I've said before that when it comes to rap, flow is everything. The rhythm of the rap needs to be dynamic, building and ebbing, avoiding monotony. The same thing is true about a show and this collection of Colorado bands at the Aggie was textbook. The show started off simple, with the ReMINDers laying out a traditional (and inspired) hip hop performance. Then, Kinetix kicked it up a notch, playing a solid rock/funk sound with rap and singing. The Flobots took that energy and harnessed it, laying out some progressive, conscious rap over a variety of musical styles. The progression felt natural. It was a fun night of consistently tight and interesting vocals.
The ReMINDers offered a standard hip hop lineup of a couple of rappers with a DJ providing the backing track. But as soon as they started, it was clear that they were something special. The two rappers are Queens born Aja Black and Big Samir from Brussels. They tossed the lead back and forth, almost casually, finishing each other's rhymes. Either one would be a strong performer, but together they had some great chemistry and incredible stage presence.
I didn't get their DJ's name. He mixed in a variety of musical styles, including reggae beats, funk grooves, and a bit of club style. He had a minimalist approach, mostly spinning the tracks with a little bit of mixing to match the rap.
Lyrically, they mostly laid out a conscious rap message, sounding a bit like the Fugees with a tip of the hat to early East Coast style like Run DMC. Occasionally, Aja sang, adding a generous dollop of soul. The high point, though, was Ill 4 Life, a braggadocio performed a cappella by Aja Black:
I got these anorexic pockets that are starvin' for doughSmooth. I bought a copy of their album, ReCollect, which I'll review separately.
My brain's terminally ill, man, it's dyin' to know
And in case you didn't know, I got a cancerous flow
It started small, performin' in malls and talent shows
Serious malignant presence manifests and it grows
I got vertigo, I'm spinnin' out of control
My rhymes are klepto, always stealin' the show
My style is schizo and it don't even know
It switches up from time to time and I was on death row
Murdered a dozen MCs with sick swift quick blows
KinetixKinetix hit the stage and played some rocking soul music to start out. Moving to a full band (keyboards, two guitars, bass, and drums) shifted the music, but since a fair amount of the vocals were rapped, there was a sense of continuity. Kinetix had a strong Living Color vibe: playing danceable hard rock with a funk undertone.
This was high energy music. The guys stalked around the stage as they played, punk band style. They worked the crowd and got everyone moving. As more people made it to the club, the vibe shifted into a party scene.
Eric Blumenfield and Adam Lufkin traded off on vocals, with nice tight arrangements. Instead of tossing the lead vocal back and forth, they focused on coordinated backup parts that emphasized the song. There was plenty of tasty, jam band style guitar lead, but the keys were the showpiece. The organ sound (not quite B-3) shifted from accents to full on lead; the electric piano threw in a different tone as needed.
Their crowd-pleaser was a cover of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. The tried, more or less, to nail the original sound and did a good job on the music. The harmonies weren't quite right but the crowd didn't really care. The main thing was how much fun everybody was having. They closed with People Start Hoppin', a jazzy funk jam.
The FlobotsThe Flobots have been a major Denver act for several years, but in 2008, they leaped into the mainstream, making the rounds of several late night talk shows. Here in Ft. Collins, people lined up in the freezing weather, waiting to get in. This is the kind of fan dedication that propelled them to national attention.
The other driving force is their unique eclectic mix of influences: hip hop, hard rock, funk, and pseudo-classical/jazz. This latter is due to the influence of violist Mackenzie Roberts, who adds a perfect spice to this blend and separates them from the sea of rock/rap acts. That's not to make light of any of the other performers. During the show, guitarist Andy Guerrero bounced between steady rock or funk chops and added the perfect touches of tortured guitar chaos. Bass player Jesse Walker was an anchor. Kenny Ortiz kept the beat tight, but soulful. MCs Brer Rabbit and Jonny 5 each had their own strengths as rappers, taking different paths to the same flow groove. They demonstrated all of this, plus precision arrangements (and signalling), great backup vocals, stage choreography, and a politically aware lyric sensibility.
Speaking of which, their songs all stayed pretty close to a progressive political stance that was leftist without being simplistic. George Clinton might have said, "Free your mind and your ass will follow", but the Flobots worked on moving our asses, too. For all of the politics, though, this was no dour experience, but rather joy. All in all, think of Michael Franti with a different musical style.
The band played a mix of old and new material, including their biggest hit, Handlebars. Their live version really hit home emotionally. The shift between the innocent exultation at the start and the dark immorality later in the song was intense.
Stand Up, another classic Flobots tune, was a crowd favorite. Starting with an edgy viola riff, the song slowly added layers until the drums kicked into a rock beat. This evolved into more of a funk rock groove.
Stand up! We shall not be movedNew songs, like Cracks in the Surface and If I, were also strong. The upcoming album, Survival Story, should be a great one.
Except by a child with no socks or shoes
If you got more to give then you've got to prove
Put your hands up and I'll copy you
The Flobots closed with their version of Happy Together by the Turtles as the encore. While it started out fairly true to the original, they added their own rap interpretation section. The crowd sang along with them and, later, carried the tune out into the night.
It was a night for a good German bock: dark and a little heavy, but still rich and interesting.
More photos available on my Flickr.