Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Aesop Rock may be one of the most perplexing MC's going these days.
A white rapper from New York, his skinny frame, shaggy do and bug eyes betray any sense that he's a rapper's rapper, that flip title bestowed upon wordy rap artists heralded by their ilk. Pharoahe Monch is sometimes lauded as an underground rapper's rapper. Ditto for Eminem in mainstream circles.
But Aesop's stream of consciousness rhyme patterns, filled with stark imagery and observation, has brought him critical acclaim amongst indy rap and rock critics. The lead singer of indy rock group The Mountain Goats is down with Aesop. Ditto for rappers like Zion I and Slug of Atmosphere.
So it was intriguing to see how his wordy rhyme play would translate on stage. Performing his first ever gig in Santa Cruz, Aesop Rock's Thursday night show at The Catalyst brought out a crowd of curiousity seekers and fankids from as far as the San Francisco Bay Area. Aesop recently moved to San Francisco with is wife, the newlyweds escaping babylon for the left coast.
He opened up to th strains of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodo Chile" before DJ Big Wiz switched it up to the Masta Ace classic "Born to Roll." It made ironic sense for Aesop to flip the original song's "Brainiac dumb-dumbs/Bust the scientifical" line into a nerd rap chorus line.
Aesop was flanked by Rob Sonic, a robust rapper (dude was BIG) who did his best to keep pace with Aesop. I must admit, I don't know that much of Aesop's catalogue (the only CD I own of his is "Bazooka Tooth" and that got stolen from my car). His first song, with the chorus chant "I Alone" had one of the best lines I've heard at a live hip-hop show this year: "If the Revolution ain't gonna be televised, than fuck, I probably missed it."
His voice, a deep, twangy toad's belch that is awkwardly on-key on record, transferred well on stage. The muffled sound added some smokey depth to the backing music, giving it a gutter NYC feel that I hadn't noticed in his music before. And his DJ Big Wiz was just murdering it, flipping from LL's "Booming System" too A Tribe Called Quest's "Hot Sex (On a Platter)" with seamless mixing.
My favorite Aesop jam, "NY Electric" came on about four songs into the set. It's a slumping, slow-rolling tidal wave of a track, molasses-thick bass sopped up by Aesop's equally chunky vocals. The slow burner packed a powerful punch live, and I was impressed at how well his multi-syllabic rhyme patterns, especially the hooks, worked in performance.
The opening act, an MC named Mr. Sayre, had the crowd about 50/50 in favor of his performance. At his peak, he managed to come off as confident and human, giving props to his girl in a touching display of b-boy love. His set-ending acapella was a nice show-stopper, sealing the deal with an abundance of heart.
A nice touch was his DJ's grunge-rock set, mixing Nirvana and Led Zepplin, among other hard-rock tracks, to the delight of the SC crowd. I don't know where this guy comes from or what material he has out there, but Sayre showed a lot of promise.
Posted by Marc Cabrera at 5:09 PM