Cecil Otter's Blowout night at the Entry, 12/8/11
Photo by B FRESH
Six years ago I was barely 18, just old enough to legally attend the first Blowout. I went alone, in my home-stenciled hand-painted Doomtree shirt, and firmly held my position front and center for the whole show.
Last night, at the final crew-curated 7th Street Entry show of Blowout VII, I had these who-could-have-known? moments. Like who could have known that the California fan Ander Other would be a household name in this scene? That Dessa, who used to shake with nerves before she sang, would be the darling of MPR (and lots of other PRs too)? That Aaron Mader of the Plastic Constellations would cement himself in the crew and that Tom Servo would do the opposite? That visual artist friends would become crew family (folks like Ben LaFond on photos and Isaac Gale on videos) and Stef Alexander would become a drink at Urban Bean? And it would necessarily happen as a collective, not in separate pieces.
But last night I got especially reflective on Cecil. When I told him I was writing this piece he said "say nice things, say it was the best ever." I couldn't be objective if I wanted to. Cecil and I rapped to each other while P.O.S. played "Matador" at the Weisman seven years ago. He introduced me to Mountain Man over a bottle of Beam in D.C., he's the lakeshore drifter, he's the sex machine.
Of course it's the best ever.
I asked Cecil why I haven't seen him at the shows this week and he said he's been home addressing his mental health. I'm not sharing that lightly. I just think people should know that this is not a crew of superheroes. The content that appealed to me as an angsty teen is written about real anxieties and insecurities and depressions. But it's a rawness that obviously hits a chord in a lot more than just the youth population. Around that first Blowout, Sims told me rapping is cathartic, and it makes sense to me that we, the audience, experience a vicarious emotional cleansing and relief. I could see it on the screwed-up screaming faces in the crowd during Cecil's last song of the night, Rickety Bridge.
He asked "all the greatest people I know" to play, including Andrew Broder who improvised an instrumental electronic piece to open the show. Cecil told me "he was the first person to pick me out and give me a chance when I was fifteen." Broder's mellow set was twice punctured by young, freestyling emcees. Each was met with an approving and supportive smile by Broder, who is apparently still playing the mentorship role.
Cecil also wanted his close friends to play, so Maggie Morrison and Ben Clark followed Broder's set as members of Votel and then again, joined by Cecil, in the debut performance of La Liberte. Maybe the chemistry between lovers made Digitata and then Lookbook distinct. But, from what I've seen, Morrison's performance dominates every stage she shares, particularly in these two newer projects. It might just be her on stage backed by a rotating cast of dudes and instruments and I can't say I'd notice that much of a difference. The production is often beautiful and the men behind it are essential. But it's Maggie's range of vocal slides and dips and shrieks that make the music distinctive and powerful.
Cecil didn't have to explain why he asked the next guest to participate. Strange Famous founder Sage Francis was the very special unannounced guest, though nobody seemed surprised. As much as you could say he and Cecil have in common, being indie-poet-rappers, their performance and appeal are totally different shapes. Sage is big, physically, and also his theatrics and loud raunchy humor make the stage seem small. Cecil's got this cowboy pace, he gives his jokes time to breathe and smiles and charms. But both write material that is emotional and vulnerable. So the kids in the front row shouting along to Sage's last song, Inherited Scars, were the same ones singing their hearts out to Rebel Yellow.
Cecil broke into his set with a few older songs and then invited Dessa on stage to help him with "Beauty Is So Ugly Sometimes," which, he promised, will be on his forthcoming album. Dessa stayed on for "Little Mercy," their No Kings duet and then for a song Cecil said he was performing for the second time ever.
I don't know the name, but it was sad and quiet and gorgeous. Cecil shared one of those who-could-have-known? moments that I'd been having all night. During the instrumental break he said "This part of the song is an homage to people who had a stutter or have one. I had mine 'til I was 18." He talked about how he was teased throughout his teens, he exposed himself in one of those authentic human moments that make us love this crew. He finished that story simply but triumphantly, "Now I'm a rapper."
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