Green Velvet, whose given name is Curtis Jones — who also makes house music as Cajmere — dropped an almost two hour set at Bijou in Boston last night. For this writer it was first time seeing him here, and, as far as I could learn, it was his first Boston gig. Why that is, for a DJ and track maker as original as any in the genre — and for more than 20 years– is hard to say. Velvet has made more recognizable house music hits than almost anyone.The list begins with “Flash,’ as ubiquitous a DJ drop as any, and continues : “La La land,” “Preacherman,” “Shake and Pop,” “Answering Machine,”and “Harmageddon.” All of which Velvet included in his set — though, curiously, not his new one, “Bigger than Prince,” a side just as popular, and edgy,, and as his venerables.
Still, here he was, lime green hair and shades, a jazz cat gone punk, in current Boston’s top house music club, using an old-school two CD players and mix board only. No PC program, and only two channels did Velvet need to show his grin. Listened to as recorded, his tracks rest palpably in the Bootsy Collins, “Ah the name is Bootsy, Baby” zone, a joke-funk sound now 30 years old and older, and in the even more clownish, Newcleus “Jam On It” vein — a track also 30 years gone. At Bijou, Velvet’s funk talk and joke beat of thirty years ago were enjoyably on offer, but so was something much older: a growly, gravelly groove as blues-true as the bottoms Robert Nighthawk, Jack johnson, or T-Model Ford could have made, had these bluesmen worked in house music shape. Velvet’s stride and slide felt like late 1950s Nola stuff, his grumpy rattle and hum like a Jay Miller Shreveport session — all of it encased in house music progressions, of course.
Though just barely. Velvet pushed the house music envelope as far toward old funk and older blues as any house music this writer has ever heard live. Much of his set was vocal, story-telling stuff — think Bo Diddley. When he wasn’t tooling in his joke talk (“Answering Machine”), or offering advisory no-no’s (“La La land,” “Flash”), he featured giddy girls cooing over twangy guitar (as in Bo Diddley’s “Gunslinger” !) and show-off guys wise-cracking. There was a long line of goofy conversation, such as jazzmen of the bebop era used to spit out on stage : “Mozzarella…I need ketchup…beanstalk a beanstalk…thanks for fuckin’; it….my house, you won’t get in.’ And such like, all in bawdy absurdist fun. Below it all there was plenty of rumble and jump, marching music strut, shaggy shuffle, and much more for Velvet’s fans to dance on and cheer about. They did both.
House music DJ-ing is all about getting the fans to give it up, to lose control. there was no way that Velvet’s Bijou crowd could stand up long against his attack of absurdism, shaggies, growl, grumble, and stride and slide, rhythms and effects that pushed the dancers every which way from head to shoulders and knees to toes. His quick cuts gave no quarter, his drop-ins no out, his twisted noise bridges no break. From start to close Velvet dominated his sound, aimed it, hit the bullseye of both funny bone and step reflex. At night’s end the dancers were chanting and Velvet was sweet talking. A fitting summation of as strong a roots set as any that this writer has seen an acknowledged house master drop.
Tamer Malki, a Boston DJ master of deep house, set an extremely tasty and sympatico carpet for Velvet to ride. Malki even played the groove track of “Answering Machine,” an applaudable tribute and preface to the book of beats that Velvet’s set recited.
—– Deedee Freedberg / Feelin the Music