The first act of the night was Jason and the Beast, featuring Jason Braun (one of the hosts of 88.1 KDHX's Literature for the Halibut) on vocals, Adam Sirgany on the saxophone and Matt Jones behind the turntables. Trying to label this trio with generic terms like "rap" or "hip hop" isn't possible, as their set transcended the traditional norm and could have easily been a re-enactment of a Beat Generation-era poetry slam. I wondered the entire time if I should be snapping my fingers instead of clapping. Overall the set had a bit of a film noir feel and would have been equally at home in "The Maltese Falcon" or a Charles Bukowski reading.
Braun's delivery was more like a spoken-word performance than a rap act, his timbre and cadence meshing well with the background music. His lyrics are poems that tell vivid tales of life, often drawing inspiration from classic literature and artists, such as Milton's "Paradise Lost" and the photographs of Cindy Sherman. With his long hair and mustache, Sirgany looked like a young "Blue" Lou Marini while playing some fantastic runs on his baritone sax, creating a river of notes for Braun's vocals to sail on. DJ Matt Jones created a great mood for the set. His scratches didn't seem out of place given the atmosphere set by the sax and vocals, and he dropped some samples that were reminiscent of old 3rd Bass and Del the Funky Homosapien tracks.
Next up was Robb Steele, who you may remember from my list of Top Six Opening Acts of 2011. Marty, Bryan and Pete took the stage with DJ Innovation to run through some of their classics like "New Sneakers" and "Knowledge" as well as the debut of a verse of new material. The trio put on a better show than they did when I saw them last June, something I attribute to the presence of a live DJ. Their between-song banter with each other and the crowd was great, mostly revolving around Pete's 40th birthday and the center-stage gap in the audience that seems to form when they play.
Robb Steele puts on one of the most fun live shows you can see in the St. Louis area. They are up there doing what they love and loving what they do, which is evident with every verse. Everyone in the audience was on their feet and rocking out as the guys spat their rhymes. They ended their part of the show with a great cover of the Beastie Boys' "The New Style" in tribute to MCA. During his set Buck 65 called Robb Steele "the best thing I've ever seen." I'd have to agree with that assessment.
Busdriver was the third act of the evening, raising the energy level of the crowd even higher with his unique take on hip hop. Definitely the loudest set of the night, he set the crowd on fire with his heavy beats and often bizarre lyrics. I like to think of Busdriver as the Captain Beefheart of hip hop, as his tracks are filled with seemingly out-of-place breaks and disjointed fills that keep your attention and lyrical content that plays with the English language like a kitten with a ball of yarn. He also spit out my favorite line from any vocalist so far this year: "Women look at me and their water breaks, then a baby falls out with a gold tooth."
Busdriver is a pioneer in hip hop, pushing the boundaries further and further with each new album. His set tonight consisted mostly of tracks from his most recent album "Beaus$Eros" interspersed with a few freestyle verses and at least one song from Flash Bang Grenada, his collaboration with Nocando. Flowing from rapping to singing to spoken word and back again, my favorite parts of the evening were his freestyle sections, especially the last one he did with the crowd providing the beat with handclaps.
Hailing from Nova Scotia in the great white north of Canada, Buck 65 was the last artist to take the stage. His set was full of great stories of small town life, love, loss, zombies, centaurs, a track written for male strippers to perform to and a track using the subject lines from spam emails advertising porn sites and adult products.
Truly a one-man band, Buck 65 handled his own cutting and scratching, performed his own dance moves, and sung his own hooks, sounding like an exhausted Johnny Cash even though he claimed to have no singing voice. His rapping is a mid-tempo, upbeat flow of slightly-gravelly vocals that are almost monotone but keep your attention with some great lyrical content.
He spent most of the evening showing his love of baseball, calling shout-outs to Colby Rasmus, Stan Musial and Scott Rolen, as well as calling himself the "Jim Edmonds of rap" and the "Yadi Molina of rap" throughout his set.
During his encore he called out Marty of Robb Steele for wearing a Cincinnati Reds cap, which prompted him to take the stage and bust out a freestyle verse while Buck dropped some beats and cut and scratched underneath him.
It made for a great end to a highly entertaining evening of underground and upper stratosphere artists.