View From the Front Row, 8/15/11
A few nights ago, I caught Sole & the Skyrider Band's tour stop at the Bottom of the Hill in SF. This was my first time seeing Sole as a headlining act and also my first time seeing him perform with the Skyrider Band, though I was a big fan of his music back in the early heyday of Anticon when "Bottle of Humans" and "Selling Live Water" dropped. I haven't been a fan of all of Sole's output since then, but his new 2011 album "Hello Cruel World" is one of his strongest recordings to date, so I was very curious to see some of the new material played live. Bottom of the Hill is also kind of a sureshot venue when it comes to having a good time; 90% of the shows I've been to there have been outstanding so their batting average is rather good. The crowd for this show was medium-sized. A fairly decent turn-out, but not nearly as packed as it was for say Dessa or American Steel. Some cool folks in attendance though, including some enthusiastic fans who knew Sole's new shit like the back of their hand.
Dosh started the evening off with a mellow set of interesting layered beats, which he crafted through some clever uses of looping and instrumentation. He knocked out his percussion on a drum kit and on the sides of his keyboard, and then sampled those into loops which he layered over the various keyboard riffs and sample sounds he concocted. Watching him was definitely seeing a musician at work, and reminded me of one of my friends' bands The Why Because in the way that he built the tracks off of improvisational looping. Can definitely see how he's gained a following and has so many CDs under his belt, though the extra spacey and quiet nature of some of his beats felt like they might have fit an art space better than a music venue. His more upbeat bouncy keyboard numbers were the ones that worked best at Bottom of the Hill, and got people cheering at random intervals and bobbing their heads. Nice opening act overall. The crowd was tiny when he began, but built itself to a decent size over the course of his performance.
Sole & the Skyrider Band were the only other act in the evening's line-up. They put on a good set of mostly songs from the new album, which were exactly what I came to hear them play. There's something about Sole's style on stage that brings to mind an embittered spoken word poet, and at times it almost felt like he was reading his well-written verses over the Skyrider Band's complex live compositions. It wasn't quite as hype a performance as I'd hoped for, but it was interesting to witness the chemistry between Sole and the band's live drumming and instrumentation. They played "Possimism" and "D.I.Y," both of which I was itching to hear live, but the track that ended up being the most impressive on stage was one of the most challenging numbers on the album, "Home Ain't Shit." Sole's swagged out gangster-ish cadence on this song worked wonders live, and combined with the Skyrider Band's extra loud and busy beat made for one of the clear highlights of the set. Sole also kicked "I Think I'm Noam Chomsky" acapella, which got a lot of people in the crowd smiling. There were a number of major Sole fans in attendance who were chanting along to all of his lyrics, and I chanted quite a few of them myself from my spot in the front. The Skyrider Band were pretty impressive as well, intertwining vocoder effects and violin playing with some excellent live drumming. Good set all around.
The performances from Sole & the Skyrider Band and Dosh were both pretty on point, but there were two minor grievances I had with this show, one of them easy to pin down and the other a little more abstract. My first straightforward grievance is that the show ended at around 11:30 PM and was 12 dollars for only two acts, which felt a little steep to me given the speed at which it ended. When I was driving home, I felt a little like I hadn't entirely gotten my money's worth at the show... maybe they could get some other dope local rap act to open before Dosh next time. My other more abstract grievance with the show is that something about the sets and the way they were performed felt a little methodical to me. I'm not sure if it's just because I've been spoiled by seeing so many amazing LA rap acts improvise their sets live and take them in unexpected directions, but something about both Sole and Dosh's performances felt a little too planned out. Not even sure how that's really a complaint since having a well-planned set can often be a good thing, but there was something that felt a little static about it to me at times. Still a good show though. I don't know if I'd tell my friends to go run out and see Sole's new live set or if I'd even pay 12 dollars to see him as a headliner again, but I certainly don't regret going and rocking out to it.
That's my mixed review, E. Lit out. Oh wait, here's some cool concert footage I took of Sole & the Skyrider Band playing "D.I.Y" for the heads: