Published Jun 13, 2014As a fan of poetry and rhyme, this bill was as good as it gets. Former slam poet champion B. Dolan hit the stage first, rolling in with an American flag ski mask on his head, no time for a sound check, and set to work showing how refined his skills have become since he first started making waves on Strange Famous Records midway through the 2000s. He shed the mask before launching into "Still Here" from 2012's House of Bees Vol. 2, his most recent mixtape, from which most of his half-hour set was pulled. While Dolan's 2008 debut album The Failure was a rather introspective, post-apocalyptic concept album, his style has smoothed out since then to a more well-rounded flow, his larger-than-life confrontational stage persona honed to a beat-focused machine though years of road testing. His mash-up of "Joan of Arcadia" and Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down" clearly demonstrated this transition, making the cerebral work in a club setting. Dolan's beats were a little low in the mix at times, but that worked in his favour, allowing the listener to fully appreciate his dynamic, articulate flow and messages.
Joined by Lord Grunge of Grand Buffet, Dolan would stay on as hype man for his Strange Famous boss, the unsinkable Sage Francis. Wearing his label's flag as a cape, a comb-over drawn in felt marker across the top of his head, Francis's set drew from across his impressive and fiercely independent career. He dropped everything from "Makeshift Patriot," a track written a month after the 9/11 attack, and "Crack Pipes" from his debut to his bigger singles like "Slow Down Gandhi" and "Sea Lion" from 2005's A Healthy Distrust, the new material from his latest, Copper Gone, standing strong alongside his tested material, even though it was produced after a rather dramatic, soul-searching four-year hiatus. The crowd screamed all the hooks they knew, and were particularly up to providing the "ugh" in "Damage" from his Non-Prophets collaboration, which turned into a medley with "Ante Up" by M.O.P. and included a verse from Lord Grunge.
When Francis said he would "outperform, out write, and out rhyme you/ Outsmart, out heart and out grind you" on "ID Thieves," it contained no hint of shallow grandstanding. He's one of those true-to-life, what-you-see-is-what-you-get artists, unafraid to speak his mind freely yet conscious that his words carry meaning and effect reality, which are so rare in this culture of youth worship, self-obsession, and constant reinvention. Like he said in "Cheat Code," "I talk a lot of shit, but I can back it all the fuck up."
As Dolan joined Francis up front for an extended version of "2Bad (Epic Beard Men)," their status as kindred spirits was undeniable. Seeing them live, one may be convinced that these guys are terminators, sent back to save humanity from itself, but their sarcastic sense of humour kept the mood from going too dark, with Francis hosting a sing-along of "America (Fuck Yeah)" from Team America: World Police early on, and later relaying a story about how his big American shits in Sixtoo's toilets are why he doesn't talk to or make beats for him anymore.
Sweating as he was in his windbreaker, Francis showed his relentless work ethic onstage, acting out so many of his lyrics with his hands as he worked the stage from the word go to the end.