Monday, May 5, 2008

Overdue Saul Williams Concert Review, April 18, 2008...

So dear readers, I woke up this morning to the news that Trent has indeed released a new album, The Slip, which fans can download for FREE. Unfortunately, I have to pay the bills, which requires getting to my day job in the morning, so I have not yet been able to listen to it, but comment and discussion will be forthcoming. I know that it's a popular position around here that a Nine Inch Nails album isn't worth listening to unless it has taken 10 years to produce, or alternately, that we should all be exploring ancient Norse Death Metal instead, but *I* am certainly excited to hear the new album. I am especially appreciative of the trusting relationship that Trent is building with his fans, where he doesn't just want to collect money every time someone listens to his songs. He wants to get his work out there and wants his fans to deconstruct it and rebuild it or create their own art in response to it. So kudos to him. Hopefully I can get that on my ipod tonight.


Saul Williams!!!!

So Iris, Mr. Iris, Ro, and I made our way over to Martyr's, a tiny Chicago club that was packed for the late-night sold-out show. Normally shows that begin at 10 p.m. (with opening acts) make me grumpy, because a ghost dog loves her beauty sleep, but since I managed to double-book myself for another important event that night, it worked out to my advantage. We arrived approximately halfway through the opening set, as performed by the Dragons of Zynth. They kind of reminded me of Living Color, and there was some funk to their harder rock sound. I never fell madly in love with them, but I was pleased by the Barack Obama poster that they had flanking the stage. Sorry, Hillary fans, but you'll find a lot of Obama-love at a Saul Williams show.

There was a loooooooooooooooong wait between the two acts, but 40 minutes later, CX KiDTRONiK took the stage in full Spiderman costume, which had to be hot as hell because even at the back of the stage, your PP correspondents were roasting. (Unfortunately because the club remained cloaked in darkness for the entire show, we don't have quite as many awesome pics and vids for you, but of course, what Iris did manage to capture is brilliant, as usual.)

When Saul finally took the stage, he was dressed in feathers and tribal face paint, and this awesome, awesome David Bowie/Adam Ant-esque coat.

Saul opened with some spoken word, invoking the names of artists and revolutionaries, and he would return to spoken word several times throughout the set, which was actually quite exhilerating. His delivery is always powerful, even if you aren't entirely sure if what sounds profound actually makes any sense. It does make me wonder if he's apt to bust out into spoken word during normal conversations:

Me: Saul, what do you want for dinner tonight?
Saul: Fresh meat, feel the beat, the poet, the painter, the jungle, the temple, my heart is broken but my pants are mended...
Me: Oh, Jesus Christ.

Although Iris felt that Saul's vocals were occasionally off-key, this was a tight, tight performance with a lot of enthusiasm. Saul moved through the crowd, stood on the merchandise table, and got a room full of white hipsters to dance like dorks (no easy feat, I can assure you). The Public Enemy-influenced "Tr(n)igger" was an explosion of energy...I was surprised because it's the song that theoretically would appeal to me least, but it's now become my favorite song on the album.

"Niggy Tardust" was a fun experience for the audience as most of us participated in the amusing chorus..."When I say 'Niggy,' you say nothing. Niggy..." "NOTHING!" "Niggy..." "NOTHING!!!!" "Shut up." Saul took a few moments to chuckle at the audience members who looked a little intimidated. "Should I say 'nothing'? Should I just be quiet? Am I allowed to say the title of this song?" I believe it was at this point that Saul explained to us his belief that we are all one, and that when one of us is degraded with a racial slur, we are all degraded. Referencing Obama, he said that you don't have to have a mixed racial background to be "hybrids," and that we are all hybrids. Which is true. I mean, I'm the whitest girl on the planet, but through my veins runs the blood of nationalities that all hate each other, plus at least one genetic wild card where paternity couldn't be confirmed, so I could be part anything. So I agree with and embrace Saul's inclusive philosophy, but I'm still not going to be spouting off the n-word. Even when I sing along with "Tr(n)igger" in the car, it usually goes like this: "The trigger is YOU...the YOU...the trigger is YOU!"

If you haven't yet heard Saul's previous self-titled album, it's definitely worth checking out, as "List of Demands" and "Black Stacey" were standouts at this show and audience favorites.

Going back to Niggy Tardust, we also got "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Scared Money," the latter being one of my favorite tracks with the tambourine and voodoo rhythms. And as I'm trying to achieve some kind of self-actualization, the chorus has become a mantra of sorts for me. (Not that I'm talking about actual money when I remind myself that "Scared money don't make none.")

In other audience-bonding moments, Saul assured us that he reads his Myspace messages as he wished a happy anniversary to a fan who didn't seem to respond. So he felt like a dork for a moment, I think. He also encouraged us to visit the merchandise table, considering that most people just downloaded his album for free. (I'm very happy with my hyena t-shirt, folks, which was a reasonable $20, so I recommend indulging in some "Tardust" fashion. I was also happy to see that my t-shirt did not include the word "niggy" anywhere, as I didn't want to be the subject of any misunderstandings in public.) And we all got to sing happy birthday to the woman selling the merchandise for the night, and she appeared to be charmingly embarrassed.

I know I'm jumping all over the place, but it's hard to recount the intensity of this show. Here's a clip of "Banged and Blown Through," as filmed by Iris. You'll have to excuse the darkness and sound quality, as they had the volume turned up to 11 in the tiny venue.

There were also quieter, more contemplative moments. We were particularly moved by the part of "No One Ever Does," when he sings, "Suddenly, who I thought was me/ was not me at all/ and I feel so small/Sitting way beneath who I want to be/I don't want to be who I've grown to be..." At this point, Saul started removing the feathers from his headdress and dropping them to the audience, looking lost. An excellent performance of a song that I tend to write off as something that sounds like a Seal track.

When I walked out of Martyr's, well past my bedtime, I felt refreshed and invigorated, rather than exhausted. My ears were ringing, to be sure, but I'll forgive Saul for any aural damage, as this was one of the best live shows I've ever seen. At one point, I texted Gabriel to inform him that Saul Williams live was truly a mind-blowing experience. One that I can't recommend highly enough to all of you.

If you would like to check out more Saul Williams pics, look here!


Ro said...

This show had so much fantastic energy that I was surprised to see the spoken-word portions didn't slow things down at all. And I'm not one to embrace spoken-word performances because I largely find them to be pompous and self-indulgent. But Saul has a knack for beautiful language and a charisma that could fill a much larger venue.

D:ANGEL said...

I like song #5 on THE SLIP.

I take back anything bad I said about his distro model. This is genius. I love the quick delivery, the different formats available, the fact that each songs has its own artwork, the pdf... awesome.

maise said...

Ro, I'm so with you on spoken word...normally it causes me to roll my eyes, but he delivers it in such a powerful way. He has so much charisma, he's intimidating in a way. We were so close to him, even at the back of the crowd, I was kind of afraid of catching his eye and looking like a complete dork. But at the same time, he seems genuinely cool and approachable.

(plus, he's HOTT)

Dan, I agree with you on Trent's distribution model. I can see how people think that maybe he's not doing enough editing, but at the same time, there's ZERO lag caused by a record label, and there are no limits imposed on what Trent can do with his music. He's really blossoming with the freedom, I think.

Iris said...

Despite a little bit of griping about the vocals on this show I absolutely LOVED it. But that CX KiDTRONiK can keep his gear at home. Jesus, it was so loud in there with the squealing.

I wish I could have got some better shots of Saul up close but it was packed in there and we were kept in the dark for most of the show. What you guys see here is what I was able to snag out of the video between other people's camera flashes.

Saul's energy was unreal though. He was all over that small stage and Goddamn I love the way that man moves. Everything about him is fluid. Best moment of the whole night was the one Maise mentioned about that bit during "No One Ever Does" with Saul removing his feather mohawk. I was actually recording the floor hoping that I could at least salvage some audio for you guys (no dice) and in that split second I knew I should get it on video but I honestly couldn't move. It was so disarming watching him and I just stood there kind of teary eyed. I cherish those little moments in time like you wouldn't believe. Awesome, awesome, awesome. Then of course Saul kicked off into another rocking song right after and I danced my ass off. Can't be standing around looking bawly all the time.

One thing you forgot to add is the chicken feathers at the end. Remember? During the last couple songs a few people (road crew, opening band, ect) came on stage with big bags and threw feathers out into the audience. It didn't really go well with the industrial sized fans blowing from the ceiling. The people who run Martyr's are going to be finding those feathers for years I tell ya.