A crowd of less than 20 assembled in the main performance room at Fubar as the performers took advantage of the small numbers to mingle before the show. Over half of the attendants traveled hours from distances as far as Dallas to join these southern Maine based artists in their first St. Louis performance, the furthest southwest they've ever toured. Despite the small attendance, every eye was locked on stage, every head bobbed on a spring and there was an abundance of hands carelessly waving in the air as the P-Dank family shared its unique hip-hop blend.
The performance was opened up with Ock Cousteau, a newer project featuring two members of the Educated Advocates crew. It teamed up emcee Mike B with DJ/emcee Jay Caron, who handled the DJ mix throughout the entire show. The pair had starkly different energy levels on stage, as Mike B bounced around as he delivered his peppered flow and Jay more commonly maintained a power-stance, punctuating his verses with intense facial expressions. Despite this difference, they meshed well together and had a clear chemistry as they doled out amusing lyrics over funky production.
Cam Groves followed with an impressively manicured set, building from downtempo grooves ripe with elements of soul to a more lively style, all accompanied by a traditionally styled flow. He drew the crowd in, nearly colliding with the front row as he often took positions at the very front of the stage in a variety of stances and poses. Set highlights included a sweet track that featured Kristina Kentigian on the hook, a magnetic narration piece, and a freestyle segment that wasn't at all fearful to venture into double-time pace. A long time friend and collaborator with Spose, his set felt more like a second headliner than an opening spot.
Ryan Peters, best known as Spose, was far from alone when he took the stage. Cam Groves and Jay Caron each stayed on stage in support roles as Kentigian was welcomed back to the stage to be featured throughout the set. His style mocks the music industry, at times blending poppy elements and ironic use of gimmicks over a foundation of rock-flavored hip-hop. Sarcasm and satire are frequent in his lyrics, addressing the challenges of making it despite being a free-thinking individual from the corner of the country.
He opened his set with "Gee Willikers" and "Can't Get There From Here," two singles that well represent his style and message. Like Groves, he performed very intimately with the crowd, hopping from the stage a number of times and often remaining within an arm's reach of the front row. The entire P-Dank group was involved in the liveliest set of the evening, leading the crowd in claps and backing them up on the call and response segments, including repeating a list of Spose's favorite obscenities amongst cheers and laughter. At one point, Peters invited everyone in the crowd to "do something stupid," and proceeded to dance in a goofy manner while the crowd joined with their own absurd moves.
After all the hilarity, Spose brought meaning back to the set with his later song selections, including a narrative about overcoming bullying called "Jimmy!" and closing with "Knocking On Wood," which addressed the complaints of the privileged and taking things for granted. Throughout his set, the crowd crammed further and further forward until they were jumping and dancing shoulder to shoulder within the front five feet of the nearly empty room.
Spose proved to not only be a clever lyricist and musician, but a veteran and expert performer, sparing no effort due to the small crowd. This may have been one of the greatest shows that St. Louis simply did not attend.
All photos by Wil Wander.