Tuesday, October 25
Better than: Fiddling with the radio.
Midway through Yelawolf’s show at Irving Plaza on Tuesday night—his third time appearing on that stage, his first time headlining it—he invited the audience to get a little better acquainted with him. Many of the people in attendance probably figured that they knew him pretty well—they shouted along with his lyrics, trying to keep up with his nimble tongue the best way they could. But they had never sat down with Yela and gone over his record collection.
Yela announced to the crowd that he (well, his DJ) was going to play snippets from a couple of songs that helped form him. As each song dropped, it became easier to visualize him driving around in a car with a shitty tape deck blaring a homemade mix that had this as its A-side:
“Riders On The Storm.” Was a bit wary that it started off with this, no lie. Although the line between this song’s rumbly, booming bassline and Yelawolf’s dark aesthetics is pretty clear.
“Folsom Prison Blues.” The crowd went kind of nuts for this one.
“Boyz In Da Hood.” Not as crazed as it was for the Johnny Cash, but lots of people knew the lyrics.
“Master Of Puppets.” “This is ‘Master of Puppets,’ motherfuckers. Act like you know,” Yela said as Metallica’s lightning-bolt guitars zigzagged out of the speakers. I would say it was unfortunate that we didn’t get to the whole thing because I certainly had enough energy to start freaking out to the ending, but it was followed by…
“B.O.B.” This interlude came after Yela performed his contribution to the Big Boi track “You Ain’t No DJ,” and including OutKast in it was a nice acknowledgement of how far he’d come. Plus, this song is still pretty bonkers a decade-plus later.
“Paul Revere.” Was sort of expecting more people to know the words given that the crowd was in New York and the Beastie Boys are, as Yela noted, “the OG white boys,” but the shouting along paled in comparison to the reception received by…
“The Real Slim Shady”/”The Way I Am.” Similar to the OutKast shout earlier, these two tracks from Yela’s patron Eminem served as a nod to Yela’s achievements—you could almost see his bare tattooed chest puffing up with pride as he shouted out his label Shady Records.
“Simple Man.” And this Lynyrd Skynyrd classic got the lighters out—not the Zippo app on peoples’ smartphones, but actual flames.
That run-through of hits firmly established Yela as someone who, while not entirely genre-agnostic, at least gleaned his musical influences from more than one place. It also helped flesh out why his music connects with people in a way that goes well beyond appreciation of his undeniable technical skill; his freakouts to the songs he picked mimicked the way the audience reacted to some of his tracks. A little mutual passion can go a long way. And it led into a performance of Yela’s menacing breakout single “Pop The Trunk,” full of threats that can still raise hairs a year and change after they were initially released into the world; for the last verse, he jumped into the crowd, asking them to rap back at him, and they happily obliged. (As happily as recounting a description of one person being shot in the chest can be, anyway.)
Initially Tuesday’s performance was supposed to be a celebration honoring the release of Yela’s debut album Radioactive, but earlier this month the album’s drop date was pushed back to November. So there wasn’t much new material, although the crowd didn’t seem to mind much, given the way they relished their attempts to keep up with his flow. The new track “Gutter,” which had an assist from Yela’s fellow “slumerican” Rittz, was a standout, a screwed-down piece of Southern gothic that detailed life on the precipice—”you don’t have to live in the projects to grow up with this nonsense,” Yelawolf said at one point, and the lusty response from the assembled indicated that they understood as well.
Yela had initially come out onstage in a wolf mask, and when he returned for his encore he was wearing another disguise—this time, a beak that allowed him to rap while he wore it. (He also wore an astronaut’s uniform.) Flanked by a skeleton and a sasquatch—both of whom were armed with water guns with an impressive reach—he tore into “Good To Go”; Bun B, costumeless, came out to do his verse. A burst of red, white and blue confetti and the opening strains of “Hail To The Chief” ended the night, and for a split-second, Yela and his charges stood stock-still, taking in the gravity of the moment, taking in the audience’s adulation and the festivities swirling around them.
Critical bias: Well-established.
Overheard: “He looked right at me… oh, my God, I love him.”
Random notebook dump: I wonder if Yela’s heard Lulu yet.