Since my dubious debut lip-synching Huey Lewis’ “The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll” in a third-grade talent show, I’ve experienced enough “real live music” to make Mom more than a little concerned about her boy’s sanity.
Funk has long since replaced Huey as one of my favorite habits, along with jam and straight-ahead rock. Altogether, I’d say I’m pretty well-rounded. (Or at least oval. Or, more possibly, egg-shaped.)
And while I’ll admit to having seen a few more Phish shows than most people care to think about, my favorite related T-shirt reads, simply: “Trey Blows.”
OK, enough self-indulgent details of this new Xpress critic’s history. Let me leave it at this: I revel in Asheville’s perpetual — if unpredictable — musical backdrop.
The legions of dedicated fans and musicians who have descended — and continue to descend — on our town endow this place with a welcome, rare character. Ours is a beautifully bloated music scene, overflowing with impressive diversity and homegrown aesthetic.
So from all that grassy pickin’ to our healthy supply of local, white-boy hip-hop, I’ll now be there watching — as judge, jury and (occasional) executioner.
The recently departed Steve Shanafelt, in search of the next big thing in indie rock somewhere in Central America, left yours truly in judgment of his “Local Mix Tape Challenge.” The final pool included not one, but two whole submissions.
Apparently the grand prize of a Mountain Xpress T-shirt proved too overwhelming for most folks — but a mix-tape master must still emerge from the heap. So, here you go: It’s a tie. We’ll cut the T-shirt in half.
Lokhan and Luwingo of Free Radio Asheville made a good local compilation, and so did the “Wedding Mix” guy (we lost your name). Y’all come claim your booty.
Simple Mathematics, Pens & Needles and Monte Smith, Vincent’s Ear; Friday, Aug. 20.
Admittedly, I lean toward “candy rap” acts (as local connoisseur DJ Jah Seh once described them). Jurassic 5 and the like.
That said, I braved the muddy-sounding speakers at Vincent’s on Friday to check out local hip-hop from Simple Mathematics and Pens & Needles, plus the slam-style poetry of Monte Smith, from Winston-Salem.
All gave solid performances, though MC Al Blisterfist of Simple Mathematics broke out of the gate at a sloppier pace. Though demonstrating a variety of styles — from speed rap to more blunt-toting rhymes — he still had trouble touching my inner hip-hop child. Nevertheless, band partner Brycon‘s turntable work remained solid, and Al did the best he could pleasing the 20 or so patrons on hand.
Next up was Pens & Needles, featuring the biting original rhymes of The Mad Rabbi and the nimble turntable antics of DJ Lurch. The pair, together now for almost two years, have a healthy supply of polished originals.
In addition to cuts from their impressive debut CD, A.R.C.O. (on Brycon’s Topshelf Music), two new tracks served as evening high points (or low points, depending on your disposition): “Love Is a Dog From Hell” (inspired by Charles Bukowski) and “Fifty Ways to F••k a Fat Girl” (that’s right, 50). Both hit the proverbial spot, showing off the growing strength of the Lurch/Rabbi pairing.
The Mad Rabbi claims he wrote “Fifty Ways” in jest of the booty-driven rap that these days dominates pop radio and cable’s BET channel. The song hilariously enumerates (in chronological order) the aforementioned four-dozen-plus different ways to, well, you know.
No. 24: “in a kiddie pool full of macaroni and cheese.”
For the record, the lone full-figured female present at the show heartily approved of the track. In fact, all present cried out for a No. 51.
So how does The Rabbi manage to pull off such a song and still live in P.C. Asheville? He explained that being socially conscious actually requires a sense of humor. Who knew?
After Pens & Needles came a powerful dose of poetry from the prophetic Monte Smith. With sweat dripping and neck muscles bulging, Smith closed the evening down by belting out stirring, slam-nasty verse, embodying the socio-political angst that’s the lifeblood of essential hip-hop and poetry.
Score: Using the Tom Cruise-movies scale to rate this week’s performances, Simple Mathematics trails the other two acts, earning a Far and Away (scrappy, but with a bad accent). However, the show as a whole warrants a Rain Man (i.e., white brothers make good).
Check out Pens & Needles, alongside Breez Evahflowin, on Friday, Sept. 10, at The Orange Peel.
[Asheville-based music writer Stuart Gaines is a contributing editor at An Honest Tune.]