Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Comrades/Thrash Can/The Antidon’ts/Scumbag Billionaires
Saturday, May 19th 2018
A House, Clearwater, FL

Some people have the impression that to be a political radical means to be unreasonable.  But this is not the case. For instance, today all I can think about is forcibly shutting down that $45 million boondoggle in London built on 12 centuries of stealing and killing, and making all the would-be participants spend the rest of their days cleaning public parks and toilets, thankful that they didn’t get stoned to death.  Can’t gouge ten thousand eyes from a single head, after all. I can’t believe we’re still content reshuffling these same old decks of kings and queens and faux-democracies. Etc.

There’s another example of this at work with Scumbag Billionaires, the super-most-local punks (we’re at the house of two of the members) playing their first ever live set.  The accusation in the name is so modest -- they could have called themselves Scumbag Millionaires, or Scummy Multi-Millionaires, but several brackets of people with far more money than they’ll ever need to live well are being let off the reasonable as fuck hook.  The 5-piece Scum Billies do a melodic alt-rock-punk, with host and singer Tara Lenoir having a raucous throatin’ Brody Dalle thing going. You can hear what I mean on the “perfect description of bankrolling a Royal family” track High Maintenance (performed here in the same garage as the show).  Uh wait, stop everything. Drummer and co-host John Dritsas is making a marriage proposal to Tara during their set, in the most punk-love undermining of ruling class distraction tactics that I’ve ever seen.  The bastards don’t even get mentioned. The wedding (it’s being put on vinyl, music fans!) will forever be associated in my mind with this far less insidious event.  Thank you, Tara and John, for orchestrating such a selfless special moment.

I wipe away the tears, and in an effort to replenish my juices, assist in the job of emptying the mysterious keg in the garden.  The Antidon’ts couldn’t really ask for a more primed crowd than a drink-what-you-like, mid-evening, outdoor, post-proposal one, and they intend to keep the happy mood going, starting with separate surf and ska-tinged instrumentals.  Their vibal pursuit is helped along by guitarist Zactidon’ts choice of tie-dye shirt and voice subduing microphone. Accidon’tal as it might be the music still sounds great, with one kid in the back of the audience howling and smashing his skateboard to pieces in appreciation of the skatecore.  Everyone is periodically looking backwards with expressions of “What’s that noise?/Are you OK?/Keep it down please we’re trying to listen to the loud music/Are you going to smash me in the spine with that deck?” Antidon’ts bassist Mikey apparently has a compulsive tic to play the opening seconds of Bro Hymn at every gig, multiple times even.  Just play it, for god’s sake!  Stop teasing and let me enjoy a superficial unity.  A white wax repressing of the split that the band did with MDC (that’s right) will be available from June 4th on Swamp Cabbage Records.

“We got a tip that there were musicians here associated with the group “Millions of Dead Cops,” and we are here to investigate.”  Clearwater fuzz wade in, and a sheepish quiet falls over the attendees, nervous about a noise control shutdown. Apparently they were looking for some longhair who was present earlier in the evening, and who no doubt we would have given up in a second.  I also suspect they heard about the poster for this event, reminiscent of current Municipal Waste artwork, featuring a cop getting a taste of pistol brutality.  And speaking of thrash and bands named after the inevitable externalities of a consumerism-based economy, Thrash Can!  The furious and amazingly named St. Pete act, adorned by RASH and AFA banners, rip masterfully through the blurred vision of the crowd with intensity, banging out numbers such as Unite to Fight and (hopefully, I can’t be sure) Dogs in a Pig Pen, dedicated to weed-loving police in Illinois.  They’re supposed to be filming a video, and somebody is in front of me with a weird mini screen on a pole thing that looks far too high tech for me to understand, so it must be legitly professional.  A possibly unrelated tour diary mini doc (7 minutes) about this whole show can be seen here.  Two kids drunk on youth are acting mad, adding further energy to the maelstrom.  I am feeling their enthusiasm.

The fact that the gig was merely intimidated rather than anything else by the boys in blue is made slightly more noteworthy when you realise that the top billed band are not only called Comrades, but have shirts presently plastered over at least half a dozen patrons with the slogan “cats not cops” prominently displayed across them.  It’s just an internet meme, honest guv. Comrades are from New York and began their working class (two week) East Coast tour just a tad further south last night at Fubar.  They’re a perfect headliner for a crowd high on community spirit and the death of a sizeable keg of beer, doing high energy, physical, dirty ska inflected punk. “Let the kids get high,” as lead singer Snikt declares (it’s not clear to me whether this was in reference to their It’s A Plant Not A Crime tune or a separate number).  Operation Ivy meets the female-male vocal dynamic of F-Minus, with many a lyric about living off the social dregs regardless of whether that makes you yourself a social dreg.  A quick inserted dub interlude provides a much need cooldown, even if it's mostly just a mental one on my part, having spent increasing portions of the evening happily yammering with people.  I made the long journey to Clearwater knowing only a few acquaintances might be present, and by the time of leaving feel I’ve made a handful of comrades.

Scumbag Billionaires then make a return to the guitar garage to round the night out, and why not?  They put this hootenanny together, and celebrated a major life event here, for Christ’s sake. Plus, the billionaires never seem to be satisfied with what they’ve got: we should all expect to have more.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Shadcore
Aux Tales
Self-released, 2018

"If music be the food of love, play on." 

Let’s call it a multimedia chain reaction.  Before the release a few months ago, I had been intending to review the self-titled album from Common’s new jazz-rap group August Greene.  I got distracted earning money to eat or something and chose, unwillingly, to give it a pass (the previewed tracks were beautiful, and I’d recommend reading the touchingly brutal review by Tom Breihan over at Stereogum.)   Salt was rubbed into this critical guilt wound recently when I saw Common in the documentary Feel Rich: Health Is the New Wealth, in which health-hoppers frame the logic of eating well and self-care from the perspective of the culture.  In need of more grub themed rhyme schemes, and unable to keep listening to Ham ‘N’ Eggs by A Tribe Called Quest on a loop, just in time came Aux Tales, the new “audio soul food” full length from St. Pete’s homegrown farm-to-table vocalist, Shadcore.  My next connection will have to be to get over to Ray’s Vegan Soul downtown, since every time I’ve tried in the past it’s been closed, and writing this review has made me a very hungry vegan.

Booting things off here is the tinted-sunglasses-in-the-nightclub number, Two Commas.  This is one of the few moments on the record when Shad comes close to making a glitzy club ready tune, with most of the rest sitting comfortably in the “comfy chair listening” column.  I don’t know Shadcore as a person as well as I might like, but it was a little jarring initially to hear him talking about making fat stacks and cucumber-surpassing levels of green.  (“Why does everyone always say how nice and down to Earth I am?  I’m more three-dimensional than my niceness!  It makes me so MAD!”  And thus the Shadzilla is released.)  As an opening statement of determination I get it.  It’s aspirational, and by the second verse is framed around providing for his family, that old Shadcore chestnut.  Even if it is done by becoming the “fourth member of Migos” (they’re a family too, I suppose).  And compared to many rappers (such as the young ambassadors of luxury car-smashing Lil Pump, Lil Xan and Migos’s Offset) perhaps a mere $1 million goal is still showing modesty, like when the UN laughed at Austin Powers for demanding such a small amount in ransom in 1997.  Humility perception: retained.

We slip-scratch into #OKYRIS, a homefront-spat boom bap slice about keeping the domestic peace.  The hook explains the acronym: “Okay, You’re Right, I’m Sorry.”  Many in our digital age, particularly many men, could learn to step back from a situation and decide if it’s really worth arguing over.  I think the message is a little bit patronising, but at least Shad didn’t take the opportunity to make a load of okra puns (blech).  At other regular intervals throughout Aux Tales he makes his respect and worship of women clear as day: the five-a-day wordplay smoothie of Fruit Cocktail, and Evidence Weather or Not outtake My Umbrella, indicate that a lot of romancing happens in the produce section.  The latter track (featuring James Cory) has as much robotic pop funk as a collaboration between Pharrell and Jay Kay from Jamiroquai; just walking in on that session would make you break out in sequins and giant hats.  It is evident that this formula would have made for a terrible Evidence song (though Shadcore could be seen as a non-monotonous Mr Slow Flow at times).

If you want real tender loving care though, Rashadcore knows that the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach.  For the Valentines Day video release of Pillow, Shad and friends are at the second front of capitalism, the home.  What could be more romantic than wishing to soothe your beloved from the horrors of the work every day economy, wish as you might to shield them entirely?  To update a George Orwell quote, in impersonal times, showing kindness is a revolutionary act.  Way to take an unabashed seduction song and make it political, Radical Beat.  It’s a wonder my girlfriend isn’t more irked on those days when she comes home from a 10 hour shift and I’m bashing righteous broadsides out on this keyboard; maybe I need to invest in Rashad’s custom love song services.  There’s another great guest verse from Shad’s fellow TRC emcee and romantic Jay Ack (now a content creator at Ambrosia For Heads), with Florida schmoozer Joshua Cruz on the R&B love hook.

The remaining tracklist is something of a smörgåsbord: hot and cold, Meat Tornados and minimalist liquid diets.  On Shadzilla 2 the Tron-in-Tokyo atmosphere of the original (from the artist’s 2015 album Oh My Shad!) has been replaced with a destructive stroll through a Japanese rock garden.  It suggests -- along with the many local references on the album -- that Shad is perhaps comfortable being a big mic beast in a small bay.  Then we go to the lobby for snacks in the form of AUX Tales (Tenderlude), where Big Rube (Dungeon Family member famous for providing interludes and guest spots for Outkast, Killer Mike, Rapsody and the deliciously-named Denzel Curry) complains about the current state of hip hop in an Iggy Pop-style horrorcore vignette.  This topic is visited again on the spoken word AUX Capella and on the upturned-pot beat of Crock-Pot, where ‘Core, like Eminem on the new Royce Da 5'9" cut, takes aim at the “microwave generation” of instant gratification rap fans.  This accusation surely applies to more of life and more of us than just the youthful trap banger crowd.  I personally am a completely impatient cook.  I like my microwave the way most people like their cell phones, radiation concerns conveniently shrunk in the mind.  But we are supposed to be inheriting a grandma slow cooker and I do like to spend huge amounts of time working on these write-ups.  Crock-Pot ironically has some of the fastest rapping on display here and brings new meaning to the phrase made from scratch.

Auxiliary roles are supportive roles, whether they are familial, comfort food or spiritual.  For many people eating is basically a religion, and religion is a type of nourishment.  The sobering track The Passion is about the crucifixion of Jesus, what the recently deceased black liberation theologist Rev. Dr. James Cone called a "first-century lynching," and it’s not difficult to see why when you hear the graphic details laid out here.  The theme continues with album closer His Side, a gospel number featuring Kayla and Tasanee, and dedicated to Shad’s late family pastor (whose words, if I’m not mistaken, previously appeared on the Oh My Shad! cut PSTA To Escalades).  Amidst these two tough lovies we have the uplifting Earth-level song Black Don’t Crack; I’ve already mentioned Kay and Ack, so let’s round out The 3 Jays with a relevant reference to a recent video by WBAI’s Jay Smooth.  The first verse is from the perspective of a white person who’s “woke like a teenager on Elm street,” i.e. the kind we all like to think we are.  By the end of the kid-friendly rhyme however the track has transitioned into Shadcore conversing with a wise child, like on Erykah Badu’s Amerykahn Promise, with respect shouted out to great (and thus “beautiful”) black icons.  The named include Muhammed Ali, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, St. Pete’s Angela Bassett and Harriet Tubman (who will now be replacing murdering asshole Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill sometime “after 2026” - keep up that horse and buggy pace, fellas).

Some unpopped kernels in the popcorn.  I’ve now made a few allusions to the perception of speed.  As I wrote at the time, Oh My Shad! is a rather mid-tempo listening experience overall, and the same can be said of Aux Tales.  The difference is that on average OMS! has a more up-tempo first half.  Waiting for this album to crank up with My Umbrella or Crock-Pot feels just a little too late.  In a related criticism, I also find myself wishing for just a bit more tempeh on the bones of some of these beats.  I’m not sure exactly what’s missing (I hear that a possibly juicier version of Fruit Cocktail went astray), but there’s a clue to what’s happening in AUX Capella, two minutes of nothing but Shadcore’s compelling voice and vinyl dust.  I can relate to this impulse.  I have no trouble understanding the value of great visual design, artist photographs and video embeds, but I want you to hear and feel my words above all else.  That’s why my website looks like a paper grocery bag crossed with an obscenity-filled music journal.  The basic Aux Tales CD package is skeletal because Shad made a separate high quality lyric book.  Admittedly, I have that personal liking for microwaves and fast riffs, so make of this critique what you will.  Also in the personal taste column (again with the caveat that I am a food mile-logging English vegan, so most Floridians find my dietary desires unusual) would be a craving for more direct commentary on food politics, like Beef by Boogie Down Productions or dead prez’s Be Healthy.  Strengthening your Shad-core!  Protein!

But perhaps, like a self-important restaurant patron, I am demanding too much of my working musician waiter (Rashad, so dedicated to his art and vision, literally hand delivered this album to my kitchen, and it wasn’t the first time).  Arguably the previous association I had between food and music when it comes to Shadcore allowed the concept to unreasonably balloon in my mind, like a giant freegan marshmallow in a microwaved s’more, that would never reach the high watermark of my American-adopted appetite.  The metaphors and puns here are all tasty, the variety of subject matter nutritious whether they veer more towards Aux tales or Oxo tales.  Like the standard communications aux port, this album is transmitting messages across lines, and they are positive food for the soul, bringing satisfaction to that rumble in your stomach.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go spend some hours in the kitchen, where I will hopefully not make as much mess as a radioactive sea monster. 

Aux Tales is out now, and can be streamed and bought in CD and download formats at Shadcore.com.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Popes of Chillitown
Work Hard, Play Hard, See You In The Graveyard
Self-released, 2018

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

“Great music!  It’s got a beat and you can dance to it…”

Popes of Chillitown describe themselves as ska-punk-dubsters incorporating hip hop and drum & bass influences.  When I saw the promotional description, I was in the middle of doing a review for The Dub Righters, who are also from London, use a similar description and even came to my attention via the same Wall of Sound PR company.  “Well England’s a tiny lil’ place,” said the mental American settler colonist that’s attached itself to back of my neck like a more insidiously designed facehugger and is slowly worming its way in, “how much variety can you expect there to be?”  Putting the two releases alongside one another however illustrates why people (certainly not me and certainly a dwindling number) are still able to make money by using words to try and cleverly describe shit. If the ska punk scene in the UK is remotely like it was in the early-mid-2000s the bands will probably appeal to two different crowds with a minority of crossover.  Popes of Chillitown certainly seem to be fans of that era, making what I’d describe as a golden age Household Names Records sound.


It’s about that Retromania time where those of us involved can look back at the period fondly with enough distance to analyse it, however fairly.  The upcoming Lightyear-led documentary, This Music Doesn’t Belong To You, has got me pretty excited.  I’d complain about such nostalgia being a bad thing, except that, to be honest, as I’ve alluded to before, pretty much all music is more stuck these days than it has been in the history of recordings.  It’s just exponentially harder to be original, and I can’t blame any musician who wants to go back to try and figure out where a potential progressive turn was overlooked. Other first impressions of note: the title Work Hard, Play Hard, See You In The Graveyard segues with the final witticisms of my previous review, Epic Beard Men, so they get credit for accidental slick continuity (the two also share an odd affection for putting engulfing tentacles in their artwork).  Next is the bands’ inclusion in the “good music, terrible fucking name” club, under the leadership of The Front Bottoms.

Let’s get specific.  Aesthetically I’d say this reminds me most of Cardiff’s Adequate 7.  That might partially be because they’re a large group of skinny, handsome boys saying intelligent things, but I think it’s good musically too.  Take the track Prang, an opener that is Top Upfront rather than a Front Bottom.  It seems to be about selling out/”buying in” slowly as you get older, feeling that once youthful idealism get chipped away but also non-regretfully reshaped.  Apparently prang is London slang meaning crash, i.e. “I know we’re all heading for that adult crash.” The video has a low budget charm and I love the stuttering bridge.  Like most of the other 4-minute-average songs here Prang changes direction constantly within its boundaries.  In my opinion, the best ska music either works closely with punk, with a thick rhythm section and experimentation, or is all in on one of the original ska waves; not floundering in-between, drowning in non-complementary horns.  You have all those members, so they may as well be doing different things. Some, like No Manners in Ireland showcase the good solid riffs of a Mouthwash or Capdown.  Lego Prisoners begins as a shimmering dub cut, before flowing into a series of rowdy punked bottlenecks.  The interlude Graveyard is a groovy bassline riding Beastie Boys muck about, or Fugazi meets that I Don’t Smoke tune making fun of Jim Davidson twonks.  (See my Dub Righters review for thoughts on the “Jamaican accents in English ska” issue; for some unencouraging reason this is the sole track the band haven’t released lyrics for.)

I was concerned -- reasonably, I think - that the title of this album might be a laddish celebration of “living for the weekend but blindly revelling in it with no further thought as to whether that might be physically or spiritually deadening.”  It is not, and my enjoyment of Work Hard… went up quite a lot once I gave it a closer analysis.  You’ll find the title being repeated during the fast-paced outro of The Last Elephant, where vocalist Matt Conner notes that if you’re doing little but working and consuming you can hardly expect the world to get better, not least on the environmental front.  When faced with the challenges of war, ecocide, accompanying famine and the destruction of the social(ist) fabric, finding Inner Peace is a tough nut.  Especially when our own salvations and escapes put us at odds with the needs of others: “Figuring out my problems on my own at the expense of the rest of the world / I want freedom but only for me cos the problems of humanity are getting far too much for me.”  You slowly realise how depressing the cover image of the figure bathed in monitor light is, that place where we increasingly spend both our work and play time (I can’t say I’m typing this in a park surrounded by birds).

Elsewhere, we are as likely to end up broken as as our electronics are to end up in Ghana dumping sites.  Work hard, play hard, see you in the e-graveyard.  Get Off/Get On and Vexed seem to be about addiction, and the guilt of knowing that your problems affect the ones around you.  No man is an island, and if you think you are, you’re an “ignorant immigrant” claiming ”this land” was ever yours alone.  These lines are pretty funny given the presumably misheard title of the track they come from (No Manners In Ireland).  Extra points for the Gaelic line “póg mo thóin” (kiss my arse).  Upside Down might be a reference to various 17th century protest songs that were popularised by Billy Bragg and Chumbawamba, about putting all the bastards at the bottom of the heap for a change.  The Popes’ is about political sterility and the ensuing stalemate on progress. “If it happens in Syria it's not very serious / but when it happens nearer everybody gets delirious.” Speaking of which -- and of fresh outrages -- fuck the Israeli military and their violent maintenance of the Gaza open air prison.  Your scum certification is as certain as that of a suicide bomber in a Manchester music arena.

Album highlight Lego Prisoners asks if we aren’t living in lockups of our own building, in a laudable attack on the convenience industry.  It’s as if to contemplate the collapse of the conditions that sustain life, then look around at the interlocked plastic and metal shite of our so-called economy and ask, “this is what we do it for?”  At least I don’t have to go to a real place and interact with another person, because that would be so terrible. I can use all that time instead on Amazon Video, scrolling through a dogshit of a user interface looking for something to fill the fucking void.

It will quite possibly horrify POC to see their art presented full colour in my dour salad dressing.  What we have here is an example of depth hidden deep beneath a dancing beat. It’s telling that the record opens with the “great beat and you can dance to it” quote, a line popularised by teens on the music programme American Bandstand.  The kids were reviewing popular songs and suggesting that there was little further immersed within them, which is kind of how WHPHSYITG (ugh, that looks as bad as Popes of Chillitown) appears to be until you scratch the surface.  This approach is a double edged sword. I can’t decide if it’s subversive genius, a marketing misstep or (more than likely) the natural punk ‘n’ mix of the serious with the humorous.  Hopefully you’ll get some people skanking that will consider these issues a bit more deeply through their enjoyment of the band. And political acts that are a mediocre listen have limited appeal.  Maybe I’m not giving kids enough credit and finding it too easy to remember the gurning mugs on checkerboard posters, rather than the conversations we had as message boards posters.

As quality as this all sounds on a good pair of hopefully-not-e-dump-bound headphones, this music is best suited for a gig in a small venue, or a club.  Prang would have killed it back at Bomb Ibiza.  Admittedly, this observation doesn’t do much for me in my current location, where most residents think a club is just an implement for dispersing homeless people so you can build a gourmet biscuit restaurant.  But I can enjoy using my imagination, a muscle that the narratives within these bangers spurs very well. And dance in my living room when I’m supposed to be working myself into the dirt.

You can hear Work Hard, Play Hard, See You In The Graveyard at bandcamp.  You can watch the Popes of Chillitown at various UK festivals and dates from late May through August (see their website).

This seems an appropriate place to raise a glass to super producer/remixer Tim G, who passed away earlier this month.  I didn’t know Tim personally, but he played a big part in the sound of many 2000s Northern ska bands such as Sonic Boom Six, Random Hand and Stand Out Riot.  He also played guitar in Harijan. Rest in Peace.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Epic Beard Men/SKIP/DiViNCi/Jon Ditty
Sunday, April 15th 2018
Dunedin Brewery, Dunedin FL

It’s May Day as I write, the day for the world’s majority working class.  I’m torn between whether it’s a more appropriate celebration to expound efforts on this, my unpaid creative interest, or fuck it off for another day and suffer for nobody including myself.  I've taken on an arguably unreasonable amount of write-ups since one particularly exciting weekend for music a couple of weeks ago (which is why this one comes delayed), my desire to squeeze life in around employment stints causing its own stresses, and showing which force is still doing the mental framing.  The Jon Ditty track Off the Clock (featuring BC & Stick Martin) hits home on some of these feelings, and if you can find five minutes to yourself you should try it on for size.  On the evening in question I would unfortunately miss his set, a bummer because I know from experience that he was likely to be the first of many bearded men who happen to be epic.  Happily, he has many upcoming events around the Bay, including free gigs and multiple open mics hosted and organised by the wordsmith himself.  

It’s an additional shame that I missed out on Ditty because everyone performing tonight has various underground root connections, making for an insular package.  And from the moment we arrive and then increasingly onwards, Dunedin Brewery is packaged to the gills to witness it. DiViNCi is the producer for Orlando’s Solillaquists of Sound, and has worked alongside such heavyweights as Lauryn Hill, Nas, MF Doom and El-P.  If you’re not familiar with this curriculum vitae (a document type invented by DiViNCi’s namesake and fellow prolific artist, incidentally), he’s here to make clear how he earned it, using every muscle in his body to strut across multiple drum machines in a fashion that is absolutely mesmerising.  My enveloped head swirls to the pianos and rapid interlocking beats, interrupted only by goers squeezing past me to acquire beer. On the one side DiViNCi is manipulating juicy square Starburst buttons while the human to digital connection of keypad mashing takes place on the other. His voice enters only on occasion, manipulated like a turn of the century French dance outfit (Daft Punk, Air).  One segment ends in a blaze of assault rifle fire so giant I’m convinced he has to be winding things up, but blissfully, there is more.

