all photos: Dakota Fine
I’ve been hearing about this show for a while. Both of the headlining bands playing at DC9 on Thursday have been gossiped about in various blog-like environments [and in Cadence Weapon’s Pitchfork alma mater] for months, and the combination of the innovative hip-hop of Cadence Weapon and the herky-jerky indie-funk of Born Ruffians as a tour could be a genius resonant combination, or it could be total mess…either way it can’t be boring.
I lost my license a while ago and have been flashing my passport at bartenders and doormen like I’m Joe Friday. Of course tonight I left it at home way across town and when I arrive at the bar the doorlady gives me one of those Sorry But It’s My Job looks. I whistle for a cab and when it comes near the old guy driving it has a long white beard. He’s bumping one of those nutty WPFW shows on which a Brazilian woman plays some sweet Sambas and speaks incoherently and at length about fear. “Fear is what, in your life, you cannot do this, when we, as human beings, it is courage.” It’s charming, but infuriating—it sounds wise, yet means nothing, like anything else in this dumb village.
When I get back the openers US Royalty are playing, and they have harmonicas. Actually the lead singer guy only plays the harmonica on one song, but it is a fantastic song. They’re a brand-new band and could go in any number of directions, but at their strongest they combine big classic rock guitars and hooks with chilly indie melodies and occasional garage rave-up bits, as if the Hold Steady were British art students. I start to feel ready to rock again, and have Schlitz.
The Schlitz makes me sleepy and my phone dies. Where did all this Schlitz in DC bars come from anyway? I love the packaging, I do, it’s like a room with wooden paneling where you can totally crash on the rug if you sweep aside the cigarette butts and don’t mind your alcoholic Uncle Lucas watching his VHS tapes of 80s Chicago Bears playoff games until four in the morning, but then I realized that its resurgence was just another Miller marketing scheme, like the Pabst comeback earlier this century. Launched in 2007 and called “Go For the Gusto,” the Schlitz campaign includes classic monochrome 1960s posters and phrases like, “Gusto is not even knowing the meaning of the term ‘metrosexual.'” Even my nostalgia is managed and pliable. The place is packed with non-douchebags and everyone seems really happy and excited as Born Ruffians take the stage, but every sip I take seems poisoned with the aluminum sting of pretension.
I stick a straw in another can and bounce along to a song that has no single discernable beat, although it is in 4/4 time, as far as I can tell. The best thing about Born Ruffians is the drummer, who writes rattling, riffy drumrolls (mostly on the single rack tom) rather than straightforward rhythms, yet manages to make you want to dance along to his rimshots and rumbling. A song like “Kurt Vonnegut,” swings hard beneath all the clatter and the crowd gets into it, swaying, bouncing singing along with songs they’ve probably only heard once. Well, it’s pretty easy to do, since Luke LaLonde’s vocals are catchy as hell despite their saucy inscrutability. There’s a lot of whoa-oa-oa-ohs and places where the bassist and drummer shout or chant out in response to the choruses like a blasé version of the Modern Lovers. Actually that’s the best part of the show, LaLonde’s whole attitude towards singing and being onstage, he’s so sincere that he’s an utter cynic, or vice versa. Hard to say, exactly, his lyrics are often earnest pleas for love and attention, but then he breaks out into caustic, self-mocking “tralalalas” and “ladidas.” His guitar lines mine the same high lonesome afro-pop territory that Vampire Weekend nicked off the Talking Heads, but are closer to 70s New York than 80s “Graceland” melodies. Underneath it all is the fat funky bass sound that fills in the spaces in the weird beats and the sparse guitars, and frankly it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard. Their record is not perfect, like the vocals that are infested with some of the over-production muddiness that their producer brought over from his work with Animal Collective, but live this sound is utterly pure and clear and warm. LaLonde’s voice is shot, he tells us, but I’d hate to hear it when it’s on, I might just pass out dead.
Minutes from the last chiming chord of the Born Ruffians set fading out, Cadence Weapon drops a beat off of a skyscraper into the unsuspecting crowd. Or maybe it’s thrown out of a spaceship…his music blends glitches, house beats, hip-hop, Arrested Development samples, anyway it’s rather hip. But hell, it’s still damn fun to dance to, and his lyrics are ballsy and witty and delivered in a resounding wry Chuck D-ish bassy voice that most nerd-core rappers would give their left nut for. But the real story is the crowd, and his performance. I’ve seen a good number of hip-hop acts, from famous cats cloaked in entourages to college kids rapping about non-Euclidean geometry, and I can honestly say I’ve probably witnessed only one other guy who gave more of himself, who jumped around more and talked shit and high-fived the crowd and shouted and made shit up and danced and threw the mic and basically kicked ass, and that dude was basically being ignored by the crowd. Apparently the show last night in Baltimore was lackluster, and so when CW starts into the chorus of “Sharks” early in the set (usually a pretty sedate song) and the whole crowd screams back at him “THAT MEANS STOP BITING MY SHIT” a look of insoluble joy comes over his face, and you can see him just let go, like the words “Fuck it I’m a rock star” flashes over his face in pink neon letters. He runs back to the DJ stand where DJ Weezil is dogging the fuck out of a record (of course he’s a weedy white guy with long hockey-fan hair) and starts turning knobs willy-nilly yelling “CRANK THIS SHIT UP!” He jumps into the crowd, dances with us, but then goes up to bar and orders a drink. He rolls around on the ground like a grunge singer. He has us put our fists in the air during “Black Hand.” And DC, you do it. You hop around, and throw your hands up, and spontaneously put a HOOOO! into a song where it don’t belong, so that when he calls out, “The Youth Crew’s Back!” you bellow HO-OH like that was part of the song. You drink a few shots of Powers whiskey which is guaranteed to wake you up and make you act insane. You go for the fucking gusto and you get that shit. Is there a hip hop scene in Edmonton Canada where he’s from? Probably, but don’t let nobody tell you there’s not one here. I jump around so much I get wobbly and have a long conversation with someone about the primaries or NBA basketball or Australian immigration (as if anyone can tell the difference) until the bouncers throw the sweaty mob out.
If this was a weekend I’d hit the Pancake House (overnight scenario or not), but it’s a work night, and you know we’ve got to do it all over again tomorrow, and tomorrow and the day after that. Hey, it’s a living, right? At least until they invent a machine that can write show reviews. All they can do now is plot our progress scientifically with charts and graphs, measure moments together to get an outline of what I’ve been assured is indistinguishable from happiness.
and then a chart Peter made just for you: