The Origins of Karate in Government
The Capitol Steps is like a college singing group gone wild. Wildly crazy, wildly professional and, of course, wildly political.
As their recent March 7 one-night stand at Sanders Theater proved once again, when it comes to political satire at its funniest and most musical, this group of former and present legislative aides are masters.
The three founders, Elaina Newport, Bill Strauss and Jim Aidala, presented the first version of The Capitol Steps at a Senate office Christmas party in 1981. "Like most things in Congress," the program announces, "they never knew when to stop." The Steps' reputation expanded beyond their Washington audience and victims, and they are now heard regularly on National Public Radio.
Last week's show was the usual blend of acerbic wit and creatively outrageous expropriations of popular songs. Songs like "Stand By Your Klan" and "If I Weren't a Rich Man" (with George Bush singing) are merely the beginning. Strauss and Newport steal songs from the thirties--"Forget Your Rubles, Come On Get Preppy," disco--"Keep Him Alive" (a prayer for the President), and even summer camp as a Palestinian delegate to the peace process sings "Hello, Mullah, hello Fatah, here I am at intifada."
The sold-out crowd at Sanders was clearly in a mood to enjoy some election-year bashing. Buchanan described some of his favorite things (outlawing welfare, deporting Haitians, "basketball teams should employ more Caucasians") while the Democrats listened to "the Tsounds of Tsongas." ("Hello voters, my old friends, I've come to give the same speech again.")
The most popular candidates of the evening, however, are not on any ballot. At the climax of Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush's duet about campaign woes, "Can't Love Helping That Man Of Mine," they sang "Let's ditch both our misters and I'll run with you." From the tumultuous applause they received, it was clear the audience thought it was a great idea. Lori E. Smith
Don't Start No Beef Or Broccoli
Mixing straight rap and dance hall sounds with a lyrical barrage of references to martial arts movies and pop culture in general, Fu-Schnickens throw a big party on their debut album, F.U.--Don't Take It Personal.
From the opening track, "True Fuschnick," this group makes it clear that they're out to have a good time. The three rappers--Chip FU, Poc FU and Moc FU--introduce themselves with distinctive vocal styles, and the fun begins. Each soloist raps in a call-and-response dialogue with the rest of the group, creating a frenetic atmosphere which never lets up.
The rollicking lyrics keep the music light and fast-paced. The group makes incessant allusions to pop culture, focusing on martial arts films but including everything from professional wrestling to cartoons.
The martial arts theme is most fully developed in "Movie Scene." A hilarious movie parody dissolves into crazy beats while Chip FU gives hardcore lines a different flavor with lyrics such as "So don't try to test Chip FU you fantail shrimp/What are you, Bullwinkle or Rocky/Don't start no beef or broccoli/So give it up, you lost/Or you better duck sauce."
In addition to the group's own performances, the album features some memorable posse cuts. Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest appears on the song "La Schmoove," showing that his solid work on The Low End Theory was not a fluke. And Dres from Black Sheep makes a cameo on "Check It Out." --Daniel J. Sharfstein
Less Than ORIGINal
The Origin deliver a tight but unimpressive performance on their new album, Bend. While the group plays well and the rhythm section is solid, the group sounds as if they are right out of the '60s. The old acoustic-guitar-and-organ formula is tired and self-indulgent.
Occasionally, a track on the album shows some force. A danceable beat gives "Bonfires Burning" a welcome sense of freedom, and the harmonica on "Autonomous" works. On the title track, a thick texture and understated vocal style create a quiet intensity which the rest of the album never quite achieves.
Most of the time, the unoriginal music and uninspired lyrics drag through songs that are way too long. Not even "Bend" is spared from lines such as "you're my paper friend/see you hanging on my wall/I thought I lost you friend/but you were never lost at all."
The track "Giving It All" is a notch below "Bend." Worn-out music matches equally weak lyrics: "Yes, she's tired/ of putting up the fight/ but one touch of loving/makes everything right."
Bend is the work of an immature group which needs to explore some untrodden ground. The Origin has potential but needs originality.