Saul Williams, Earl Greyhound, American Fangs
November 10, 2009
Better Than: Gym Class Heroes, or 2009 David Bowie
With a head full of feathers and his face painted like a glittering Star Trek dolphin, experimental polymath Saul Williams exploded his latest witchcraft, the "Niggy Tardust Experience", all over The Independent Tuesday night.
Williams served labyrinthine raps between games of space-cowboys & Indians, all the while sewing his fable of black empowerment out of psychedelic electronic accompaniment, African-American art history, and incensed finger-wagging toward wayward hip-hop idolaters. He began the assault declaring, "Scared money don't make none!" and then inverted an abused call-and-response shtick by encouraging the crowd to answer, on command, "Nothing."
But this was winking fun! At one point Williams, a convicted performance-artist and slam poet, compounded his choral outrage with a slowly-uttered string of words, "Freedom. Ignorance. Jealousy. Belligerence. ...
Still popping out grammarless units one by one, he wilted to the stage until, lying flat with arms stretched, he announced, "Upstage! Uprise!" Then, bouncing to his feet, Williams punctuated his list with that eternal question: "Where my niggas at?"
Williams conquered the mostly-white crowd by modulating between MIDI-induced bounce beats and knee-splintering adrenaline punk, including his furious hit "List of Demands."
The whole affair was in execution of a thing called Afro-Punk, a tour celebrating non-hip-hop--or at least alt-hip-hop--black music. As the tour's web site puts it: "a platform for the other Black experience, the one we don't see in our media."
As openers, Texas screamers American Fangs had more energy than real causes for excitement, although the lead singer did closely resemble Scrubs star Donald Faison. Afterward Earl Greyhound unleashed a tangle of psychedelic folk metal that threatened to steal the show if Saul Williams hadn't immediately stolen it back. Greyhound frontwoman Kamara Thomas' roaring vocals were one-part Cranberries, one-part Jill Scott, a one-part Siouxsie Sioux, and a dash of Alanis Morissette. Plus these guys were not afraid to abandon lyrics in favor of the primal yell or hushed lullaby.
Williams too shapeshifted his vocal cords, channeling at times Mos Def or Mick Jones from The Clash, at times spoken-word poet Gil Scott-Heron or Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Reznor indeed produced The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust, the concept album from which this live experience gained its name--itself inspired by David Bowie's classic '70s rock opera Ziggy Stardust.
Williams paid further homage near the end of a romping encore by covering U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (which also appears on the album), then parted, but not before another poem:
"I take flight on bolts of lightning, taking liberties as my concubines..."
Personal Bias: Joel Chandler Harris's "The Tar Baby" is probably my favorite story ever featuring a talking rabbit named Brer.
Random Detail: Boots Riley, of Oakland's The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, cheered on second opener Earl Greyhound.
By the way: Afro-Punk next visits San Diego Thursday. Do peep them there, peops.