You can only see the letters actually coming out of his mouth if you’re standing in the first couple of rows
Aceyalone + Rjd2 + Busdriver
February 26, 2006
I never went to Avalon when it was Limelight, so here’s the obligatory this-place-is-amazing tangent: this place is amazing. It’s a huge converted church with this intricate web of catwalks and pretty lights and disco balls and chandeliers and gothic arches, straight-up The Crow. The VIP room is on the highest balcony, and it’s pretty breathtaking to look down at a teeming mass of humanity fifty feet below you, and plus you can totally get lost on the way to the bathroom, which is fun. But if the club’s going to survive in its current incarnation as a live music venue, it might have to make a few changes. Like this: on one of the coldest nights of the year, is it really necessary to slow things up by giving aggressive patdowns to every single person who walks through the door? Nobody’s getting shot at a fucking Rjd2 show. And maybe the club shouldn’t book rappers, especially twisty-intricate rappers like Aceyalone and Busdriver, since their lyrics inevitably get swallowed up by the venue’s echo-space and come out sounding like an undifferentiated blur.
But then, for Aceyalone at least, maybe it was for the better. Once upon a time, Acey was maybe the best thing to come out of the ridiculously fertile West Coast pre-backpack underground, an insanely nimble and big-hearted unapologetic dork who rolled through tracks like a ray of sunshine, talking warm, conversational gobbledygook on squelchy jazz-rap beats and bouncing his fluid voice all over the track back when he was the best guy in Freestyle Fellowship. So I felt bad shitting on his new album, Magnificent City, in Pitchfork, even though it isn’t my fault the album fails. On Magnificent City, Acey sounds utterly tapped, tempering his once-irrepressible flow to the point where he sounds just like Murs and committing himself to dumb song-concepts about, like, how he’s not a superhero. On the record, it’s like he’s finally run out of gas after a decade and a half of being ignored by the world at large. Onstage, though, he still has some of the joyous charisma of his older records, especially when he’s performing those older records. He can still do those old verses perfectly, rapping quickly and precisely, going crazy with internal rhymes and cartoony vocal patterns. Rjd2, who anemically produced all of Magnificent City, played DJ, throwing on little bits of old disco breaks or “Young, Gifted and Black,” and that stuff sounded great under his voice. But the kinda-perfunctory set (less than an hour, no encores) started stumbling as the moved through his older material and got to the Magnificent City stuff, which sounds only slightly better when you can’t really understand the lyrics. Lucky for Acey, though, his audience now consists entirely of collegiate white kids, like the three dudes behind me in line who spent forever discussing Office Space minutia, and this is not the most demanding crowd in the world; all you have to do is smoke weed onstage and they’re happy.
Voice review: Jon Caramanica on Aceyalone at the Knitting Factory
On the old Def Jux tours, Rjd2‘s solo sets were the parts where just about everybody would take a break and go get a beer; no matter how gorgeous and atmospheric his records are, it’s not fun to watch someone play records. Since those days, he’s totally revamped his live show, adding huge banks of equipment and big video screens and like eight different turntables; he practically recreates his songs from scratch right in front of you. And it’s still the go-get-a-beer part of the show. Rj might have more buttons to push now, but he’s still just pushing buttons, and that stops being fun to watch after about five minutes. He multitasks impressively, he scratches little bits of “Jigga What, Jigga Who” and “Shut Up” onto his own tracks, and he plays the organ riff from “1976” on the buttons of his drum machine while rigging up a table-cam that lets you watch him push these buttons, but none of it stops his stuff from being background music, albeit it pretty-great sweeping background music that fills up all the little nooks and crannies of Avalon in a way that rappers couldn’t. Still, though, when the crowd demanded more at the end of the show, it was Rj who came out to do the encore instead of ostensible headliner Acey.
Stream: “Exotic Talk”
Voice review: Piotr Orlov Rjd2’s Since Last We Spoke
Avalon might’ve been the worst imaginable venue for Busdriver, whose dazzlingly complex lightspeed yammer loses a whole lot when you can only make out every tenth word or so. Still, as a display of pure skill, Busdriver’s live show is truly impressive; he seems to freestyle a lot of his stuff completely off the top of his head without ever slowing down or losing the beat. And he’s got a real herby, adenoidal charisma, awkwardly singing hooks and rapping over cheesy Euro-dance and Sublimed-out acoustic guitars with equal verve. But his DJ seemed to be making all the beats in real time as well, and Busdriver’s voice often got lost in his way-too-busy cartoon-blip tracks, which ended up making both guys sound pretty scattershot. It’s a shame; with simpler beats and a little direction, this guy would have one of the best live shows in indie-rap. Even without that, though, he’s a lot of fun.
Voice review: Jon Caramanica on Busdriver’s Temporary Forever