REVIEWS: Katy Perry, Donna Summer

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New music is coming out fast and furious lately, so here are a few more CDs to check out.

Katy Perry, PrismDamn you, divorce. You went and made Katy Perry all grown-up. Where’s the fireworks? The teenage dreams? The California girl? They’re few and far between on Perry’s third major release, where her personal woes become cathartic self-empowerment anthems and criminally written true-life tales.

Because it is possibly the worst song of Perry’s career, let’s get “Ghost” out of the way. The track wants to be taken seriously. And it is a serious song: Aside from the introspective ballad “By the Grace of God,” it’s the most forward she’s been musically with regard to her relationship with Russell Brand and his text breakup. But these fourth-grade diary scribblings — but you hit send and disappeared in front of my eyes — cheapen any emotion we’re supposed to be feeling. “This is How We Do” is an embarrassment, too, and not because Perry “raps.” Again, its rankness is due to how much the content is dumbed-down with cringe-worthy words about getting nails done all Japanese-y and “sucking real bad at Mariah Carey-oke.

Prism doesn’t suck real bad, though. It has its moments, all of which come early: the galvanizing mantra “Roar” has a chorus so insanely catchy it’s no wonder it ruled the charts since summer; the power ballad “Unconditionally” soars to cosmic heights; and “Legendary Lovers” takes Perry to India, where the mysteriousness of the track, and the sultriness of her feathered voice, is imbued with a surprisingly not-lame Bollywood sound. So, cool. She’s taking artistic risks. But by the end of Prism, you kind of wish Katy were still kissing girls and blasting Reddi-wip from her tits.

Donna Summer, Love to Love You Donna.  Spearheaded by her longtime collaborator and widower, Bruce Sudano, this posthumous tribute to the queen of disco recruits some of the best in the business to put a new spin on the disco gems in the queen’s catalog. It’s a (re)mixed bag. The good: Giorgio Moroder’s euphoric “Love to Love You Baby” and his other contribution, “La Dolce Vita,” a song he’d been working on with Summer before she passed last year that now — with his “we miss her so” intones — serves as an elegy. The not so good: A version of “Last Dance” that just goes to show that some songs of Summer’s should go untouched.

Panic! at the Disco, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!  The arena-pop trio has always prided itself on being odd. And though this isn’t them at their weirdest — or even their best — there are some unexpected turns on the band’s techno-tinged fourth album. Among them, a sample of a Sesame Street jingle on “Vegas Lights,” an EDM track as glittery as the city (the boys’ hometown) they’re celebrating; “Girls/Girls/Boys,” a bisexuality anthem with ’80s spirit; and the brooding standout “Casual Affair,” an electro-rocker that has more in common with Depeche Mode than Panic! at the Disco.

— Chris Azzopardi

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BREAKING: Donna Summer dead at 63

TMZ is reporting that disco diva Donna Summer passed away Thursday morning at the age of 63. After a battle with cancer, she succumbed to the disease while in Florida. From TMZ:

Donna Summer — the Queen of Disco — died this morning after a battle with cancer … TMZ has learned.

We’re told Summer was in Florida at the time of her death. She was 63 years old.

Sources close to Summer tell us … the singer was trying to keep the extent of her illness under wraps. We spoke to someone who was with Summer a couple of weeks ago … who says she didn’t seem too bad.

In fact, we’re told she was focused on trying to finish up an album she had been working on.

A winner of five Grammy awards, she is synonymous with disco music of the ’70s often introducing innovative sounds to dance music with longtime collaborator and producer Giorgio Moroder. Key disco hits include the groundbreaking “I Feel Love,” “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls.”

In the early ’80s as disco simmered and AIDS grew, she was often criticized for rumored statements that evoked homophobia. She allegedly had commented that AIDS was God’s punishment on gays for their lifestyle. The rumors haunted her career even as she denied them.

With a slight resurgence in the mid-’80s, she found renewed footing both on the charts and with gay fans. With hits such as “She Works Hard for the Money” and “This Time I Know It’s For Real,” she returned to the dance charts and the turntable of gay club DJs.

