Anjali and I just got back from Russell Peters at the Crystal Ballroom. Apparently 436 tickets were sold at $35. Seems like a good take to me but Seattle did 1900 and tickets were $50. Russell demands big checks and the promoter lost a lot of money. Portland is a cheap town and I am amazed that that many people paid $35 to see a comic with nothing available commercially. I think the turnout shows the power of youtube where most people I imagine are introduced to his work. The bulk of the tickets were sold in the last 4 days which just shows how slow to move most Portland audiences are. When we were in negotiations with the promoter to do the after party he alleged that they worked with their own DJs. Well, actually they dug around Portland for a straight-ahead hip hop DJ. Maybe they usually do work with their own DJs and the slow ticket sales and a frustrated search for a free venue resulted in them digging in Portland for a DJ at the last minute. Russell “hates” Indian music (which probably goes some way towards explaining why we didn’t get the gig) and it was “Gold Digger” and “In Da Club” right out of the gate. The DJ (Def Touch?) was allegedly late because of being stuck in traffic behind the Starlight parade.
There was nothing but a Hip-hop/R&B mixtape playing when we entered Lola’s Room below the Crystal Ballroom. I was somewhat expecting to see a room full of hundreds dancing to live DJs. There were probably more people still up on the top floor in the ballroom trying to get drinks from the upstairs bar. The one attached to Lola’s Room required five dollars to get access. It was a very quiet, light crowd of people waiting (in the hopes to see Russell? Or have a party?). This after party venue was only decided on at the last minute because so few advanced tickets for Russell had sold and every other venue in town supposedly wanted money to host the event. So no one in town other than the attendees of the comedy show upstairs even had any idea that this party was happening. Everyone was mostly sitting down, Indian boys in circles around white tablecloths with drinks in front of them. The carrot constantly hung out by the emcee was that “if everyone packed the dance floor” Russell Peters (allegedly a “great DJ”) would actually play some tunes. Well, he had no records so he could play Def Touch’s mainstream hiphop singles, I guess. Def Touch was even playing CENSORED versions of the songs which always baffle me. I will only play a censored version when it is an absolute necessity because no other version of the song is available.
I was told that five different people including Russell were going to be DJing but I find that hard to believe since no equipment was set up until Def Touch arrived late. There was an hour of backing tape with people sitting around waiting. And there are five DJs waiting to play? Really? The sound was good but as soon as I saw the DJ setting up turntables so close to the bouncing floor I knew there was going to be skipping since I have had trouble playing records at any Lola’s gig without being set up on the permanent fixture attached to the back wall. Sure enough things were skipping and because of the sound effects in all the censored portions of the lyrics I couldn’t tell what was a skip and what was a deleted cuss word. The sound was good and loud with a lot of bass other than that. The mainstream songs certainly sounded as good as I’ve ever heard them but hardly provided enough interest to keep us from leaving such a relatively quiet and uninteresting scene early. The promoter was cool enough to get us in for free (Thanks!) and as we left we heard that the bar was shutting down at midnight because of how few people were buying drinks. As we were rounding the stairs heading out we heard the emcee making noise about how Russell was going to be coming to the stage but knowing what was likely in the record bins I couldn’t “rustle” up much interest. Pizza Oasis came through like a champ for a midnight run. Good overrunning pizzas. Apizza Scholls is damn good but sometimes an overflowing pizza just hits the spot.
PS The comics were all better than average. I like Daniel Nainan but his act was exactly the same as the one available on youtube. He stood at the base of the stairs and said “Hi” to everyone and handed out business cards which he announced from the stage were “free” even if you didn’t buy his DVDs. Yoshi was a raunchier comic which the crowd didn’t warm to as much. His accent (which Russell Peters made a great deal of fun of) becoming nigh- unintelligible when he started riffing very fast which he was quite apt to do. Russell spent a lot of time pausing and passing time between bits and it still came to only an hour not including the “Somebody” routine done as an encore. The encore got far more cheers than laughs suggesting how familiar it was to the people in attendance. Russell did do some playing with the crowd, a lot of time with an older Indian uncle and a group of “Arabs.” He expertly dispatched hecklers from all positions in the long room including the balcony and the back bar. He used a lot of his repetoire of accents in sketches that were slightly different to avoid being youtube repeats. My favorite bit was about his desire to see good Indian pornos created and how he imagined the soundtrack being tabla beats played on a woman’s ass and a guy’s penis being played like a tumbi. Russell providing expert vocal imitations of these instruments in his very humorous porn enactments. There were some interesting perspectives throughout and while I appreciate some of Russell’s approach I still wish he was more politically progressive and engaged than he comes off in his routines. He did make some very interesting comments about “white people” (specifically the white people of North America) and our position relative to all the other world’s peoples (in the form of North American immigrants). His flipped perspective on white guilt was quite thought-provoking and insightful.