Truckasauras (always a "do," as pictured at right) had an uphill battle facing them as the opening act for last night's sold-out Blue Scholars/Common Market show, the first of this weekend's three-night stand at Neumos (tonight's show is also sold-out; tickets for Monday were still available as of last night but are apparently going fasts). The all-ages (and really very young) crowd was, to put it mildly, very eager to see the headliners—there was a line of kids waiting outside Neumos in the drizzling rain more than an hour before doors opened; hell, these kids had been waiting of Blue Scholars and Common Market to perform since December. Some members of the audience voiced their anticipation by yelling "Common Market!" and "shut up!" at host MC Tilson as he chatted up the crowd over DVOne's opening DJ set, which included cut up songs and videos from Digable Planets, Afrika Bambaataa, Rick James, Michael Jackson, Kanye West (I forgot how much I love So-Me's ridiculously bright cartoon video for "the Good Life"), and Wu-Tang Clan's "C.R.E.A.M." Possibly all this stuff was just from before most of the crowd was even born, or possibly quite a few folks there were dedicated Mass Line partisans more than they were hiphop fans in general. In any case, it was a tough crowd that tentatively cheered Truckasauras onto the stage.
The four dudes of the Truck' opened without an MC onstage, playing a new(er) instrumental number, sounding thumping and chippy and great as always (you really can't fuck with these guys' signal chain), Dan Bordon's cut up videos (of Ghostbusters among other things) projected DIY style onto only about a quarter of the giant screen that had been showing DVOne's videos. Tyler Swan was rocking the Legend of Zelda gold cartridge medallion, which remains the coolest piece of "bling" I have ever seen (his American flag cape has been reduced to a headband). Someone in the crowd shouted for "Common Market!" again. For the next song, the band was joined by Seattle's one-man dancehall scene, DJ Collage, who asked the crowd, "Are you ready for something different? Some ragamuffin business?" I'm not sure the crowd was ready for some ragamuffin business, but Collage and the Truck plowed ahead anyway with "Hold On," and Collage's chatter and energy did get the crowd going a bit.
Next up to the stage was Specs Wizard, who like Collage is a frequent Truckasauras collaborator and so not that much of a deviation from their regular non-"rap" set. Over a song that shifted into a bass-rich motorik techno pulse that was probably a little too taut for the crowd, Specs One leaned hard on his sort of spaced-out, vaporized persona, coming at the beat with a kind of roundabout, lackadaisical flow. If the Truck's tracks sounded great on Neumos sound system, their MCs' mics could've been a little higher in the mix. Next on those mics was duo Suntonio Bandanaz, and here's where things really departed from Truckasauras' usual routine and got interesting, the duo rapping hard and fast (think Onyx) over Truck's pounding beat. The whole act seemed to be gaining momentum here, tires finally finding some traction, to keep my metaphors monster-trucking.
Things really hit a peak with They Live, the newish gas of a project from MCs Gatsby and BlesOne, jumping on top of Truckasauras' melancholy synth-heavy triumph "Angels Sound Like Bottle Rockets." They Live is these guys letting loose their cartoonishly funny, weed-murdering side (as alter egos Dro Boy and Bruce Illest respectively) while also still killing in the departments of beats (by BlesOne) and rhymes. (You can download their mini-album, the Dro Bots Saga for free here, and I highly recommend it.) They hit the stage last night in sweatshirts, beanies, and shades, looking like they were about to knock over a 7-11 (or at least purchase some jumbo slurpies and assorted munchies). Their delivery was far from blunted, though—Gatsby and BlesOne were the most animated people to hit the stage so far, all exaggerated energy and gestures big enough to play to the back of the room. BlesOne demanded and finally got himself turned up on the microphone, which was fortunate, because They Live have some good punchlines (I think I caught Gatsby dropping one about being tight "like jeans on a hipster"). Here's They Live's video for "Weed Murder" featuring Barfly of the Saturday Knights:
Pearl from Champagne Champagne ("don't forget the name") kept things going at speed, shouting on the mic to get his voice up above Truckasauras' monster sound—this time a particularly FM slap-bass heavy rendition of (I think) "Ain't No Danbo." A friend compared Pearl's snarling delivery not unfavorably to Pusha T of Clipse; the MC rapped about "808s and 606s in the 206," which I thought was a cute nod to the Truck's signature array of analog gear. After Pearl, Truckasauras' Adam Swan got on the mic to thank the crowd, the headliners, and the MCs, and to say that the band had just a couple more songs. The first of these was another original Truckasauras instrumental, but the final song, and the undeniable highlight of the whole set, was a freestyle battle over the Truck's analog reversion of Boogie Down Productions classic "The Bridge is Over."
Pearl kicked things off, ticked off, flinging water on the crowd and announcing, "y'all need to wake the fuck up!". They Live was next, BlesOne scratching his chin in a pantomime of contemplation before hopping on the mic, the duo rapping about being celebrators not haters before busting into the enthusiastic chorus of their above song "Weed Murder." Suntonio Bandanaz was next, sounding much more at home over this track's relatively relaxed and familiar tempo, also benefitting from the mics having been brought up in the mix. Collage came on next, and his patois patter, surrounded as it was here by more straight-forward rapping and with all the other MCs adding emphasis to his rapid-fire toasting, sounded far fiercer than it had earlier in the set.
Things should have ended on that explosive high note, but Pearl grabbed the mic to try to get the last word in, rapping as the track was clearly winding down, rhyming about how he could go on a capella as Truckasauras let the beat stop, seemed to realize Pearl really would go on without them if needed, and then kicked the beat back up. Suntonio Bandanaz got in some anti-climactic parting shots as well, mentioning their CDs for sale and the merch booth. Specs Wizard, pacifist, did not join in the freestyle battle. Hard to say if the crowd ever really warmed to Truckasauras' idiosyncratic sound, although some of their guest MCs definitely got the heads moving. I think Truck's working on a new album, but in the meantime I could definitely stand to see Truckasauras release a rap mixtape or two, like Ratatat.
I unfortunately had to bail on the show before the headliners played to go party crashing for an upcoming installment of this column, but I'll be back at Neumos tonight to see the main attractions and report back tomorrow.