THE UNCLUDED @ MARQUIS THEATER | 7/5/13 The heaviest part of any show that Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson play together is almost always "Walk Like Thunder." There's a raw, poetic honesty and heaviness to the track, which comes from Kimya Dawson's Thunder Thighs, and this performance certainly proved to be no exception.
A story about the death of friends and a proclivity for self-destruction, the song is heavy. Dawson, who mostly stood up otherwise, performed it sitting down. She probably wrote the song sitting down and maybe she's played it countless times in the past, but you imagine the absolute weightiness of the song itself and its subject matter might be difficult to play standing up.
The three touring members of the Uncluded, including the talented bassist and multi-instrumentalist James Lynch, performed virtually all of the project's often playful and sometimes harrowing debut album, Hokey Fright. Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson in particular played the show like they were playing to friends in a living room somewhere. The crowd responded with great enthusiasm during and after each song. At one point, Aesop remarked, "Why is this town always so fucking nice to me?," a sentiment Dawson echoed.
Self-deprecating but tender, Aesop and Dawson told stories in song that sounded like they were plucked from vivid remembrances of lives resonant with your own. Maybe you didn't have a mom that was a lunch lady or a dad that ran a laundry mat, but the way Dawson sang about that in "Delicate Cycle" with obvious affection and admiration seemed far easier to relate to than some fanciful TV drama or sitcom.
Both Aesop Rock and Dawson are masters of cadence, rhythm, wordplay and delivering vivid yet surreal imagery all at the same time, and seeing them work together so fluidly was impressive. The duo traded leads on various tunes, but on "Eyeball Soup," the way the pair switched off vocal parts in rapid succession gave the song an uncommon urgency. Before performing that song, Dawson informed us that it was in Denver that she got the crowd to make the biggest human pyramid she had ever helped make -- fifty people, apparently.
Most likely she was referring to when she came to Denver about ten years ago and did something like that at the Construct, the defunct DIY venue ran by Jeremy Gregory and friends that was roughly a block south of Rhinoceropolis. Her comment confused some people but at least a few people in the audience might have remembered the story, and either way, it seemed important enough for Dawson to relate fondly.
Every song in the set was both moving and fun, but one of the high points was the performance of "Bats," which Aesop told us was the first song he and Dawson had written together. Like a kind of sequel in a way to Dawson's magnum opus "Walk Like Thunder," the words to this song point out how it will take the current generation thinking in different ways to help deal with the spiritual and emotional crisis that is eating to the core of our current existence.
Aesop and Dawson speak of seeking alternative solutions in simple things, like having some genuine love and tenderness for yourself and others rather than stoicism and aggression in order to prove you're tough. For someone to tackle that sort of thing in a song and still make it fun is a major accomplishment, and the Uncluded did just that for this show and not just in one song.
But it wasn't all seriousness, and neither is the group's album. "Superheroes" was simply a goofy number where Aesop and Dawson smiled and named off sandwiches to each other like two kids trying to have a contest who can name more, and at the end of what had to be a less than a minute-long song, all three people on the stage jumped and spread arms wide and cried, "Sandwiches!"
The show ended on a similar note when, after the emotional catharsis of "Walk Like Thunder," the trio played "Tits Up," and Aesop told us to raise our hands and then squeeze the air like we were squeezing some actual tits during the choruses. It was a silly moment, but people went along with it, and Dawson danced on stage like a kid while Aesop rapped between choruses. It was a great way to end a show that really took you through some much needed changes.
Earlier in the night, the by now semi-legendary punk/folk performer Hamell on Trial got things going. It was just him playing his acoustic guitar and singing words that cut to the core. He sang about uncomfortable truths with incredible energy and conviction and an obvious and well-developed sense of humor.
Probably some people thought that he looked like some kind of professional wrestler playing guitar with more vigor than most punks anymore and offering plenty of spot-on observations and commentary about the human condition. He had to work it a bit, but there's no denying that even people who had no clue about this guy were left with a strong impression because his charisma was visceral, and his songs touched a nerve in a way many people probably needed.
Personal Bias: Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson are two of my favorite living lyricists.
Random Detail: Ran into Jason Horodyski of Maudlin Magpie at the show.
By the Way: There was a beautiful picture disc available at the merch booth for The Uncluded. Also, Hamell on Trial's son is a budding filmmaker and is making a documentary about his experiences on the tour and all tips in his jar go toward his new, better camera. Anyone touring at this level isn't exactly rich so contributions toward the kid's camera go a long way across a tour.
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