Doomtree with F. Stokes
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Better than: Getting flooded out at the Bowery Ballroom and canceling the show completely.
It was the night that wasn’t supposed to be.
Yesterday afternoon, Minneapolis rap collective Doomtree — scheduled to perform later in the evening at the Bowery Ballroom — learned that they might not be able to take the famed New York City stage after all. The reason? Of all things, a water main burst and flooded the venue. The bookers scrambled and successfully changed the show’s location to the Gramercy Theater, promising to honor any tickets to the Bowery show. With this little episode (combined with the fact that Doomtree is one of the most talented and dedicated rap groups working today), the night’s crowd buzzed with an itching, overwhelming anxiety.
As we waited for Doomtree, there was a collective empathy for the situation from both the concert attendees and the opener F. Stokes, as everyone seemed to be just thankful the show was actually happening. The moment Doomtree’s mastermind producer Lazerbeak walked on stage, Gramercy exploded. He sheepishly thanked the crowd, and proceeded to drop a sticky, ambient beat on the onlookers. Before anyone knew it, the rest of the crew joined him on stage and launched into the explosive “No Way,” the opening track from 2011’s No Kings, bouncing and jumping around like wind-up dolls. “Attack and we’re on you like a Mack truck, Your Honor,” Cecil Otter rhymed. “We are
that fucking fithy.” Just like that, the night began.
There was a theme of appreciation throughout the concert. Perhaps it was just the
Midwest “nice” New Yorkers always hear about, but for as bombastic and crazy as Doomtree’s members are on stage, they made sure to let the audience know, repeatedly, they were incredibly grateful so many people showed up for the concert. “At 1p.m. we thought we had no show,” Cecil said after the opening song. “Thank you for being with us.” And it was this, the collective’s earnest thankfulness, that led you to believe, no matter how loud or in-your-face these emcees got (and believe me, when there’s five people on stage shouting into each of their respective microphones at the same time, things can get pretty loud), if you happened to run into P.O.S. or Sims or any of the other members of Doomtree after the show, grabbing a beer at a bar down the block wouldn’t be out of the question.
What separates Doomtree from the rest of the current hip-hop field is this everyman approach. In the most literal sense, titling their sophomore album No Kings is an example of this (a slightly different title than another familiar album about thrones and kings from 2011). Made up of hodgepodge of seven characters — some of whom have well-respected backgrounds in slam poetry, but all of whom have found hip-hop as a viable form of art thanks to the label Rhymesayers — Doomtree utilizes its oddballness as a tool to stick out.
Aside from having members who dedicate songs to “people with shitty jobs,” the group’s guitar-tinged monster beats matched with fast-talking lyrics about togetherness and perseverance doesn’t come across like typical hip-hop. And when they’re on stage, rhyming verses and trading beats, they are a collective in every sense of the word, encouraging the crowd to join the ruckus.
It’d be easy to assume that an onslaught of music so loud and grandiose would get a little
overbearing a couple songs into the set. If the entire concert is a climax, then where’s the climax?
But credit the high-energy dedication of Doomtree’s members for keeping that worry at bay. They never tired, but only got stronger throughout the performance. Had they not been so interactive with the audience, this may not have worked — but the joy of five emcees on stage who are bouncing around like crazy people is that it makes bouncing around like a crazy person the sane thing to do.
P.O.S., the most critically-acclaimed of the collective, completely owns whenever he has the mic in hand. His chest-thumping delivery often ups the ante for the rest of the group. And last night, this seemed to be a game that the members played with one another. Each time somebody stepped center stage to take a verse, they tried to out-do the one before, and the one before that, and the one before that. Dessa’s fluid, dynamic presence beautifully blends rap and poetry, and does the difficult job of humanizing the explosive beats.
At the end of the two plus hour performance, after the group seemed to end with the No Kings closing track “Fresh New Trash,” Mike Mictlan grabbed the mic one last time and gave an acapella rendition of “Prizefight,” from he and Lazerbeak’s 2008 album Hand Over Fist. “Till the flames surround me, till they drown me, I could never give this up, I will never give this up,” he spat, before pausing a moment among the silence of the theater. “I could never give Doomtree up.”
Indeed, Mr. Mictlan. Indeed.
Critical Bias: I’m originally from Iowa, so any music remotely close to the heartland tends to make my Midwest heart swoon.
Overheard: “OH YEAH BANGARANG!” -Some guy two rows behind me the moment the lights dimmed for F. Stokes, the opener. The crowd was really excited.
Random Notebook Dump: Dessa = swag.