Every year at the Westword Music Showcase, we enlist our army of Backbeat wordsmiths to host various stages. In addition to their emcee duties, we ask them to pull double duty by submitting a travelogue of their individual stage. Shawn White hosted at City Hall Amphitheatre this past Saturday. Keep reading for some of the highlights from that stage.
Unsuspecting early attendees were treated to bouncing fresh soul sounds and old-school vocal arrangements from Devan Blake Jones. Nice interplay between Devan and two backing vocalists took things to a great place. The spry, elastic dance moves from the man himself were remarkable, considering this was very early in the morning for a musician.
What can you say about a band that starts off sounding like the Brand New Heavies and ends its set sounding like Faith No More? The members of Ten Pound Elephant showed incredible range, with diverse sounds and notable stage presence, delivering a set that deftly blended the kind of sounds you would expect from an R&B outfit: rap, funk and retro soul with a lot of the unexpected, especially their hardcore closer, which literally could have been a Faith No More B-side. The set was too exciting and far-reaching to attempt to classify.
Don't know if "Tatanka" is just a cool name or if it has significance. Whatever the case, Tatanka seems to be shorthand for "a bunch of funky-ass mofos." Connecting the logical dots between dubstep and reggae, these guys grabbed hold of the groove and just wouldn't let go until they woke up the sleepy constituents of the Showcase. By the second song, even the cool bros in the crowd were bopping, twirling bouncing and getting it. The entire set was enjoyable, and the horns were super-tight. Overall, a great way to get blood pressures high and feet moving.
A big band with a full sound, the Dendrites were awesome and quickly produced a full City Hall Amphitheatre. At one point, it seemed like these cats were stealing ears from the other stages, and with good reason: The sound was big and full, and easy to get down to. A congenial mosh pit, which was more like a rude-boy skank pit, quickly formed and didn't let up until the last note. It felt good to hear some retro sounds.
Atomga came prepared to get down. The act also came prepared to market, being one of the few bands that had a sticker girl handing out stickers to new fans. Judiging by the reception to its set, Atomga garnered a lot of new fans from its energetic Afrobeat, rasta jam-band goodness. The chops of Atomga were not surprising: When a band commits to incorporating Afrobeat into its sound, the players are diving head-first into some intricate rhythms. The hard work pays off with a sound that is so tight it almost betrays the band's appearance.
As Wheelchair Sports Camp took the stage, it was particularly pleasurable to watch jaw after jaw drop as the crew did its thing. Sure, this group gets a lot of attention, but that's because it's dope. Let's see: Trumpet player patched into stomp box? Check. Keyboard player with incredible voice ready to make any hook transcendent? Double check. Oh, yeah, and an MC who can ride a beat and mesmerize a crowd without even moving? Yup, yup. By the end of the group's blistering set, the residual energy was palpable. After the set, one woman proclaimed, "I want more of that! Where do I get more of that?"
After a funky, crunchy set that harks straight back to the original flavor of rap, with charismatic emceeing that stays on point, all that's left is to salute your influences. That's exactly what MTHDS did with its set, which was silly and seriously dope. At the end of their set, the members of MTHDS paid homage to the Beastie Boys by covering "Body Movin'" and asking a crowd member to volunteer to wear a robot costume that's so cheap it almost looks better than the cheap-ass costume in the original clip for the song. MCA would've been proud.
Yonnas Abraham gets a lot of respect from even the roughest heads in this town because he keeps it real. In BLKHRTS, it seems the enigmatic artist has found a perfect vehicle for his handcrafted brand of hardcore hip-hop. The set from BLKHRTS started out noisy with heavy bass and screams, and about midway through, the guys started attacking the set like this was their first show ever. You could feel the crowd step back and then suddenly surge forward to meet the energy of BLKHRTS, which delivered a set that the crowd at City Hall this past Saturday will certainly never forget.
FLASH/LIGHTS were a welcome sight to the sound guys. After a day of plugging, checking and unplugging all manner of instruments, the minimal setup of FLASH/LIGHTS was a welcome one. The act comes off like a funkier, more accessible Theivery Corporation, and the thing these guys have figured out that the Thievery dudes haven't is that you gotta have hooks! Lovable stereo sounds bouncing in time amid a clean modern soundscape with cool vocals in the mix? Yes, please. The crowd was sold pretty much instantly.
Where FLASH/LIGHTS is more of a call back to the earlier days of dance music, Human Agency is definitely the state of the art. Combining turntables, samples and beats, the three guys of Human Agency came hard and represented with music built off of samples that coalesce into full-blown electronic jams. The timing was perfect as the day was winding down into night. Beach balls started flying, and smiles were wide. The guys of Human Agency clearly knew what they were doing, and they focused on keeping the crowd hyped for their entire set.
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