Photography by Sir
Every Aesop Rock fan needs to see the man live every year or so if not for any other reason than to confirm that he is, indeed, a human and not a folksy urban legend. His superhuman capabilities on the microphone and in the studio might lead listeners and common folk to believe him as some sort of mythical creature, coming down from the mountaintops only once every blue moon or so to confirm actual existence. Don’t tell him that though. He is true to himself in every sense of the word-perfectly content as one and the same as his uniquely loyal fanbase. He easily and comfortably interacts with the crowd throughout the show, weaving in stories about lunch with his mom and her recognizing his mullet. He makes jokes that are actually, well, funny. He single-handedly shatters every stereotype of what you think a rapper should be with each thoughtful syllable.
In an unassuming purple T-shirt, jeans equipped with key clip and wallet in his back pocket, Aesop had an attitude of being among the people, which is what the independent hip hop scene he pioneered is all about. But he’s come a long way since the days at the old Bottom Lounge where I saw him over a decade ago with only about 200 other people. With New York state of mind exported to San Francisco not too long ago and back performing in Chicago, the city trifecta came together cohesively Monday night for a performance everyone in attendance felt emanate from Aesop Rock’s hip hop originality.
Through a great mix of Skelethon, Hail Mary Mallon material, his closest thing to a single None Shall Pass, a medley of old tracks from Fast Cars, Danger, Fire, and Knives and Float, and Rob Sonic’s solo stuff, the night made the hip hop God’s smile down upon the Metro with unparalleled pride.
Skelethon’s first track “Leisureforce” opened the show, and from there Aesop could’ve very well played the new album in its entirety. The coming-of-age album plays almost like a hip hop novel of sorts, with Aesop showing off his vast vocabulary and trademark wordplay that put him in a league of his own and shows off how he’s found himself and his voice out on the West Coast.
When it came time for “Racing Stripes”, Aesop and Rob had a little fun choosing a random name on a sheet of paper, which only meant one thing: time for one lucky fan to get a haircut from opening act Busdriver for the duration of the track. Of course that’s what that would mean, right? That lucky fan was little Devin, clad in tie dye shirt and super shaggy mop top that became baldy sour on top with locks remaining at the bottom by the end of the song. Truly a sight to see, and I’m sure that dude will never forget the time he was anointed by Aesop Rock himself, our leader for the night.
Skelethon delights “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Homemade Mummy” (“MAKE MUMMY MUMMY MAKE MUMMY MUMMY MUMMY MUMMY!”), “Grace”, and “Cycles to Gehenna” (see below) ensure the ushering in of another new era of Aesop Rock and Roll.
His ease with the intimate Metro crowd separates Aesop from most rap performances and most musical acts for that matter. He had a strong rapport with the audience from the jump, and brother Rob Sonic from The Bronx made sure the crowd was into the music all night.
Aesop Rock honed in on his humor. He gave off gracious energy. He acknowledged his appreciation for Chicago by expressing how much he’s always loved coming here. He even assuaged our ego when it comes to our affinity for and history of great DJs by giving Bigwiz his due for a good ten minute run on the decks alone.
Upon declaring that this song “comes with an expression” and then exemplifying said expression, the packed Metro crowd was encouraged to make the “eyes and teeth face,” and the show hit a climax during the electric-piano infused a capella end of “Cycles to Gehenna”:
“It was less of an act of hubris
More a lonely hearts club at the helm of a magic bullet
Away on a relentless bid for rarefied inertia
Rattletrap forks married to the patchy terra firma Ursa Minor getting warmer
I crowbar into the pecking order
The dreck between the whores and Betty Ford-ers
Hug a double yellow spine
Knobby rubber like a rat on a rope
Those little fuckers run on passion alone
This is the product of a D.I.Y. inadequate home
Grabbing a cabin in the-fuck-outta-dodge
Actin’ a savage in the shadows of Rome
Traffic amassed against insufferable odds
Fashioning gallows out of plastic and bone
I got the motordrome walls of death splintering under me
All-city galvanized bikes white knuckling
Bright light, tunnel kings tuck in the devil
P.S. I wrote this on a self destructing memo”
His announcement that Hail Mary Mallon has half a new album worth of music ready, along with news of another new project with Kimya Dawson caused extra excitement and ensures new material consistently will flow and remain accessible, something all the more important in an industry flooded with one and done hit wonders and wannabe prophets. Skelethon isn’t even a year old yet, and he’s already toured for it twice. He is expanding his independent-as-fuck empire while doing what he does best and doing it well beyond anyone else’s capabilities.
And then it came time for a lesson in alphabetics:
A to the B to the C to the D to the E to the F to the G to the H to the I to the J to the K to the L to the M to the N to the O to the P to the Q to the R to the S to the T to the U to the V to the W to the X to the Y to the Z…
“ZZZ Top“, an anthem of non-conformist ideals and everlasting punk ideology throw caution to the wind in an attempt to get people to speak up for themselves in ever-present times of censorship and artistic oppression.
Even his encore performance became somewhat of a democratic event, Aesop giving the audience the duration of “ZZZ Top” to decide whether or not they’d like to hear another song or two, and if so, which ones specifically. Their other option: leave immediately after the song’s completion for French fries across the street courtesy of Rob Sonic. Tempting? Yes. Realistic. Come on. Herein lies Aesop’s subtle humor and humble-yet-obviously-confident demeanor.
Second to last came “No Regrets”, a dark song off of Aesop’s seminal 2001 album Labor Days. On Monday night they remixed it into an upbeat, dance version, and it was the one of the stranger moments of the evening, but any weirdness from that was way erased by the last song of the night…drumroll, please…”Pigs”! With Jeremy Fish starring in a video on the big screen, this hidden track from 2007’s anecdotal None Shall Pass brought the crowd to the elusive next level and closed the night on the highest of notes.
We saw the great Aesop Rock. He is real after all. And he digs a chick in pigtails. That’s all, folks…