(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Concert review - Saul Williams and guests

8 November 2009 (Fox Theatre, Boulder CO)

This show was part of the first national Afro-Punk tour, as an outgrowth of the Afro-Punk Festival in Brooklyn. Afro-Punk is a multicultural scene, giving a rallying point to outsider urban kids. The community fosters a punk attitude, where political expression, skate culture, and music all come together along with non-simplistic view about racial stereotypes and expectations. The tour continues from here out to California and up the coast.

Saul Williams is an excellent choice as headliner for this tour. His poetry and performance identify well with the Afro-Punk aesthetic and he's fairly well known nationally. Most the people I talked to before the show said that he was the main draw. They were ready to be moved by his words and his beat.

The night's entertainment split into two halves. The American Fangs and Earl Greyhound provided a more traditional rock band show, while CX KiDTRONiK with Tchaka Diallo and Saul Williams took more of a punk/rap approach.

DJ Musa
Denver turntable artist DJ Musa wove throughout the whole evening. He started the show, running an ongoing series of mixes, and also filled the time during the stage changes between acts. With a pair of digital Midi turntable controllers and a MacBook, he threw together some typical laptop grooves with some scratching. The mixes were not bad, with lots of the expected hip hop beats, but he also tossed in some punk and Nirvana to keep the crowd's ear. One particularly sweet transition was when he smoothly flowed from Public Enemy into Living Colour's Cult of Personality, which features a cool, off-beat guitar riff.

American Fangs
Houston's American Fangs started their set at top speed and never slowed down. The brownian motion on the stage set a punk mood, but the band is very polished and tight. The music was more of a thrashy hard rock. The frantic, restless vibe was a good start for the main attractions.

The songs were catchy enough. They sounded a bit like the Arctic Monkeys -- which is a great club sound. That was one hardworking drummer and their lead guitar player knew how to pose while he shredded. I've talked about "snotty boys with guitars", American Fangs are "angry boys with guitars".

During the set break, I talked to their singer, Gabriel. He said that they're enjoying the Afro-Punk Tour, but the drives can be pretty long -- they drove 22 hours to get to Boulder from New Orleans. After this tour, they're planning to record a new CD. Their last one, which they were selling for $5 at the show, had been recorded by their guitar player. Go to their site and listen to Le Kick, it's their contribution to the Afro-Punk sampler and it's a great rocker.

Earl Greyhound

Earl Greyhound is a trio out of Brooklyn. I kept counting and there were only three musicians every time -- but when I shut my eyes and listened, I'd come up with a bigger number. Their sound is thick, where the guitar shifts roles between fills, lead, and rhythm. Such a rich guitar tone: beautiful ringing guitar, fluid leads, and echo saturated psychedelic sound. The bass playing was smooth and melodic, featuring a light distortion and flange. Rounding out the sound, the drums were rich and syncopated, driving the beat, but never simplistic. The interplay of the male and female vocals reminded me of X, even if the music was completely different.

The first song of the set recalled Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, which set the tone for the rest of the set. The Led Zeppelin sounds persisted through a full set of epic songs, which featured some interesting chord progressions. Occasionally, they evoked more of a My Morning Jacket progressive rock sound. They played a new song that sounded like Pictures of Matchstick Men, with a droning vocal part echoed by the fill guitar. Sometimes, the bass and guitar twinned one another until they veered apart. This was hard rocking but complex music, in contrast to American Fangs.

I'm sorry that Earl Greyhound didn't have a CD for sale. I also would have liked to have talked with them after their set.

CX KiDTRONiK with Tchaka Diallo
And now for something completely different. When CX KiDTRONiK and Diallo hit the stage, it was a hostile takeover. They brought a low-fi musical approach, stripping things down to synth trigger beats and samples backing a mix of rap and punk vocals. At the same time, they created a visual spectacle, with sideshow antics and silly string. CX KiDTRONiK acted like he was in a manic Three Stooges movie, rolling on the ground and jumping up on his table full of gear. After a fairly short set, they closed with Shout, singing along with the old Isley Brothers record. That gave us a chance to catch our breath before Saul Williams

Saul Williams
Saul Williams had a backing band with guitar, keyboard basslines, and CX KiDTRONiK on synth percussion. He played a number of songs from his latest album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust. If you aren't familiar with Saul Williams, he performed in the movie Slam, doing spoken word/poetry. He pulled out stylistic elements of the Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. As Saul said in Sha-Clack-Clack (and performed at the show), he "is that nigger". The punk noise of the last set arose again, but this time in service to the words. He exhorted the audience, laid out political and racial identity philosophy/questions, and rocked the house.

The music may have been there for the words, but everyone pulled their weight. Genre jumping from punk to reggae chank, to hip hop beat, to Fishbone rock, Saul and his band raised the roof while raising consciousness. Another crowd pleaser was Convict Colony, off the new album. Later, he even covered U2's Sunday, Bloody Sunday in a punk version. His singing there may not have been the strongest, but he made the song his own. The last song of the set, with a descending line like Bela Lugosi's Dead, spiraled into chaos. Saul came back out for an encore of a couple of songs.

Driving home after this four hour show may have called for black coffee, but I'll recommend Kamikazes for the show itself.

More photos on my Flickr.

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