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Aesop Rock @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Oct. 1, 2012

Oct. 2, 2012
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Erik Ljung
Rising to prominence during the turn-of-the-millennium wave of alternative hip-hop powered by labels like Definitive Jux and Rhymesayers, Aesop Rock has become one of the poster boys for a subculture of rap that’s often derided (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) by those outside the backpacker bubble, but which shows no signs of going away anytime soon. If anything, it’s growing beyond its core constituency, oddly benefitting from a trend which finds even mainstream MCs like Drake and Kanye West wearing their hearts on their sleeves and working unorthodox textures into their beats, all of which primes Rock’s new Skelethon for being his most significant release, career wise at least, since his 2003 breakthrough Bazooka Tooth.  Whether the whims of pop music will conspire to keep him in the limelight long enough to become a true household name remains to be seen, but if tonight’s show was any indication, he’s determined to take a run at it.

The crowd, mostly white, teenage to twenty-something hipsters and beat nerds, was sizeable for a Monday night show, but their energy level seemed informed by the fact that most of the working week was still looming in front of them. You could tell they were psyched as Aesop Rock and sidekick Rob Sonic took the stage, and they responded warmly to a set packed with new tracks, including standouts from Skelethon like “ZZZ Top” and “Gopher Guts” as well as as-yet unreleased cuts by Sonic and their mutual side-project Hail Mary Mallon, but they looked loathe to cut loose in any way that might make them sore in the morning. Rock and Sonic’s performance didn’t really suffer from the lack of electricity in the room though, in fact, they appeared loose and in the moment, ready to put in the effort even if it didn’t pay off in full until a short encore of rarely played older material struck a chord and got people moving in earnest.

Rock’s at his best when he keeps his flow punchy and the beat kicking (when the tempo drops, you start getting into those dreadful poetry slam-esque cadences which plague rappers of his ilk), and tonight’s show was resolutely upbeat, breezy and quirkily funny to the last; even the projections on the screen behind them were made up of cute cat videos and clips from comedies like Stripes and The Three Amigos. Again, that’s a good thing, but it has the unwelcome side effect of becoming somewhat same-y over the course of an hour and a half. Thankfully, Rock and company made time for a few digressions, most memorably a solo from his DJ, Big Wiz, that turned into a tandem turntablism session with special guest DJ Abilities, and a bit where one lucky fan was treated to a free haircut (a jacked-up quasi-mohawk) courtesy of openers Dark Time Sunshine. It was the kind of show that would likely have killed on a Friday or Saturday, when audiences are well-lubricated and ready to party, but the fact that they brought the same amount of energy to it on a sleepy school night would only seem to indicate that we’re going to hear the name Aesop Rock a lot more in the near future.


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