View From the Front Row, 8/7/11
A couple nights ago, Half Moon Bay was graced by the presence of a few notable indie rap types, including Ceschi's brother David Ramos and several key players of the LA2theBay movement. I was invited to the event by Gel Roc's friend Kris who runs Abalano Records, and managed to get off work a bit early to roll out to Half Moon Bay and check out the rap-related festivities. To make things more interesting, my fam happened to be visiting from Maryland at the time and they were hip enough to actually tag along with me to check out some quality underground hip hops by the Bay.
This was my first time visiting Old Princeton Landing (not to mention my first visit to Half Moon Bay in God-knows-how-long) and it was a very fun venue to hang out in. Felt kind of like a fisherman's wharf pub, but with a singles bar atmosphere to it. There were lots of very cute girls busting out some serious dance moves, and a pretty decently sized crowd to boot. The event was hosted and put together by Maleko, a Bay area rapper who's been putting it down for years with a lot of the LA2theBay cats and who has a wealth of quality recordings under his belt. He introduced the acts well and made sure that things ran smoothly from set to set, plus occasionally joined in the rapping when the occasion called for a guest verse.
The first act to take the stage was an indie rock band from San Francisco by the name of Crescent Banks, who I hadn't heard of but who put on a cool set of sweet keyboard melodies and guitar riffs over sampled drum breaks. The group's vocals fit the alternative rock mold pretty snugly, but not in a bad way as their wailing hooks often complimented the music well. David Ramos and Tommy V both improvised a bit on drums over the course of Crescent Banks' set, which was done subtly and never really felt out of place. Nice opening set. These guys were also mad appreciative of me grooving out in the front row, and hooked me up with a bit of free gear and music afterwards... bonus!
Crescent Banks was followed up by a quick set of stand-up comedy by a guy whose name I think was A.J the Smooth, but to be honest I was too busy chatting with David Ramos and Gel Roc and didn't catch his act. Stand-up's never really been my thing anyway, but hopefully I'll be able to give him a shot next time. Gel Roc was the next rapper type to take the stage, and he lived up to expectations with a really sick set that showcased his precise flows and honest lyricism. His latest CD "Beautiful Tragedy" is one of the best West coast hip hop albums of 2011 so far, and he performed a bunch of songs from it as well as a couple of numbers from his excellent older album "Laws & Flaws" and even some of his E Times Two stuff. His set had a very strong momentum to it despite the occasional lag in beats starting up, and he held it down acapella just as well as he did spitting over production, with smooth transitions between the two keeping the energy and passion of the performance high. Some highlights included "Never Knew Me," "Autodidactic" and an old school "How to MC" song that brought out Maleko for a verse. He also got the flyest dancing girl to get up on stage for a number to give her the proper respect. Even my non hip hop savvy fam was impressed by Gel's clear enunciation and introspective lyrics. Great set by a great MC.
David Ramos and Tommy V were up next as the evening's headliners, and they kicked an interesting collaborative set that had the two of them taking turns performing solo numbers. I'd seen David and Tommy live before on seperate occasions, both backing Ceschi as part of his live band, but was never privy to their solo sets until now. David Ramos strayed away from most of his alt rock drumming antics and stuck to primarily rap numbers, busting out some songs from his new album "That Down There" as well as some verses from posse tracks he's appeared on like "End of Skies" and "Hangman." Some of his mock crunk-rap Knuck Feast songs were covered as well, and sounded as delightfully offensive as ever. While I'd heard some of David Ramos' solo material when he performed with Ceschi as Anonymous Inc, I'd only heard Tommy V as a backing musician, and he impressed me quite a bit with his solo numbers. I've appreciated Tommy V's musical output over the years, but didn't really realize just how clever and comedic a rapper he was till seeing him live at this show. He performed a number of humorous stand-out songs with a happy circus vibe to them, and barreled around the stage until he was calm enough to break out his guitar and strum his way through an hilarious song about getting beat up by a bully and taking it in stride. There were a few technical hiccups in David Ramos and Tommy V's set involving complicated beats and forgotten verses, but it was nothing a little freestyle and a change-up or two couldn't remedy. An entertaining show from these two for sure.
Maleko and Raj got up after David and Tommy were done to kick an extra-quick set that only amounted to two songs, but still showed off their mic skills well. I felt a little bad for Raj because he had to get up at 5:30 AM the next morning to go to work and stayed at the show extra late just so he could perform ever so briefly to a dwindled crowd. Still, it was a good few songs, with both MCs delivering some fun styles with their verses. I hear Maleko is making this a monthly event, so I'm sure there'll be more opportunities to see sets from these two... expect more reviews of Half Moon Bay hip hop events on this blog in the future. Fun night!
Snippet of Gel Roc performing "Autodidactic" live below: