View From the Front Row, 2/21/12
Due to a mix of work, procrastination and a broken shutter button on my digital camera, I've been neglecting the View From the Front Row a bit this month. I failed to write a review of the excellent Doomtree and 2Mex show I saw at Slim's earlier in February, and while I've written plenty of reviews for Doomtree and 2Mex shows in the past (or at least that's how the excuse goes in my head), it was definitely one of the better Doomtree shows I've been to in a minute and it was great to see both acts in the same line-up. That show featured some raw new party jams from Pissed Off Stef that had fools wylin' out, one of the best "Dixon's Girl" performances I've seen to date, Sims pole-dancing and crowd-diving, plus plenty of newly converted 2Mex fans. But that ain't the show that's up for review today.
Nope. While the Doomtree and 2Mex gig was a damn fine night of merriment, this Buck 65 show was possibly the best show I've ever been to at Slim's. Granted, I haven't generally been that big a fan of Slim's as a venue... the all-ages bit gets old to me quick, the atmosphere is a little large-scale for my taste, and the staff has been a bit on the bitchy side at times. But this show was honestly enough to give me a new-found appreciation for the SF venue. There was a good turn-out of people for Buck 65 and Busdriver, but it somehow felt more closely knit and intimate than the Doomtree show, with every act in the line-up delivering something special with their set.
Minnesota's Kristoff Krane was the first act to perform in the line-up, and he came prepared with an entertaining set that featured a number of clever tricks and a strong connection with the crowd. He was fresh off a tour opening for Sage Francis, and mentioned how honored he was to be opening for two of his childhood heroes. Kristoff's set was very well thought-out, balancing intelligent raps and flows with a bit of freestyling... sometimes from dangerous positions on top of stools. At one point, he cut off the music and mentioned that he would now read a verse he'd memorized from the Bible, which he then proceeded to speed rap his way through acapella. He also pulled out his guitar for a bit and strummed his way through a verse or two, mentioning upfront that he was nowhere near as good as Ceschi at it. He also noted that he stole the biblical acapella bit from Cescent Moon's stage show, and referenced a number of rapper friends over the course of his performance. In some ways, if there was one downside to his set, it was that it felt like a collection of bits and pieces from other rappers' shows as opposed to something unique to Kristoff Krane. Still, it was a very entertaining and intimate set, with several instances of rapping from the middle of the crowd and lots of happy faces in the audience. Good show.
Busdriver was the next rapper weirdo to take the stage, and his set was out-of-this-world amazing. I was worried that Busdriver would go the route of performing only songs from his new album, which is a bit hit-or-miss for me, but instead he chose only the livest numbers to play from "Beaus $ Eros" and hit a stride of stylistic adrenaline that carried through his entire set. He mentioned upfront that he wasn't feeling that great, but his mood quickly improved as he barreled through hype numbers like "Me-Time," "Bon Bon Fire," "Beat My Bitch" and "Imaginary Places" to a very excited crowd. In addition to performing his complex verses flawlessly and improvising on his production equipment, Busdriver's humorous stage charisma was at its peak. At the end of one song, he broke into chanting 'swag," only to pause and turn to the crowd to inquire whether that's how the kids said it these days. Aesop Rock also showed up to perform their collaborative song "Superhand's Mantra," which had the crowd going nuts as both MCs rocked the living shit out of their respective mics. By the end of Busdriver's set, I felt elated and privileged to have witnessed such a key Blowedian give it his very best. "Swag" indeed.
Buck 65 had a lot to live up to after Busdriver's excellent performance, but somehow he succeeded in cementing his place as the evening's rightful headliner. I'd only seen Buck 65 live once before opening for Sage Francis in SF, and I remember him completely stealing the show that night with a very engaging and entertaining set of strangeness. He proved to be just as entertaining a headliner at this show, if not more so for the simple fact that he had a chance to perform for much longer than before. From the beginning of the show when Slim's opened its doors, Buck 65 had a song request sheet sitting at the merch booth for folks to jot down songs they wanted to hear from him, and the sheet got filled with requests as the night went on (I put a "x2!" next to "Pants on Fire" myself). I figured that he was just going to play the most requested numbers on the sheet along with a bunch of his newer material, but he did so much more. Buck 65's entire set was requests, and he played over an hour and thirty minutes of music that people in the audience had chosen for him to play. Not only did he cover every song on the request sheet, he also added in a couple numbers that people shouted from the crowd, including some extremely obscure early songs that he hadn't performed in ages. Highlights included "Indestructible Sam," "Food" (from "Square"), "Pants on Fire," "Bachelor of Sciences," "Stella" and "The Centaur" to name a few. He also performed some hilarious pornographic numbers, including "Enter Governor Bolts" (but you didn't read that here, lest I ruin any secret rapper identities). Buck 65 was a joy to watch on stage, from his excellent verses and hilarious dance maneuvers to his great scratch routines and turntable work. He's truly an eccentric character and a very engaging entertainer. A really awesome set that topped off an excellent show.