2005: Lewis Black - “The Carnegie Hall Performance”

If you were alive and conscious during the second Bush administration, you really didn’t need anyone to grace a 50-foot-high stage to tell you any of the following things: that the 2003 invasion of Iraq constituted a crime of aggression deserving of trial at the Hague, that Rick Santorum is a class-A idiot, that airport security post-9/11 sucked, that chyrons are unhelpful, that the handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath was botched by bureaucracy and poor resumes, that the only kernels of candy corn ever sold were produced in 1913. Then again, maybe you needed that last one.

To hear Lewis Black tell it, the immediate post-Y2K world was on the brink of totally losing any and all semblance of its shit; it’s easy to forget how high the stakes seemed. The only rational response was to get mad as hell and not take it anymore. And on this, The Carnegie Hall Performance, his undisputed masterpiece spanning two discs — yeah, kids; CDs were still very much a thing in 2005 — Black frequently evokes a millenarian, Network-like character on the verge of total and complete internal collapse. “The lesson to learn from the Hurricane is that while we were fighting the terrorists… God bit us in the ass!

And so it’s a delightful, sacrilegious affair. Chock-full of soliloquy, along with comic digressions and segues that rival any of Floyd’s best, to hear Lewis Black in his prime is something special. He alternates whimsically between musings on his Jewish upbringing, the inconceivability of headlines, and, at the climax, eviscerates the political sacred cows of the moment by recounting his experience MCing the 2004 Congressional Correspondents Dinner.

It’s essentially a long spoken-word polemic with the so-called moral majority — neither, Black again and again reminds us — in the cross-hairs. The Carnegie Hall Performance exists against a system buoyed by the toils of the many at the whims of a greedy, power-hungry few. But above all that, it’s freaking funny.

I bought this album for $9.99 — $13 in 2019 dollars — on the iTunes Music Store about a year after it came out. I was twelve years-old at the time. But I’ve been listening ever since. And even as the references date themselves further and further into memory, becoming more quaint with distance, I still find myself laughing, alternately charmed and petrified by the poignancy of Black’s comic repertoire. “You can’t talk about a war with a smile on your face,” Black laments. “When your face… doesn’t match… words… that’s fucked up.” Life in and of itself may be fucked up, but with a scythe-toting, eviscerating guide like Black — who turns seventy-one this August — we can at least share with him, and one another, the most coprophagic of grins.

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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