Live: Gordon Voidwell Brings Racially Charged Downtown Self-Deprecation To The Apollo
Better Than: That show about race and the workplace that's sometimes on PBS at 5 a.m.
"Tonight, we're gonna ask a lot of questions and not answer them," warned Gordon Voidwell at the beginning of his set at the Apollo Theater Saturday. The singer took a break from his current tour supporting Mayer Hawthorne to take part in the Apollo's Salon Series, an initiative focused on bringing newer downtown artists uptown. His first two questions, per the show's title: "Who Killed Andy Warhol?/Who shot Biggie Smalls?"
Going to the Apollo is exciting, even if it's for a show in the third-floor soundstage, filled tonight with a mix of well-dressed sponsors, local artists, past performers, and downtown scenesters who'd made the trek. Glossy white balloons littered the stage, and a huge screen glowed behind the band. It was an unusual setup compared with Voidwell's usual dance-floor-focused shows, and he said so: "I don't want you to feel confined by these seats," he noted, encouraging everyone to get up and move around. "We don't want people to feel confined at all."
Off the bat, it was clear that this show had little to do with Andy Warhol or Biggie in any tangible way, save a loop of images projected behind the band. Instead, it served as an ode to influence and Voidwell's own cultural divide, which was apparent at the onset, his band taking the stage in glittering black hoodies and leggings, while Voidwell himself sported a kofia. Sample song title: "African Art at the MoMA." The social commentary here was frequent and blunt, though very rarely delivered in a serious way: While slightly darker lyrics figure into the introspective "Black Kids" (a song that ponders death and the unifying vapidity of the hipsters loitering on Bedford Avenue), the song's counterpoint, "White Friends," just laughs at it all. ("Bed-Stuy thinks I'm weird/Park Ave thinks you're weird/Now we're flying high holding hands.")
As with his cohorts in Das Racist, Voidwell's sense of humor is the backbone to his '80- r&b-inspired, funk-infused tracks, though it's the foot-tapping pop appeal that we're really drawn to, the class analysis masked by silky, reverb-heavy vocals, lithe bass lines, and synths blipping away behind a simple, driving kick-snare pattern. Voidwell's vocals evoked Prince, while synth expert/backing vocalist Tecla softly cooed along with the hooks. Meanwhile, dancers Wendell Cooper and Nick Leichter sashayed down the aisles, meeting up front for elaborately choreographed routines.
Voidwell played the stand-up comedian as well, dryly chatting with the audience between songs. ("I feel really bad for my psychiatrist -- we're going to have a lot to talk about on Monday." he noted at the onset of "African Art." "Just kidding, I can't afford a psychiatrist.") He frequently encouraged soul-claps and dancing, the latter an ultimate goal finally reached during a reprise of his new single, "Ivy League Circus," a laid-back dance tune. Considering the track was released on Cantora (the guys responsible for MGMT's Time to Pretend EP) and backed by Ralph Lauren, we're pretty sure this song is the one that will finally do it for the guy. Not just because of its focus on college-age insecurities and a hook based on "togetherness," either, but because this is the stuff that Gap commercials and Gossip Girl soundtracks are made of. As far as we're concerned, that's a compliment.
Overheard: "Is that a woman?" referring to either Voidwell or Tecla.
Critical Bias: Pretty sure everything sounds just somehow smoother at the Apollo.
Random Notebook Dump: There has to be a fair amount of self-deprecation that goes into writing about race, right?
Heart Of Glass
African Art at the MoMA
Ivy League Circus
Ivy League Circus (reprise)