Summer’s last album, Crayons, was released in 2008 and peaked at 17 on the Billboard 200. She is survived by her husband and producer Bruce Sudano and three daughters, Mimi, Brooklyn and Amanda.

Below is video of Summer singing “Last Dance” at the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Concert.

—  Rich Lopez

10 singers, 3 groups make Voice of Pride finals

Yesternight at the Round-Up Saloon, 10 vocalists and three singing groups made it through to the Voice of Pride finals. Dallas Tavern Guild Executive Director Michael Doughman said this is probably the best crop of talent to come through VOP, and he was pretty much on target. As one of the judges, it was tough to whittle the list down to 10.

Five groups competed, but Steelos, AMPH (pronounced “amp”) and Spare Parts made the cut and will compete Aug. 14 in the finals at the Rose Room.

The 10 singers to move on were Dru Rivera, Angie Landers, Joel Canales, Vanessa Guzman, Juliana Jeffery, Blake Askew, Steven Patterson, Carlos Saenz, Christine Pradia, Kristen Philips. They ranged from classic rock to American standards and everything in between. Just like last year, the field is split evenly with five ladies and five gentlemen advancing.

Perhaps a surprise to some — and definitely to his fan club on hand (with T-shirts) — was the omission of Robert Olivas. Having been named a finalist the last two years, Olivas’ supporters were brought to tears by him not advancing. However, he does still get to compete with Angie Landers as Spare Parts in the group category, and with a solid performance last night, they could be the one to beat.

Now a note to the contestants: I get it – black is slimming and easy, but after the first, oh, like 10, it got really  tiresome. Color isn’t a bad thing. Don’t be afraid of it. Or bedazzle the heck out of those black shirts and pants.

There were some pretty great voices and personalities on stage last night, along with host Victoria Weston, pictured, but dare I say this couple stole the show during the tallying of scores? They pretty much got a 10 from everybody. When they guy pulled her hair (I KNOW!), and dropped her to the floor only to catch her it was better than anything on Dancing With the Stars. I’m hoping fellow judge Gary Floyd will share some of the video he caught of the two wowing us during Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.”

—  Rich Lopez

Possibly the best pitch to get me to an event

As part of the job, I get invites to some fresh events around town. I appreciate every one, but I’m also a homebody and at the end of the work day, I typically drive my 20 miles home and plant myself there for the night. Still, every so often, something will get me off my ass. I received this package Thursday which at first I thought might be a bomb but upon opening discovered was pretty much full of awesome.

DJ K. L. Kemp recently started Alt-Disco, a night at the Fallout Lounge where he spins what he calls “no bullshit old-school underground gay disco … just like they used to play at the Trocadero Transfer back in the day in San Francisco.” He said this in a handwritten (HANDWRITTEN!!) letter enclosed in the package that was also one of the most earnest and genuine pitches to reach a diverse audience. I mean, someone who posts “Georgio Moroder for President” as his political view on Facebook and invites my friends and me to party it up like it’s 1979 sounds like a true disco devotee. Oh, and he’s spinning vinyl.

Plus, he sent me a sweet poster and Donna Summer’s A Love Trilogy album. Probably the best part of it all was the package labeled as “time-sensitive disco.”

Right on.

The next Alt-Disco party happens July 13 at Fallout Lounge, 835 Exposition Ave. at 9 p.m. And seriously, they have some of the best cocktails in town. See you there.

—  Rich Lopez

Music. Score!

THE BOI AND THE COWBOY | Generations collide when Cazwell, right, and Cowboy Jeff Olson of the Village People bring their very gay music to the Cotton Bowl on Thursday, Feb. 3.

Musicians including Cazwell and Jeff Olson of the Village People head to Texas for a big gay Super Bowl party — although neither is all that excited about the game

All’s well that Cazwell

Who knew it just takes a popsicle to rise to stardom? Just ask Katy Perry. Or Cazwell, whose colorful music video for “Ice Cream Truck” became the gay anthem of last summer. With hot dancers and sexualized frozen confections, it has an infectious beat and a sense of joy that combined to make it a huge hit for the artist.

