DANNY BROWN & ACTION BRONSON at OGDEN THEATRE | 9/17/13 Danny Brown walked out in his $4,000+ outfit (or so I was told by a fashionable concertgoer) looking ratty as ever. It's amazing how, when combined with Brown's unkempt hair, missing front teeth and general aura of decay, even the most expensive outfits can look like they came out of a stinking pile of laundry. Brown is truly a champion a multiple worlds, and this diversity of taste is reflected in his versatility as a rapper and the eclectic set of influences his music draws from.
At any given moment, Brown might be twisting tales with images too explicit for the sleaziest magazines -- 'hood vignettes of extreme poverty and debasement, depraved sex with no regard for convention, mountains of designer and old-school drugs and high fashion. Whatever subject Danny Brown is rapping about, he is delivering it in a way that is uniquely him, nuanced with a depth of emotion that touches on depression, hopelessness, swagger, libido and tongue-in-cheek humor, often simultaneously.
On "Toxic," where he features on a Childish Gambino song, not only does Brown connect unlikely rhymes that you've never heard before, he delivers them with a constantly changing cadence you've also never heard before. And he complements his beats as well as any rapper in recent memory. To wit, Brown has at least three different voices, two of which he uses in his live show: One, the high-pitched whine that bores into your brain and controls your mind like an earwig, and the other, a ratcheted-up, guttural bark that punctuates the sections of the music that hit particularly hard. Brown has a strong grasp of the energy of tune and how to manipulate it.
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The recent catalog of Danny Brown is about as strong as it gets in rap today. Usually the same can be said of his live performance. This night, Brown didn't bring his A game: He messed up a bit on "Molly Ringwald." He was out of sync with the crowd, cutting out for audience participation when there was absolutely none, and he departed sans-encore for a disturbingly early 11:15 close with a seemingly disingenuous, "That's all the time I have." Despite all this, however, Brown was still a force to be reckoned with, one grade below his usual unstoppable self. With a new album, Old, fast approaching, that's a little disappointing. You would think Brown would be in balls-to-the-wall mode to convert as many fast fans as possible.
Brown's done a lot of work between XXX, his breakout mixtape, and Old, his debut album. The majority of Brown's setlist was comprised of these intermediate tracks, and though songs like "Kush Koma" and "Express Yourself," which might be on Old, were performed, the two tracks that will almost definitely be on the album, "ODB" and "Side A," were not. There was none of Brown's pre-XXX material, either. So while Brown probably left a fair few fans satisfied, those who have invested more time in both his new and old releases were likely left wanting more.
Keep reading for more on co-headliner Action Bronson's set
Co-headlining the 2 High 2 Die tour was infrequent collaborator, stylistic opposite, but chronological contemporary of Danny Brown, Action Bronson. These two rappers are obviously good friends, and they both love drugs and sex, but their union on a single bill tastes a little bit like a plate of lamb and tuna fish. (In fact, cohesion of sound seemed like the last priority of the tour's organizers, but more on that later.)
Danny Brown is a new-age rock and roll star; Action Bronson is an old soul -- and these differences in personality came across strongly in both the dynamic and sound of their sets. It's not surprising, then, that a common question among audience members was, "Who are you here for, Danny Brown or Action Bronson?" because it probably wasn't both, at least not equally.
One thing that Danny Brown and Action Bronson do have in common is their talent for conjuring vivid images with unconventional rhymes. While Brown uses them to startle his listeners, Bronson uses them to captivate his audience in the midst of his imagination. Bronson's rhymes are luxurious and indulgent. When he references food, which he does quite a bit, you almost taste them. When he pictures himself in the Galapagos, you can almost picture it, too.
While performing, though, Bronson's body language is quite blasé. It seems almost like he doesn't care, and one would be forgiven for coming to that conclusion if not for the fact that Bronson takes the time to roam the audience with a cordless microphone, not engaging the crowd as much as walking like a diety among them.
His apparent disinterest is at the same time an asset and a hindrance. It adds to his mystique, but it makes it harder for the audience to connect with him, despite his routine walkabouts. Bronson has made performing off-stage a regular occurrence in his shows; at a previous Denver appearance, he was not provided a cordless mike, and it seemed to significantly detract from his show.
But while Action Bronson can come off as a bit cold, his voice is even more engaging, and he invites you to hang on every word with a delivery that never seems to lose urgency. Even when Bronson abandons the music for a capella, as he does frequently, he uses his sense of rhythm to propel himself through his rhymes.
Bronson is immensely charismatic and is a natural entertainer, and before you knew it, he was performing his encore, "Bird On a Wire," one of his favorite songs on one of the better Harry Fraud beats (who, by the way, is a great producer for him. Bronson's omnipresent voice fills up Fraud's airy beats like a god in an empty universe).
Turner Jackson opened the night and was his usual irrepressibly bubbly self. Despite the venue only being about a quarter full, he provided one hundred percent energy and refused to accept the audience's apathetic responses to his calls. There is no shame in his game, and there shouldn't be, as he is easily one of the better solo performers in the local rap scene. His commitment to performance is evident also in his consistency. Regardless of the venue, the crowd size or the artists sharing his bill, he puts on a great show every night.
Following Turner Jackson was the hardcore California band, Trash Talk. Before its set, the band acknowledged the change in speed of their show, both literally and figuratively, and the group was right; it didn't really fit with any of the other acts on the bill. In fact, if you walked in during the outfit's set, you would have been completely justified in thinking you had walked into the wrong building, or on the wrong night. Nonetheless, Trash Talk captivated its fans and the hip-hop crowd alike, quickly inciting a mosh pit in the middle of the floor. These guys played blow-your-brains, breakneck music, and were totally incomprehensible, and totally enthralling.
At one point, the singer hopped right in the middle of the pit and tried to sing, but he couldn't, so he had to make a quick exit. Then he said, "This next one's a headbanger." Really? What were the other ones? Trash Talk played about twenty songs that averaged maybe a minute in length before wrapping up. Props to them for commanding a crowd they had no business commanding.
Personal Bias: I've seen each of these headlining performers two times before. For Action Bronson, this was his best performance. For Danny Brown, this was his worst. Danny Brown remains my favorite rapper, which could change based on how I feel about Old. Random Detail: Saw my first "Thank You Based God" shirt. It was a special moment. By the Way: Do not give your blunts to Action Bronson. He will smoke them and then give them to somebody else.
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