by: Sandi Durell
Stew, born Mark Stewart, made his way from the Brooklyn and downtown clubs uptown to the cellar for two nights at 54 Below. He rose to fame when he won a Tony Award for “Passing Strange” on Broadway in 2008, written by him and his longtime girlfriend/collaborator Heidi Rodewald (they’re now split).
With his band “The Negro Problem,” the evening’s musical renderings were a potpourri of songs from different shows (including Passing Strange) and albums, featuring many guest artists. Stew definitely has a perspective and an obsession with talking and writing about race, politics and social issues. His lyrics are contemporary edgy, biting story-laden and have an irony all their own.
“Ken” is about . . . you guessed it – Ken Doll and how the people at Mattel always stick him with Barbie (who is not set up to screw), Black Barbie has no history – “a corporate toy cursed to bring you joy. Fa La La . . .”
His ethnic romp in “Flatbursh Avenue on Sunday” has all the people- white, black, Jews, even Al Queda on Atlantic Avenue, come out to play. Joined by guest Alex Emanuel, moody “Dark Sex” talks about pot and sex – “I’ll have some very dark sex with you and never see you again.” Funky “Montgomery” with David Cale is from an upcoming new piece about a father and son in different areas of the music business – “talkin’ about the Holy Spirit, Yeah.” Stew’s dark humor is ever present in “Florida” – “when I turn into an old Jew, I will not retire in you . . . hangin’ Chads and lynchin’ boys.”(see video below)
Stew offered up “Blackmen Ski,” another of his more provocative songs. His music is a mixture of Latin and pop rock sounds with good beats. His lyrics thought provoking. He does have a penchant for the “F” word in just about every sentence of his patter that can be a little distracting at times.
With De’Adre Aziza, joined by Rebecca Naomi Jones, (Passing Strange) Stew and the gals really worked “Keys.” Rebecca and Stew whipped up a soulfully ethereal and suffering “Scared (of Your Love)” one of the evening’s highlights.
The packed house cheered as Stew and his 10 piece band of top notch musicians, “The Negro Problem,” closed the two hour show with Eisa Davis and Stew in “Love Lotto” – – at the Bushwick Cafe – “she wears her blackness like Armani . . . can I get your love?” an almost anthem like ending as everyone joined in.