Every year, for the Westword Music Showcase, we enlist our army of Backbeat wordsmiths to host various stages, and, in addition to their emcee obligations, we ask them to pull double duty (or triple-duty in some cases) and also write up the acts that appear on their individual stages. Noah Hubbell hosted the City Hall street level stage. Page down to read his thoughts and see some photos.
The high-energy duo, 1984, provided a sick mix of electronic rhythm and old-school '90s style hip-hop lyrics. Big J. provided the beats and MarkyBias threw down as would be expected of a freestyle champion. Because of their starting time, the crowd was far thinner than it would be for later acts, but the guys did not sell themselves short in the energy department.
The group's dynamic wasn't only traditional producer/rapper, though; there were several instrumental breaks during the duo's short set reminiscent of DJ Shadow's legendary Endtroducing album. On the whole, the performance was very satisfying.
Utilizing a new-school flow that contrasted perfectly with the jazzy, soulful, old-school beats and a knack for simple, yet evocative hooks, Turner Jackson put on a hell of a show. Along with his dynamic sonic performance, Jackson kept the energy high with his stylishly restrained N.E.R.D.-esque foot-stomping and fist-pumping.
Live drums by Big J. Beats of 1984 added another dimension to the performance -- a rock element that gave extra depth to the show. Before and after his performance, Jackson gave lots of love to his fellow performers -- at times, the most energetic dancer off the stage. This is a guy who clearly likes to have a good time.
Option4 kept spirits high during his set, blending syncopated drum beats with thumping basslines. There were some great head-nodding moments, the best of which being when he cut the thumping in favor of an airy "yippee-ki-yay" sample.
Real Magic, who followed, utilized a diverse sound to accomplish a unique and interesting soundscape reminiscent of the late '80s, accompanied at times by alternately deep and falsetto ethereal vocals, wailing (literally, like a whale) into the mike.
A true showman, Real Magic would occasionally slap the cymbals of the unused drum set behind him with his open hand or the mike to punctuate his performance and provide extra flair. Mid-set, his mixer began to fail him and his mike started to cut out, but he recovered fine and finished strong. Real Magic also did a solid cover of Robyn's "Dancing On My Own."
Wildly entertaining and intelligent, Yo Soy Sauce (aka CacheFlowe and Brer Rabbit/Stephen Brackett from the Flobots) really knows how to work a crowd. The duo immediately called for involvement from the audience, asking them to complete the silly-fun turn of phrase, "Never shake a baby/Shake it, baby." Fun was the focus here, and fun was definitely had. CacheFlowe provided some great beats that blended syncopated drums that one wouldn't typically associate with hip-hop with leaned-out bass that Brer Rabbit was able to flow flawlessly over.
These guys were really in sync, occasionally breaking for each other to allow for a short vocal or electronic solo before breaking into another jam. They even had a song that featured the triangle, and it rocked! All the while in the back of the stage, the guys had a giant multicolored inflatable cube that was referenced in the last song, a cube that Cache humped to really bring the show full-circle.
Dark, atmospheric keyboards, guitars and vocals made for a moody set by Mombi. Definitely a change in tone from Yo Soy Sauce before them, Mombi seemed content in allowing the audience to join them in their gentle, yet unsettling brooding. Though certainly not for everyone, Mombi was effective in creating a mood that resonated through the room, a well constructed mood.
Although they didn't have the light show they are known for in full-swing, Flashlights still had the audience in their palms, inducing plenty of head-nodding to their slightly darker than disco electro-pop. With driving bass and atmospheric synth, Flashlights were an effective counterpoint to Mombi's somber nostalgia, projecting the mood that is so indicative of this generation - the only time that matters is the right-now and the only thing that matters is the dance. Perhaps the greatest asset of Flashlights was how well they knew their strengths: They kept it simple, hit their cues hard and put down a downright funky set.
Performing with the same members as Flashlights, it was easy to be apprehensive about ManCub - how different could they be? Well, they weren't that different, but they still managed to give a thoroughly entertaining show. Distinguishable from Flashlights with its slightly heavier, yet still carefree sound, ManCub was closer to industrial techno than disco electro-pop, but transitioned almost seamlessly between many genres - electronic, industrial, rock, pop, a little headbanging and at one time even a barrage of dischordic cosmic sounds -- for a stellar performance.
Force Publique plays the kind of music you'd expect to hear after spending two months in a fallout shelter only to find the world around you totally decimated - except that the utter despair you would expect to feel is replaced with a strange sense of contentment, or at least acceptance. Think end of Fight Club, but more dystopian. James Wayne manned the electronics, producing dark and heavy synth and '80s era drums, while Cassie McNeil provided rhythm on bass and guitar while giving the performance a vocal edge. Together, the duo gave a subdued but compelling performance that the audience was receptive to.
The Photo Atlas was immediately a crowd favorite, coming out of the gate with insane energy ranging from high to very high. Screeching guitars, straight-ahead drums and driving bass lines characterized the group's sound. For such apparent chaos, the instrumentation was surprisingly well-coordinated and complimentary, held together by the drummer's highly controlled speed playing and carried by Alan Andrews's unique voice, charisma and punk mentality. The group got some audience involvement going, handing down a tambourine, the mike, and, yes, a guitar toward the end. It was a great show to finish off the stage.
-- Noah Hubbell
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