View From the Front Row, 12/13/11
A few nights ago, I went to Qwazaar & Batsauce's Cali tour stop at Club 6 in San Francisco. I'd originally intended to check out their performance at Maleko's "FRESH" #5 in Half Moon Bay the night before, but decided to go to this show instead due to it being a much shorter driving distance from where I live. Club 6 is nowhere near as cool a venue as HMB's Old Princeton Landing and Maleko's "FRESH" series has been quality since day one, but sometimes a convenient location is just a convenient location. This Qwazaar & Batsauce show in SF coincided with a release party for Bay area rapper Ro Knew's new album "Fool's Wisdom," which ended up dividing the evening into two very different kinds of shows. Much respect to all of the people involved in this event since I know it takes a lot of connections and effort to set these kinds of things up, but the two shows here were a pretty much like fire and ice to me, and I think it's worth covering that disparity here.
FeGo was the first act to take the stage, and he was just plain awful. Granted, it seemed like this was one of FeGo's first times on stage and I even think he mentioned something about this being his first performance in San Francisco, but never the less it was a clear case of him needing more practice on the mic before pulling off a proper set. FeGo was extremely nervous on stage, to the point where it made him blank on entire verses from his songs and retreat to his laptop to cut the tracks short. He repeatedly begged for rappers in the small crowd to join him on stage to boost his confidence, even pointing towards me in the hopes of me being a rapper in disguise, which was pretty sad. The few verses that FeGo did manage to pull off were nothing special, but the worst part of his set came when he paused the music and had his friend Camera (Carmela? Something along those lines) get on stage to do an acapella number. Her acapella singing was shrill and off-key, her pseudo spoken word follow-up had no passion or interesting lyrics, and there was no musical accompaniment to camouflage her amateur performance. It lasted for at least 5 minutes, and I felt almost embarrassed to be watching it from the front row. On the off-chance that FeGo and Camera come across this review: keep grinding at your respective crafts, but your live set needs some work.
Ro Knew was the next performer of the night, with his friend Mic Logik from Chicago backing him up as a special guest. Their set was not good, and unlike FeGo and Camera, they didn't have as much of an excuse for the bland music and lackluster stage presence. Ro Knew has been putting out solo and group albums since the earlier part of the 21rst century, so you'd figure that dude would have all the elements of a banging live show down flat by this point. But his set felt like it was played by-the-numbers, without much of the enthusiasm I would have expected from an MC promoting a brand new album. I think that perhaps Ro Knew was a little stressed that Qwazaar and Batsauce hadn't arrived at the venue yet, and was stalling for time while realizing that his set was going on too long. I give Mic Logik credit for seeming passionate enough during his verses on the Division One songs that he and Ro Knew performed, though the combo of the two of them on stage looked like it could have been a father and son rapping together. Strange observation, but one that stands out in my memory for some reason. By the end of Ro Knew and Mic Logik's performance, I had kind of tuned out their show and was paying more attention to the various people in the crowd and their reactions to it. Not a good sign when I'm standing in the front row and you lose my attention, sorry guys!
At this point in the night, I was a little unhappy with the way things were panning out and was fearing a major let-down of a show. But as soon as Batsauce set up his laptop on stage and started plugging out funky beats on his production equipment, things took a very major turn for the better. Batsauce single-handedly worked his magic on the vibe of Club 6, flipping it into a fun party atmosphere and seriously heightening my appreciation for him as a producer. I don't think I've ever witnessed a beat-maker improve the entire atmosphere of an event so effortlessly, and this was before any formal set of his had even taken place. Needless to say, my mood was greatly improved.
Lady Daisey, a soul singer who frequently collabs with Batsauce and who's also his wife, was the first to join the producer on stage for a set. She completely floored me with an awesome performance that I can safely say was one of the funnest times I had at a show in 2011. Lady Daisey's vibrant and energetic singing worked wonders with Batsauce's funky uptempo beats, to the point where the dynamite combo actually managed to transform the all too self-conscious Club 6 into a miniature dance floor. I don't know if Daisey and Batsauce are aware of how huge an accomplishment that is, but generally Club 6 draws crowds that sulk in darkened corners regardless of how great the performer is. I've never seen such a significant chunk of the crowd have such a great time at that venue, and the awesome quality of the singing and music made it easy for folks to drop their worries and get loose. Beyond being an excellent singer backed by excellent beats, Lady Daisey was also a pleasure to watch on stage. She was brimming with positive energy and had an upbeat personality that translated well into her fun style of singing. She was also clearly having a great time on stage, and seeing her have so much fun performing just made it that much easier for other people to have a great time. Batsauce was a pro at backing up Lady Daisey on the music side of things, knowing exactly when to contribute background vocals and keeping things extra raw and soulful behind the boards. By the time Lady Daisey and Batsauce were done with their set, I was sweating like crazy from dancing so much in the front. It was a really terrific and fun set that left me feeling elated.
I was very excited to see Qwazaar and Batsauce play as the evening's headliner, and they did not disappoint in the slightest. I've seen Qwazaar play live in a number of groups over the years including Typical Cats, Outerlimitz, and Dirty Digital, and the man tends to impress with his distinctive voice and impeccable flows. The only time prior to this that I saw him rock the mic solo was at a Galapagos4 Christmas show at Elbo Room back in 2006, but I seem to remember that being a sloppy and disappointing set. Qwazaar's new material with Batsauce is the strongest stuff he's ever worked on, however, and the new songs translated super well to a live setting. They played a bunch of tracks from their "Bat Meets Blaine" album (one of the best hip hop releases of 2011) and their "Style Be the King EP" (also excellent), with the rapper and producer both holding their own on stage and delivering what the hungry fans like me wanted to hear. The vibe of the set ended up being darker and more aggressive than Lady Daisey's show, but it fit Qwa's style well and offered up some really killer renditions of joints like "To the Death" and "Style Be the King." Some other standouts included the intricate flows and reflective lyrics of "I'm Gone," the pounding horns and uptempo hook of "Power," and the relaxing vibes of "Surrealism" which brought Lady Daisey back out to sing the refrain. Qwazaar's voice and flow have never sounded better, and he got rowdy over the course of the set, racing around the crowd and singling out people to deliver his complex verses to. The finale of "Shake" had Qwazaar practically moshing through Club 6 and ended the evening on a high note. A very impressive set that lived up to lofty expectations.
So despite the questionable first half of the evening, this ended up being a super fun and awesome show that I'm very happy I attended. Should Batsauce and his talented friends decide to revisit the Bay area, I'll be there... Same Batshow, same Batchannel. A little live footage to give you a taste of the evening below:
One of the calmer moments of Lady Daisey's set:
Qwazaar & Batsauce "To the Death" live: