Common/Black Eyed Peas: New York Roseland Ballroom

Somebody get this woman to the White House...

"I was thinking," says Macy Gray, "since we can't seem to find a president, fuck it, I'll be president."

Judging from the looks of things, if the masses of people gathered in the Roseland Ballroom tonight had their way, Macy would be headed for Washington on the next available flight. Especially since she's promising "free education, free food and free hairdos".

Flashback, about two hours: it's 7:30 p.m. and Black Eyed Peas are stealing the show. Considering they're the only ones to play so far, it's quite a feat, but there's just no denying that this group is rapidly becoming the best live hip-hop act around. Like a lot of current underground acts, they use a live band, but there's much more to their presence than just the usual rap/jazz/funk combo. In the space of a criminally short half-hour set, the Peas deliver theatrics, martial arts, breakdancing, untouchable rhymes, spotlights on each member of the band, and stunning vocal work from cohort Kim Hill.

Then it's Common's turn to pick up the gauntlet. Making up what he lacks in performance (at least in contrast to BEP) with a series of costume changes for himself and his band, Chicago's finest takes the crowd 'Time Travelling'. They start with '70s funk, donning afros and hippie clothes, then move on to the Black Panther point of view, before morphing into P-Funk mode, clad in ludicrously outrageous spangly gear, complete with shiny wigs and foam appendages. Then there's the Adidas and gold rope '80s look, a la Run DMC, and finally, back to present day for 'The Light'.

But this is Macy's show, after all, and if sheer numbers mean anything, the 13 musicians and backup singers that join her onstage prove who's in charge here. It quickly becomes obvious that in Macy's domain, it's sex that reigns supreme. During the course of her set, which includes the entire tracklisting from her 'On How Life Is' album, Gray continually returns to the theme, from the plainly suggestive 'Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak' to her proclamation that we're about to pay tribute to "one of the most greatest things ever invented. We're going to celebrate the dick".

Perhaps some of the mothers accompanying their teenage daughters to the concert are a bit shocked, but the rest of us are loving every minute of it.

The show just keeps expanding - at one point, after Macy brings Common back out, along with his band, there are 18 people on stage at once. They perform a new version of Common's 'Ghetto Heaven'. You can't help but wonder how a group this size can be so tight, and so loose, at the same time.

Before the encore, Macy insists that the crowd get naked before she'll continue on. Sadly, no one complies, although a few lone undergarments make their way to the stage. She continues regardless, although she's clearly disappointed. Let's work on that, New York.

When it comes time for 'I Try' she doesn't even have to sing most of the song, as it segues into an extended medley/jam. She turns the mic around to the crowd, who take care of that, verses and chorus alike, for her. Despite the fact that she's made it, though, Macy seems concerned with the common perception that she's high all the time. Earlier in the evening she addressed this, ultimately deciding, "What's wrong with being high? I mean really, you don't want to be low. Ain't nobody trying to be medium."

Somebody get this woman to the White House.

Doug Levy

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