Yonnas Abraham has often referred to BLKHRTS as a "gang" and flippantly pointed out how formidable and imposing the crew -- which also includes King FOE and Karma -- is. From only minor cameos, though, during The Pirate Signal's sets, only a hint of that suggested menace has come across. Not so this past Saturday night at Glob, when a full set from BLKHRTS hit us all like a ton of bricks.
Before BLKHRTS came on after midnight or so, the BLKHRTS Ball featured a pretty impressive undercard. Arriving around 11 p.m. unfortunately meant missing Flashlights and PDRBLK, but it was just in time to catch Lust-Cats of the Gutters, who, after grappling briefly with an uncooperative guitar amp, played a short set of pleasingly raw and scraped-up, bare-knuckled garage punk of the highest order.
Next up -- as Jonny 5 from Flobots, the night's host, semi-incognito in one of those thermal ear-flap ski hats, informed us -- was the newly revamped version of The Pirate Signal. The addition of guitarist and MPC manipulator Chez Strong and DJ Soup has certainly added to the overall aesthetic -- the former chic-ly clad in an all-black outfit of gaucho hat, lacy blouse, leather shorts, black leggings and boots that Sheila E would approve of, and the latter in his black button-up and bow tie -- if not altered the sound dramatically. While this version of The Pirate Signal seems a tad more polished and has subtle flourishes that weren't there before, overall it's still very much The Pirate Signal that everyone's come to know and love. Yonnas Abraham, flanked by King FOE -- who is seemingly filling the hypeman void left by DJ Awhat -- was in dependably energetic form.
The only dip in the set, momentum-wise, came when Abraham and company performed "Love in the Time of Swine Flu," a track that Abraham noted he had written as a love song. Although it's one of the act's more captivating cut on No Weak Heart Shall Prosper, it's a bit of an anomaly live among the more fist-pumping tracks in the set. The act immediately brought the energy back up, though, with a vitriolic song about another gal Abraham is not so fond of titled "All I Know Is...It Was an Accident."
As The Pirate Signal wrapped its set, BLKHRTS launched directly into theirs, with Abraham and FOE summoning Karma with a now-customary chant of "blaaa-aaa-ackhearts, blaaa-aaa-ackhearts," to which Karma made his way to the stage.
At first there doesn't appear to be much groundbreaking about BLKHRTS. A rap-rock hybrid -- you've heard this before, right? Yeah, not so fast. While BLKHRTS has an aesthetic that indeed recalls past progenitors -- razor guitars and thunderous drums forming a backdrop for rapid-fire raps -- this is some truly next-level shit.
And perhaps it's the context. After all, Joy Division -- or Warsaw, rather -- isn't exactly the first band you'd expect to hear sampled in a hip-hop song, much less presented soulfully alongside references to Morrissey and Johnny Marr, as heard on "OVR."
And therein lies the surface appeal of BLKHRTS. Like The Pirate Signal, BLKHRTS have a tinge of familiarity but honestly don't sound like anyone else. And that's mostly due to Abraham's retro-futuristic production. Abraham has a knack for mining the past for inspiration, but then processing it through a digitized lens of his sensibilities and presenting it as something unique and progressive.
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As compelling as the new EP, BLK S BTFL, is, it's even more compelling live, thanks to the unrelenting assault of Abraham, FOE and Karma, who together possess an unbridled energy that's as ferocious as Onyx, as primal as Body Count and as frenzied as Bad Brains.
Running through a short set that kicked off with "OVR" and culiminated with "BLKHRT, BLK CTY" -- which featured Catch Lungs and Haven, who damn near stole the show with the fireballs he spit -- the trio, backed by Soup, completely leveled the crowd, half of which was pressed up against the guys and completely rapt, exuberantly responding to every call and response, while the other half casually looked on from the back of the warehouse. The highlight of the set was FOE crawling up and down the stacked speakers like a throwback to a young Eddie Vedder.
Until now, many have rightfully regarded BLKHRTS as Abraham's side project. If this performance is any indication, however, BLKHRTS is nobody's side anything; it's a full-fledged group, and each of the members have absolutely no problem holding their own with one another -- or with anybody else, for that matter.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: No Weak Heart Shall Prosper was one of my favorite albums last year, and The Format, featuring King FOE and DJ Awhat, was one of my favorite mixtapes. Random Detail: During his set in between bands, DJ Soup played "Runaway," by Kanye West. By the Way: There were tons of familiar faces in the house, including Matt Fecher, Lynn Ryan, Nathan Reid from Mercury Sauce, Joe Thunder and Lenny Lenn, among others.