Music News

Superfly in the Ointment

Overheard on the sidewalk outside of the Cosmo Lounge last Thursday during the early portion of a night dubbed "The Pimp & Ho Ball":

"Dude, this place blows."

Truly, the young man who made that comment just might not have been down with the LoDo club's theme last Thursday evening. Maybe as a crewcut-sportin', plaid-shirt-wearin', no-game-havin' white boy, he just couldn't dig the rare grooves, the funky vibe, or the macked-out urbanites who convened on Cosmo for a far-out time. The club promoters had, after all, promised all of the above in their extensive promotion. Print advertisements for the event, which featured a stylish black man in a full-length fur flanked on both sides by nude women (well, not entirely nude -- they were wearing spiked heels) had promised "Pimps Up, Hos Down." The ads also invited revelers to participate in a costume contest that would, presumably, take place while a DJ spun the fly tunes. So while it is possible that the young man in question just didn't dig superfly culture -- blame a sheltered childhood or too few viewings of Shaft -- it's also possible that his statement was an astute, if simple, observation. Because at 10:30, dude, the place did blow -- with neither Cinderella nor Foxy Brown among the dozen or so people in attendance. And as fedora- and faux-'fro-wearing "pimps" and "hos" in vinyl miniskirts and go-go boots (or, "kick-me-down-and-fuck-me boots," as they were described by one wearer) trickled in, the party people never really came through. But maybe that's because they knew a couple of simple truths that had obviously eluded Cosmo management: First of all, the idea of a bunch of white kids pretending to be black for an evening is just plain weird to begin with; and secondly, retro sucks.

Think about it: Cosmo, a club in lily-white LoDo, invited a bunch of twenty-something recreational club kids to do their best impression of their impressions of an underworld that is -- at least stereotypically -- associated with black culture of the Seventies. Filmmakers brought it to Hollywood via the blaxploitation films of the era, and club owners thought it would be a good idea to bring it to their establishment decades later. And while Shaft might look good in polysuits, fat collars and an Afro, Cherry Creek yuppie muffins don't fare so well. Especially in 1999. (Ironically, most of the people who were actually dressed up like black "pimps" were the white folks; groups of well-dressed, stylishly modern black men huddled around tables, talking on cell phones and regarding the Afro-wearing white boys with expressions that indicated that they knew full well just how silly it all was.)

But the flawed aesthetics of the evening are hardly what made the event so very icky. It had much more to do with a bizarre and faulty concept. Sure, everyone knows that white culture constantly steals, robs and appropriates black culture, particularly in the realm of music and style. (If you don't believe it's happening now, just go check out the "Urban Chic" fashions in the window of 16th Street Mall shops or watch hip-hop leap out of the bins at Virgin into pasty, eager hands.) But the Pimp & Ho Ball wasn't really a product of all that. It was more like a belated Halloween cartoon where everyone involved came dressed as a bloated caricature of some cultural phenomenon they neither really knew nor understood. Imagine, say, a sports bar hosting "Queens and Dykes" night, where the normally Nike-clad athletic types did their best impersonation of gay men and lesbians. I think we can all agree that would be absurd, right? The Pimp & Ho Ball operated on essentially the same premise, to unsettling ends.

Of course, the idea might be excusable had the event delivered on its promises and actually been fun -- an evening of self-aware silliness without much regard for political correctness. But it wasn't. The drinks were weak, the promised "rare grooves" consisted of the same Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye songs spinning at this very moment on "Jammin' Oldies" 92.5 FM, and the Cosmo management seemed to think blowing up a few balloons and tacking up Seventies movie posters would create the illusion that the club was some sort of mellow, vibey funk house. In the end, the ball was a half-assed attempt to usher in yet another retro revival, an idea that's about as exciting as a late-night Fantasy Island marathon. Disco and funk revival parties have been going on since Ronald Reagan was in office. Sure, there's much to celebrate in the dance music of eras gone by, but with sooo many clubs in town -- Deadbeat, Vinyl, the Church, Synergy, Polly Esther's and others -- already doing so, do we really need another club regularly jumping into that same tepid pool?

Let's move on, shall we?

The management at Cosmo, and those who've finally grown tired of tired tunes and atmospheres, might do well to check out Tongues Untied, an inexplicable, unassuming little dance club that has recently re-created itself and reopened at 314 East 13th Avenue, a shabby corner on the downtown fringe of Capitol Hill. Unlike Cosmo and other clubs making tokenistic attempts to appeal to fans of urban music, the folks at Tongues know what's going on, and you can feel it in the smoky air. Tongues is a dance club, but not the kind affiliated with the rave and electronic dance scene, and it definitely ain't on no retro tip: Though Tongues is described as a "disco," it operates by wisely interpreting the word to mean a place where dancing is the primary method of communication, which doesn't necessitate a marriage to methods, styles or sounds of the past. Tongues is groovy, for sure, but it manages to be so without succumbing to the mind-numbing nostalgia of straight retro clubs. What made disco- flavored R&B cool when it was new was its newness. It was an unheard, fiercely funky sound that had an automatic effect on a person's groove reflex. But new kinds of music do that today -- and the folks at Tongues have recognized this. The largely gay, largely black, authentic-as-hell hip-hop dance club spins modern soul, R&B and hour after hour of dance-inducing hip-hop in an atmosphere that has little to do with hype and everything to do with good music and a par-tay: A recent Saturday night offered everything from the smooth grooves of Solé and Jazzy Fatnastees to the gritty rhymes of Inspectah Dek, Eve and Ol' Dirty Bastard. Even the crowd is a cross-gender, cross-race, cross-every-social-strata-imaginable sample of the cultural confluences going on in music; the mix might scare the bejeezus out of Strom Thurmond, but it's good news for the more open-minded dance devotee.

If you didn't know it was there, you might never even notice Tongues -- a generic "Dance Club" sign on the front of the building is a shoddy remnant of the space's previous incarnations as David's, The Metro, Club 13 E and other ill-fated dance-oriented establishments. Once inside, you might feel as though you've fallen down some funkified black hole: The music is loud, the lights are bright, the dance floor is a makeshift affair of parquet panels. There isn't any dress code (though the apparel ranges from transparent raincoats with teeny briefs underneath to pink tutus to those newfangled parachute-pant things everyone is wearing.) A few drag queens might dance by you with martinis in hand. Same-sex couples in shiny clothes and glittery skin might invite you to join their grind. Someone showing off her moves might stare you down and out-dance you. Whoever you are, the odds are good that you might get your ass pinched. Tongues probably isn't for everyone; rather, it's for those who prefer the seedy casinos of downtown Vegas to the Strip, or who would rather go to a flea market than a mall. It's the dance-club equivalent to a really great dive bar with a good jukebox, a place where the music sounds good, the drinks are cheap and flowin', and the whole experience is likely to linger as a pleasant blur the next morning. The club itself isn't glamorous -- but the people are. Most important, nearly everyone heeds the dancing call, without a thought of any moment but the one they're living in.

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Laura Bond
Contact: Laura Bond