I am not exaggerating with the following statement: When the Roots, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott take the stage to perform “You Got Me” during Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, it is one of the more exhilarating, powerful filmed concert performances I’ve ever seen. I could say the same for Kanye West, John Legend and Ohio’s Central State University marching band performing “Jesus Walks.”
Actually, I could say this for just about every act in this tremendously entertaining combination of music and comedy. Chappelle, after signing his mega deal with Comedy Central (and shortly before he bugged out to South Africa), got it in his head to put on a concert in the streets of Brooklyn. The film, directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) intercuts segments of Chappelle promoting and planning the concert with footage of the actual show.
Those looking for Chappelle’s Show type of comedy might be a little disappointed because most of the humor in this film is spontaneous, unlike the sketch format of the now stalled Comedy Central program. He does no busting out into Rick James impersonations here (although he does do a little Samuel L. Jackson). But there are plenty of segments with Chappelle good-naturedly goofing off back- and onstage or joking around with residents of his Ohio hometown.
Amusing bits include Chappelle’s visit with the creepy owners of the home that provides the concert’s backdrop—a home Chappelle believes could double as a crack house in a movie. It’s sweet the way Chappelle asks the CSU marching band to make the trek from Ohio to New York for the gig; when one band member asks if there will be compensation, Chappelle replies that there will be a sandwich on the bus.
As for the music, the man has impeccable taste. He pulls off the feat of a Fugees reunion (Lauryn Hill’s record label wouldn’t allow her to perform solo stuff, so she got together with Wyclef Jean instead), and the marching band from Ohio provides Kanye West with significant backing. Their booming brass and drums put a smile on West’s face a mile wide, something that surely helps his performance as it soars into the atmosphere, well above the city, making the birds and planes happy.
Truly unbelievable is the grandest of divas, Jill Scott, as she shows the folks populating the city block exactly how to belt out a song. Her vocals are intoxicating enough, but when Badu joins the party, things become impossibly good. Hill does a nice job delivering “Killing Me Softly,” but the Queen of Show award must go to Scott. (I’m buying some albums next week.)
Mos Def delivers an electrifying set and provides drum rolls for the occasional dirty Chappelle joke. (Def is also the star of this week’s 16 Blocks, possibly making him history’s only actor to star in two movies with the word “block” in the title within the same week). Other musicians include Dead Prez, Cody ChesnuTT, Black Star, Talib Kweli and Big Daddy Kane.
It’s cool to watch Chappelle’s dream concert come to life, and it’s a total treat listening to it. Gondry has put together one of the great concert films with this movie, right up there with Woodstock and Stop Making Sense. Chappelle recently announced that he probably won’t be doing anymore Chappelle’s Show due to creative disputes. That’s a huge loss, but if he were to stage a block party every year and put it to film, that would be our gain.