View From the Front Row, 4/4/12
A few nights ago, I went and caught the latest Fake Four North American Tour over at Elbo Room in San Francisco. On my way to the venue, I ran into several crazy hobo musicians on the street, including one who felt the need to beatbox all up in my face and another who was yowling and dancing crazily while going apeshit on his guitar. It was an appropriate prelude to a performance from a headlining act who could viewed as an insane Oakland hippy himself, with over a decade's worth of puzzling left-field rap music to prove it. Sole has put out a lot of albums that I've enjoyed over the years and has had a strong influence on my tastes in music growing up, but hasn't generally impressed me live and wasn't the main draw of this event for me. Ceschi and Bleubird were the two MCs that I was looking forward to seeing the most - Ceschi for his track record of amazing live shows, and Bleubird because I'd never seen him play on a proper stage before.
Another act that I was looking forward to seeing was Kirby Dominant, who kicked the night off with a super entertaining solo performance that conveyed his charismatic personality and got the crowd in a really good mood. Apparently Kirby was booked as an opener since he's so strongly associated with being a local Oakland part of the Fake Four roster, but he's been living in New York as of late and nearly forgot about the show, making the flight out to SF in the nick of time and barely reaching the venue as an opener. Equipped with only his iPod, a microphone, and a stiff drink from the bar, Kirby Dominant breezed through a number of songs from his recent Paranoid Castle album and a few of his older joints with his trademark humorous style. He comically addressed the crowd on songs like "D.U.I," "The Mature Life" and "Red Carpet," even poking fun at his own hooks and wylin' out on stage. He also offered up some hilarious banter between songs, begging one of the many nerdy white people in attendance to hook him up with a proper twitter feed. By the time Kirby was done, the crowd was all smiles. Excellent set.
Bleubird took the stage next, and continued the evening's trend of entertaining personalities with a killer performance that may very well have been the best set of the entire show. When I saw Bleubird play in his RV Van last year I became acquainted with his storytelling skills and charismatic ways of interacting with people, but on stage at Elbo Room he was a different beast entirely. The spacious stage gave Bleubird the freedom to turn the energy of his rapping up a couple notches, and he was in constant motion as he performed his numbers with an intensity that went unrivaled through the rest of the evening. Bleubird kicked an interesting variety of songs, keeping folks guessing by switching it up between quiet personal numbers like "Giehe 1977" and rowdy club affairs like the Chris Brown "Look at Me Now" flip of his song "Hand Holdin." He also did justice to his Swashbuckling Napoleans material with a killer performance of "One Lovely Bastard," and rocked a crazy rap rendition of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" over Lil' Wayne's "A Milli" beat. This left the crowd feeling very hype and appreciative. Like Kirby Dominant, Bleubird was also very skilled at entertaining the crowd with the occasional bit of witty banter between tracks, frequently addressing the dragon statues that Elbo Room had surrounding the stage and even building off of some of Kirby's lines with some improvised comedy. He brought Ceschi to the stage to finish his set with their collaborative song "Time 4Real," which was an amazing closer that had the crowd screaming the hook at the top of their lungs. Awesome set.
Ceschi got up to play next, and worked his way through a strong set of signature hip hop folk songs. Ceschi and the rest of the Fake Four tourers were all deep in the grips of some nasty San Francisco sickness, and he seemed tired when he first sat down to tune his guitar and get his laptop prepped. The lighting of the venue was bright, and he had the lighting people turn the lights off entirely for his set so that he could see the crowd better. This proved to be an awkward decision at first since the lack of lighting made it hard to see Ceschi do his thing on stage, and this is just me speaking from my spot in the front row. But on the plus side, the darkness did add to the intimacy of the set a bit, and Ceschi got into the crowd to perform a number of his tracks where people could see him up close and personal. Despite having a bit of a hoarse voice, Ceschi still performed his songs super well, covering numbers like "Bite Through Stone," "Count On It" and "No New York." He sat on a corner bench next to a bunch of people to perform "Black & White & Red All Over" without the use of a microphone, which sounded good, and he ended his set with a rowdy rendition of "Half Mast" that had him playfully tackling a bunch of his friends in attendance. Not the best set I've ever seen from Ceschi, but definitely a great performance that would have instantly converted me to a fan had I not seen him play before.
Sole was the final act to go on in the evening's line-up, and he once again failed to really impress me in a live setting. For the most part, the set felt like Sole was reaching to achieve the brilliance he caught on record with his verses, but wasn't quite hitting the mark on stage. His noisy and challenging choices of beats were a little overbearing at times, and there were points where the performance just sounded noisy and not that musical or impressive. Sole also tried his hand at witty banter between songs in the vein Bleubird or Kirby, but most of it was boring and it didn't really hold any of the crowd's attention. Having said this, the set did have a couple of major highlights, including an epic half-acapella performance of "I Think I'm Noam Chomsky" that really captured Sole's dense lyrical approach to rap music. He also killed it with a throwback to his song "Year of the $exxx $ymbol," which brought a huge smile to my face since I used to bump that song all the time and he really did it justice at this show. Sole brought Ceschi to the stage for a rendition of "We Will Not Be Moved" which was good, but the high point of the set was definitely when Bleubird joined Sole to play the track "Hustle Hard" from the "Nuclear Winter" mixtape series. That track was the rowdiest moment of the evening by far, and had the entire crowd jumping around and raving to the hook like mad. Overall though, Sole's set was fairly mediocre compared to the other exceptional acts of the show's line-up.
In the end, this was a very good show and another Fake Four event that I'm happy I attended. Another point that I'll definitely give in Sole's favor is that he draws a very odd and interesting crowd... I think about a third of the people at the Elbo Room were members of Sole's message board who were geeking about meeting up at the event, and it was a lot of fun chatting with some of'em and seeing their reactions to Sole's songs. Good times. I leave you with a video of one of my favorite moments of the night - Bleubird and Ceschi performing their collaborative track "Time 4Real" together: