SummerStage in Central Park is a modern-day New York institution, heralding the start of summer in the city by showcasing top acts underneath the blossoming trees of the park. To begin the 2015 season, Basement Jaxx took to the stage and, with the help from supporting acts and a world-class cast of on-stage personas, thoroughly rocked the park.
The crowd was different that a typical show – these were older locals, many in collared shirts straight from their office jobs. There were families, fresh from the surrounding Upper East Side day cares, with artistic linen blankets spread on the lawn. There were also ravers and house music fans. I saw one man with white facepaint and an all black outfit – ready to dance. As this diverse group sipped craft beers and munched pizza under the setting sun, the Internet opened up the show.
The crowd was still filling in, but the mellow, alt-R&B stylings of The Internet seemed to be the perfect introduction. The sun was still high as lead singer Syd the Kidd treated the audience to some laid back tracks off their new album Ego Trip. The bright surf-pop clothing, still deeply influenced by The Internet’s originally collective Odd Future, lent the show a distinctly summertime feel. Some of the audience were obvious fans, while most of the middle-aged crowd seemed to be simply letting the sounds of Syd’s melodic voice wash over them.
There was a lull afterwards, giving the audience time to refill beers and if the smoke in the air was any indication, rolls some joints. The keep the vibe going, the second act on the bill, native New Yorker DJ duo Master’s at Work took the stage. Surrounded by a multitude of diverse instruments belonging to Bassment Jaxx, the two DJ’ed a no-frills house music set from their laptops. Several people began dancing in earnest, either spurred on by the $8 beers to catching a high from the smoke in the air. By the time the sun was almost behind the tree line, the set was over, and it was time for the real show to begin.
As the large Basement Jaxx logo glowed behind them, darkened figures began manning the various instruments on the stage. The bongo drum set, the mixer and even a man dressed as some bird picked up a guitar. But the show truly began when two women emerged, dressed rainbow wigs and colourful dresses. People cheered as a scene akin to something from the Wizard of Oz unfolded. Then, they began to sing.
The two women, Lisa Kekaula and Sharlene Hector launched into the catchy and soulful single “Good Luck”. With Simon Ratcliff taking his role on guitar and Felix Burton behind the mixer, it was fantastic to have these two powerful forces of feminine energy as focal points to begin. Their powerful voices and cheerful outfit worked hand-in-hand to drive up the energy of the audience, and it set the vibe for the rest of the show.
After a few more soulful house numbers, the mood changed. Ms. Kekaula departed, giving way to two young Asian girls in Carnival-influenced costumes. Headdresses and fringed wings were flying, and the songs got distinctly more jungle-influence. The girls, Miss Emma Lee and Baby Chay, singers of the track Back 2 the Wild, faithfully recreated the songs trippy video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDeCmK9dH04) and even recreated their choppy yet adorable dance moves.
Next, things took more of a reggae turn. The duo of rainbow singers were back, and this time they were joined by a third songstress. She hit her high notes perfectly in a short rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, bringing to mind the alien opera singer in the Fifth Element. These three turned the crowd back up with positive jams like “Never Say Never Again”, which had the whole crowd clapping along joyfully. I can only imagine the joy the small children in the audience must have had to see these rainbow garbed goddesses wail on stage.
Things kept moving with some distinctly more adult dancehall-influenced numbers. The three singers gave way to Slarta John and another energetic female dancer. Together, in a back and forth of masculine and feminine sang and shouted while bouncing around the stage for “Jump and Shout”. The audience followed suit, raging to the classic Jaxx track as the feather wearing guitarist switched it up to deliver the horn line.
A highlight of the show was when a ballerina, donned in all white, leaped onto the stage alone. After a spotlight found her, pristine against a backdrop of black. Suddenly, a hard and fast Jungle beat dropped, and as the fast breaks hit, so did the ballerina. Her fluid movements somehow worked with the music, creating a beautiful contrast of slow and fast, hard and soft. Her routine was set perfectly to the track. It was the only time in my life I can say that I saw a ballerina dance to jungle.
The show had to come finally to an end after an hour and a half worth of a musical journey through funk, soul, house, reggae and jungle. It ended perfectly – with some punk rock. The biggest Jaxx song is no doubt “Where’s Your Head At?” and this was the only real way to end the show. To take it over the top, there was a slew of dancers in gorilla suits backing up the headliners. Simon was shredding ad guitar while Felix bounced around the stage belting our lyrics with his mic cord streaming behind him. It was the perfect moment for the duo to take finally the spotlight they so deserved. After a rotating cast of supporters, it was their moment. The whole audience was jumping and raging, enjoying every second.
Basement Jaxx proved that it could work in an artists favor to fall back and let their songs work their magic. By acting as ringmasters to a circus of their creation, the duo added to their legend. Their singers may have had the audiences captivated, but it was the Basement Jaxx songs that got people moving. This interplay, of live performance, musicianship and quality music, each added an essential element. Every person on stage added something special to the mix, layering genres and experiences though each added sound. The best part was, this seemed to be just the way Basement Jaxx liked it.