Live: Questlove Rings In Martin Luther King Day At Cielo
Better Than: That time Justin Bieber played the drums with Questlove on Jimmy Fallon.
Around 8 p.m. on Sunday night, Questlove Tweeted that he was off to spin the "hardest DJ set of m'life." The gig was Giant Step's annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, a night of dance music that delivered messages of freedom, peace, and all the other warm fuzziness that comes with the holiday. To be fair, four hours is a long time for warm and fuzzy.
Questlove wasn't the only one nervous about the gig -- a "celebrity" set in the Meatpacking District is a hard sell for us during a long weekend. The curiosity in us won out, though, and we were eventually swayed by something we remember the Roots drummer once said about DJ AM, another Philly-born hip-hop nerd turned national music icon: Quest credited the young tastemaker with teaching him to "treat records as 10,000-piece puzzles that you had to assemble in the right way in order to have a good time." It's a mentality that you generally come to expect from hip-hop DJs in particular -- they tend to be the sample nerds and storytellers. And when you put it like that, how could we not go?
Soul, funk, hip-hop, and a couple hundred revelers served as the pieces tonight. While we did hear the go-to's from Marvin Gaye ("Got to Give It Up") and Michael Jackson (both "Get on the Floor" and Jackson 5's "Can You Feel It"), we were pleasantly surprised by other choices: George Kranz' new-wave dance classic "Din Daa Daa," for instance. In a more emotional feat, MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech was thrown over funkified James Brown instrumentals, fueling a a shared moment of pride and renewed energy on the dance floor. (Or maybe that was just the funk. Either way.)
Mic duties were left to MC Yameen Allworld, the evening's unintentional comedian and foil to the intently focused Questlove. (Have we mentioned yet that the latter's signature Afro had been replaced by tightly braided cornrows?) "You're borderline stalkers!" he declared at the crowd's emphatic sing-a-long to Slave's "Watching You." Keith Sweat's "Just a Touch" cued observations of groping and grinding among the more oblivious couples in the room, and the intro to Funkadelic's "(Not Just) Knee Deep" prompted the emcee to lead the crowd into a drunkenly blurred chorus. Questlove did manage to make one appearance on the mic though: At Allworld's friendly heckling, he emerged from the fog to rap two verses of "Rapper's Delight" to his audience before disappearing into the smoke again. We were thoroughly pleased.
Party anthems and silly humor aside, at its best, the night made us remember exactly what we were celebrating. The most touching moment for us came at the onset of Aly-Us' house anthem "Follow Me": Basked in flecks of gold light from the disco balls above, the entire club sang along to a chorus of "Why don't you follow me/To a place where we can be free," prompting even those headed for the door to linger. "Can we stay through the end of this song?" we heard the girl next to us ask her friend. "I feel like we need to be here for this."
Critical Bias: Questlove made us feel special by playing songs he actually likes.
Overheard: "The more you bump into her, the more she'll want to dance you. Trust me, bro." -- One bro's advice to another bro.
Random Notebook Dump: Wish the club banned bottle service for this one night. You know, so we could better celebrate our equality.