UmConscious, Rhythm Vision and And Sometimes Why Friday, May 23, 2008 Soiled Dove Underground Better Than: Overblown, corportate hip-hop.
By the time And Sometimes Why launched into "Down," the second song of its set at the Soiled Dove, the act's aspirations for radio play were clear. Lead singer Mike Berg led the Littleton-based crew through a set of well-crafted, accessible songs that showcased his dusky, earthy vocals. Berg's soulful approach was evident in his penchant for acoustic guitar (he never plays electric guitar live).
Over the course of Why's set, the frontman rotated between three guitars, including two miniature acoustics. Flanked on either side by guitarist Stuart Miller (from the band Savage Henry) and bassist Justin Gomes, his acoustic stylings fit right in on driving songs such as "Pain" and "Myself," arriving at a sound that fell somwhere between Incubus and Dave Matthews, with forays into sometimes moody instrumental interludes. During one of those jams, Johnny L from UmConscious joined the band onstage and added some hip-hop flair to the proceedings.
Rhythm Vision was up next and set the stage for the rest of the night, which was dominated by homegrown hip-hop acts that eschewed the bloated, ego-driven, cliche-hop of better-known rappers. But perhaps fame isn't too far off after all for these guys. "We just released a record that's doing pretty well on college radio right now," announced Rhythm Vision's ded_res. Drawing from several genres (ded_res and band mate Daniel Roman also play in an alt/country band), the songs were pastiches of styles, grafted together. "It's post-genre," res told me later. "It's everything at once."
On "Pour My Wine" and "Heidi's Song," ded_res donned a beautiful red Dobro, from which he plucked out lonely Leadbelly-style blues, while DJ KAOSS made his turntables whistle and scream. The combination and contrast worked well, owing to the band's clever ear for melody and song crafting. The twang of the bluesy guitar acted as a perfect foil for the upbeat reggae bounce that ded_res's anchored with his quick rat-a-tat dancehall rap delivery. Using a MPC2000XL sampler, Roman skillfully manipulated the vocals, sampling and then sending them back through the speakers only seconds after ded_res sang them. While many of the songs recalled the Gorillaz, tracks like "What I Mean" stood out as the band's own.
When the members of UmConscious emerged from backstage, it was time to get down. It was, after all, their video-release party. The outfit came out dressed as the characters they portray in their new video: Bassist Johnny L was a mustachioed cowboy, and guitarist Boogie B was some sort of long-haired '70s playboy. The video, an homage to Colfax Avenue, followed the band members down the fabled avenue, highlighting various landmarks along the way, such as the Bluebird and Casa Bonita. The song itself, driven by Johnny L's bass which was as powerful as a thunderclap at close range, made my bones rattle. Boogie B's hypnotic riff served as an ethereal complement to the boulder-sized beats.
In contrast to hip-hop's synthetic, programmed beats, it was refreshing to see the members of UmConscious playing instruments. Johnny L, in particular, is multi-talented in this regard -- not only did he play a monstrous bass while singing and rapping, but he danced and shuffled around the stage like a nimble cat. "I wanna see your bodies moving!" he yelled, as he launched into the frenetic "One Of These Days," sampling his bass into a continuous loop. And the looping continued as he added vocal chants and whistles. Even songs covering such mundane topics as getting up every day and going to work ("You Gotta Do") were infused with a lively energy that prevented the crowd from thinning out.
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"This is a wake up call, y'all!" Johnny L screamed as the speakers boomed with the lowest bass frequency of the evening, nearly taking my shirt off as it exploded from the stage. The night ended in a hectic, celebratory chaos with inebriated guest rappers, DJ AJ trying to get his cuts in over the crowd's screams and Johnny L yelling, "I wanna hear y'all get excited!"
-- Kevin Galaba
Random Detail: That cool car in the UmConscious video (check it out on YouTube)? That's a 1972 Buick Centura. By the way: The UmConscious Song "Trip To The Hills" will be featured on an the soundtrack to an upcoming movie about Bigfoot.