Afro-Punk: Saul Williams, Earl Greyhound, American Fangs @ The Independent, 11/10/09

I walked into The Independent to find it slightly transformed for the evening. The Afro-Punk logo- the organization spearheading the tour- is projected on the side wall, as is the Budweiser logo. Footage from past Afro-Punk shows, coupled with skateboarding videos, show on a screen off to the side. American Fangs is on stage- five guys playing skater rock. They are from Houston- HRC’s place of birth- which I will be flying to tomorrow….so I find that interesting. Their happy hard rock is well received by the smallish crowd. The singer jumps into the audience at one point to sing in people’s faces. I keep thinking about their name, though; wondering if it’s a product of the vampire craze.

Next up was Earl Greyhound, from NYC…but they were first introduced by someone who basically said ‘Budweiser is yummy’…which I found off-putting. I can deal with the logo- totally get the concept of sponsorship money- but I found that a little over the top and odd. Especially since it was followed by music that lives in the Black Crowes-meets-Black Angels psychedelic hippie space. This three piece has shared vocal duties from the guitarist, who sounds very much like Chris Robinson, and the bassist, who was sort of a rock ‘n roll Kelis. There was some really nice guitar work in this set; an unexpected treat.

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CX Kidtronik– otherwise known as Krak Attack- made a lot of effort to warm up the audience before Saul Williams. CX is an interesting dude- his fro-hawk tilts across his head, and he wears a jacket that is like Michael Jackson in the ‘Beat It’ video-meets-Gorgoroth. He is essentially a producer, and provides the beats for Saul. His own stuff, however, could only be categorized as death metal hip hop…which I find very interesting, but makes most scratch their heads. His boundless energy is always infectious- he’s jumping on the table with his equipment and on and off the stage, somersaulting across at times. The crowd is super mellow- perhaps the layer of pot smoke hanging in the air had something to do with it- and they are having a hard time getting the crowd into it. I was sad when they asked the ladies to get on the stage and only three went up there. Even a cover of ‘Shout’ could barely get the crowd going. They even went the silly string route….

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After a brief break, where I spotted Mr. Boots Riley at the bar getting some drinks, the Star Wars cantina band looking keyboardist and the white tuxedo jacket wearing guitarist join CX on stage. The beats to ‘Black History Month’ start and Saul Williams comes out in his cape, with feathers in his hair. Compared to the show at Slim’s last year, the set seemed much more stripped down- there was no backdrop, and the lighting was fairly bright as the entire thing was being filmed.

Even Saul’s passionate stage presence could not break the crowd out of their comatose state…he kept asking, ‘are you with me?’…’do you have energy left in you?’ Once he even came out into the crowd to try to mix it up. I’d have to say that I prefer his spoken word and more stripped down tracks live to the ones that are essentially NIN tracks with Saul singing. After hearing Trent do ‘Banged and Blown Through’ several times on tour with a full band, it was hard to listen to it this way. For those of you not familiar, the Trent Reznor produced Saul album ‘The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust’ contains some outtakes from The Fragile. But tracks like ‘Scared Money’, ‘Black Stacey’, and ‘Convict Colony’ are amazing live. His cover of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, during the encore, had to be performed in a lower key- it became apparent that Saul was losing his voice a bit. The final song was a new track, and it sounded great and in line with what we’ve heard before.

It’s unfortunate that the energy of the Slim’s show could not be repeated here. While this may have been an off night for Saul, and definitely for the crowd, I will still be back to see him next time he’s in town.

HRC’s vids- the new camera has trouble with the bass!

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