Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sapient & Evil Ebenezer at Sol Collective, Sacramento CA

View From the Front Row, 3/14/13

A little over a week ago, I had the privilege of seeing Sapient's new live show over in Sacramento CA at a little art gallery called Sol Collective. Those who've spoken to me about hip hop recently know that Sapient's new album "Slump" gets my vote for the strongest release of these early months of 2013, so I felt justified in driving the distance to see him after a busy day of work in Berkeley. Accompanying Sapient on this tour was Evil Ebineezer, whose music I also tend to enjoy, so the stage was set for an excellent hip hop gig.

First, a word or two about my impressions of the venue and the picture of the Sacramento hip hop scene that this show painted. On the plus side, the small art space got a surprisingly good turn out of hip hop fans, despite the lack of alcohol or snacks or any of the luxuries typically associated with these sorts of shows. Hell, even the bathroom was a tricky thing to reach, as it was located behind the stage with a narrow window of space to maneuver through if you wanted to get there without disturbing the performers. The art exhibit on display was not particularly good, and the diverse crowd of fans turned out to mostly be friends of the various performing artists, which brings me to the real negative side of this show. There were about seven local Sacramento hip hop acts who were not listed on the bill that ended up performing before Sapient and Evil, and each and every one of them was mediocre at best. I'm not gonna list their names here since I ain't trying to get on the Sacramento scene's shit-list or anything, but sitting through every one of them was a chore and I found myself bored and lounging on a couch in the back, which is not something I typically do at rap shows. One thing that stood out to me beyond the mediocrity of it all was the lack of excitement or passion in what a lot of these openers were doing. It was like they'd just gotten up for work and didn't really want to be there playing a show. Strange, since just the other week I saw a Sacramento based hip hop duo Mad1ne absolutely kill shit live to the point of stealing a show in Berkeley. Guess they just chose the wrong dudes to open for this one. It's all politics when it comes to booking these sorts of events anyway.

Once Evil Ebenezer got up to play, the crowd had dwindled to a much smaller pool of hip hop heads. But like the DJ Abilities and Sadistik show the night before, the fans remaining made up for the lack of a large audience with their genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for the music. I reclaimed my rightful place in the front row before Evil kicked off his first tune, and was pleased with the immediate positive reactions of the crowd, which felt a lot more genuine than the half-hearted applause that the Sacramento openers got. This was my first time seeing Evil play live, and he breezed through a good selection of songs from his "Call Me Evil," "Birds," and "Evil Eye" albums that emphasized his cool rap voice and penchant for poppy hooks and songwriting. There have been points in Evil's recent recordings where his sound has gotten a little too poppy for my tastes, but it seems like he avoided playing any of those tunes in favor of highlights from his various albums. Some stand-outs included "Take Me With You," "Scarecrow, "Wonder Years" and "Liquor Store," which somehow managed to work despite the sobriety of the venue. "Wake Up" was also an excellent mellow way to end the set, and Evil got a good deal of call and response from the crowd for most of his songs that had him in a good mood the entire time. He encouraged people to come visit him at the merch booth after the show even if they didn't want to buy anything just to say what's up. Nice set.

Sapient was up next, and he put on a very engaging and impressive show that really demonstrated how he's grown as a musician. He and his keyboard player/touring partner AED set up various instruments and props on stage, and then Sapient kicked things off with an instrumental set that showcased his production talents live. He churned out some hype synthy sounds with his beat equipment in an unexpected intro to his set, which worked well. Once he'd finished showing off the beats, Sapient picked up his guitar and took to the mic while AED held things down on the keyboards and drum machines for the "Slump" part of the show. This segment of Sapient's set was the highlight of the night to me, as it was awesome to see him and AED translate the sounds of Sapient's new album to a live setting. I wasn't sure if Sapient would be as convincing a singer live as he was on record, but he managed it just fine at Sol Collective. This was only the second or third night of Sapient and AED road-testing the new "Slump" material and there were a few hiccups here and there in the syncopation of the music, but for the most part the songs were played flawlessly and had their own original sound live. "When" and "Monsters Eat Bricks" were stand-outs to me, but "Ello" was definitely a crowd favorite and got a lot of love from folks. After covering about 8 or 9 songs from "Slump," Sapient dropped the instruments, picked the mic up off the stand, and ran through some of his older rap numbers for the hungry fans. He played mostly songs from "Gunwings" and "Barrels for Feathers" and did them justice, though he took it back further to "My Grind is Tech" and "Letterhead" for the encores. Sapient's rapping sounds good live and he gets pretty animated on stage, but the third part of the show was probably the weakest of the three. I really liked the format of the set overall, though, and think that Sapient should stick to incorporating all three of these elements in order to cover the bases and give the crowd a sense of his diversity. If I weren't familiar with Sapient's recordings, I definitely would have looked into them after watching his set. Very interesting and creative performance that lived up to expectations.

Overall, this was a good show despite the questionable string of openers (Sapient even made note during his set that it was like "a little festival"). I recommend checking out this guy's new live show for yourself if you get a chance.

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