Monday, November 23, 2009

Overdue Review of Saul Williams and the Afro-Punk Tour, 10/27/09

Hello, friends! Thanksgiving approaches for those of us in the US, and I've got to say, it's a pretty awesome holiday. The main point of this holiday is to eat rich, homemade, slow-cooked comfort food made from recipes handed down from generation to generation and to eat in sufficient quantities so that you are too sleepy and contented to want to maim or kill your dysfunctional family. This year, Mr. Maise and I are hosting for the first time and will be roasting a dead turkey of our very own. In some ways, it will be nice not to have to cross state lines in order to get some lunch this Thursday, but it is also very intimidating and daunting, especially since we have approximately 5,000 hours of cleaning to do in our home in addition to all the food preparation.

So I figured it was definitely worth a look back at the Saul Williams show that Ro and I caught at the Double Door in October, especially since it was one of the strangest concert experiences I have had recently. I've got no audio-visual goodies for you for this one because that's normally Iris's area of expertise, plus venue security was being REALLY vigilant about cameras, so I wouldn't have gotten away with it anyway.

I will go to great lengths to see Saul Williams live. And when I say "great lengths," I mean staying out WAY too late on a weekday. I used to be quite the insomniac before I hit 30. Now I require a full 7-8 hours of sleep in order to feel remotely human the following morning. Yet when Saul performs in Chicago (with the exception of Lollapalooza), he tends to not take the stage earlier than 11:30 p.m. or midnight. By the time the show ends and I make it back to the 'burbs, it's usually around 1:30 or 2 in the morning, which means that I have to mainline caffeine to stay awake at my desk the following morning. (And I usually feel even MORE exhausted the morning after that, as my body tries to adjust to the violation of my circadian rhythms.) But Saul Williams is worth it. With his high energy level and his clear love for the music and the audience, he creates performances that always exhilarating and powerful and thought-provoking.

But this wasn't my favorite show of his, however.

He was headlining the Afro-Punk tour, which was playing at the Double Door, a lovely, intimate venue. Their audience was composed of 98% annoying white hipsters, which is an occupational hazard of performing in Wicker Park. Hollywood Holt performed first...he was a very entertaining rapper from Chicago, and I wish that he had had the more prominent set just before Saul Williams, as I much preferred him to American Fangs, which had a sort of generic rap/punk sound and seemed to be onstage for years.

Saul Williams appeared on stage around 11:00 or so in his typical warpaint and a turquoise-colored feather headdress. He opened the show with the same recitation of inspirational/revolutionary figures as he did at his Martyr's show back in 2008. This performance had a bit of a "been there, done that" feel to it, especially since he's not promoting a new album at this time. He played a lot of my favorites but didn't have as much energy as before, I thought. Maybe this particular tour is burning him out or he's getting bored with his first two albums, but the highlight of the show was clearly "Grippo," which he performed with his daughter Saturn, who appeared absolutely ecstatic to be onstage and to be up past her bedtime. He sang some of my favorites like "Black Stacey" and "Surrender (A Second to Think)" and "WTF" and "Skin of a Drum," but all I could think about, greedily, was what I was missing. Like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Scared Money" and "NiggyTardust." He did play us a new song with much more intensity, and I was happy to hear that he's working on a new album.

I mean, don't get me wrong...even a "meh" Saul Williams performance is better than most other acts, but it's nothing compared to when he's at the top of his game. A perfect example is "Tr(n)igger," which was an absolute EXPLOSION at Martyr's but didn't have nearly the same urgency and joy at the Double Door.

Then the show just got bizarre. CX Kidtronik, Saul's DJ sidekick, took the stage with his solo rap act, Krak Attack, while Saul took an extended break. Krak Attack seems to be a very jovial act--playing with the irony of various cheesy hip-hop cliches. For example, Kidtronik and his bandmates brought the ladies up on stage to do some dancing during their set. I believe they had a song comparing the relative virtues of white girls and black girls...or was it skinny girls vs. big girls? I don't remember. The point is, while all this was going on for a good 20 minutes or so, all I could think was, "Et tu, Saul? What the hell is this opening act nonsense in the middle of the damn show?! It is midnight!!!" I probably would have more patience for Krak Attack if they had appeared after Hollywood Holt, but I did not have the patience for them at that point, as I pondered whether it would even be worth it to stick around for Saul's return. I was not the only one, as Krak Attack's impromptu performance caused a mass exodus. I decided to stick it out, thinking that perhaps Saul would make it up to us. When he finally did return, we got a lively rendition of "List of Demands." Then it appeared that there would be more...but there wasn't. Show over. Huh?

I must confess, therefore, that I was not the happiest of campers after this show ended. I felt a bit cheated--feeling that Saul hadn't been quite at 100 percent for whatever reason and then annoyed that he surrendered his stage to Kidtronik for an inordinate period of time. I would gladly lose more sleep over Saul Williams, but next time I hope he gives it his all.


D:ANGEL said...

No review of soy chili dogs and pumpkin ale at Angelman's place?

maise said...

Oh I haven't quite made it that far. It's a very sloooooooooooow publishing schedule around here...

Can I just say, soy chili dogs were actually pretty awesome? And the company couldn't be beat!