Rap the Vote @ Electra 24 October 2008

Despite a few organizational hiccups, Friday’s “Rap the Vote” performance at Electra Nightclub brought out area hip-hop fans in force.  The show featured local rappers Open Case/Breadtruck, along with the Keene-based groups Flatliners and M.A.R., along with two others.

The West Lebanon nightclub was festooned with political signs, though the planned voter registration table was scrapped when the State of New Hampshire pulled out at the last minute, citing manpower concerns.

“They wouldn’t allow overtime, or let us pay them,” said the show’s promoter.  Attempts to make the event a bipartisan affair were greeted with apathy.  “The Vermont Republican party didn’t answer their phones,” he said, adding, “we set out to be equal opportunity.”

Still, there were a few red, white and blue elephants on the wall, and the McCain/Palin logo popped up occasionally on a computer slide show running behind the stage.  But this was a decidedly Blue America crowd, with several styles of Obama t-shirts on display, a table crowded with candidate flyers and stickers (and a stack of Vermont voter registration forms), and Democratic posters dominating the walls.

Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen’s daughter Molly paid a visit as well.

The evening featured a variety of urban styles.  The headliners delivered the best set by far, combining melody, rhymes from rapper Problematic, and surprisingly good singing from J-Bust and Ill Dephyned.

“That’s the Way It Goes” both celebrates and questions the excesses hip-hop living, while “Soul In My Hands” touches on the subject of early fatherhood.  “The Election 2008” is edgy political theatre, complete with Obama samples and challenging lines like “divided we stand/united we fall/they knock down a couple buildings and we put up a wall.”

They occasionally veered off into misogyny (“Get Lost,” “Bedtime”), but were for the most part quite literate.  Reflection, on songs like “Same Story” and “Only Greed,” won out over bluster and bravado, two traits that weigh down so much of genre.

The same can’t be said, however, of Flatliners, who behaved more like a mob than a band.  There were many problems with their set – it went too long, was drowned in f-bombs and “yo-yo” clichés, and generally lacked focus.  But the worst moment came when a fog machine went into overdrive, forcing the club to turn on the house lights until the thick haze dissipated.

The amateurish move sucked away a lot of the room’s energy, and when the smoke finally did clear and the lights went down again, half the crowd was gone.

The sheer size of the bill also didn’t help, as the logistics of squeezing in five separate sets delayed Open Case/Breadtruck’s appearance until after midnight.

There were other highlights over the course of the evening. DJ Grimee backed M.A.R.’s opening act, then teamed with rapper Bootz for a humorous election send-up, with the two assuming each candidate’s persona (sample rhyme – the faux McCain says “I can pop Viagra and blow like Niagara”).

Each performer took pains to remind the crowd why they were there, sometimes bluntly so.  “Y’all motherf****rs gotta vote,” said one rapper.  He was preaching to the converted, perhaps profanely so.  Yet it was refreshing for a genre that’s not exactly notorious for its civic energy.

Local Rhythms – This Getting Old Is Getting … Old

A reader and I are currently engaged in a rather lively exchange.  He wants me to write about his hip-hop trio, and I may eventually do that.  I tried to explain my reasons for waiting in an email.  When you have a gig scheduled or a completed record, give me a call, I said.  But I don’t review press kits or MySpace pages.

This apparently didn’t sit well with the young MC, who excoriated me in his reply.  If you won’t do it, I’ll find someone who will, he stated tartly.

Unbowed, I wrote back.

I try to keep an open mind, but most hip-hop leaves me cold, I told him.  Talking in rhyme is not, to my mind, a rigorous musical discipline.  This doesn’t mean I hate rap, but mix in some chops, please.  Even the Beastie Boys had their own drummer.

“You didn’t listen with the right type of ears,” he said.  “Here you are clinging on to Jazz and Metal and weird Indie Icons in the midst of the Hip Hop Revolution.  Watching your stars burn out and fade away with the same heartbroken look on your face like Frank Sinatra seeing Elvis’s debut on national television.”

Wow – I’m talking with the Michael J. Fox character from “Back to the Future” – impressive.

However, the hip-hop “revolution” began when Grandmaster Flash released “The Message” and ended with Tupac and Biggie trading bullets.  I don’t have a problem with that.  Just don’t tell me you’ve invented something new when you’re simply refining a proven formula.

But what really cut deep was the assertion that watching my past fade makes me teary-eyed.

As if.

Even a casual reader of this column knows that I’d like nothing more than to wipe musical dinosaurs from the earth.  When Mick Jagger breaks his hip and finally retires from live performing, I’m throwing a party.

For me, paradise is stuffing my iPod full of new tracks, hitting shuffle, and waiting to be blown away.

Unfortunately, each new day brings more 14-year olds in Led Zeppelin t-shirts.

What about your generation’s music, I ask them.  Well, Fall Out Boy’s OK, they tell me, but Jimmy Page is AWESOME.

When they can’t afford a 500-dollar ticket to see them play, they’re the ones with heartbroken looks on their faces.

Not me – I’ve moved on.

If there’s a weird Indie icon in this list of picks, I apologize:

Thursday: Red Molly, Upper Valley Events Center (Norwich) – I’m a fool for Americana girl groups, and this is one of my favorites.  Their latest album, “Love and Other Tragedies,” features several of Boston’s best itinerant players, including Jake Amerding and Duke Levine; Ben Wisch’s production is perfect for headphone listening.  But you need to see Red Molly live to truly get them.  After all, they met around a Falcon Ridge campfire.

Friday: Billy Rosen Quartet, The Prouty – Now in its 27th year, this event raises money for cancer research and patient services.  Hundreds of walkers and bike riders converge upon Hanover on Saturday; tonight, they’ll meet for a pre-Prouty pasta dinner at Richmond Middle School, catered by Lui Lui, with entertainment from one of the finest improvisational jazz combos in the area.  Participants planning to cover as much as 100 miles will welcome the carbs, I’m sure.

Saturday: James Montgomery Band, Freight House – This Detroit-born, Boston-based harmonica player always puts on an amazing show.  He’s an inspiration to old guys like me – he’s in his mid-50’s, but doesn’t look a day over 30, and plays like an 18-year old.  Blues, rock, soul, all delivered with infectious kinetic energy. Chicago’s Killborn Alley Blues Band opens the downtown White River Junction show, which starts at 2:30.

Sunday: John Lovejoy, Bistro Nouveau – The biweekly “Voodoo Deck Party” features a local piano man who is a one-man jukebox, and I don’t recommend playing stump the band with him.  Well, maybe you should at that.  He’ll beat you five ways from Friday and leaving you singing along to whatever you failed to baffle him with.  Bistro has good margaritas, too.

Tuesday: Thoroughly Modern Millie, New London Barn Playhouse – Following a recent Broadway trend, this musical was adapted from the film, not the other way around.  It’s a classic plot: Millie moves from Kansas to Manhattan, hoping to land a rich husband.  Instead, she takes up with a paper clip salesman (did such a job ever exist?), and becomes embroiled in a Chinese white slavery ring. Much mirth ensues.

Wednesday: Tammy Jackson Band, Ben Mere Bandstand – On a warm summer night, there’s no place quite a comfortable as the green lawn just a stone’s throw from Sunapee Harbor. A cold beverage, a warm sunset and some smooth country music, performed by this long-time area favorite – just the right combination to make your troubles disappear.  Check sunapeeharbor.com for a season-long schedule of free shows.