Best of Manhattan 2001: Entertainment

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Best Rap Crew

Q.B. or Not Q.B. When Screwball put out their 2000 album Y2K, we figured it was the last gasp for New York hardcore. Four seasoned intelligent-hoodlum types from Queensbridge, these guys must have preceded Nas and Mobb Deep in everything but the rap industry, where their talents were wasted in unheard groups PHD and Kamakazee. So they were very angry. DJ Premier helped them with Y2K. Of course it was awesome. Of course Tommy Boy failed to sell many copies and subsequently dropped the group. That’s how hiphop works, pretty much.

But Screwball beat the game and came back, quickly and effectively. The crew’s second album, Loyalty, was released this summer on Hydra/Landspeed. That first break must have only made them hungrier. Now 2001 finds underdogs Hostyle, KL, Kyron and Poet rhyming with the unrestrained intensity that hiphop as a whole was too self-satisfied to muster this year. Loyalty producers Ayatollah and Godfather Don contributed beats that should have rap’s ascendant Pro Tools posse ashamed of itself. On top of that add the near-perfect guest roster of M.O.P., Cormega, Kool G. Rap, Nature, Noreaga and Tragedy, and what else can we say besides that this, too, is how hiphop works, sometimes–thank God.

Best Art Gallery
James Cohan Gallery
41 W. 57th St. (betw. 5th & 6th Aves.), 755-7171

The 21st-Century Leo Castelli. This three-year-old gallery has distanced itself from the pack by dint of patience, relative geographic isolation and curatorial panache, putting on one great show after the other. Representing the best of Brit pop (like Richard Patterson, Ron Mueck and Ian Dawson) and some of the best artists the U.S. has to offer (Fred Tomaselli, Roxy Paine and Bill Viola, among others), James Cohan Gallery has quietly but steadily moved to the top of a rather spiritless art heap. Throw in the gallery’s reputation among artists for straight shooting and you have the promise of an honest, forward-looking dealer to match the mythical Leo Castelli.

Best Example of NYC Movie Theater Entropy
UA Union Square
Broadway (13th St.)
777-FILM #777

Your Silver Screen Is Tarnished. A spanking new jewel of a multiplex just a few short years ago, UA Union Square is really showing the wear and tear New York moviegoers can put on a space. It’s as though both management and the teens management hires to do the actual work have given up on the place out of sheer exhaustion. By Saturday evening nowadays the theaters are strewn with trash and food garbage that the shoe-shuffling kids don’t even pretend to be cleaning up, and the bathrooms are disgustingly filthy. The once-plush seats are getting dirty, and the floors are permanently sticky. On any given night it seems that half the electronic ticketing machines in the lobby are broken, causing long lines that sort of defeat the purpose. The service from the kids at the snack counters has become enragingly slow and surly.

In short, UA Union Square is just another beat-down New York City movie theater now, no longer even trying to give itself the airs of superiority it had when it was young and cocky.

Best Contralto
Mary Fahl

Uneasy Listening. The contralto is the black-eyed-Susan voice in a field of daisies. Never pretty: more like handsome, hard-boned. Heavy-lidded. Never eager. The female contralto (or the male contralto, for that matter) never bares its midriff. Nor does it ever go near the affects of teen bubblegum. After all, contraltos have pasts. And pubic hair. All dark.

It’s the vocal range of the lone wolf, lurking above the tenor and below the soprano. Think of contraltos like Joan Armatrading and Alison Moyet, with their fluid vibratos, mature and tragic; divas without a megaselling worldwide hit to their proud names. In pop, the contralto is not the money voice. And then there’s Mary Fahl, a contralto with a college-girl face and kohl-streaked eyes. We don’t know where she got her regal voice, but it wasn’t at Space Mountain.

Fahl cowrote and released a four-song EP called Lenses of Contact this year, and it makes us embarrassed for both the mincing stampede of girl singers on the charts and for Fahl herself, who actually cares enough to sing, literally, from her guts, while daringly carving every phrase into dizzying terrain. She never goes reedy or ragged, even on a song like "Raging Child," where she chases a "poor girl" over her treacherous range. In "Paolo," Fahl loses her imperfect guardian angel to cigarettes and wine ("wherever you are/Say a prayer for me/I’ve been dancing with monsters perilously"); "Meant to Say" is the grandest apology we’ve heard in a long time; and "Redemption," the EP’s final track, is an anthem waiting to be seized, hopefully by an audience of strange birds with a fine-tuned ear. (Redeye Distribution,

Best Ongoing Party
Ladies’ Night, Webster Hall
125 E. 11th St. (betw. 3rd & 4th Aves.)

The Perfect Mixer. First of all, there’s no bullshitting around at the door. On Thursdays, if you’re a girl, you get in free before midnight; just show your ID to the bouncer, one of a pair in NYC who sport handlebar mustaches (the other works at Baktun) and smile. Once inside, we head to the main floor first, where we’ll hear everything from bowel-shaking trance to the album version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." We dance to it all–"Teen Spirit" in particular was made for raging. Then we go downstairs to the sweaty, funky hiphop room. The air conditioning might be on, but we can’t feel it, as pairs of women dance sexy to show up the men and the men sit on the sidelines waiting for their shot, just like summer camp. Then it’s to the bathroom, where deodorant, condoms, pens and sprays of cologne are sold for around $3 each. All along the way, the male-female ratio is perfect, the crowd is so racially mixed-up that we can’t tell what sort of hottie we’re looking at and the couples look so happy that we don’t get jealous. We just look at whoever we’re with and grin. Terrific as either a singles spot or a date destination (we split the bill since one of us is free), this night has been going on forever but refuses to let up. Bonus points for the late-night souvlaki and speedy 3rd Ave. cabs available when we leave.

Best "Changes to the Program" Notice
GMM Records

Nazi Punks Fuck Off. GMM puts out some if not most of the best new American punk rock available, much of it by working-class bands like Anti-Heros, Dropkick Murphys and Hudson Falcons. They also put on an annual festival concert called the Beer Olympics. A notice at the GMM website that appeared prior to this year’s B.O. epitomized not just the moral courage and the fire of modern hardcore, but also a tone of righteous indignation so little heard in a music culture where most have long since surrendered their ability to be shocked, and wouldn’t sincerely admit to being shocked if they were, somehow, shocked.

The message read: "GMM regrets to inform its supporters that Condemned 84 will not be appearing at the GMM Beer Olympics. C-84 has opted not to perform due to the fact that two bands who have African-American members would be performing on the same stage. We are shocked to hear that one of our bands would take this racist outlook in this day and age. We at GMM are also shocked that a band that we have invested time and money with in the past would come out and embarrass us with this statement. GMM and its bands are strongly anti-racist and we hope our supporters are as well."

Best Stand-Up Comic
Sarah Silverman

Can We Have Her Baby? Sarah Silverman’s got that head-bobbing supercute hipsterchick thing going, all bemused and self-effacing in beat-up jeans and sneaks; and she’s definitely light-years smarter than us all. Probably a science geek in grade school before she blossomed into the slender-hipped knockout she is today.

Did you see her on Conan O’Brien batting cleanup for the bloviating Penn Jillette? She saved the show, turning a prepared layup session between O’Brien and herself into a piece of ur-hilarity full of bizarre pauses, glances, grunts and grapefruit slurping. She caught serious shit that night, too, having used "chink" in a joke the entire point of which was to parody just the sort of loony who actually would use that word. (Evidently, the Sino-p.c. thug brigade barraged NBC with angry mail and the network knuckled under a few days later, issuing a few pusillanimous grunts of its own.)

But best of all, Silverman’s as indescribably pretty in person as she is on tv. This we discovered recently when we spotted her walking down 2nd Ave. We swallowed, patted down our hair and approached, asking if she would repeat a funny line she has about getting serious with her boyfriend. "Sure," she said with a smile, obviously happy to oblige. "It goes like this: My boyfriend and I have finally gotten to the point where we’re comfortable peeing in front of each other–" "Yeah?" we said. And then she told us the punchline, but damn if we can recall it. See, we always seem to forget how jokes end, and truth be told, we were too busy melting.

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