If you’re a band, I ask of you only one thing- own it.
Black Landlord, a funk/hip hop band from Philly, owned it Saturday night.
Kim and I caught whiff of their show at Johnny Brenda’s earlier in the evening while running through events associated with Philadelphia Beer Week. We had wanted to get back to JB’s for a while now, since almost a year ago when we stumbled upon a great show by Slavic Soul Party- probably one of the best Brooklyn hipster bands playing traditional Slavic jams out there. We had also wanted a good night out in Northern Liberties. Sometimes things just work out. Giddy up. Let’s go!
Philly Beer Week is confusing- as there are tons of great beers being served, but don’t seem to be very many specials associated with them. Regardless, Standard Tap in Northern Liberties was packed. Luckily upstairs was its chill self and we were able to get a table pretty easily. But you know what? You know what’s a huge, tremendous bummer- is when you get a burger, a real doozy of a burger- a large and in charge kind of burger and not even halfway through, the bun bails on you. Then your beautiful and delicious burger becomes a God damn dumpster fire on your plate. This happened Saturday- but I didn’t let it bring me down. But still, teamwork Burger! I read an interview with Louis C.K. yesterday. He always cuts his burgers in half, saying that no one needs all of a burger. Well sometimes you do, but I would argue that the benefit of cutting a burger in half is not so much the sharing ability, but the durability. I might try that in the future. Maybe.
Burger issues aside, we then made our way over to Johnny Brenda’s. Opening for Black Landlord was the Philly rapper Kuf Knotz, a dude with a decent flow and a solid backing band- trading a bass player for a dude playing an acoustic guitar, accompanied by a great keyboardist and capable drummer. They were good, some songs were definitely better than others. Live hip hop is a delicate art form and I don’t think a lot of people really get what makes it work. Maybe it’s because we’re the ADD generation, but folks fail to grasp that it is simplicity that makes live hip hop work. Why is Questlove of the Roots such a great drummer? Because homeboy locks into groove, doesn’t get flashy and keeps it rock solid.
Here is a good example: Manifest Next to Me was a live hip hop band based out of Burlington, Vermont a couple years ago. They released two albums and had a different drummer on both. On the first album, the drummer was a Questlove disciple, wasn’t flashy, and was deep within the pocket with tasteful beats and well-placed fills. It was perfect and they sounded great. On the second album, the original drummer had moved and been replaced with a jazz cat. Jazz drummers are live hip hop’s worst enemy. They can’t hold a steady beat for more than a minute, feeling compelled to add in complicated fills and unnecessary rhythms on three cymbals too many. As a result, Manifest’s second album was in my opinion, a disaster.
Keep it simple, stupid- words to live by, especially if one desires to play in a good live hip hop band.
Then Black Landlord hit the stage- well dressed and filling the majority of the stage with eight members including the token hot chick and a middle aged, hype man with a fantastic moustache. Their drummer looked like he could bench press a Mini Cooper and they had a percussionist who looked that that actor who was on Seinfeld, playing the executive from NBC who falls for Elaine, quits his job to go work for Greenpeace. Black Landlord’s front man had a belly that looked like he was pregnant with three grown adults, but dude really worked the stage and worked the room. I could barely understand a word he was saying, but he was great and looking dapper in his white suit. Yet as the night went on, it seemed like he was consistently losing a game of strip poker to someone off stage as song after song, another article of clothing came off ending with him only wearing shoes and pants during the encore. It was an amazing belly.
I would never buy a Black Landlord album and wouldn’t think to listen to them if they came on the radio. But I would surely see them again as they played a set that was high octane, manic energy from start to finish. They were loud, tight, and fun. In the palm of their sweaty hands, the near-packed crowd at Johnny Brenda’s danced their beer-drinking asses off. And I love the atmosphere of the club, with it’s balcony and stage tucked into the far corner. The room sounds great, you couldn’t ask for me. Except for maybe an ice cold Yuengling Light- but nothing is perfect.
But that night everything was fun. It was a delightful evening out on the town with my more than delightful future wife- capped off with a Wawa sandwich and a couple Gatorades. We will see Black Landlord again. We might even see Kuf Knotz again. The best nights are ones that are usually not planned. Great nights are born from spontaneity and last minute curveballs. Saturday was a long day and coming home, I was tired and thinking about pitching the fail safe idea of chilling out and watching a movie to Future Wife. But all it took was a quick nap, a tasty yet contentious burger and some great jams to change all that.
You can ask all you want out of a band. All I ask is that they play it like they mean it. Do that and I’ll be your friend for life.
Giddy up Black Landlord. Giddy up.