There's a fine line between boredom and confidence, and last night at the Triple Rock, Har Mar Superstar and Kool Keith spent the evening teetering on that razor's edge in a mercurial, uneven show. At times raptly entertaining, at times stunningly flat, both performers seemed to beg the question of themselves: were they letting their well-earned stage presence carry the show, or were they just phoning it in?
There's a follow up question: if you've paid $20 for the privilege of watching them, is there a real difference?
Har Mar Superstar stepped the stage in a flowing crimson shawl. Through the set's first few songs, which included "DUI" and "Cut Me Up" off of The Handler as well as a few cuts from his most recent full length Dark Touches, the whirling dynamo bore an uncomfortable, mesmerizing resemblance to Stevie Nicks. His backing band, which featured Jeff Quinn from local three-piece His Mischief, was dressed in all white, standing as uniform and stately as H & M mannequins.
It became immediately clear that, despite his requisite strip tease, his mandatory headstand, and his mid-song trip to the bar for Jag bombs, this was not the Har Mar Superstar of old. What once seemed audacious stunts now seemed rote routines. When at last he stripped to his underwear, it was clear that he had hardly broken a sweat. And there was hardly a mid-song lip lock to be voyuristically enjoyed. Take this meandering, if technically adept Har Mar back to the Har Mar Supsertar of 2002, and a fist fight would likely break out between the two. Without his usual front-row make outs, what's left to pick up the performative slack?
Tillmann is lucky as hell that his voice hasn't failed him, and that he continues to write pop songs of great daring and inspiration. With the exception of "Creative Juices," a dud from Dark Touches that finds Tillmann running and gunning through a clearance sale of pop culture references, taking pot shots at Swayze and IMDB and exposing his meager hip-hop skills as he goes, Tillmann's songcraft continues to develop (to call the new stuff a maturation would be a perversion of the word--he's still a fat white guy talking about fucking hot women).
Good thing, too--for a few fleeting moments, you could almost be fooled into thinking Tillmann bored of the whole affair.
Kool Keith lived up to every dimension of his singular reputation. After an adequate, poorly received two song intro by Foreign Objects, Keith took the stage in a blue puffy parka and sequined scarf that hid his face in shadow and glare. There was some question as to whether the wildly unpredictable MC would perform at all--in the last decade and a half, Keith has developed a rep for all manner of onstage unpredictabilities.
So, did he play? Yes and no.
The scarf stayed put through the duration of a set that opened with a half hour of Ultramagnetic MCs material, which was mixed into a staggering, sour mash by his DJ, an interruptive hype man who couldn't keep himself out of Keith's rhymes for more than thirty seconds at a time. Less a medley than a train wreck, Keith rarely stayed on one track for more than a minute before bouncing right into the next. It made entreaties to show hands and get some body moving hard to live up to, and the crowd, which packed the floor to the very edge of the stage, stood in rapt, motionless attention for most of the set.
Keith, strangely, lacked all showmanship, even against the backdrop of a lackadaisical Har Mar superstar show, and his was less a dynamic performance than an inert recital. Fortunately for Keith, the majesty of his mere presence was enough to keep the crowd doing his bidding.
It was a mid set rejoinder that turned the show around and seemed to renew Keith's interest in himself and his crowd. Just before a freestyled pornographic rap, Keith asked the following series of questions:
"How many of y'all girls play with y'all clits?"
"How many of you guys sit on the toilet and masturbate?"
"How many of y'all piss in the bed?"
"How many of y'all piss in the kitchen?"
"How many of y'all sit on a hot ass frying pan?"
It was exactly the sort of inscrutable posturing most Kool Keith fans came to see, and for the remainder of the show, the near capacity crowd was his willing, enthusiastic slave. It's just a pitty that they had to wade through a half hour of standstill before Keith's mental traffic jam let up.