View From the Front Row, 11/4/11
A little over a week ago, I had the chance to attend the Grimm Image Halloween Bash as part of my late October LA vacation. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't partially plan my trip around attending this special monstrosity of an LA rap show, as it had one of those dream line-ups that you can only get on your knees and pray for in the Bay Area. The show didn't end up being as perfect as I'd hoped it would be, but it was still a spectacle with some interesting highlights that got me thinking a lot about LA's hip hop scene and the community within.
As a precursor to this review, I should mention that there was some sort of bad omen hanging over me for my entire trip to LA, and that curse worked its way into this show without question. For starters, the line-up of the Halloween Bash shifted dramatically a few days before the event took place, with the Chicharones and Knives & Gasoline both dropped from the bill. The Chicharones were one of the main acts I went to see, to the point where my Halloween costume was based on Josh Martinez, but the promise of an Of Mexican Descent reunion show was still exciting as was the Candy's .22 slot. Unfortunately, the drive to the Airliner proved to be the most stressful drive of my entire LA trip... Hours of gridlock traffic, passengers who were performing at the show and needed to get there in a timely fashion, and even a mini merging accident that had me pulling to the side of the road and exchanging insurance information with people. Arguably the worst drive of my life that night, and when we finally reached the spot, half of my costume ended up not working and I abandoned the Josh Martinez impression altogether in favor of a generic airplane pilot look. The reason I elaborate on all this is because when I arrived at the Airliner and was unexpectedly put on the guest list, I was still in a pretty foul mood.
As a venue, I thought that the Airliner captured the essence of LA pretty well. Everything about it was noisy, crazy, and extremely fast-paced. It was also very spread out, offering three different locations to watch live music at in different rooms, and with everyone sticking to the room of their choice for the most part. The LA that this show offered was not the LA that I experienced at the I <3 Neila Benefit earlier this year, where artists and friends from all walks of the LA music scene came together to support their own. This show felt more fractured and private, to the point where many of the Grimm Image acts that went on had no more than a handful of people observing them, and even fewer that cared about their music. I guess I'll blame it on the number of Halloween house parties that must have been going on that night... As for me, I was front and center as usual, rocking out and cheering for every person who got on stage.
Onto the music in question. I missed one or two of the opening acts due to the time it took to get to the Airliner, including Los Feo Faces assuming they did in fact perform and weren't dropped from the bill as well. When I got up the stairs to the Grimm Image stage, Woes was hosting an intermission between sets, speed-rapping in his devilish Halloween attire. Woes seemed like a pretty skilled rapper and was good at keeping things moving between the different acts, though the night went by at such a fast pace that maybe a little breathing time would have been nice as well. Still, Woes didn't get nearly the amount of love he deserved from the crowd, and I thought he held his own in the cyphers that went on in the evening's later sets.
The first proper act that I saw take the stage for a set was Verble, who was accompanied by K-the-I??? as a backup and occasional rhyming partner. I'd seen Verble live once before, opening with Nabahe for a Matre and Ceschi tour in San Francisco, and I remember not being super impressed with his rapping that night. Verble was better at this show, however, largely thanks to the strength of some of the new material he's been working on with K-the-I??? Some of the beats that Kiki was supplying Verble with for this set were serious business... Very loud and abrasive in typical K-the-I??? fashion, but still something you could snap your neck and bounce around to. One thing that I liked about Verble as an artist was that he was clearly one of the most enthusiastic and excited rappers to be performing there that night, and it shined through in his rapping and in the way that he supported his fellow Grimm Image artists from the crowd. That bubbly enthusiasm also proved to be somewhat of a hindrance later in the night, but as far as Verble's set went, it made for a nice show.
Sully took the stage right after Verble and K-the-I??? had finished, and did his thing to a scattered but very attentive few. Sully is probably the rapper I knew the least about out of the Grimm Image artists that were performing that night, though I'd seen his name behind the production credits of some nice beats and know that he's collabed with everyone from Kurupt to Awol One. He played a number of songs from his upcoming "7 Deadly Sins" album, each of which was named after a different sin and dealt with said sin in a topical manner, though there wasn't any song that really grabbed me in particular. He also performed a few older songs from his "Eardrum Assault" album, including a song for the serious weed heads that had him grabbing a freshly rolled blunt from the crowd and blazing up on stage. I wasn't really feeling too much of Sully's MCing to be honest, but I did hear some pretty nice beats and there were a couple of heads in attendance who were bugging out to his tunes. He clearly knows what kind of music he wants to make and there are people that want to hear it, so more power to him! I'll probably give "7 Deadly Sins" a listen when it drops.
Avatar headed up to the stage once Sully was done, and flipped another strong set of his trademark aggressive flows and punk-inspired hooks. Avatar actually let me crash at his spot in Inglewood for my trip to LA, and if there's one thing I learned from observing him in his natural habitat, it's that the man has a serious home studio work ethic and is patiently sitting on some bangers. He performed a number of said bangers during his set at this show, along with some dope songs from his album with Dynamo like "Tear Jerker" or "Our Day Will Come." Raw beats and raw rhymes. The frustrating part about Avatar's set was that he had the smallest number of people watching him out of any of the acts that played that night, and getting those self-conscious few to cheer or even applaud for him was a near impossible task. The supportive crowd at Avatar's last show in Half Moon Bay with Knives & Gasoline seemed colossal by comparison. Shame, because Avatar poured his energy and soul into his songs and came with a damn good set. What's up with that LA? No love for your own?
