March 11, 2009
Better Than: watching reruns of Lost.
Most hip-hop open mics are dingy, dusty affairs offering plenty of underground flavor in basement-like settings. Upscale restaurant-lounges used to be reserved for jazz trios.But We All We Got, a new Wednesday night talent showcase, breaks both molds by taking place at Levende, an upper Mission St. locale where the décor can accurately be described as "posh."
The evening started with selections from DJ Mike Biggz, and some verbal niceties from host Sellassie. People trickled in, rather slowly at first. Most seasoned clubgoers generally wouldn't think of arriving at a venue before 11:30 p.m. While that latecomer logic holds true at many a spot where DJ music is the main draw, at an open mic night, if you get there too late you might miss something interesting, like the guy who did a song from a rap project based around Tom Waits samples (which sounded pretty good, actually).
Some people went up on stage and just did one tune; others did two or three numbers. From an audience perspective, it was pretty entertaining watching a range of folks do their thing, get props from the audience, and pass the mic for the next performer. I much prefer this keep-it-moving, variety show-type approach to ending up at a place where there's one opening act and if they suck, you're kind of stuck there until the headliner comes on. (Which is why peeps tend to arrive late to clubs. But I digress...)
'Round midnight, or thereabouts, the evening's featured performer, Kev Choice, sat down at the piano. Right here is where I should probably mention Choice's resume; the former bandleader for Lauryn Hill, he holds a masters degree in music, is schooled in both classical and jazz, and currently plays in both Lyrics Born's band and Too $hort's new outfit Town Bizness, in addition to gigging regularly as a sideman and leading his own 10-pc. group, the Kev Choice Ensemble.
It isn't a stretch at all to say Choice has more talent in his pinky than most performers have in their entire bodies. After all, there are few rappers who can spit some "hot 16s," then accompany themselves on piano. He opened up with a slow song about career decisions ("might have to go to LA to blow up," he mused), before moving into more uptempo material, like "Music Makes Me High." Choice alternated between standing up to deliver energetic rhymes or lead call-and-response shouts, and sitting down at his keyboard for melodic flurries.
On "Got to Live Your Dream," he compared himself to "Herbie (Hancock) gone hyphy," and while Choice does possess a certain youthful energy, his music is more in an inspirational/uplifting mode than something you'd want to go dumb to. "Can't Go Nowhere" riffed on our newly-elected president - on it, Choice tells Barack to "drop that stimulus," references the United Negro College Fund line about a mind being a terrible thing to waste, then says "there's no opportunities for our communities." Another song sampled the Beatles' "Michelle."
Choice is definitely coming into his own after years of being on the sidelines, and let's hope he's able to stay in the Bay Area at least a little while longer. Anyone with that much range, versatility, and drive deserves to be heard by a wider audience, so the least we can do is appreciate him while he's here. His name on the bill signifies something special, and if you've yet to see him get down live, you owe it to yourself to do so before he does, in fact, blow up, and folks in the know will reminisce on the time they caught him headlining an open mic night at Levende.