View From the Front Row, 11/12/10
A few nights ago, I rolled out to the Retox Lounge in San Francisco to check out the "Attack of the Vampire Mermaids Tour" featuring Ecid and Jordan Miche of Minnesota's Fill in the Breaks collective, Canadian vet MC Noah23, and a bunch of random local opening acts I hadn't heard of. This tour had "nerd rap" written all over it, from the title of the tour to the names of the opening acts, and I like my fair share of nerd rap so it seemed right up my alley! My younger sister happened to be in the area as well and decided to come with me to observe some true rap geekery at work, which made this show extra fun.
First, in regards to the Retox Lounge: this was my first time there, and it was a pretty awesome intimate venue that was everything one could have hoped for for an obscure indie rap tour like this. Located in the tiny basement of a bar on 20th st. and 3rd ave. near the water, the close-knit atmosphere of the room was only augmented by the awesome choice of decor. Old airplane seats were positioned around the room, complete with headphone jacks and stewardess buttons, and an aiplane wall with little sliding windows was set against the wall. In-flight entertainment at its finest!
A. Hymnz was the first opener to go on, and his set started with a slew of technical difficulties typical for this sort of small-scale rap show... it was almost comforting to watch in a "this is some underground shit" kinda way. Once Hymnz got the mic feedback in order and the beats functioning, his set went pretty smoothly. His raps seemed very emotionally founded, with lots of rhymes about family and childhood over plucky guitar-type beats. He mentioned that one of the tracks he performed was a collaboration he'd done with the amazing Ceschi Ramos, which didn't come as a surprise since the styles of music are similar. A. Hymnz's vocals didn't always stand out over the quality of his beats, but he was a decent opening act nevertheless.
Paulie Think was the next act to take the stage. I'm not sure if had to do with his name, his stature, or some review I'd read of his stuff before, but for some reason I was worried that he would be a hard opener to take. I was 100% mistaken. Paulie Think brought a very entertaining set filled with really fun songs that spanned a variety of styles, and actually put on one of the better performances of the evening. His lyrics and personal interjections had a healthy dose of humor to them that got the crowd in a good mood, and the music side of things swinged from super-scientific electro to reggae-styled riffs to crunk party beats. His cadence and personality were entertaining to witness, like a nerd turned crazy rapper, and he put on a damn good show. He also happened to be wearing a Ceschi shirt... lotta Ceschi fans were in the building, apparently.
Beastmaster, who wins the award for "most overt nerd rap moniker of the evening," played next and put on a pretty decent set. He lived up to his name by coming out wearing beast gloves and a monstrous beast baby on his back. Many of his songs seemed to touch upon animals and beasts in true nerd rap fashion, though his music was somewhat flat in comparison to his extravagant appearance. At the end of his set, his group consisting of Edison and one other rapper whose name I didn't catch came out to perform a track. They only had time for one song due to time restraints, and had to pass a single mic back and forth between them which made things tricky, but it was a good number. The best MC of the three of them was definitely Edison, who really delivered a passionate verse and gave it his all. Somewhat surprising, since Edison seems to mainly be known for his production work... some folks just tend to excel at both fields I guess.
Speaking of Edison's production work, the SF producer followed up Beastmaster's set with a solo beat set that showcased his skills as a producer. It ended up being super impressive and a great change of pace from the evening's slew of super-scientific rap verses. Edison used two flashing button machines similar to the style that Daedelus tends to break out, and showed off not only his dope beats, but also the ways that he can modify and build off of them in a live setting. It definitely went appreciated, and Edison struck me as one of the more talented dudes in the building that evening.
There was an intermission after Edison's beat showcase in which the out-of-towners set up their laptops and beat machines, and during which a great deal of the crowd dispersed. Like many tiny indie rap shows, the audience was comprised mainly of music artists and friends of music artists, so the non-local acts didn't get as strong a turn out. When Jordan Miche went on with Ecid backing him on the MPC, there were maybe 5 people in the spot including my sister and I. Both Jordan and Ecid took some hits off a joint that was being passed around, and then Mr. Miche got into his music. Jordan Miche strikes me as a pretty interesting rap type, and his new free EP has some surprisingly dope songs on it, but somehow the tracks didn't translate as well to a live setting as I thought they would. The performance went off without many hitches, and Ecid was playing a bunch of his beats live to compliment Jordan's stylings, but nothing about the set felt terribly impressive. It may have had to do with the crowd largely dispersing though.
Noah23 went on next and did a pretty cool of sing-songy type rap songs, many of which were from his upcoming album on Fake Four Inc. called "Fry Cook on Venus." I'm not that familiar with much of Noah23's music, but I have heard his named tossed around in indie rap circles for the better part of ten years and he has a ton of albums and material under his belt. The new tracks he performed all seemed to be very song in the production department, and featured some really ill beats from Factor amongst others. He also sang some comical song about wandering around the jungle and had the handful of people in the audience sing an off-key hook. Pretty nice set that had me interested in hearing his upcoming album.
Ecid finally took the stage once Noah had finished, and put on a good set of lyric-heavy tunes. Ecid clearly puts a lot of thought into his writing, and it shows in the way a number of his lines and verses stand out. He was the act whose material I was most familiar with, as I own two of his solo albums as well as his collaborative album with Awol One, and I was the lone fan chanting along with the hooks in the front row though the mini-crowd did seem to reappear for his set. One thing that surprised me about his songs live was that while I thought that the tracks from his "100 Smiles and Runnin" album would stand out more in a live setting due to their funky Arsenic beats, it was actually the tracks from his experimental concept album "Red Beretta" that worked best on stage. Something about Ecid managing to control extremely wild and experimental beats with his verses seemed more impressive than his straight-forward hip hop songs. Still, tracks like "Big Things" (featured below) were predictably great. Fun show all around.