Just don’t expect the Ice Cream Truck Boys to join Cazwell when he’s in town next week for XLV Party, a three-day event inside a 60,000-square-foot climate-controlled tent on the field of the Cotton Bowl. The festivities kick off with a super-gay night of entertainment on Thursday. And even with the likes of Lady Bunny, DJ Inferno and the iconic Village People sharing stage time, Cazwell plans to bring it.

Describing himself as what would result if Biggie Smalls ate Donna Summer, Cazwell has combined the energy of dance music with the soul of hip-hop for a fun, modern sound that is all about getting people to have fun and dance.

“I’m going to turn it out. It’s going to be a high-energy show,” he says. “I’m going to do a combination of my dance songs but I also just want to kick back and wrestle with some beats and some rhymes. I think people will get to know me a little better as an artist.”

XLV Party will mark Cazwell’s second appearance in Dallas in less than a year and he’s anxious to come back.

“I was in Dallas last summer. It was really, really good. I was very surprised by the turnout. I wasn’t expecting so many fans,” he says. “We did a meet-and-greet that lasted three hours.”

His fan base has grown exponentially since “Ice Cream Truck,” but he still remembers the days when even Lady Gaga couldn’t get a reaction from a New York crowd.

“We did a song together at a club called Family. She’d always been kind of eccentric, but really down-to-earth. We had this stage that was like the size of a door, but she took it seriously. She crammed two dancers up there and then I got up there and she said, ‘I’m going to throw you to the ground and ride you like I’m fucking you and the audience is going to go crazy,’” he recalls. The gimmick landed with a thud.

“Somewhere there’s footage of it, but I can’t find it. The funny thing about it is that we really didn’t get the reaction we thought we were going to get. Nobody knew who she was so they just kind of looked at us with their arms folded. Like great, here’s another club kid with a song. Six months later, everybody knew who Lady Gaga was.”

Cazwell has garnered a loyal following on the New York club scene and has broken out with hit songs like, “I Seen Beyonce at Burger King” and “All Over Your Face,” but “Ice Cream Truck” is really where things clicked with a larger audience. And it almost didn’t happen.

“I didn’t want to write a new song; I was feeling really lazy. But a friend was pressuring me,” he says. “I wrote it for this movie called Spork, which won a bunch of awards for the Tribeca Film Festival and is going nationwide in May. My friend said he wanted a beat that sounded like an ice cream truck. We did the whole thing in like 45 minutes. It was just really, really easy.”

He wasn’t going to do anything with it until his manager suggested he make a quick video “to the song to get my face out there. It made me think of summertime and the hot Latin guys in my neighborhood. We all know a bunch of guys, dancers from the club scene so we invited them all over. No one was paid. We’re all friends and they just wanted to be a part of it.”

The video become a sensation across Facebook and video sites like YouTube, and with it came legions of new fans. But that’s OK … for now.

“I think that right now I’m in a good time in my life because I think the people that come up to me are genuine fans. I think when you get more famous, people want to meet you just because you’re famous. That could get tedious. I’m sure people go up to Lady Gaga just because she’s Lady Gaga, not because they respect her music,” Cazwell says.

“I feel right now that people are being genuine with me. I hope they’re people I’ve had a positive effect on because when people tell me that, it really makes me feel really good.”

And as for his excitement over the Super Bowl? Well, not so much. Cazwell admits he’s not a football fan — or a fan of any sport for that matter.

“I’m not passionate about sports at all. I don’t get it. I see sports on the news and wonder how that’s a news story. It’s just a game!” he says.

That’s all right. We see him as more a concessions guy anyway … like, the ice cream truck.

— Steven Lindsey

Cowboy up

Despite the cheeky allure of the Village People, the concept band is nothing to laugh at. After 34 years, the quintessential disco band still gets audiences to do the “Y.M.C.A.” dance. A  Rolling Stone cover, a Walk of Fame star and million-selling albums are nothing to sniff at.

Jeff Olson jumped onboard after the peak of the Village People’s popularity in the late 1970s, but he’s still enjoying the ride three decades later.

