View From the Front Row, 9/18/10
So the other night, I went and saw Dark Time Sunshine, Void Pedal, Propaganda and Bru Lei at the Shattuck Downlow in Berkeley. First show I've been to in a while... September has been a relatively quiet month as far as live events are concerned, though it's looking like October is going to make up for that. Anyway, first of all, let me just say that it was really cool to see Dark Time Sunshine's name up on the Shattuck Downlow's list of events, since this was their first tour as a headliner if I'm not mistaken. Got to the venue very early as in "on-time" and ended up having to wait within the two hour range before anyone got on. Never a fun thing but at least I was with a friend so we got to chat it up for a bit. I also fulfilled my mission of handing Zavala of Dark Time Sunshine the latest Amoeba Recommends brochure, which features a chunky review of Dark Time Sunshine's album written by yours truly on the first page of the staff picks. He was flattered and appreciative, of course.
On to the music: the first act in the line-up was Bru Lei, who I was kind of surprised to see there as an opening act of all things. Bru Lei the Martial Arts MC has been holding it down in Columbus, OH with his group Spitball since the turn of the century, and he's guested on early songs by folks like Blueprint and Illogic amongst others. He also did a collaborative album with producer Amos Famous a few years back called Danger Zone, and it's a dope disc still worth checking out. Bru Lei had some art on display for people to look at, which he brought up to the stage prior to performing. My friend and I both agreed that artistically, it didn't amount to much though! I should note that by the time he got on stage, the crowd had grown to a massive 6-8 people in attendance, counting my friend and I. Bru Lei's set got off to a very rough start, with beat failures, forgotten lyric fumbles, and indecisiveness in which songs he wanted to perform. He picked things up a bit later though and performed a couple of songs well, including a great autobiographical song about how "Bru always made his babysitta smile" and a song called "The 'L' Word" which featured just about every "L" word except Lesbian (this track also featured my friend's favorite lyric of the evening: "goes well together like Lobster and Lasagna"). Short and decent set by Bru in the end, not the best from him but he's definitely an underrated MC worth checking for.
The next MC that got on stage was a dude named Propaganda, who I hadn't heard of but who is apparently from a Christian rap group out of LA called the Tunnel Rats. One might assume that this would translate to some lame preachy religious shit, but surprisingly Propaganda's songs were anything but and he was clearly the highlight performer of the evening. From the minute Propaganda got on the mic, he just started spitting all of his heart and soul into the microphone, with a passionate energy and delivery that was accentuated by the way he moved around on stage. He definitely had his voice, cadence, and delivery down flat and he kept things varied and entertaining with his songs and interludes. These included a humorous interlude involving M.O.P's "Cold as Ice" at a wedding and an ode to Propaganda's recently deceased friend Citizen Aim. It was great to see an MC so into performing his songs regardless of the size of the tiny crowd or the lack of supporting DJ (he just played beats off his laptop). Really strong set, I already regret not picking up his album after the show!
Dark Time Sunshine came up to perform next in an act of schedule juggling after the venue decided that the turn-out wasn't going to get any greater than 6 people. Unfortunately, they didn't end up being very entertaining live. When I saw them a month or two back at the Layover in Oakland I got a similar impression, and this show just confirmed it. That's not to knock on Dark Time Sunshine: "Vessel" is hands down one of the best albums of 2010, and Onry Ozzborn and Zavala are both really great recording artists. Zavala, for his part, is really interesting to watch in a live setting. He molds his beats on the spot using his production equipment, so the music always has subtle flourishes and unexpected switch-ups that makes it sound refreshingly different from the actual album while not being too far removed from it. Unfortunately, Onry Ozzborn is kind of a bore live. Sad to say since his recorded material in recent years is miles beyond most rappers' outputs in terms of originality and quality, but on stage he just stands around with one hand in his pocket reciting his verses with this tired expression on his face. No surprises and no real effort made to connect with and entertain the crowd. Still, it was nice to see some of my favorite songs of the year performed live, including the brilliant "Run," "E.R," and "It Lives." But overall, not a live experience that I can whole-heartedly recommend.
By the time Dark Time Sunshine was done performing, my friend and I realized that we were the only two people left in the audience - crazy! Felt awkward, but special at the same time. Void Pedal went up to play some of his beats while some MCs freestyled and my friend and I went to sit around fora while and listen until we felt like bouncing. I scooped up some limited merch, including Dark Time Sunshine's tour CD "Cornucopia" and Void Pedal's self-titled EP, so mission accomplished in that regard. Decent show overall I guess, though Propaganda really made the evening.