Anyway, so last-minute decision to catch Lady Sovereign on July 7 at the opening of the traveling carnival Spiegelworld. The art deco-meets-nerd-hipster quality of the spectacle was a highlight last summer when it came to New York City, so the two-for-one freak-show potential seemed high: bearded lady and a white midget? I’m totally there. I mean thurr. Or right there.
After a bit of limbo regarding logistics — Were the tickets $30? Were they $10 if you see the show only? Why are the only bathrooms in the bloody mall next door? — my flatmates and I make our way into the “European-style beer garden.” The “European style” can be seen in the Metropolitain subway signage typeface, and the “beer garden” consists of vomit-smelling bar tables (already on opening night?) and mosquito-infested table-service tents. The scene is familiar, but not in comparison to last year: This time, the crowd consists of greazy after-hours downtown Manhattanites, B&T refuse, two sailors (who look to be twelve years old and buying Jack & Cokes for the first time in their prepubescent lives) and a token white dude with a top knot. I suppose this is some kind of free-capital democracy where all the repressed trash of the city can come to drink and dance to Turntables on the Hudson thumps from pre-September 11. But we tire quickly of the gawking and get in line . . . only to find out the shows (yes, plural) preceding Lady Sovereign are running late.
After over an hour of those bollocks, the line finally surges and spills into the tent. This little Spiegelworld is cozy enough, about 150 feet in diameter with booth seating encircling a dancing rink. The weathered wooden floors, mirrors along the perimeter, and mood lighting give the feeling of flex-space burlesque — the perfect set-up for a British pop-grime rapper to follow the carnival’s main attraction, Absinthe, or, as Louise said, “A bunch of clowns.”
After a half hour of positioning, boozing, mingling, and re-positioning, Sov’s long-time deejay, Frampster, puts needle to groove and inspires a small cadre of Sov-fanatics to meekly holler, “S-O-V . . . ?” Too bad stateside kids don’t know So Solid beats, let alone a lick of the scene their favorite Feminem came up in — Frampster rolls through a by-the-books warm-up set of grime and classic ragga. Hey, is he Diplo’s teenage cousin? My, how he’s grown.
After twenty minutes or so of solid mixing and fast-clip pacing, Frampster puts on a choon that everyone actually recognizes. And out she comes: baggy shirt, side-ponytail, white-rimmed fly shades, and that cheeky sensibility we all know (and hate/love, as her single so emphatically points out). Her phrasing is nimble, she flashes through the joint, the music stops, and then she talks: In between every song, she jokes about her bald spot (the reason why she doesn’t braid her hair anymore), worries about recording another album (ponders whether she should just tell everyone to eff themselves), inspects the various boxers and shirts thrown her way (“I mean, really, is this f’real?”), and, in a cheeky kinda way, flirts with the audience (“Put your middle fingers in the air. No, keep them up”). She makes no mention of the half-empty tent (a little more than two hundred people are in attendance), and she seems equally at ease chatting up this appropriately random crowd of single hipsters, lesbian couples, and TRL families as she is prowling through her hits: “Random,” her hilarious new single “Those Were the Days” (twenty-two-year-old making nostalgia record = priceless), the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant,” and even her bitchy throw-down “The Broom.” She performs about six songs in a half hour, says toodles, and leaves to the lights going back on.
After all that, she came off charming anyway. Huh? Exactly.