THE AFROPUNK TOUR sponsored by Budweiser and Converse
The Smyrk - Basic guitar, bass, drums and a vocalist band that does a pop punk thing with some fairly soulful singing I suppose. Perhaps it is emo, but I don't recognize that word as an adjective or a noun. A couple of cops were walking around, talking to bartender, soundman (?) and went into the restroom right as this started. So I was a little perplexed, early. But this band was steady enough. A couple sound issues early were straightened out quickly. A video of the band? or other things was projected on the side wall. Oh yeah, that happens at sponsored events which I really don't have a problem with, but there can be a different feeling I have found. Decent enough band, a bit clean, but strong enough sound with plenty of punch.
CSR Kidtronik - A DJ and a rapper hit the stage and do their thing. This is not a genre I am knowledgeable with, but even I know what blows. And I'm not talking about the "krak attack" they are bellowing about. "You guys like punk rock?" Well, I do, sir, but dullish cliche filled rap with f-bombs dropping and thin rhythms to cushion the fall is not my idea of punk rock. I was not alone. They were between songs trying to get a couple of women on stage, but no one would go up. It seemingly lasted for multiple minutes. Finally one woman went up and I believe security may have told her to step off. That gave the duo a chance to rip on the man for a bit. Right on! Finally, their last song drew the crowd in a bit and a very welcome "Good night, thank-you".
Living Colour - An interesting band of old that I have never seen, but had a cult following and sort of broke big with a Grammy even. They did not sustain the success and broke up for some time. Pretty much the original band is back (second bassist) and they ripped into "Cult of Personality" featuring Vernon Reid's wild guitar solo. The second song had Reid grimacing and he took a long time playing with equipment before the next song. The singer walked around looking at no one and finally talked about how the drummer could play anything from the planet. The drummer figured it out and finally started making some noise as the crowd stood there. Finally it got going again. The band had to restart two songs next. The songs were strong, fast and loud like you would expect, but this band clearly does not like each other. Years ago, I gave David Grubbs a video of his old teenage band (and great cult success) Squirrel Bait. He said he could see even then, that they were destined to break up shortly thereafter as no one was looking at each other. That is what I saw here with a few supposedly amused caustic comments by Glover early on. Then after the band introductions at the end, and apparently some mumbling between he and Reid, Glover says "You know this mic stand is really heavy enough to bludgeon you". Reid: "Yeah, well, we'll talk more next time." Glover: "You ain't gonna be around next time". These guys depart for a long tour of South America and Europe. Good luck and I hope you have a big tour bus with lots of space.
Saul Williams - The colorful rap-writer-provocateur comes out in colorful garb with a guitarist, percussionist (from second act) and an electronics guy in support. The sound is strong, not overwhelming, but punchy and accessible. He clearly has some writing skills from his raps and lyrics from what I can pick out. I am enjoying the set as is most of the crowd, but there is a rather subdued atmosphere. Williams picks up on this half way through and says that he thinks he has way more energy than the crowd and tries to ask for the reasons. He asks if we like punk rock and he thought this was a city where it was big. Well, allow me to attempt an answer. First, DC does get accused of being laid back, quiet, with lots of people at shows standing around, so this is not new. There are tons of shows here and the crowd is actually quite smart and maybe a bit jaded as a result. I would like to see a bit more enthusiasm at times, but I really don't mind how the crowd reacts if they don't make it bad for everyone else. Second, Yes DC was huge in punk history, but not quite in wave one in the seventies. In the early 80s there was Dischord and the Bad Brains who I guess you could say defined Afropunk, but I don't think that word actually works for the Brains. I will save that discussion. The thing is that it is 2009. You would need the children of these bands or a 50 year old guy like myself to show up at your show. And even if we could go back in time, the DC scene was one of the most insular scenes I have ever been a part of (and I have traveled). They hung with their friends and regularly blew off out-of-town bands or locals that were not in the clique. Third, although your set was pretty hot and well received, the crowd was pretty numbed by your opening bands. They did not set you up at all. Even when playing well, the vibe was not good and I think that permeated everyone here far worse than any corporate sponsorship.
Still, Saul Williams soldiered on, covered "Sunday, Bloody, Sunday" and more of his own songs. I did something I almost never do before writing this. I read a review of a previous show on the tour and the vibe was pretty bad in Minneapolis. The writer thought the performers deserved better and blamed it on the midwest. I agree that Saul Williams may deserve a bit better, but it is not the midwest. I think there is something challenging in trying to bring off an "afropunk" tour and you really have to get the music right among 3-4 bands to make it work. It may have worked in some city, but not here.
Quote of the Night: After telling us the song title of the third straight song named after a movie (The Evil Dead), the opening band singer commented "If you didn't know it by now, I'm a nerd".