View From the Front Row, 9/25/11
Sometimes, the trickiest part about writing reviews of these shows is choosing the specific ones to highlight. Given the volume of shows that I attend on a regular basis, it's impossible to fit in a decent review of every one of them. So, what makes a show worthy of a write-up on this here barely read blogspot? I attended Low End Theory earlier this month and had fun rocking out to Flash Bang Grenada and Edit, I hit up Sims and Cecil Otter's latest concert in San Francisco and enjoyed their sets, and Hopie's all-female line-up release party in San Francisco was a surprisingly great time. But somehow, time restraints or other factors (read: laziness) led to those events never getting a write-up. I meant to do a review of an excellent L'Roneous, Brothers Amor, and Sean E Depp show at the new Berkeley record spot Ear Peace Records earlier this month, but somehow that too slipped through the cracks.
Well, another memorable event at Ear Peace has given me a second chance to do their free shows justice, and I'm certainly not passing on the opportunity to cover this one. The event in question was Ceschi's "We're History" tour stop in Berkeley CA, featuring the likes of Paranoid Castle, Rickulos and Kaigen. Some truly impressive talent and an amazing crowd of awesome hip hop heads made this free in-store one for the books.
Ear Peace Records is a tiny little music and art spot on the corner of Alcatraz and Adeline St. in Berkeley CA, run by some of the homies from Candlespit Collective and Understudies. The size of the shop is small enough to merit someone worrying over the size of a crowd overwhelming it, but intimate enough that nobody's about to complain. Since Ceschi is originally from Berkeley, a lot of his close friends were in attendance, which gave the whole atmosphere of the event a really friendly and familial vibe. Ear Peace's stage is a balcony elevated a fair distance above the crowd, but artists have generally found a means of bringing the mic down to ground level and rocking from the center of the main floor, which was the case at this show for the most part.
Japanese MC Kaigen was the first artist to perform in the line-up, and he rocked his set from the balcony in order to show-off his live Ableton laptop skills as well as his intricate verses. Bizarrely enough, I was chatting with Ceschi and some of the other homies shortly before Kaigen's set and brought his name up since I'd seen his album recently listed on Access Hip Hop, but was completely unaware that he was on tour and part of the show! Everybody gave me looks as if I was kidding when I brought him up and asked about him; easily one of the strangest coincidences of all my show-going experiences. Anyway, Kaigen definitely seemed to know what he was doing. His strange Anticon-ish flow and twisted Japanese verses have caught the attention of producers like Jel (who was in attendance at this gig, but didn't play), Thavius Beck, and Ras G. He put a great deal of energy into his verses and sounded different from your average foreign language rapper, which was a good thing. Nice opening act.
The next guy to play was Rickulos, who's part of Fake Four's sister label Circle Into Square and has produced songs for Astronautalis and Noah23 amongst others. Rickulos was apparently not feeling too hot after a rough show in Reno the night before, and was lugging around a big jug of water to keep his voice and sanity in check. Never the less, he put on a very entertaining set, alternating between strumming songs on his guitar and singing over beats played via laptop. He wisely chose to rock his tracks in the crowd rather than on the balcony, flailing around the audience in a weird drunken sort of way that was fun to watch . I wasn't too familiar with Rickulos' solo stuff but enjoyed it, and was reminded in some ways of Gregory Pepper's persona but with more of a serious undertone. Good stuff.
Paranoid Castle, a group consisting of Bay Area O.G Kirby Dominant and Canada's finest producer Factor, were up next to play. I'd seen Paranoid Castle's free release party in San Francisco a few nights before and was completely blown away by how fun it was... the memory's somewhat scattered, but let's just say it involved film crews, popped champagne bottles, crazy dancing girls and a random bulldog that at one point served as a stool. While this in-store performance didn't quite live up to that level of craziness, it was still a great time and showed the crowd how funny and underrated a rapper Mr. Kirby Dominant is. Paranoid Castle's new material off "Champagne Nightmares" takes on a whole new life in a live setting, with tracks like "The Mature Life" and "Feeling Inside" offering some really great interactions with people in the audience that get folks laughing left and right. Kirby's voice was pretty shot (and no wonder, after that SF release party), but he eventually exchanged the prop champagne bottle he was holding for a water bottle to recover enough of his throat to work through his set. He still killed every song over Factor's banging beats, and the crowd was clearly having a great time to his tunes. There was also some very funny interactions involving an enthusiastic gal from the crowd yelling "my pussy is not your therapist!" (referencing a line from a Paranoid Castle interlude), which had Kirby responding in various comedic and witty ways. Really fun and awesome set from these two.
The lights in Ear Peace Records were dimmed as Ceschi Ramos stepped up as the evening's headliner. I stand by my verdict that Ceschi is one of the best live shows that modern hip hop has to offer. Every set that I've seen from him has been a very special and unique concert experience, and it seems like he improves and sharpens his songs with each tour. The last time I saw Ceschi open for Awol One in San Francisco (one of my favorite shows of 2011, read here), he performed with his brother David Ramos and Max Heath as Anonymous Inc. This was a very different and special set of music in its own right, but there's a certain intimacy in seeing Ceschi perform on his own without a band or backup vocalist, and that brilliant closeness and connection with the crowd was in full effect at Ear Peace. Ceschi went from singing delicate folk-rap ballads over his guitar to speed-rapping with insane intensity over electro beats. The audience responded immediately without hesitation, moving from their seated positions around Ceschi's chair to a wild frenzied dance pit of people jumping up and down. Too many highlight moments to name. "Black and White and Red All Over" was impressive as always with its tightly knit verses and guitar chords, leaving more than a few people in the crowd looking mighty impressed. "No New York" was the best I've ever seen it performed, with many people in the crowd wailing along with the hook and Ceschi tackling one of his tour mates to the ground mid-song. "The Fall of Captain E.O" and "Calluses" provided a razor sharp display of Ceschi's rapping and lyrics that put anyone's doubts of his abilities as an MC to rest. Ceschi ended his set with a brilliant string of three accoustic numbers, starting with a somber guitar-based rendition of his verses from "Long Live the Great Short Lived" dedicated to a lost friend. He played "The Longest Song Ever" by request after much hesitation and nailed it super well, then ended things on a more funny note with his performance of "For My Disappointed Hip Hop Heroes." One amazing thing through all of this was just how responsive and in tune the crowd was with every one of Ceschi's numbers. People would start singing or clapping or yelling along to Ceschi's songs out of the blue, and it never felt out of place. It was the sound of Ceschi's friends and fans knowing his music, and showing a great appreciation for it. Truly excellent set and a great show, props to Ear Peace for holding it down when no other venue pulled through.
I leave you with a poorly lit snippet of Ceschi's performance in video format below. Here's "Long Live the Great Short Lived," done accoustic: