So for the next few months, Tru Ruts will be doing "swings," mini-tours with 3-5 stops. The first of these swings took place this past weekend and if it's any indication, we're in for a hell of a year. I just hope the rest of the year doesn't look like the photo below, which was our wasteland view on the trip from Minneapolis to Chicago.
But that's how we do: risking our puny lives for hip hop. That's EG Bailey and See More Perspective in the front there. We had a good ride, discussing everything from Panda Express to underground rap beef to ABAB rhyme schemes. We also got a chance to listen to New MC's solo album a couple times through, the Figureheads LP, the "I'm Not There" soundtrack and some other stuff.
Our first stop was Chicago, at a beautiful arts space called Quennect 4. It wasn't a bar, hip hop club, theatre or coffeeshop-- more of an underground arts hideaway with a revolutionary aesthetic-- very cool. I go through my pre-show ritual of awkwardly standing by myself in the back, pretending to write things down or check my cell messages, while other people mill about, get into ciphers or whatever. I hate the time before performing-- i always want to watch the other acts, but i can't talk to people because the damn music is so loud (can't hear and can't be heard unless i scream, which kills my voice); i usually end up in the greenroom if there is one (and until i get famous, there usually isn't). So here, i played the wall and avoided talking to people so i could watch the other acts, who were all great. Nazirah P. Mickey, Phero tha Ill, Gilead7, Philip Morris, Aquil, SeeMore and myself all performed before the night was over. Philip Morris was especially memorable, due to his Pigeon John-like charisma, strong voice and GREAT call-and-response stuff. Turnout was surprisingly high.
The show was very Chicago-ish, if you know what i mean. That scene has a dominant aesthetic, and it was well-represented that night. I pissed some people off with my knuckleheaded shit-talking, out of which came some good conversations, which is always positive. Overall, definitely a success.
We stayed at another amazing arts space and connected with some beautiful people. Be sure to check out Naivete Studios, especially if you're around Chicago.
Next day, we packed up and headed for Madison, where i lived for some six years. I wanted to get there early enough to check out the spoken-word club i used to run at Memorial High School, but we weren't able to make it in time (though a bunch of my former students came to the show later that night, and they're AMAZING). To make the best of things, we stopped at the Parthenon on State Street and had some ridiculously good food (which will be a recurring theme in any tour posts i write): chicken ceasar pita with lots of parmesan-- damn. Best fries in Madison too. A random photo of me looking like a melancholy vampire in the the hotel:
So the first show in Madison was that night-- i was scheduled to lead a workshop and then feature at the Just Bust! open mic series, a monthly joint organized by UW's First Wave Collective. The workshop was very cool-- we discussed cliches and played-out topics and ways to make them fresh again, a subject i think all spoken-word poets should spend more time on. I love leading workshops because it allows me to spread my angry and bitter aesthetic philosophies.
The open mic was fun-- lots of good stuff, both poetry and hip hop. As the featured artist, i got to do a good 20 minutes, four new poems (Starfish, Smalltalk, The Mommy Effect and Love in the Time of Zombies) and some rapping with SeeMore on the beatbox. I also love opportunites to showcase myself as both a non-rhyming straight-up poet and as an emcee. The two forms are really different and i work hard on both of them, so it's cool to be able to highlight their interplay in my work. We took some video but i don't know if i like it-- the ONE thing about Just Bust! is that it's in the Memorial Union Main Lounge, which is a high-ceilinged, bright room. The footage is kind of eh. Heres' a photo though, courtesy of Kimanh Truong:
Went to Genna's afterward, one of the few bars i actually enjoy hanging out at. Partly because i know the bartender, but also because it's just a great spot. Everyone got to make fun of me again becuase i drink Midori instead of "real" liquor. Excuse me if i prefer the cool flavors of kool-aid or ecto-cooler to firewhiskey.
Next day, had lunch at the always phenomenal Taste of Asia and got some work done at Fair Trade Coffeehouse. I had wanted to connect with Mike, who used to work there, but he doesn't now due to his success as the frontman of Pale Young Gentlemen, whom the hipper among you may have heard of. Good for him. I played with them at one of their first shows, and would defintely like to again, now that they're all over Pitchfork and whatnot. Come on Mike, take me with you to indie-fame!
Anyways, that night we were slated to open for Brother Ali, but had some time to kill before rehearsal and soundcheck. EG met with the Figureheads on business, SeeMore got a mohawk, and i bought maaaaad cheap DVDs at a new resale shop: Blade II (the best one), The Chinese Connection, King Arthur (unfairly maligned), Kingdom of Heaven (also unfairly maligned) and Kiss of the Dragon (probably fairly maligned). Now i won't need to buy any action movies ever again.
So, opening for any big-name hip hop act is always a blessing and a curse. One one hand, you get to perform in front of a huge crowd who are amped up (this was a free, all ages show and was definitely packed), but on the other hand, you have to deal with a surprisingly large contingent of celebrity-hounds, people who don't *really* care about hip hop but who are just there to get drunk and see someone halfway famous whom the blogs tell them are talented. I'm not complaining about this-- it's just the way it is, and it really makes it that much more fun to really connect with the people who DO appreciate good art even if the artists aren't all that well-known.
The show went very well-- the space was called the Rathskellar and is in the University's Student Union. It's all ages, but they sell beer. Lots of creepy German art on the walls and a capacity of about 600. The lineup boasted some good opening acts (First Wave, Defcee, Lucha Libre, Figureheads), and we were on just before Ali. Me and SeeMore decided to put together a collaborative set, bouncing back and forth between his songs and mine. This was our first show together, so it wasn't perfect, but i think once we get more comfortable with one another we're going to be a formidable one-two combo. SeeMore is a positive cat, with a lot of charisma and a certain Lyrics Born kind of flow and energy. I'm the brooding, angry smart-ass rapper. It's definitely a kind of Yin/Yang relationship and we balance one another out very well. We're both really looking forward to building in the future. A few photos: Ghostly Guante and crowd by Diane Bezucha; See More Perspective looking dapper by Diane Bezucha, and the Figureheads by me:
Our set that night hype and people really enjoyed it, especially considering that they were getting anxious about Brother Ali (some had been there for three hours already). The ONE thing that bothered me was that they'd cheer for every drop, regardless of the lyrics in that drop. We'd do a killer punchline that they'd miss because of the absence of a drop, but then in one song where we drop the beat to emphasize how BAD the lines are (it's a satirical kind of song), everyone went crazy. Ah well, lesson learned: people love drops.
I also sold mad books all weekend, which was kind of surprising. I guess people DO still read these days.
The highlight of the trip, for me anyway, was the feast after the show. Me, EG, SeeMore, B-Fresh and a whole bunch of the First Wave crew went to Perkins, a restaurant with an iron-clad sentimental grip on my heart. It was very cool to meet and build with all the First Wavers-- one might expect a bunch of 18-19 year old artists to be kind of annoying, but they're all genuinely nice, fun people, a perfect inaugural class for the program.
So all and all, a beautiful trip. Good food, good music, good people (and good money); can't ask for much more than that. Hopefully there'll be much more this year. I'll probably be back in Madison for a few shows in February, and then all over the Midwest in March for album release parties. See you all soon.
Here are the other fliers: