Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on Nov 15th 2009 10:00AM by Charley Rogulewski
"Hey man, this is what I'm singing about," he said, trying to make peace after singling out a scuffle in the mosh-pit up front. "Drink some water."
Williams is currently headlining the first-ever tour under the Afro-Punk Presents moniker, a movement that began eight years ago with "an initiative to create a platform for alternative black art," according to co-founder Matthew Morgan. The evening included screamo-punk act American Fangs, beach-tinged punk rockers New Kingdom, and 12- and 16-year-old brothers Mikaia and Anaiah Lei of the guitar-drum duo the Bots.
But the evening felt more like a multi-racial alt-rock family gathering, with moments belonging to, yes, punk, but also soul, metal, reggae and rock. Williams, known for his racially-charged lyrics, would even wax poetic, saying, "Race was a reactionary non-scientific topic that did little to bring us together and a lot to tear us apart." If music needed its own United Nations, afro-punk would be it.
Williams broke through with his 1998 film 'Slam,' about a poet from a violent background, which took home the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Staying true to his roots, Williams interjected his set with spoken verse like 'Sha-Clack-Clack,' originally featured in 'Slam,' and 'Untimely Meditations,' off his 2001 debut 'Amethyst Rock Star.'
As the title suggests, 'Untimely Meditations' is nod at the four Friedrich Nietzsche essays of the same name. Williams often gives shout-outs to Ginsberg, Nostradamus, and other literary greats in his music. But almost every song touches on the subject of race, and the audience, a mix of ethnicities, was eager to sing along. Williams' lyrics provocatively address the subject, with lines like: "I used to use bleaching creme / 'til Madame CJ Walker walked into my dreams/ I dreamt of being white and complimented by you / but the only shiny black thing that you liked was my shoes."
Williams also infuses his music with rock. The title of his 2007 Trent Reznor-produced album 'The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!' is an obvious nod to David Bowie's 1972 concept album 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.' Williams sampled from the album, which originally released for free online, throughout the evening, with a set list that included songs 'Tr(n)igger' and 'Niggy Tardust.'
"I had to create mantras so that when I was walking through the streets of New York I could have something in my mind that was better than the bulls--- bouncing off the walls," Williams told the crowd before launching into 'List of Demands.' Other bands have certainly taken to music, poetry and lyrics to deal with similar "bulls---," and appropriately, Williams closed the evening with a reworked cover of U2's 'Sunday Bloody Sunday.'