Saul Williams / Zaki Ibrahim The Mod Club, Toronto ON April 14

Saul Williams / Zaki Ibrahim The Mod Club, Toronto ON April 14
Experimentalism has always been a key component to the success of Saul Williams’s musical output, and he may have reached his creative zenith with his latest project, The Inevitable Rise And Liberation of Niggy Tardust. While his five-bucks-or-free online release scheme proved a rather predictable disappointment (you simply can’t compete with free!), the maniacal Reznor-crafted soundscapes that carry his new disc shone bright in the only commercial medium left for artists these days — the live stage. Such was the case during Williams’s recent stop at Toronto’s Mod Club, as the poet/MC played to an audience of largely new converts to his current digi-punk sound. Local soul-tastic rising star Zaki Ibrahim provided a brief opening set offering up smooth French vocals, Cajun percussion, and buoyant house rhythms that garnered polite appreciation from the more rock-leaning crowd. Then it was Saul’s turn. In full rock star mode, an agitated, feather-maned Williams stalked the stage in the early going, passing his visible frustration with the sound onto his powerless band-mates, before completely abandoning his fifth cut in favour of a time-worn a cappella piece until things were corrected. But as the prima-donna posturing abated, the abrasive lyricist quickly settled into his hyper-ballistic sonic barrage, pulverising fans with the intense stomp, pounding drum machine hits and keyed effects of tunes like "Control Freak,” "List Of Demands” and "Convict Colony.” Though there’s little doubt the night’s music had the crowd licking their chops, it’s hard to imagine how Williams’ constant lyrical deconstructions of black dysfunction and the N-word went over with his new audience. His completely ridiculous explanation that the word applies to us all because "we are all each other” — given before diving into "Black Stacey” — emphasised this disconnect. But as the room went wild to show closer "Sunday Bloody Sunday,” it didn’t seem to matter much what the once virile poet was saying, as the music clearly won out that day.