View From the Front Row, 7/17/11
Last Friday, I had the privilege of being one of a handful of people who witnessed Open Mike Eagle's "Natural Causes" Tour when it passed through San Francisco. Continuing in the recent trend of bizarre venue choices for hip hop shows, the concert took place in a spot called Twin Space, which turned out to be a Yoga Training center hidden away in a door-coded apartment complex around 17th and Mission. Strange incense smells, artsy upper-brow decor, and not an open bar for as far as the eye could see... hardly the ideal spot to host a rap party, even if it is an art rap party. Unfortunately, the hidden venue combined with a lack of proper promotion resulted in one of the most poorly attended shows I've been to in recent memory. Hell, scratch that, one of the most poorly attended shows I've ever been to, straight-up! Most of the 4 or 5 people who showed up were people I invited, and even those folks were scattered around the venue and not paying attention to all of the acts performing. The turn-out to this thing made the Bleubird RV van show seem like a super colossal stadium event by comparison.
Alwayz Prolific kicked things off by playing a bunch of his beats while the other artists tried to wait for a larger showing of people. His beats were very good, kind of electro-ish in that Low End Theory vein but with more of an instrumental hip hop kick to them. He freestyled a bit over the music as well, and Everybody Knows of Los Feo Faces joined in and brought some funny improvised lyrics in his verses. They were just having fun and killing time for the awkward few, but it was a nice way to start things off.
Los Feo Faces were the first act in the line-up to perform, and they kicked a bunch of songs that showcased some of the talent that Hawaii has to offer to the hip hop scene. My understanding is that Los Feo Faces is a crew/record label consisting of a bunch of MCs from Hawaii, and that the two names represented at this event were Nabahe aka James Barrie and Everybody Knows. I'd seen Nabahe previously when he toured with Verble for Matre and Ceschi's "Year of the Gift" tour, and remember his aggressive and slightly off-kilter flow impressing folks. I'd also heard of Everybody Knows through his comedic Grindtime battling, and his more mellow voice and flow balanced out Nabahe's heated verses well. The two of them took turns performing songs, some of which felt like they could have been over other people's beats. Cool set from these two, looking forward to their "Hater Camp" album when it drops.
Red Foxx, a group consisting of Alpha MC and VerBS of Swim Team, were up next to perform. As a fan of both of the MCs in question and of Swim Team in general, my expectations were relatively high for their show, and they delivered in full despite the event's pathetic turn-out. Alpha MC and VerBS were both animated as hell, rapping like crazy and racing through the yoga room with reckless abandon. Their tunes were mostly soon-to-be underground club hits about getting shit-faced drunk or how stupid emotions shouldn't get in the way of having a good time. Lots of heavy electro beats destined to get an eager crowd pumped off the energy as well. Seeing these two get rowdy made me feel a little bad about the lack of a larger audience, as I'd wager that these guys tend to get more than a few bodies moving during their sets. Some great West coast party raps for sure.
Open Mike Eagle followed up Red Foxx as the evening's headliner, and shifted the musical atmosphere of the show to something a bit more mellow and suited to an intimate crowd. Mike Eagle's set has impressed me the couple of times I've seen him live. His original style of MCing paired with his live manipulation of beats and culturally clever lyrics are enough to convert casual observers to fans in the beat of mic check. He performed mostly new tracks from his latest (and greatest) album "Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes," including "The Processional," "Nightmares" and "Rent Party Revolution." The people in attendance were responsive to Open Mike Eagle's call-and-response hooks, and for a fleeting moment it felt like there was a real crowd in the venue. His tourmates were supporting from the crowd as well, which is something I would have liked to have seen happen for the other performers. No "Haircut" unfortunately, but in a crowd of this size I doubt it would have had its usual instant-smile effect on people. Mike Eagle closed things out with an improvised rendition of "Go Home," which had VerBS and Alpha MC chiming in with some verses before he bid the crowd adieu. Very good set from Open Mike Eagle, as always.
A good show overall, saved by the grace of the performers even when the atmosphere suffered from natural causes. Thanks to the homies Fisher and Zach for rolling out, and major props to that dude Juan for being the only other guy that stuck in the front row for the acts over the course of the entire show. Next time, let's get these talented mo'fos a gig at a proper bar in the city shall we?