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Sole and the Skyrider Band – [Live]

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Friday, 01 February 2008

It is a rare but joyous occasion when a music critic (and I say that with all necessary giggles) such as myself can coin a new genre. So with great hubris, I pronounce the birth of the hip-hop subgenre “post-backpack.” It has all the drugged-out breadth of the big post-rock boppers (Explosions In the Sky, Sigur Ros, Mogwai) layered in big, gooey streaks under the kind of explosively introspective verse that we’ve come to expect from such an underground legend as Sole.

It seems like everything you could want from a cozy little gig at such a centrally hip locale as the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. The Factory is the kind of place where you park at the 5th or 6th parking level of a garage that seems to tunnel down to Hades and beyond. You fight through the street crowds fattened on vendor dogs on their way to a menagerie of god-awful Hollywood landmarks fattened on tourist wallets. The Knitting Factory has 3 stages, and every trip begs the inevitable curiosity of what’s behind doors two and three. The only way I know of to quiet this creeping wonder is with the Knitting Factory’s supremely amazing bar selection, which includes a KF-exclusive option of 22 ounces of Arrogant Bastard Ale that I have a difficult time dissuading myself from. Tonight it’ll just be rum and coke, thanks. I’m going to need the caffeine.

On stage as I enter is the Skyrider Band without Sole. It’s easy to see why their relationship is symbiotic: the band practically demands the audience to turn, order another drink and start up a conversation. I oblige them. The guys are certainly no amateurs on their chosen volley of instruments, and the compositions are beautiful and sweeping with a bittersweet touch of romanticism. They feel just as natural on violins and piano as they do with synth, melodica and drumbeats; truly a tribute to their multi-instrumentalism. Mark, in his photographic mindset, notes that they’ve all huddled into dark corners of the stage. It’s like they’re still making room for Sole.

Telephone Jim Jesus was up next, and I have to admit he caught my attention in ways that a man on a stage with only his computer really has no right to do. He continued in the same vein of the Skyriders, making crazy experimental music that I totally fucking wished someone, anyone, would start rapping over. Honestly, you could put Vanilla Ice over top of this stuff and I’d still love it. In fact, I might love it even more (seriously, how weird/awesome would experimental trip-hop Vanilla Ice tracks be?). My only big gripe was that his uptempo numbers were far superior to the slower and sparser ones, which seems to demonstrate that he’s a bit less comfortable when fewer musical gears are turning. Other than that, it was engaging and expansive, reminiscent of UNKLE’s Psyence Fiction without the guest spots, or early DJ Shadow on more pills. So please Mr. Jesus, for me, kick it up a few metronome notches and let it rip.

Years ago, I met Sole at the Henry Fonda Theatre at a sound check for the Knowmore.org tour with Sage Francis. He’s probably the most down-to-earth hip-hop artist in the history of the art form. He was putting together trinkets of some kind, and he generally seemed to welcome my intrusion. Later on in the evening, on a trip out to the parking lot, I spotted him again, scribbling out a letter next to the ticket line, talking to nobody in particular, just whoever wanted to talk. Most of the fans seemed very disarmed, since he makes no effort to combat the regular guy appearance he affects while rambunctiously dropping rhymes onstage. This was Dr. Jekyll, through and through. At the Knitting Factory, Sole is wearing Sweatpants and looks like a very unkempt Philip Seymour Hoffman or a drastically Irish Zack Galifianakis. His stage presence manages to make the crowd, comprised almost entirely of cool kids who love the coolest hip-hop, completely forget about the sweatpants and a monstrous, red beard. He banters comfortably with the crowd, asking for song requests, ignoring every single offer shouted back at him. He feeds on their energy well, but finds his groove off the band for the most part. They know all the lyrics, and are (in a very Newtonian physics sort of way) equally pushed forth. The drummer seems to be as angry at a drum kit as I’ve ever seen and a sort of percussive magic rings during his spirited hi-hat/snare batteries. They roll through an explosive set, with major highlights “A Sad Day for Investors,” “Nothing Is Free” and “Stupid Things Implode on Themselves.” There are selections from Sole’s solo work, but the real show here is the merger of MC and band. By the end of the show, every emotional synapse relating to sound that I have has been shorted, and my ears are ringing just as fiercely. This was less a performance and more a sermon, less a band and more a cathartic fire.They are, as Sole says, “Easy-goin’ like anvils.”

For more on Sole and the Skyrider Band, including more tour dates, click here: myspace.com/soleandtheskyriderband

Sole and the Skyrider Band is out now on anticon.  

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