K-the-I??? got back on stage next to kick a set of solo jams. Unfortunately, my LA curse was still in full effect, because it turned out that Kiki's computer was in the hospital and that he had to rock older joints off his iPod instead of showing off his new instrumental broken beat set. I was a little disappointed just because of how many good things I'd heard about K-the-I???'s beat set from his buddies Bleubird and Sole, but Kiki still did a great job barreling through intense rap verses from his "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" album. I'd seen K-the-I??? play the album in full at the Elbo Room in SF a couple years back, but the Thavius Beck beats haven't lost any of their thump and watching K-the-I??? kick his unique off-kilter styles of rapping is always impressive. Some highlights of his set were "400 on the BPM" (perfect over club speakers) and "Lead the Floor" (always super intense live). A lot of the post-Halloween-party show-goers started peetering in midway through K-the-I???'s set, so his reception was also much more lively and appreciative than any of the previous acts, which was nice. Good set, let's hope that his computer makes a rapid recovery.
The Grimm Image section of the Airliner was filled with people by the time Candy's .22 got on to play, and they put on a very interesting set that was slightly more varied and improvisational than what I'd expected. Candy's was one of the acts I was most excited to see live, as I'm a big fan of the weird styles that Stereo13 and Barfly have to offer and the "Girl and Her Gun" album that they put out this year is my shit. I'd seen Existereo live many times before in the Bay Area and in LA and he's never disappointed, but this was my first time bearing witness to Barfly and the collaborative music that these two make on stage. It was definitely an odd and awesome spectacle, with Barfly's strange drunken rant vocals balancing Existereo's precise flows and cadences well. They kicked things off with the strange sleeping anthem "Zzzz," which started their set on the quiet tip, only to bounce into "Switchfoot" next to get things hype. Verble joined them on stage to fill in for Mickey Avalon on the track "I'm the Man," incorporating Mickey's name into his lyrics and fitting the mix of the song well. They also switched the beats on some of the songs to add some improvisation into the mix, breaking out a slow synth number for "Cool With Me" that prolonged the hook while 2Mex joined them for a verse. One of my favorite tracks they played was an unreleased number that had a verse about Barfly getting calls on his phone from people and a hook about the Heartbreak Hotel or something along those lines... Stereo13 mentioned at the end of the song that the it was "so fresh, it hasn't even been laid down in the studio yet." By the end of their set, things turned to an MC cypher on stage with lots of LA rappers trading verses, and Stereo13's styles stood out the most in my opinion. Very good and interesting set from these two, about as strange as one would expect and unconventional even by left-field hip hop standards.
The crowd that had formed in the Grimm Image room of the Airliner merged closer to the stage as Of Mexican Descent got up to do their thing, with Deeskee taking over for DJ Leviathan behind the boards. 2Mex and Xololanxinxo were clearly alight with the prospect of warming fans hearts with whatever old beats they could dig up off their laptop, and they put on a great show. It was pretty inspiring to see these two mainstays of the LA hip hop movement perform songs they hadn't played in years as if it they'd made'em yesterday, and the whole set felt like a true throwback to the old school dedicated to the heads who'd been listening since day one. From their "Exitos" album, OMD played "I Am Still," "Money is Meaningless," and "All Turn Native" amongst others to massive applause. They also played "Night and Day"(!) minus the Circus verse and even "Opium Scorpion" off of Mum's the Words' first album, the latter of which had 2Mex clowning about how folks wouldn't be up on that shit. While the collaborative songs were very well-received by the crowd, the tracks that seemed to really get folks excited were the Mindclouders songs that 2Mex chose to perform, including "Paranoia Sheik" and "Odyssey Honestly." Xololanxinxo also decided to take things way back, going pre-OMD with his Concrete Jungle song, which showed off his interesting musical stylings well. No "Atlas" from these two champs unfortunately, though Jizzm wasn't present so the song wouldn't have been complete anyway. Verble and Liferexall also got on stage to rap with Of Mexican Descent for a couple songs, with Verble overstaying his welcome a bit and dropping some distasteful line about being "the best thing since Of Mexican Descent." He was clearly excited to be sharing the stage with a bunch of LA rap legends, but shouldn't have insisted on hogging the mic quite so much while he was up there. Enthusiasm does have its drawbacks, I guess. Anyway, Of Mexican Descent left their fans feeling satisfied, and also mentioned the likelihood of a new OMD album emerging in the future. Crossing my fingers here.
The whole show went by in a speedy blur of eccentric rap verses and colorful costumes. There was no real place to take a breather between musical happenings, and even when the Airliner shut its doors and the LA musicians congregated out front, the whole thing felt like some surreal hallucinatory dream. Caddy One, who's birthday party was downstairs during the time of the Grimm Image events, was being interviewed by some camera crew about the meaning of being a superhero rapper and was dressed in a full cape and costume. Existereo bid farewell to his homies, donned a breathing mask, hopped onto his bad-ass chopper and soared off into the night at ridiculous speed. Somewhere in the background, the buzzed rap homies and the Russian gal they found were in need of a ride home in my car. It was hard to find much grounding at the Airliner that night, and the scattered moments and images that it left in my mind were not some of the highlights of a memorable year of live music. But there were parts of it that are hard for me to shake, and the experience gave me an interesting encapsulation of all the craziness that the sprawling city it took place in had to offer... 'Till we meet again, Los Angeles.
Of Mexican Descent, performing "Money is Meaningless" in 2011: