Rapper with dense album upstaged by self-important CEO

At the beginning of Aesop Rock’s October 4 Bowery set, El-P bopped out on the stage and promptly declared his own importance. The cut is called “We’re Famous,” and El-P’s portion of it is mostly concerned with the Def Jux CEO flashing his underground pass and arguing for his own centrality in a world where 50 Cent doesn’t know his name. It’s an argument El-P can’t win. But damn if he didn’t spend the night engaging in it—at Aesop Rock’s expense.

On its own merits, Aesop Rock’s performance should have been transcendent. In a world where rappers happily lumber across stage and call it a show, Aesop is that rare visual rapper, an MC so in sync with his own lyrics that every movement seems to accentuate a drum lick. On Saturday, his renditions of “Super Fluke,” “Freeze,” and “Daylight” were more colorful and urgent as Aesop punctuated his scattershot vocals with serpentine steps and flailing hands. Every motion added an extra layer.

But Aesop also had to contend with El-P’s demerits. Whereas Aesop’s live MC’ing gains heft from his frenetic energy, El-P’s actually flattens, burdened by his heavy-handed proclamations. “Patriotism” is hip-hop’s greatest tribute to the double entendre, but not when El-P strips away all mystery by offering a rambling screed against the war on terrorism. For that matter, why was he even performing “Patriotism”? It’s Aesop who has the new album out—the dense and enigmatic Bazooka Tooth. Yet there was his co-star, rummaging five years deep into his catalog.

Maybe it would have been bearable had Aesop’s set not been preceded by three acts of negligible skill. The Fun Action Committee came off like a lesser Majesticons; Hangar 18 were just forgettable. The middling nihilism of S.A. Smash seemed almost refreshing in comparison. For Aesop, the assembled Def Juxers offered more weight than lift. But when the show ended, the crowd was still chanting his name. Hopefully his label was listening. Ta-Nehisi Coates


Yaks? Mammoths? Musk oxen? Bigfeet? None of the above

Undeniably hirsute but otherwise genus-defying, Super Furry Animals are pop’s ultimate hybrid bastards—love children of more phyla than seems biologically possible. For once forestalling the mutations programmed into its genetic code, the Welsh quintet’s psych-prog seizures attained an improbable (if still rowdy) equilibrium amid the extraterrestrial vistas of 2001’s Rings Around the World. The new Phantom Power (also available as a DVD of lysergic screen savers) is both dreamier and messier, and more explicitly concerned with the state of the planet—the anti-war party album of the year.

Assailed with eggs by offended patriots on their last U.S. tour, the Super Furries found a politically kindred audience two weekends ago at Irving Plaza, where they continued their longstanding tradition of upstaging the headliners (in this case, the agreeable though all too docile Grandaddy). They kept the proceedings strictly English-language (i.e., nothing from 2000’s Mwng, let alone 1995’s Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyndrobwl), though frontman Gruff Rhys was self-conscious enough to wonder at one point, “Do you understand anything I’m saying?” Celtic inflection and grubby sound mix notwithstanding, there was no mistaking the sentiments. The Phantom Power songs took on a harried urgency, while the video projections bluntly reinforced the agit component.

“The Piccolo Snare,” a mournful vision of hawkish bloodshed, was accompanied by a cartoon of falling missiles morphing into crosses, hitting their targets as gravestones in a cemetery. For the flailing holy-war deathstomp “Out of Control,” a familiar, sickening hue of night-vision green flooded the backdrop—Baghdad blitz as CNN video game. Rings favorites “Receptacle for the Respectable” and “Juxtapozed With U” got the warmest receptions, but the climactic “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck” left the crowd reeling. A Steely Dan-sampling anti-authoritarian anthem cum ode to pro-pot campaigner (and onetime smuggler) Howard Marks, here introduced with a looped Bill Hicks sample (“All governments are liars and murderers”) while onscreen Bush and Blair wear expressions of evil self-interest, it occasioned a costume change into super furry yeti suits. And for a few surreal moments, it seemed like there was nothing the world needed more than stoner protest rock, especially the kind that wears its broken goofball heart on its very hairy sleeve. Dennis Lim