Sage Francis' Death Dance Tour
What: The Death Dance Tour
When: Saturday June 16
Where: The Glass House, Pomona
Maybe this should be called the Scions of Anticon Tour (although Alias still records for the Oakland underground-hip-hop label). He and anticon alumni Buck 65 and Sage Francis are now seasoned vets of the stage and they commandeer it with ruthless authority while subtly tinkering with hip-hop's DNA.
I missed most of Buddy Wakefield's set, but what I did catch revealed a spoken-word performer of considerable energy, charisma and the expected lib-rull leanings. Whether waxing poetic about life on the road and its series of memorable characters or ruminating about the juvenile idiocy of holy wars, Wakefield used his robust life force to bust through apathy and cynicism and make you empathize with him.
A beefy white guy from Maine, Alias declaims rapidly over his own hard, staccato funk beats. His urgent, acerbic flow complements his pugnacious demeanor and beats. He comes off like a smart, blue-collar artisan who happens to know how to work a sampler and write biting lyrics. After one song, Alias said, "I've got some bad news for y'all: hip-hop is dead. Nas said it, so it must be true." (And I've seen shirts at Urban Outfitters emblazoned with the same sentiment. Let us all have a minute of silence.)
Like all the other artists on the bill, Alias worked the merch table after his set.
Buck 65, to my horror, is now sporting a faux-hawk. Still, he's better looking than 99 percent of the guys in the house and undoubtedly gets more ass than everyone else on the tour combined. Pretty boy's got skills, too. His new songs hark back to old-school hip-hop's boom-crack beats, contrasting with Buck's recent infatuation with Tom Waits-ian troubadour steez. A cover of the Jungle Brothers' “I'm Gonna Do You” reaffirms Buck's commitment to what he dubs “hip-hop's golden era—1986 to 1988”—and wearing his libido on his sleeve; Buck's drum programming is some of the most rugged and stark I've ever heard, and I've heard a lot of drum programming. Unlike any other MC I've seen perform live, Buck scratches in-between his verses. You could say he's too cheap to hire a DJ or you could simply admire his versatility. Thankfully, his manual dexterity matches his verbal wit. The longtime favorite “Centaur” is done to a funereal guitar track that recalled Funkadelic's “Maggot Brain.” It was one highlight among many for the Nova Scotia-born/Paris-based artist. His habit of tossing glitter into the crowd came off as incongruously charming rather than contrived.
Headliner Sage Francis looks a bit like Curly from The Three Stooges, but is much funnier and possesses snazzier dance moves. Alias joins him onstage to make beats, and the rest of the band includes a guitarist and keyboardist who also bows a saw to create eerie, Theremin-like sighs. But Sage is clearly the center of attention. If he ever tires of this hip-hop shit, he could make a go as a stand-up comedian. His mocking of hip-hop rituals resonated with this long-suffering fan, who never again wants to hear one side of the house say “hip” while the other says “hop.” It's time to move beyond that sort of inanity. Hip-hop is nearly 30 years old, for Pete (Rock's) sake.
Sage & company's set ranged all over his catalog and evidenced rock and blues influences creeping into his sound. A master of clever wordplay, Sage also pens poignant portraits about love, sex, war and artistic ambition that bristle with distinctive details and observations. When he rapped, he held the near-capacity crowd rapt.
This tour proves that underground hip-hop is continuing to evolve sonically and lyrically, accruing heads who seek substance, humor and production that flouts the mainstream status woe.