Last Night: Grayskul, Fresh Espresso, and the Energy of a Nuclear Reactor at the Croc

Grayskul played The Crocodile on Thursday, October 8, with Grynch, Fresh Espresso, and They Live!.
Fresh Espresso, Fresh Espresso, Fresh Espresso: That's what they be yelling. Seriously, I could hardly move last night without someone telling me how badass the local duo's set was and how I'd better write that shit down in my review, yo--unsolicited advice being one of the many joys of taking notes during concerts. I showed up to the Croc deep into Fresh Espresso's performance, and while I caught the vibe everybody else was jacked on, I didn't walk away leaking tears of unhinged joy and mumbling praises to strangers. Just sayin'.

It was a crazy good night of local hip-hop all around. The evening's headliners, Onry Ozzborn and JFK of Grayskul, brought out some of the best acts in the scene to open for them. Case in point: Grynch. The Billboard Magazine-gracing, free-EP-releasing, Ballard-praising, Volvo-driving MC, whose classic West coast jams I've yet to tire of hearing, made a typically self-assured appearance. And the crowd was with him all the way, despite the post-Fresh Espresso jitters that plagued so many of them.

After I got over the initial shock of watching Gatsby's toothpick arch from the stage and onto my head (God only knows what that guy eats), I was able to more than enjoy his and his They Live! cohort Bruce Illest's freaked-out stage antics. A moment of apparent sacrilege: I thought They Live! was better than Fresh Espresso. Anyway, when you put an exclamation point in your group's name, you better come with it, and come with it those loopy knuckleheads did: They jumped, ran, and pushed and shoved all over the stage. Even when sampling the pillow-y harmonies of the Dirty Projectors, Gatsby and Illest couldn't be compelled to calm the fuck down.

It's not easy to come on-stage in the wake of so much insanity--the expectation often being that the energy level has to stay in nuclear reactor territory. But the crowd that remained late into the evening for the main event, Grayskul, knew what they were getting into--there was hardly a moment when they weren't singing along. Like a boxer making his way to the ring, JFK slunk on stage sheathed in a hoodie and sunglasses and with a white towel slung around his neck. As ever, Ozzborn made a less showy entrance--the dude's so demure you often wonder what compelled him to get into show biz.

With DJ Mr. Hill posted in the back, JFK and Ozzborn launched into a cut off their latest disc, Graymaker, which may well be the best local hip-hop album of the year. (I'll post my review on the disc's official release date, Oct. 27.) It has everything you want from Grayskul--poison-tipped lyrics, haunting refrains--and yet marks such a divergent path from their previous work that one can't help but say it signifies an evolution. Or an experimentation. Whatever. Point is, it's fucking good.

They didn't rock as many new joints as I would've liked, but I've seen Grayskul perform so many times that I'm a little jaded and, thus, hungry for fresh options. Candidt, XP and JFK's brother joined them on-stage at various times to rock cuts from Deadlivers, Bloody Radio and beyond, as did Rob Castro, who plopped down on a stool and played bass like an old bluesman, sunglasses and all. It was a nice touch.

One of the pleasures of watching Grayskul perform is the complementary styles of JFK and Ozzborn. The former is Wile E. Coyote crazy, spitting wicked quick rhymes and twisting his face into bizarre expressions, while the latter is all composed reserve, as if he were a statue come alive. It's a dynamic that reminds me of that between Evidence and Rakaa of Dilated Peoples. And yet Grayskul is very much its own thing--and very much ours, Seattle.

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