Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire
Friday, June 29, 2012
The Regency Ballroom
Better than: The last time you sat through a lecture about the Iran-Contra affair.
Maybe it was the trappings of his headline slot -- light show, two-piece band, etc. -- or maybe it was just the full head of steam that Brooklyn rapper El-P brought to the stage. Either way, on Friday night at the Regency Ballroom, El-P concluded what had been a night of solid live hip-hop with a pummeling hour of rapping that seemed to exceed even the furious energy of his latest, lauded album, Cancer For Cure, and left him seemingly towering over everyone else on Friday's four-name bill.
Killer Mike, whose latest album was produced by El-P, performed second to last on Friday and with just a DJ, helping to sing his own hooks and issuing many key lines a capella. Mike used the mic almost as much to sloganeer as to rap, praising Bay Area hip-hop legends like Mac Dre, expressing his shock and horror at the Oscar Grant tragedy, and denouncing politicians, especially Ronald Reagan, the namesake of one of Mike's most virulent new songs. (He at one point led a room-wide chant of "fuck Ronald Reagan!")
The Atlanta rapper's style was unhurried and quietly intense, his hulking figure serving to emphasize the seriousness of his music. After three songs, Mike paused for a second to catch his breath. "Being fat and being able to rap good is a gift and a curse," he mused. His live show didn't quite supply the sense of buzzing outrage that powers much of his rightly acclaimed R.A.P. Music, but songs like "Untitled" and "Southern Fried" stood up just fine with the unfussy presentation.
Still, when El-P came out early to contribute his guest verse on Mike's "Butane," the energy level ticked up considerably. It stayed there pretty much throughout all of El-P's headlining set, which had the benefit of a live guitar player/drummer and a keyboardist/DJ in addition to a hype man. Much of the intensity came from the bandleader himself, whose favorite move onstage was to lean into a mic still on its stand and bellow out verses at such speed they could hardly be be processed by the audience. He started with the first two tracks from Cancer For Cure, working up from the jungle-like beat of intro "Request Denied" to the indelible hook of "So you should pump this shit/ Like they do in the future" from "The Full Retard." His rhyming, or what we could make out of it, was flawless and terrifically exciting to listen to. Fleshed out with live instruments, including a trombone on "Works Every Time," the band managed to recreate most of the weird beeps and rushing beat transitions that make Cancer For Cure such an invigorating ilsten.
El-P would get to other, older numbers later, revisiting material from his days with indie-rap standard-bearers Company Flow. But the highlight of the night for us was hearing him weave in and out of the thrashing funk of "Drones Over Brooklyn," his words melting into a kind of supersonic blur and staying there. It felt superhuman. None of the artists on Friday's bill phoned it in, but El-P supplied a level of energy that was all his own.
eXquire: Arrived to find NYC upstart Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire finishing up his set in no shirt, lots of wooden beads, and a furry hat. At the end, his young-looking hype man took an unannounced dive into the crowd, and looked like he might not have gotten the landing he was hoping for. Afterwards, eXquire and his DJ -- who wore a Transformers Decepticon mask all night -- wandered around in the crowd.
Good idea: "I honestly think that Killer Mike and Despot should have a sitcom together, just based on their stage presence," said El-P, after the two rappers -- one large and black, the other tiny and white, came out to guest on "Tougher Colder."