Thursday, March 17, 2005

Summer 2000: I was working at the Knitting Factory in New York part-time with no other job, living with my girlfriend-at-the-time in my first stab at cohabitation. I didn't make enough working at the club to pay my rent, especially since my paychecks regularly came six months late, and I didn't get free drinks ever since my friend and coworker Alicia got busted drinking at the bar and they stopped letting underage employees mess with alcohol. But I did get to see every show that came through that summer for free: Luna taping thier live album, Kristin Hersh trying out stuff from Sunny Border Blue, Non-Phixion sucking. More than any other show, I was crazy amped about Chuck D rolling through the club with his new band Konfrontation Kamp - the name raised alarms, but I was too dumb to let my hopes down. Konfrontation Kamp turned out to be one of the worst abortions I ever witnessed, Chuck looking exeedingly bored and embarrassed while some rap-metal tool with a shaved head and a mesh shirt grunted and uurrged right next to him. It was sad. Opening acts: MF Doom, J-Live, Atmosphere. I didn't like MF Doom much, thought he sounded like a second-rate Raekwon. J-Live seemed affable enough, but he didn't exactly crackle onstage; he could've maybe used a hype-man. But so Atmosphere, on their first trip to New York, Eyedea as the hypeman and probably some DJ (don't think it was Dibbs) stole the show with ridiculous ease, bouncing around the stage, ridiculously excited, Slug and Eyedea throwing freestyle jabs at each other a few nights before Eyedea won the Blaze battle. I'd never heard of them, and I walked out loving them. Which brings us to last night, when Slug rolled through a ridiculously packed Ottobar with a live band of Guitar Center slobs, rocking a crowd that looked pretty much exactly like what a Jack Johnson crowd probably looks like but with more hoodies and not as many girls. This was not a perfect setup; I suffered through P.O.S. and Grayskul drinking in the back, bored, not sure anything in this setting could do anything for me. And so when the band came onstage and went into this extended watery-funk vamp, my heart was sinking. Or it was sinking until Slug bounded out in a Hatebreed shirt and a hoodie made for a very fat man, head shaved like chemo, crazy excited once again, and just murdered it. As far as indie-backpack-rap goes, I really don't think anyone is fucking with Slug. He's got the skill and eloquence and swagger and authority to be a major star, and that's not really something I would say about Murs or Aesop Rock, you know? He stays right in the track's pocket without sacrificing the boom of his voice - delivering his lines like a rapper, not like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys. He's got presence and intensity and charisma. And he's got lyrics; his emo-rap is pretty much the only emo-rap other than Ghostface or Bushwick Bill that really hits me in the middle. I was dubious about the band, and they did occassionally stray into noodle territory, but they were able to do things with the songs that a DJ couldn't do, laying liquid hooks and bringing the songs up to big, raging climaxes. Every fratboy in the crowd knew every word to every song, confusingly enough, turning "Always Coming Back Home to You" and "The Woman With the Tatooed Hands" and "Godlovesugly" into wrenching cathartic emo singalongs. I don't really know how he does it, but Slug is one of those guys who has the power to transcend his surroundings, to turn anything he does into an event.

If you've ever spent fifteen minutes watching music videos on any Christian television network, you've probably seen a rap group comprised entirely of enormously fat Mexican or Samoan guys with braids and chin hair and huge baseball jerseys talking about La Raza representing Christ or whatever. I don't know if this one group is hugely popular or if there's like a million groups like this, but you'll know what I'm talking about if you've seen it. Now imagine if this group's members decided that they wanted to be taken seriously as rappers, and so they started biting Aesop Rock and got a bass-player who looked like he got kicked out of Non-Phixion and didn't add anything to the music except a constant durnn durrn durrn underneath. Got it? You are now imagining Grayskul. (I kind of liked P.O.S.)