BLKHRTS at OLD CURTIS ST. BAR | 8/6/11
In advance of this show, BLKHRTS spread the word that there would be a sacrificial ceremony to kick off its tour. Considering the names of the opening acts and the lyrical content of the band's music, this "sacrificial ceremony" promised to be tongue-in-cheek and serious at the same time. And it was.
To start the festivities, Turner Jackson laid some poetic wisdom on us relevant to the show this night. It felt like you wanted him to be performing the music along with everyone else because of the strength and quality of his words, but that would happen eventually. The group 1984 started off its set with some electronic beats and the words "1984" repeated at intervals before that cut out and a sample from The Blues Brothers -- maybe the part before John Belushi's character asks, "How much for the little girl?" at the fancy restaurant played over the P.A. MarkyBias and Big J Beats were like dual MCs, and while their rapping wasn't exactly in the pocket in terms of being harmonic with the music or each other, that was kind of the point.
When Turner Jackson was brought on stage to rap with Marky and Big J, he sounded like he was on key and his flow seemed more immediate and natural. But the 1984 guys embraced this rather than be shown up by it. The beats and electronic composition behind the words were varied and perfectly set the mood while the guys took turns at weaving in sometimes silly, sometimes mock-boastful, sometimes playful phrases and in being engagingly humorous.
Like when they were serious in saying that Cut the Goat was going to tear off faces and so would BLKHRTS, and that a lot of faces were going to get torn tonight. Maybe you had to be there to get the tonality behind the duo's ability to turn a phrase. Nevertheless, when MarkyBias said, "We're just a couple of fat dudes that learned to rap," if there was any question about these guys taking themselves too seriously, that comment should be enough to disabuse you of those notions. Closing with a song that brought in a bit of Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" and just trying to work it with the crowd was both hilarious and endearing.
Speaking of funny, Cut the Goat played what sounded like a sample from Beetlejuice ("I'll possess myself if I gotta!") before its set while projecting terrible '70s B-movies like Dirty on the faces of their speaker cabinets. Maybe it wasn't a movie, but a movie-like logo and some film vaguely involving motorcycles and cars scrolled across the speaker grilles at one point in a bad-TV and film collage video.
When the band started up, its first song sounded so much like Danzig's "Twist of Cain," it was kind of funny. And it felt like that was intentional. The band's name was Cut the Goat, after all. But the musicianship was undeniable, and while the songwriting waxed into the realm of stoner rock and doom, it was too groovy and upbeat to get too stuck in the sonic muck.
The trio played a song that sounded like it was about a private detective named Richard Verrill (relative of Jordy?), like a sequel to Big Black's "Pete the Detective." This was followed by a song "about the soft side of one of the biggest monsters of all time": "Don't Call It a Comeback Because We've Bin Laden for Years." As awfully funny as the title was, there were some beautiful moments in the song, like in the middle, when the guitarist played in the middle register, the bassist played in the upper register, and the drummer judiciously dialed back his sound to let the quiet moment shine.
When the set was over, the guitarist joked about how the band was from "Park Hill, Colorado." The whole thing made for a rare combination of surprisingly well-written heavy music and a good sense of humor.
Isis Speaks officiated the ceremony preceding the BLKHRTS set. She lit a row of five candles on the stage, and the three members of BLKHRTS brought out "Angel," dressed in white, looking unconscious. After delivering a stirring speech in prose on the virtues of the gathering, including how the BLKHRTs had the "opposite of purity on their tongues" and how the mantra of the evening was "sex, drugs, violence, money and death," Isis served as Angel's executioner, and we saw "blood" well up from her mid-section and leak down the side of her mouth. She didn't move for the rest of the set.
Yonnas Abraham got on stage and did a bit of rap without music to back him up as a way of introducing the band. When the other two rappers got going, backed by a drummer and the two guys from 1984 on some of the electronics to augment the programmed beats, it was like seeing a hip-hop group with the raw passion and musical force of a classic hardcore band in its prime. There were some fairly minor technical difficulties with the mikes along the way, but these guys made the best of that and never for a moment wavered from looking like each was fully hurling himself into the performance.
Each of the six songs turned conventional conceptions of sin and evil on their head. The morality behind this music is that whatever makes us feel alive, electrified and in the moment is what should be embraced, even if we can only really do so on a poetic level. Karma, FOE and Yonnas all went into the audience during the show.
You couldn't help but think these guys absolutely, utterly believe in what they're doing, because it is one of the most intense and emotionally bracing things going, especially in the world of hip-hop -- if this band can be said to be just hip-hop (like calling the Screamers punk or Nitzer Ebb industrial). BLKHRTS were hip-hop and more, with pounding percussion and an onslaught of electronic sounds that sounded like the ecstatic emotional state suggested by its song titles.
"BLK S BTFL" and "N HVN VRYTNG S BLK" are the kinds of songs that would and should terrify white supremacists in the same way as Fear of a Black Planet and Straight Outta Compton may have back in their day. But despite its "dark" message, BLKHRTS made you feel like you were at a revolutionary party in the making, one where sanctimonious attitudes are laughable, and failing to embrace life with all its warts and glory is the only sin.
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Personal Bias: I've been following what Yonnas Abraham has done in music for the last five years and haven't been disappointed yet. Random Detail: BLKHRTS had some suitably interesting/borderline creepy T-shirts. By the Way: BLKHRTS is taking Park Hill on the road as of Sunday night.