“Our first and foremost obligation is to just entertain,” he says. “We are obligated to do it and I’d say we do it very well.”

As a VP veteran, Olson sounds less like a music star and more like an elder slacker. He has a relaxed, cool inflection as he talks up his favorite classic rock bands and will say “man” after most everything. He’s the kind of guy you could kill a few hours with, as long as a beer and maybe something to smoke are handy.

The People don’t talk much about the sexuality of its members, but it’s hard to ignore the impact the group had on the gay community in the ’70s.

After the band floundered in the ’80s when Olson joined to replace original VP Cowboy Randy Jones, the gay audience stuck around.

“I don’t think we’ve had any change with the gay fans. They have always been very loyal and we’re still very grateful about that,” he says. “We’ve done lots to increase our other fans but really, nobody gives a shoot. Who cares anymore about gay or straight thing? We’re on this earth for very short time.”

At 60, Olson feels great and is obviously in shape to do the dance moves, but if it were up to him, he’d stay home. Still, the fans drive him to keep entertaining.

“I hate being on the road,” he admits. “When you live out of a suitcase, so much sucks like trying to get through TSA these days. I love being home, but we really love what we do.”

Where each Village Person represented a distinctive male archetype of gay fantasy, Olson is coy about the popularity of his cowboy image — though as any weekend at the Round-Up Saloon would prove, cowboys are a sexy commodity in Dallas. Olson won’t say if his cowboy is more popular with the boys than the others, but he lets out what sounds like a proud chuckle.

“Honestly I do not know and I don’t care,” he says.” The audiences react differently to all of us. We’re introduced individually so the reaction changes all the time. It’s always all good.”

The irony of Olson coming with the Village People for the very gay night of the Super Bowl party is that sports and crowds aren’t his thing.

“Nah, I don’t follow football,” he says. “And you wanna know a secret? I’m paranoid about crowds. I don’t do well with them and I need space. I don’t like signing autographs because folks don’t do the things they should do as a human being. But one on one I’m good with.”

Despite getting a few things off his chest, Olson mostly wants to remind that the Village People don’t necessarily stand for anything … but they will make you dance.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

RICH’S MIXTAPE

Perhaps some of these Pride parade entrants will consider these tunes

Ricky Martin
Ricky Martin

Kudos to Pride parade floats for making the event fab. But how likely will we hear the obvious trash disco or Lady Gaga blaring from speakers as they trickle down the road to Lee Park? Way likely. In this mixtape edition, I created my fantasy parade soundtrack for some of the floats and entrants this year. Otherwise, be prepared for “We Are Family” heading your way.

“I’m a Rainbow” – Donna Summer: OK, it’s a ballad and maybe obvious, but it sounds like just what Resource Center Dallas is all about. Plus, a drag queen could kill this on a float.

“Stand By Your Man” – Lyle Lovett: His cover isn’t cheeky by any means, but would speak volumes for the Round-Up Saloon’s walk down. Although I was torn between this and Toby Keith’s “Shoulda Been a Cowboy.”

“Sex (I’m a …)” – Berlin: Personally, I love the brazenness of Adult New Releases’ ads. I only imagine they’d be the same way in public.

“Not Myself Tonight” – Christina Aguilera: As the men transform into the divas of the Rose Room, I can see this running through their heads. Why not “sing” it out loud?

“Young Americans” – David Bowie: Youth First Texas keeps growing into an important part of the LGBT community. And you know, the children are our future.

“La Bomba” – Ricky Martin, pictured: Maybe it’s cliche to go with Latin music for our gay Latin clubs, but this song is a party all by itself. Crowds will rumba as this floats down.

“Another Piece of Meat” – Scorpions: Heavy metal has its place in the parade if this accompanies a visit to Club Dallas. What? They have weekly cookouts. Get your mind out of the gutter.

“Id Engager” – Of Montreal: Legacy Counseling Center could throw a little Freud our way and be totally hip about it.

“Teeth” — Lady Gaga. After her impromptu concert at the Round-Up Saloon, she had to be here — if only for Floss.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas