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.

Dr. Burma – One Bite Won’t Kill You

When they perform their R&B music for Upper Valley audiences, Dr. Burma will occasionally bring along a horn section. After hearing “One Bite Won’t Kill You,” the second album of their 20-year career, you may wish they brought the brass everywhere they went.

The record harkens back to the golden age of horn bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Tower of Power and Cold Blood. It’s a treat from start to finish.

Mixing well-crafted originals with a tidy selection of covers, the band keeps the energy level high throughout. Carlene Carter’s “I Love You ‘Cause I Want To” showcases Linda Boudreault’s bluesy singing, as does “If I Were An Airplane,” a song rich in double entendre. The latter deftly channels “Give It Up”-era Bonnie Raitt, and features some nifty piano work from Doug Southworth,

The db Horns get a workout on the title cut, as well as on an update of the Albert King jump blues gem, “Let’s Have a Natural Ball.” A toothy remake of John Hiatt’s little-heard “The Crush” also puts the brass out front, and features a great Boudreault/Mortimer vocal duet.

All original songs are credited to lead guitarist Ted Mortimer (there’s two Boudreault co-writes), save one – Southworth’s rousing New Orleans-flavored “I Know What My Baby Likes,” which starts like a Dr. John gumbo and ends with a gospel romp that would make Ray Charles smile.

“The Things We Do” is a Mortimer original that borrows its structure from the Allman Brothers’ “Trouble No More,” and contains the best line on the record. “What makes a poodle chase a hound?”

What, indeed? Listening to this kind of stuff on their doggie iPod (iDog?) is a likely cause.

Guest harp player Johnny Bishop helps out with a wicked solo on the tail feather shaker “Ridin’ For A Fall.”

“One More Chance” and “I’m Gonna Build Me A Playhouse” serve as homage to Steely Dan; the former fits new lyrics to “Chain Lightning,” while the latter would flow seamlessly with “Josie.”

That’s not a complaint – unlike Diddy’s heist of “Every Breath You Take,” Dr. Burma plays all the instruments (and quite well at that) when retrofitting email references and other modernities to the Seventies chestnut.

The record closes with “I Only Have Love,” a song with a tad more turbocharged tempo than W.C. Clark’s well-known version.

As “One Bite Won’t Kill You” fades, the last sound is a hearty laugh, to make it clear that Dr. Burma had as much fun making it as you will have listening to it.

Dr. Burma play a CD Release Party at Salt Hill Pub in Lebanon on Saturday, June 7.