La-La (Means I Love You)

Coming alive with Ashlee Simpson, Brother and Sister, Soweto Gospel Choir

Lately, the population of wild-eyed showbiz dads is exploding. Fathers hell-bent on exploiting their kids for the sake of the spotlight, no matter how fractured and bruised it makes the kids look, are crawling out of the woodwork in record numbers. (Lindsay Lohan's drug-addled dad has escaped from the cracks of Hollywood at least 10 times in the last month). But there's no crazed, spotlight-hungry dad quite like Joe Simpson, the manager/former-minister father of Jessica and Ashlee.

During Ashlee Simpson's show at Northrop Auditorium on March 3, I kept expecting the dad's taut face to pop up, wagging his thick finger if Ashlee hit a sour note or didn't twirl exactly as planned. But she didn't hit any sour notes, and the only vocal mishap of the night occurred when the lead singer/guitarist from the opening band (who sounded like Ugly Kid Joe and had a Jeff Spicoli look-alike for a keyboardist) screamed into the mic, "Hello, Minnininapolis!"

The paternal impresario eventually did appear, though only in family photos on the video screen Ashlee and her band used to compensate for their lack of songs and showmanship. Ashlee only has one album--not enough material to headline--and her overchoreographed band came off looking like a punk-rock Partridge Family playing covers at a wedding in a suburban hotel ballroom. Still, I don't blame Ashlee. I blame the whacko dad, who on MTV's Newlyweds discussed Jessica's wedding-night deflowering in terms that suggested an unseemly sexual obsession with his most famous creation.

Brother and Sister poolside
Lindsey Thomas
Brother and Sister poolside

Among Ashlee's heavily processed tunes, all co-written by the singer, are some hypercatchy gems, including "LaLa." The song is so sexually explicit that either her dad just caved and let her have her way, or he's hoping to use it to market her "crossover" appeal as a clean, mall-punk queen for the kids and a slutty nymphette for the dads: "I like it better when it hurts...You make me wanna lala in the kitchen on the floor...I'm like an alley cat/Drink the milk up I want more."

And like an alley cat, Ashlee can belt it out as well as any other rocker. During a Hole-tribute/"Celebrity Skin" interlude in the middle of "Surrender," her raspy yowl sounded better than Courtney Love's feigned cry. Still, critics love to slog Ashlee for her limited vocal range, a not entirely unfair critique, but one in keeping with an age-old rock-crit double standard that holds female singers (especially non-instrumentalists) to a different technical standard than male singers. Why is it that girls have to sing like angels and be dirty little devils, while men can moan like they're on their deathbed and be celebrated for their signature sound? If I were in Ashlee's cute little hump-me pumps, I'd tell her critics--and her dad--to go "LaLa" themselves. --Molly Priesmeyer

 

They Were Lost But Now They're Found

There was a good chance that getting to Brother and Sister's record release show last Friday night would be at least half the fun. As prelude to the show, the local duo led about 100 fans through an impressively well-planned scavenger hunt. Over the course of two hours, the band's conspirators led patrons to a guy sitting around a hotel room in his boxers, Brother and Sister look-alikes rocking out in the back of a Budget van, and a "wench" wearing an eye patch. All this just to find out where the show was. But here's the best part: On arrival at the top of a downtown Minneapolis parking ramp, we were told that we'd be walking a few blocks to the YWCA--for a pool party. Sure enough, Michael and Katie Gaughan played their mock hair metal on the slippery deck while everyone who brought a swimsuit as instructed took a dip. As sound rang deafeningly off the tiles, the best chance for aural relief was an underwater handstand. But in the pauses between guitar-shredding rampages, the audience chatter settled on a consensus: This was the greatest release show of all time. --Lindsey Thomas

 

The Indestructible Gospel-Disco-Hip-Hop-Reggae-Chant of Soweto

It seemed like an optical illusion at the time, but as I watched the 20-odd members of Soweto Gospel Choir at Ted Mann Concert Hall on March 1, I never once noticed soloists leaving or rejoining their choral line. Handing microphones off to the next star, each one disappeared into the background movement, the lead singers commanding complete attention the way experienced magicians do. "Traditional" South African gospel still sounds radical to American ears, no matter how many times you hear its bold polyphony in apartheid-era movies (or in more recent footage of anti-IMF protests). But the Soweto Gospel Choir's grace is special even by high standards. They need not try so hard to win us over: The American-black-gospel-style closer brought some in the audience to their feet, but versions of "Amazing Grace" and Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" felt like filler before the next Zulu chant. My favorite was a disco hip-hop number with the choir's subtle band. Kangol-looking hats over their eyes, the rappers danced like acrobats between verses--why don't American MCs do that? -- Peter S. Scholtes

 
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