Local legend gives lackluster performance
THE SANTA CLARA
October 15, 2015
I don’t really like dark spaces, strobing light frenzies or interacting with strangers. But I like Andre Nickatina. Since I had lived the requisite number of years to earn entry to his performance last Friday at Agenda Lounge in the San Jose SoFA district, I went.
While chit-chatting with my Uber driver on the ride over, he mentioned that he daylighted as a songwriter. To prove it, he ignored the freeway traffic to scroll through his iPhone and play me a distressed pop-punk original with existential lyrics like:
“What we do, do we do it for the good vibrations?”
In a literal sense, that was exactly why I was doing what I was doing. The ballad concluded just as we pulled up at Agenda.
At 10:34 p.m., I had my wrist stamped with a black ink heart. I walked up a long narrow staircase in a dimly lit, brightly painted orange hallway. I stepped into the club and cemented my adulthood by entering a night club for the very first time.
Red light bathed the patrons that bounced on suspended hardwood floors scuffed by thousands of rug-cutting moves. Vibrant screen-saver-esque mazes flew by on smallish plasma screens. The air smacked of sweat, but circulated thoroughly due to firm breezes from massive full-blast fans.
Attractive employees tended the backlit bar and the three VIP tables sat empty, bordered by black velvet cords. The resident DJ operated from a command center behind a little arched window overlooking the dance floor. The opening act bellowed into an overwhelmed microphone on a low stage in the far right corner of the room.
“I got powder, you know I got powder!” He repeated 16 times for a chorus.
When that opener concluded, the house DJ asked if San Jose was ready to turn up tonight. The crowd indicated that they were. He dropped the house lights, filled the room with bass and morphed the lounge from concert venue to throbbing nightclub.
Other openers included: A bleached flat-top who just turned 21 and rapped, “Lick it down, bottoms up, take another shot,” a greasy pompadour who seemed genuinely upset we didn’t know his lyrics and three beards who rapped about blowjobs.
After an hour and a half of standing still and failing to muster the courage to get on the dance floor, I bought a water and plopped down on some low black couches. I was soon joined by a meticulously made-up woman.
Exuding high-maintenance in her immaculate white dress, she crossed her legs and clunked my bottle with her half-empty drink.
“This is so San Jose,” she opened.
She leaned over me, sloshed drops on my pants and boldly proclaimed that she knew Too $hort, believed that Tupac still lived and had been in college during the OJ Simpson fiasco. When I mentioned that was around the time I had been born, she left for a refill.
Throughout the night, the DJ teased the imminence of Andre Nickatina’s performance 11 times. By reminder seven, my enthusiasm had been exhausted. But finally, at 1:04 am, the back of the room stirred as security flanked a tall man in a plaid baseball cap and a plain white T-shirt as he made his way through the clamoring throngs and stepped onstage.
The 45-year-old Bay Area legend surveyed the delirious audience of 70 or so people with placid, low-lidded eyes.
After asking how we were doing and receiving an unhinged chorus of squeals, Andre Nickatina rapped his newish trappy hit, “Jelly.” He orchestrated the bounce of the crowed with one arm as rhymes spilled forth in a steady stream. He never missed a word. He inquired as to the location of his fellow weed-smokers, then hit us with his thesis “Smoke Dope and Rap.” He directed us to point at the ceiling in tribute to Mac Dre, then played their collaboration record, “Andre N Andre.”
He let the melancholy acoustic guitar riff of his masterpiece, “Ayo for Yayo” loop as the audience went bonkers. He touched outstretched hands and extended the mic to us so we could finish off the final chorus a capella. He turned to the crowd, inhaled deeply and hollered, “Make some noise for drugs and alcohol baby!”
Then, he left. He zipped through the crowd, entertaining selfie-seekers until security yanked them off him. He disappeared, leaving eddies of dissatisfaction and confusion in his wake.
At 1:18 in the morning, I trudged down the steps and summoned a return Uber. I had waited for two and a half hours, spent $63 and saw Andre Nickatina for 14 minutes.
Nickatina underwhelmed, but blew any of the other acts out of the water. Wasn’t close. While barely trying, he made every other person who went on that stage irrelevant. He has mastered a craft at a level I won’t ever touch. He gave me a brief glimpse of his hard-earned gift.
That’s why I spent my money. I wanted to leave the tight-pacing circle of my life. I wanted to breathe the same air as someone who can tap into something more potent and electrifying than I ever will. I wanted to feel special.
But my special night didn’t mean anything to him. To him, Agenda Lounge must have looked like Punxsutawney did to Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” Nickatina performed “Ayo for Yayo” for the first time 12 years ago. How could he get hyped for another night rapping the same four songs to another drunk sea of hooting fans? How many nights has he had just like that? How many more?
He mailed it in. He fulfilled his contractual obligations, shut off the second his time was up and got the hell out. He didn’t go whole hog. He didn’t have to. He didn’t want to.
I’m humbled. At home, I had bonded with the ideal of Nickatina. I relish his unfiltered dopeness. I admire his uncompromised individuality. When I bought my ticket, I expected my abstract ideas of him to be bolstered by the real deal. I expected to feel his music in my marrow. I expected to be wowed.
But my connection is one-sided. I don’t really know who he is. And he certainly doesn’t know who I am.
So he didn’t have to return my gratitude. He didn’t have to exude the magic of his final cuts. He didn’t have to match my expectations. All he had to do was the bare minimum to get paid.
Nickatina performed for as long as my money bought. He did his job, but left work early.
Contact John Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.