And even more.  Leonardo takes a short breather while another renaissance man, Skip, gives us an anti-instrumental in the form of a short comedy set.  Then the beats return and the rapper proves himself to be as intense as his DJ associate, which is to say: as fuck.  It’s like listening to Mike D with the youthful acceleration and latter day haircut of David Beckham. Skip takes his own necessary interludes too, allowing a DiViNCi bed reminiscent of the Chemical Brothers’ Elektrobank to step into the spotlight, before giving way to a creepy ska and keyboard underbelly for the last duet.  Skip seems to have his finger in a million pies, never taking the time to sleep (spare a few moments on the Dunedin Brewery stage, something Jon Ditty did the other time I was here. Maybe it’s comfier than it looks?)  His new release Cover The Earth is available for free download if you contact him, the Sherwin Williams-inspired name and artwork being one of many corporate culture jams from his Franchise Industries (graphic designer being another hat he wears, and no doubt designs).  And I can’t find any of his music online, but he does have a cool show where he builds a giant Operation game for a community health event that gives you an idea of the joy he gets from creating artistic tension.  I would not be at all surprised to learn that he took his alias from the hyperactive mid-90s wrestler of the same name.

We go from EDM to EBM, with Skip and DiViNCi tagging in the Epic Beard Men.  The transition is smooth as Sage Francis and B. Dolan jump from the dark electro of arcade-opener Dumb Ass Kids to the jump-up-off-your-couch co-op of the chiptune scored Five Hearts.  “Let’s show these nerd rappers how hip hop is DONE!” shouts Sage to a keen crowd.  Which is pretty bold speak for an act whose recently released, free and highly recommended debut full length Season 1 has cover art depicting them as Trekkies.  But bold words and boom baps are what power the Epic Beard Men, as similarly voiced and opinionated as they are facially haired.  As an Epitaph teenager, I was drawn here by the ever reliable Sage Francis, having only known B. Dolan from his feature on dan le sac’s absolute stonker Good Time Gang War a few years ago. Tonight I find Dolan to be every bit as commanding as his counterpart, the doublet breaking out his solo throw-downs Which Side Are You On? (predating the Rebel Diaz/dead prez/Rakaa interpretation) and Film The Police, dedicated to Oscar Grant (an N.W.A rework that affirms “but still fuck the police” in its final lines).  Correspondingly, the Men also perform Escape Artist from Sage’s A Healthy Distrust.

The audience is already lapping everything up when Dolan selects a willing participant to have their fortune predicted based on her glass having a “psychic aura.”  Or something. I don’t really go in for such things, believing that good fortune generally comes when you Do It Your MotherFuckin’ Self, as the Beards later proclaim.  Having a supportive mother helps a lot too though, with Sage’s being present stage left (how many of your favourite rappers could bring themselves to perform under such scrutiny?)  The place is now so crowded and excitable that I’m taking notes while gripping a pint glass in my elbowpit, my friends are listening to the show from the front porch outside, and B. Dolan is tripping backwards into the Epic Beard Men canvas and threatening to knock over the DJ table.  The night is neatly rap-wrapped with Damage, sampling Ante Up by M.O.P. (their opening song also sampled M.O.P.  Talk about Strange Famous). A free Sunday evening event with the Epic Beard Men is the perfect time to play hard, even if you have to work hard the next morning.  Just remember to grab another five minutes to yourself by skipping the shave.

Epic Beard Men are currently nearing the end of their U.S. tour, but will be hitting the UK in late August.  You can hear and download Season 1 at bandcamp.