Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Vast Aire @ Abbey Pub, Nov. 26

by Peter Madsen

     Vast Aire’s TeenWolf show came to
Chicago’s Abbey Pub on November 26th as an event both hyped by its immediate name-recognition (Oh, shit! Vast of Cannibal-O!) and as a bit of a disappointment. You see, every attendee of the 50 who showed up undoubtedly checked the following resignation at the door: Vast, for his blatant shift from cerebral to visceral lyricist, is not the same rapper he was six years ago.

     Thankfully, though, Vast brought some friends: Slow Suicide Stimulus (comprised of New Jersey’s Dusted Dons and the underground O.G. Tame One) and the former Definitive Jukie Yak Ballz. 4th Pyramid was slotted to perform a set and back up Vast on a couple songs but, as the headliner found out during a phone call a few moments before sound check, 4 P skipped his flight from New York to Chicago in order to stay with his father in the hospital, who’d suffered a stroke that day. “Hold your head, son,” Vast consoled him over the phone.

     And while we missed an opportunity to check out one of the lesser-known MCs on Def Jux—a label that stows away rappers like an OCD grandmother packs doilies and Faberge eggs— the Slow Suicide Stimulus filled out the niche of dirty, dusty intelligent wit and word-murdering that El-P embodied a few years ago. Now, that’s not to say the three MCs Govone, Charlie Chan and Tame One didn’t rock it, because they did (while never betraying their assigned spot on the stage), but given Abbey Pub’s less than spectacular sound system, both Govone and C-Chan’s nasally cool-guy whine sounded both like Cage and El at varying stages of their musical mayhem. Tame One sounded like a Xerox of Jaymanila (of Brooklyn Babbletron fame) but given Tame’s footnoted presence in NY rap, maybe it’s the other way around. Hot topics discussed by SSS were 1.) being really cool and collecting dap like the taxman, 2.) repping Jersey, 3.) and making vague allusions to selling sherm.

     Competent at rapping, the MCs stacked and compressed their syllables atop each other like an expert gamer shuffles Tetris pieces — but the lack of vocal variance grew wearisome by the end of their set. A stand-out track, though, was industrial car-crunching “Hydromatic,” which, if it wasn’t produced by El-P, should have been. Their merch table plastic, though, affords them more dynamism in terms of production, and there we find the El-P similarities aren’t coincidental. The label-head produced the track “Small Town” for the Dusted Dons self-titled album, and with warbling trumpet samples, broad DJ scribbles, and drunk marching band cymbals, the song is not only a tight track they didn’t perform, but it may in fact be the first “happy beat” El-P swore he’d never produce. I wouldn’t be surprised if the indie mogul signed SSS to Def Jux in the coming years, yet that might mean the end of Govone and C-Chan’s new mini label, Flo-Spot.

     Yak Ballz, despite his unfortunate alias, put on a memorable set. While Ballz’s vocals didn’t exactly shine on his 2001 Def Jux 12-inch, live the man paced the stage like an agitated Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon inciting a mob before a barrage of police cars. With much keeling over and shouting the choruses in the faces of hooded show goers, Yak Ballz is an MC worth checking out (just don’t forget plastic sheets because the dude spits it).

     Vast’s set was strangely anecdotal despite the fact that most expectations rode on the wide, slouched shoulders of the idiot-savant headliner. Now, I don’t call Vast an “idiot savant” in a pejorative way; i.e. I think Vast is as much an idiot as I do think he’s intelligent. No. I say this because of the way the MC’s art now comes from a very visceral place; that is, he doesn’t write from the brain so much anymore as he does from his gullet, and that can be as endearingly pure and naïve as it can be purely annoying. In fact, that idea seemed to run as a theme throughout the bill. Vast, contradictive to what he said before the show, performed several older tracks that appeared on the Cold Vein and his 2004 solo album Look Mom…No Hands. One of several Cannibal Ox resurrections was “Raspberry Fields,” where Vast delivered his bars exactly as he did in 2001, over the same, un-tampered El-P production. Other tracks abounded, some were new, and some, with lyrics like “You actin’ like you ain’t nervous / That’s True Lies, like Jamie Curtis” and “We don’t want no sausage here / We like fish fillet,” may have been tracks buried somewhere in his expansive mixtape catalogue as much as they may pop up later on a future recording.

     With a heavy stage presence to match his unrushed, heavy flow, Vast moved slowly about the stage, making use of minimal gestures. It all works, of course, because he’s top-billin’ Vast Kramer, and, as evinced by the enthusiasm with which heads were bobbing throughout his set, still hasn’t overspent his stay near the top of the indie hip-hop hierarchy. It’s yet to be seen if his prolonged vacation will extend beyond the new Cannibal Ox album, which, Vast said in interview, may drop before the end of 2007. Until then, let’s throw on the Cold Vein and not get our hopes up.


Anonymous said...

for me, SSS was the best that night. Vast Airee bored the shit out of me and Yak whines too much. SSS WAS HYPE AS HELL. To compare Big Baby to TameOne is the first clue that you have no f**king clue what you are talking about. sorry. Great show, peoples.

Sun Dec 24, 06:36:00 AM CST  

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