March 9, 2006

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Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (R)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

Comedian Dave Chappelle holds the very best party ever and invites you (to see some of it; I’m sure you’ll see more of it on the DVD) in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, which offers up a winning mix of live musical performances and several instances of Dave Chappelle being Dave Chappelle.

It shouldn’t shock anyone that Dave Chappelle knows how to produce a great show. He’s been doing it for several seasons on Comedy Central and is poised to do it again, even after running off on the latest planned-for season. Block Party seems to be exactly what Chappelle said it is, which is a concert film of the kind of concert he would like to attend. These are not performers picked because they come with a certain number of fans or because they’ve sold a particular number of records or been on MTV’s TRL enough times. There are no Beyonces, no members of the decliningly talented Dr. Dre / Eminem / 50-Cent crew, nor anybody — in fact — that you’d be likely to hear on Jam’n 94.5 FM, for example, with the exception of Kanye West and you can go many rotations of the song list on that station before you hear “Gold Digger.”

Which is a long way of saying all of these performers are good, some of them even great. West, Common, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, The Roots and the reunited The Fugees turn in enthusiastic, invigorating performances that make you wish the theater were your private theater so you could get up and sing and dance. In between the music, Dave Chappelle jokes around with the musicians, with the fans he invites (both from Brooklyn and from his home in Ohio) to come see the concert in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, with the people involved in setting up the concert and with people like Big Daddy Kayne and Fred Hampton Jr. who just drop by to check out the party. Chappelle is funny, naturally, charming people you wouldn’t normally think are his fans (he approaches several older folks in Ohio who decline invitations to the party but tell him that they love him). He’s relaxed, whether he’s asking a college marching band (on the fly) to come and play at the block party or he’s walking around the concert site and talking to the bizarre couple living in the genteel wreck of a building just feet away from where he sets up his stage. There is something chummy and familiar about seeing Chappelle with these artists he so admires and who admire him. The musicians even seem calmed down enough by Chappelle’s general cool that they have little pretense. They mingle with his guests and with each other and they bop their heads and sing along like fans watching each other’s performances.

Watching Block Party was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I did not find myself thinking about the film during it. I simply absorbed the movie — music, comedy and all — and left the theater wondering how I could get more of it, what DVD, what CD I could buy that would offer the same feeling-great-everything’s-fine vibe. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to see the movie again. A

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