Last of the Record Buyers: Jordan Selbo reviews Big Cats! CD release

Last of the Record Buyers: Big Cats! “Sleep Tapes” CD Release June 19th, 2008 The Dinkytowner Cafe Review by Jordan Selbo Better Than: Being wooed by that jowly dinosaur McCain over in St. Paul A perfect summer day bled into a perfect night to sit in a dank basement to nod the ole noggin and get the ears ringing until the morning. Both legitimized by the heft of established names running the show (with host duties covered by Brandon of Big Quarters and DJ Nikoless on the wheels of steel) and revelatory for the glut of undiscovered talent on display (a quick succession of local, assured beatsmiths), the monthly Last of the Record Buyers is truly a feel-good event that resembles a church meeting more than a concert. A genuine feeling of community fostered nothing but love among both the producers brave enough to showcase their wares and a crowd that clearly appreciated the subtle dopeness of a thick bassline or inventive drumloop. All other differences were devalued in the presence of the one commonality: the love of producing and sharing good hip hop music. Nikoless kept the crowd warm before giving the floor over to B. Allday and a dozen or so CD-R wielding youngsters. Particular highlights from the first part of the night (which actually took up the majority of the proceedings) were the silly “battle” near the end (complete with absolutely harmless trash talk, big up Yacub the Mad Scientist) and the uniformly excellent work on display throughout. I was sure the open-to-anyone format would be hit-and-miss, with plenty of bedroom wannabe producers coming out of the shadows to showoff their tinny computer-honed beats; needless to say, I was way wrong. Whether supreme boom bap, dancehall burners or soulful club anthems, the congregation came correct.

As for the main act, the crowd was hype and Big Cats! didn’t disappoint. Fully taking advantage of the curious array of instruments and equipment strewn about before the show, the short but intense set featured a live bassist, drummer, and keyboardist/saxophonist, with the man of the hour sitting comfortably behind a sample board as if conducting the band through his computer screen. Although the between-song Q&A sessions were superfluous at best (most of the Q’s, written by the audience, were cheeky or nonsensical, leading to most of the A’s being perfunctory and inane—there’s a good reason producers didn’t become MCs and instead let their music do the talking), the general silliness kept pace with the night’s warm vibe. The open format of this regular series (where notable producers are given free reign to present their material as they wish) welcomes innovation, and BC!’s first noted use of live instruments was certainly that, as the band noodled, jammed, cohered and grooved around a handful of “Sleep Tapes” cuts. The airy arrangements left plenty of room for “General” Dave’s drumming to control the slow-rolling momentum, even giving the sax a few chances to get all sexy, while BC! plunked his fingers up and across his sound board like a prodigy pianist first discovering his chosen instrument and his brother took the bass for a few long walks. Not just a promotion for the album, the novel mash-up truly (re-)created the LP’s sampled sounds with the ramshackle band enhancing and expanding upon the guts of the compositions. The set was noteworthy in its brevity, with the crowd still willing to pay homage and the night still young and eager for more beats to saturate its inky emptiness. Taking the effective strategy to always leave ‘em wanting more, Big Cats! and his co-horts held it down for a hot minute, leaving the less glamorous but essential work (to K.I.M.) for the night’s two hosts, who matched a willingness to display deference to the next man with a classy and professional presentation. For all those who dismiss hip hop as being lewd, disrespectful and belligerent, turn off the fugging radio and come vibe with some good folk making great beats, where dancing like an idiot (indicating a reflexive appreciation for someone’s work in real-time) is actively encouraged; you may just find a new place of worship and you don’t even have to confess.

Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: Sitting in a dark room that smells of stale beer, listening to a seemingly endless array of beats coming through a righteous sound system just puts me in a real happy place; if I was a religious man, visions of paradise could be far worse. Yet I suspect some people might find the experience more tedious than thrilling.

Random Detail: The surrealistic, postmodern video collage assembled for the show and projected onto the stage background had some unsavvy operators on the controls, but the numerous stops and starts only added to its random local access at 3am vibe and may have even contributed to its effectiveness in evoking dream states.

By the way: Next month’s Last of the Record Buyers showcase features the talents of the Check & Balance crew, plus a gang of other undoubtedly talented (and largely unrecognized) local talent. Mark your calendars for July 17th, don’t sleep!

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