The crowd: Chris is right, whether it's good for the fest's bottom line or not, it was pleasantly uncrowded yesterday--but still enough rabid texters gathered in one zone that it destroyed my cell-phone coverage. People, please: MY TWEETS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOURS, SHOW SOME RESPECT.
Morgan Keuler Shabazz Palaces
Astronautilus: Stylistically, dude is like four white rappers in one. At least. (Half Why? half Em half Mack, several helpings of battle rapper, slam poet, and nerdcore freestyler). Which, depending on how many white rappers you need . . . First song I saw he was flailing histrionically at the microphone, shouting, red in the face like a bad sunburn; next song he was calmly rapping about Isaac Newton. In between, his banter, breathless and sarcastically smug, was like half Batman, half Charlie Sheen. As always, he did a freestyle built around audience-suggested subjects: tarot cards, bunnies, sea anemones, "a purpose," famine in Africa, and Bob Seger--he dutifully hit all of them except sea anemones without a reminder and threw in a zombie-apocalypse subplot for free. He also relied on "shit"/"quick" as a slant-rhyming crutch at least a couple times, but not bad.
More after the jump...Nice Nice: The Portland duo was still soundchecking 15 minutes into their set time at the Sky Church yesterday, but the wait was worth it (and even the drum check was virtuosic): drummer Mark Shirazi and guitarist Jason Buehler build some spectacularly weird grooves from the ground up, live looping percussion, vocals, guitar effects, and more--I lost count of how many elements they looped into the first song's beat after, like, eight moving parts in as many seconds. So the rhythmic beds are rich, although usually tied to a dance-facilitating 4/4 bass thump, and over the top of them, the duo smear all sorts of fluorescent guitar licks, displaced moans, electronic zaps, and morse pings, and even some tingling thumb piano. That last element, and the band's generally outre grooviness, as well as the fact that they were playing back to back on my schedule, got my daydreaming about how twice as nice it would be to see these guys jamming with Shabazz Palaces (or indeed, to see Shabazz Palaces open themselves up to any sort of remix work). Some families and festgoers seemed weirded out and left, but at least a couple people as old as my mom were getting down right through to the band's last dubby, fade out. Also nice: The EMP seems to have finally ditched that glaring pixellated LED wall in favor of a higher-resolution projection screen--good one.
Shabazz Palaces: Simply the best set I've seen Shabazz Palaces play all summer--looser and more fun than at Neumos in June, sounding much bigger than at Pitchfork in July. They went through all the typically great songs and motions, deploying their latest advances in synchronized dance styles and vocal scrambling. They were joined by THEESatisfaction for the excellent "Endeavors for the Never..." and "Swerve..." as well as for what sounded like a THEESat number, based around a rising four-part vocal loop, during which Ish flashed a bright, rarely seen smile while dancing with percussionist Tendai Maraire. They were also joined by Dougie "Ur Dad," tiny Sprite can in hand, for a rap about how he was "not a pimp, but I'm pimp-ish" over a funk guitar sampling beat. Best of the set might have been an extra-hard-bopping performance of "Bronny on a Breakaway," but other highlights included that "tonight!" on "Recollections of the Wraith," and a particularly grim and grimy reinterpretation of "Blastit!" which Ish closed with a little freestyle shouting out all his collaborators.
Everything else: Honestly, after Shabazz, I was left with several hours of acts I felt only "eh" about--enough to wander around, but no one thing (like, a big headliner) really keeping me there. So I heard a Little Dragon song that sounded like a B-52s dub from the upper beer garden; I saw Trombone Shorty do a fucking inspired, grin-inducing cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom," all sax skronk and bleat and brass standing in for the vocal lines on the chorus; I saw Starfucker slowly build their slacker synth-pop jams into a substantial dance party, people getting down around the fountain to their cover of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"; I saw Pezzner rolling out impeccably deep house and techno to about 40 gamely dancing people in the Sky Church and was reminded how much I love this stuff (but was also made worried how Bumbershoot After Dark's first night was going to do, with its relatively weaker lineup than tonight's Dam-Funk/Four Tet/Z-Trip combo).
And I'm out.