Sunday, November 7, 2010

JFK, The Insects, Black Mask, Joe Cutter, Outwitz, Slop Opera at Rocket Room, SF

View From the Front Row, 11/7/10

The other night, I rolled out to the Rocket Room to check out JFK's "Gone Till November" tour with The Insects and Black Mask. There were less people at this show than there were at the Sapient show that I saw at Rocket a couple weeks back, but overall it was a liver concert that definitely delivered in the fun department.

The first act that went on was a dude called Testosterone, who was hard to take seriously since 80% of his set was technical difficulties and he was far too drunk or high to really care. It did result in a few entertaining moments, such as him singing shower songs acappella, but it was a little painful to watch never the less!

The next act, or series of acts, was a crew called Slop Opera which was comprised of several mini-sets from different members/sub-groups of the collective. I had my fingers crossed for a better opening act than Addamantium the Plumber, who I had to endure as an opening act the last time I went to the Rocket Room. Well, I shouldn't have jinxed it. The crew got on stage and, wouldn't you know it, Addamantium the Plumber was pretty much the central member of the group... guess he must know someone who runs the venue or something. To his credit, Addamantium was slightly better this time around, though not by a large margin. Maybe it was the leftover stuffed Halloween spider prop that the crew set out on stage that made it a little more entertaining. Out of the other people in the crew, the most impressive was a sub-group called Immune, which had one rapper in it that did some interesting vocal stylings to make up for the other rapper in the group, who I found rather generic. The group Outwitz seemed to be affiliated to Slop Opera as well, and had probably the biggest group of friends in attendance of any of the performers, but they didn't really stand out to me in any particular way. Not bad, just a little bland.

The next person to take the stage was a rapper by the name of Joe Cutter, who I single out from the other local openers because he stood out with some pretty solid material. I'd never heard of him before, but apparently he comes from a group called Thunderhut out of San Jose and is down with Mestizo's Machina Muerte label as well as the whole Grindtime battle rapper scene. Joe Cutter's lyrics and flow were a step above the other acts that had gone on, and while some of his punchline-centric songs felt a little grounded in the annoying battle circuit mentality, his beats were really tight and made up for any shortcomings. I should also note that an artist that was part of The Insects had started doing a live canvas at this point while the music was going on, and it was looking dope.

Black Mask were the first non-Cali-based group that performed, and they were pretty good. JFK liked these guys' material enough to take them on tour across the country with him, and while none of their tracks felt particularly original to me, there was a certain party-oriented atmosphere to their songs that provided a nice change of pacefor the show. Maybe it's just that there were three of them on stage chanting hooks, but the live atmosphere did seem to pick up a bit. Black Mask also offered the crowd free CDs, and I highlight this because their CDs were a far stretch from the typical slimline CDR samplers you get given by artists at shows. They were professionally manufactured CDs, shrinkwrapped with glossy digipacks and a track featuring the Chicharones. Good way to improve your fanbase! Tour openers take note.

Now up until this point, several of the performers had entertained me but there was no act that had really wowed me and made my evening. The Insects quickly remedied that. Based out of Arizona, rapper Brad B and producer Foundation have put a good amount of work in over the years and are widely respected amongst their peers. Their recorded material hasn't always been my cup of tea, but I heard that they were better live, and what I heard was clearly an understatement. Right from the get-go, The Insects brought an insane amount of skilled chemistry and live energy to their set, and they proceeded to murder every track with no quarter. In addition to having beats sure to shake any live venue and incredibly strong MCing, what really stood out to me was how original their songs were structured, with many experiments in rhythm and refrains that paid off very well. Super impressive performance that got me crazy hyped, plus they're really nice guys to boot.

JFK capped the evening off with another excellent set that was a worthy follow-up to The Insects performance and just about as good. I was a little worried about how JFK would fare live since his Grayskul rhyming partner Onry Ozzborn ain't too great a live show, despite being a great recording artist. Fortunately, JFK was every bit as rowdy and energetic as his solo material would have you expect, and he killed just about every song he played. Some highlights included an extra-rowdy rendition of "One of These Kids," a medley of brief Grayskul verses covering just about every one of the official albums, and a remix of "Passed It" that incorporated an extra-chill Molemen beat for the weed talk. One great part about seeing JFK live is his vibrant personality. He's a live-wire that's bustling with energy, but he won't hesitate to suddenly calm himself just to keep you guessing. JFK's brother was also there as a hype-man for the set, and was interesting to watch just because of how similar the two of them looked. The whole thing ended with a massive freestyle cypher featuring all the MCs, in true underground hip hop show fashion. Terrific concert, thanks to JFK and The Insects... this tour comes recommended!

Some videos from the front:

The Insects:


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