Monday, March 11, 2013

DJ Abilities, Sadistik and Maulskull at Neck of the Woods, SF

View From the Front Row, 3/11/13

Last Saturday, I went to check out Sadistik's most recent tour opening for DJ Abilities at Neck of the Woods (formerly known as Rockit Room) in San Francisco.  The last time I saw Sadistik play in the Bay was early 2011 at a headlining show at Kimo's SF, where he got live in front of an audience of maybe 5 people.  That show was my first experience listening to Sadistik's music, and I've checked out a bunch of his recordings since, including his pretty excellent new release on Fake Four "Flowers for My Father."  I was curious to see him play some of his new material live, and was also interested in seeing what DJ Abilities would bring to the table for his set.  Unfortunately, this event was another under-promoted gig with a pretty minimal turn-out of people, but it didn't stop any of the artists from doing their damn thing and actually made for a pretty special and intimate show. 

Maulskull of Black Mask was the first of the acts to perform, and took the stage once folks had given up on getting any sort of reasonable attendance.  I'd seen Black Mask play once before at a JFK show in SF and remember enjoying their set, so it's cool to see Maulskull still touring and doing his thing.  He performed a bunch of solo songs from his new album "Us & Them" which highlighted his heavy synth production and energetic flows, and was very approachable and responsive to the crowd.  He played his set mostly off stage and a few feet into the crowd to get closer to the shy spectators, only reclaiming the stage in order to work in a bit of scratching here and there.  Stand-out songs included "Rise" and the very somber "Marionette," which set the tone for Sadistik's set well.  Maulskull was also kind enough to give away hard copies of "Us & Them" to everyone in the crowd, and like Black Mask's album, these freebies were packaged beautifully in glossy digipacks with solid artwork and some impressive guest features.  A guaranteed way to get me listening and paying attention to your album.  Good performance.

Sadistik was the next artist to play, and he put on a strong set of songs spanning his discography that relayed his personality well.  One thing that I really enjoy about Sadistik's music is the moods that it sets through both his lyrics and his choice of production, and these moods are only amplified when heard through booming club sound systems.  Tracks like "Searching for Some Beautiful" and "Russian Roulette" were really brought to life through the surrounding speakers, and Sadistik performed them with a live intensity that one might not expect from listening to his albums.  He played his entire set off-stage next to the circle of fans, which he brought in closer for his songs and frequently interacted with.  Amongst those watching were Young God of Blue Sky Black Death, who Sadistik often pointed to when a track that used a beat of theirs dropped.  Fake Four's label manager DJ Halo was also part of the circle as well, and was nodding his head appreciatively to the performance.   Sadistik incorporated some strong stage antics in a determined effort to impress the small crowd, including one memorable moment where he referenced the serial killer in "Silence of the Lambs" by applying a bunch of chap stick to his lips and asking the crowd "do you love me now?"  He also performed a freestyle that incorporated a couple of topics chosen by the crowd, which was a fun segment of his set, though he was not quite reaching Astronautalis levels of amazing when it came to that game.  His songs "Kill the King" and "Ashes to Ashley" got some very strong and favorable reactions from those in attendance, though it was a little strange to see him perform "Micheal" live, as that track almost feels too personal for a live setting to me.  Never the less, the entire set was enjoyable and went appreciated by everyone in the circle of fans.  A strong performance for sure.

DJ Abilities set up shop at his turntables shortly after Sadistik's set was a wrap, and he threw down an enjoyable DJ mix that incorporated old school hip hop, new school hip hop, classic rock, a touch of reggae and some soul.  His show on this tour was similar to his interludes on the last Rhymesayers tour with Atmosphere, with him mixing up songs as an ill DJ should and keeping the crowd entertained with his picks.  He also incorporated some of his signature class-A scratching between songs, and used some interested vocal plug-in effects to chop some of the songs into fragments.  I used to idolize DJ Abilities as a scratch DJ when I was younger, and Eyedea & Abilities opened at one of the first underground hip hop shows I ever went to back in the day, so seeing him pull some scratch routines is always a treat.  The crowd was sparse, but Abilities' tunes had pretty much everyone who was still there dancing, including my friend B and myself in the front.  The only negative thing I have to say about DJ Abilities is that in my limited experiences chatting him after shows, he's always struck as having a bit of an ego...  After this event, he was going on about how no one is crafting DJ mixes like he is and how it's easy to fill most venues with his name on the bill.  I enjoyed his set, but frankly his routine was not that far removed from the DJ mix sets that friends of mine spin in Oakland on a regular basis.  Still, it was a good show.

Despite the small turn-out of people, this was a very good show.  Met a lot of great folks and had a lot of fun.  Good times.

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