side there was a tent set up for a gala, and some other vendors, including one that said “Merchandise.” I don’t know if this was a general store or a tee vendor, and it was too far with too many people in the way for me to check it out, otherwise, I may have a Common concert tee.The ground pitches upward from the shell, and it’s a large lawn. You can bring your own lawn chairs, which is a definite benefit, though I wasn’t aware of it. So I plunked down on the most comfortable spot I could find, an exposed tree root. If you’re interested in any of the acts playing there, it’s a good spot.
Before Common came out, a long line of Brooklyn’s politicians, park authorities, festival organizers and others came out to smooch Kings County’s butt. Given the length of the line we all had to wait on, and the time between the gate opening and the show, this was absolutely self-indulgent and grating. Even more so for me, because I really don’t like Brooklyn. For those of you who live there and enjoy it, God bless. But I’m a Queens guy thru and thru, and so Brooklyn will never be my spot. Fortunately all the politicos eventually left the stage and now it was time for the main event.
Common hit the stage in a yellow jumpsuit, a surprise since I always think of him wearing formal wear, and with the support of a really talented female backup vocalist and an adequate band, he went to work. Common had an interesting through-line for the concert, in that he presented it as a history book of Common, from his childhood roots thru his rise to hip hop star. I have to say, it takes a lot of courage to write and perform a song to your unborn child that you and your lady decided to abort. Common’s led an interesting life, as the progression of songs showed. As a lyricist Common has some talent; his rhymes are solid for the most part, and he tells a story in each song. I’ve always respected this approach as opposed to generic songs about love or what have you. His singing and rapping don’t quite match his writing, though. Even though his vocals are pretty clean and he has a nice voice, his rhymes come across as belabored. If I had paid to see this show, I wouldn’t have been upset at it, and that says a lot. As it was free, I enjoyed it even better. Except for the fans that kept cutting across me and bumping into me, that is. Goddamn people of Brooklyn. But hey, Common isn’t originally from Brooklyn, even though at one point he moved there for a bit, so I can’t hold that against him.
What I found most interesting about Common’s show is just how many people he name checks. In an hour’s time he dropped James Brown, Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, N.W.A., Michael Jordan and Queen, just to name a few. I was seriously surprised he didn’t say at some point, “And then I arrived at the Prospect Park Bandshell to see Phil Fasso in the crowd.” How that didn’t happen, I’ll never know.
The most telling thing about Common’s show was the crowd. I’ve never seen such a diverse group of people come out to enjoy the same artist. When he sang “Black America Again,” I didn’t feel alienated and excluded by my White skin, but that all of us in that park, be whatever color, nation of origin or creed, were facing the same problem, and the only way to defeat it is to unite. When a middle aged White mom with two babies is singing along with Common and so is the Black male in his 20s on the side of her, Common has done something right.
By 9:30 I was exhausted after a long day on my feet. I’d been up for something like 17 hours at that point, and still had a long trip back to home, where I’d rest for a few hours and then get right back up for work again. Had I known that I would only miss out on four songs by leaving, I probably would have stayed. But I saw enough of Common to be entertained for the little over an hour, and now I can add a hip hop show and a performance by a co-star in JOHN WICK 2 to my list of experiences.
One more thing before I depart. Brooklyn venues are a dick to Brooklyn. As I walked out of the park and beyond, some dozen or so blocks from the bandshell, I could still hear the show. Loudly. Same thing two nights before in Coney Island, at Mastodon and Primus. People live in those neighborhoods, in those buildings across from the park, and are forced fed blaring music. One more reason I hang in Queens.
Sony Hall in NYC, June 7, 2018
Emboldened by my venture into hip hop territory, I had become interested in the Questlove show at Sony Hall in NYC. I could get there easily on my way home from work, catch a top notch DJ/ drummer/ performer and check off another new experience, all for 20 bucks. This was a no-brainer.
So if the tickets were so cheap, Questlove has tons of exposure as the band leader of The Tonight Show, and the show was in New York, why were so few people on line? Security set up a general tickets line to one side of the door, and a red carpet line on the opposite. What exactly was going on with this very sparse crowd?
When they let us in, I got a better understanding. It wasn’t just Questlove at Sony Hall, it was Questlove and Friends to Benefit Myotonic Dystrophy at Sony Hall. So this wouldn’t be just the headliner but other “acts,” with a benefit cause as well. I had no idea what any of that meant, but I was in for the ride. As a staffer walked us general ticket folk downstairs, I was in wonderment. This place was gorgeous. Fancy tables with “Reserved” signs were set up all around, and though we were supposed to be standing in the GA spot up front, that was a tiny sliver of the floor, so that staffer sat us at a table. Imagine my surprise when a very effeminate server in a bowtie came by with butternut squash and mozzarella on skewers, followed by salmon and cream cheese on potato chips. That server became my good friend as soon as he offered to get me a flavored seltzer. I felt so fancy!
The hors d’oeuvres situation got funny shortly thereafter. I took it as an extra bonus to the event, one I hadn’t expected. So when our guy stopped coming around but other servers were flying around with a broad variety of them for guests at the bar and the tables, I happily accepted what I got. But this old White lady, with whom I had switched seats so she could sit next to her new friend she met on line, kept complaining about how we now snackless. Jesus, lady, if you’re that grubby for free grub, go get some at the bar. She even harassed my new friend the server, who promised he’d bring back a tray, but then had to apologize when none were left. Eventually, we got a big tray of fried macaroni, veggie rolls and fish cakes, which seemed to quell the old bag. But long before that tray, on my way back from the bathroom I spied a turkey roll on a toasted whole wheat and nailed it down. I gots mine, lady.
Our host Eric Hutchinson came out to tell us about his family history with MD, and how we’re all connected. He then introduced two comedians, neither of whom were very funny, though one lady behind us and to the left went into hysterics over the first guy. Eric then came out with a guitar and said, “I guess you can guess who the next act is.” To which I promptly and silently replied, “I guess you can guess this is my time for a bathroom break.” Eric regaled us with music about his wife’s love of Roger Federer, how life has changed thru social media, and—get this!—his father’s hands. That last ditty, as I accurately guessed, was called “My Father’s Hands.” This guy was awful, and though he was helping a cause, I couldn’t get him off stage quickly enough. He then called out the event organizer, who hawked raffle tickets while showing slides of people who looked terribly diseased and facts about MD. Then Eric was back on stage to introduce the magician, whose magic wasn’t so impressive or magical. At this point, I was all “Just announce the goddamn raffle winners so we can get to Questlove already.” And then the real magic happened, and Questlove came out on stage.
Keep in mind Eric was calling out raffle winners as Questlove was setting up his gear. Soon after Eric and the organizer shuffled off stage, and the dance party was on. With the support of one other guy in dreads who occasionally sang along with the lyrics, Questlove put out some mean mixes. Suddenly it was like my prom I never went to in 1990, with a bunch of kids dancing awkwardly, only the DJ was a member of the Roots for this prom. I don’t dance, and about 25 minutes in exhaustion set in again and it was time for me to depart. It had been a long night with Questlove and his guests, and I was back to work less than 12 hours later.
Unfortunately, those “guests” didn’t include Captain Kirk Douglas, the Roots’ guitarist. I found out about an hour before the show that the Captain and I went to high school together, and it would’ve been a blast to chat him up if I could. And unlike the kindhearted Eric Hutchinson, that’s a guitarist I would have appreciated.
I’ve been talking a lot about experiences in my concert reviews lately, and this Questlove show was a live music act unlike any other I’d ever encountered. In one night, I got a benefit show, a comic night, an acoustic guitar set, a magic act and a dance party thrown by a member of the Roots. Not anything I’d go out of my way to see again, but for $20 it was another fun notch in my belt. Now if only the Roots would go play somewhere in Manhattan.