Twin Cities rap crew Doomtree threw their first-ever Doomtree Zoo festival Saturday at CHS Field. Our discerning critic, outfitted with little more than his notebook and his dichotomous appraisal system, explored the all-day Zoo's pros and cons. Here are his sprawling, scientific findings.
Koo Koo Kanga Roo
Liked: Booking Koo Koo Kanga Roo to set an early vibe of pure unadulterated jubilance was a good call by the event’s organizers. The interactive dance-party twosome connected early with kids and the kids trapped inside of us all with songs about ninjas, dinosaurs, sandwiches, and boogers. Whatever the radical political agenda I’m certain these guys are harboring, the hypnotic method with which they deliver it is fun to participate in.
Disliked: Shortly after I entered the grounds on Saturday, I received a “breakup” text which is a funny way to begin all-day festival. I’m going to elide a lot of details here other than that I responded to the text with a photo of an exasperated Lucille Bluth I found on the internet (as one is wont to do in 2015) before seeking refuge in the emotional fortress a CHS Field hot dog provides.
Liked: Aby Wolf’s bleating, full-body gesticulations are held together in a sturdy cage of beats produced by local songsmith Grant Cutler and reinforced live by jack-of-all-trades Martin Dosh. This provided the first evidence of what was technically perfect sound execution on the main stage throughout. Wolf comes equipped with some nice pipes that produced a few interesting moments at an event that happened.
Disliked: Some of the slower moments of Wolf’s set made me lament the fact that CHS field wasn’t serving coffee. Coming off the high-wire, (probably) drug-fueled energy of Koo Koo Kanga Roo’s set, Wolf’s seemed a bit sluggish at times. It was during these moments that I first noticed a woman lying in the grass, reading The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which is rated 3.5 stars on Amazon. However impressive it may be to concentrate on reading while shout-to-communicate sound is blasting around you, reading at a concert is never OK. In fact, I disliked it.
Liked and disliked: At most concerts, it’s considered a faux pas to wear clothing that corresponds with the act you’re seeing.
I’m not sure when this was writ into the contract of music fandom, but it’s a thing and you’ll be reminded of it by courteous cool kids at rock clubs. Wearing the merch of a band not performing? Totally cool as long as the band on your shirt is cool or rests within the boundaries of tasteful irony. Imagine if this same logic was enforced by fans at sporting events. That would be really confusing!
One place the strangely pervasive Law of Rock Shirt does not exist is at a Doomtree concert, where the group’s fans are eager to show off their gear. I’m guessing this and a few of the bizarre handsigns I witnessed are a way of showing status within the cult.
It was impressive to see, in addition to the many T’s deigning time of indoctrination, the amount of handmade Doomtree gear, the surest sign of true dedication. However, and I hate to nitpick, but some of this homemade gear wasn’t up to snuff. Those who used magic marker on their vests looked a little flimsy next to those who went for stitching.
Some people looked like they may have been making their clothes on the free bus rides over. Of course, fashionistas, lazy = tacky. If you’re going to make clothes to show your support for your local rap crew, go all in or wear something else. At worst, you’ll look crazy and be granted a wider range of movement in the pit.
Liked: The Seattle rap outfit was a definite high point of the day. Their music is psychedelic and free-forming with the vocals buried into the bubbling wall of sound between bongo beats. I don’t smoke weed but the people around me did, and they were all, “This is a really great time to imbibe in my hobby of weed smoking.”
Disliked: I couldn’t understand a word the MC was rapping due to the placement of his vocals in the mix. Having spent some time with the group’s records, I was hoping the live setting would push vocalist Palaceer Lazaro’s words above the beat. Not the case. Dude could be rapping Starbucks fall drink menu for all I know.
Open Mike Eagle
Liked: Hilarious Lenny Kravitz dick joke in the middle of a sometimes thoughtful, sometimes very funny set. Who knew the summer’s greatest (NSFW!) .gif would still be slaying in October?
Disliked: That woman is still reading her book like she’s at some hip café and not on the field of a music festival. How very awful she must be to know.
Liked: My heart loosened a bit when the women of the choir did their bare-bones piano and vocal cover of American standard “Tonight You Belong to Me.” To take it over the top “aww”-wise, the Heart of the Beast Theater waved bee puppets in the air and singer Nona Marie made a bee pun with the song's title. Can you guess what it was?
Also, their cover of Radiohead’s “No Surprises” was incredible. Hearing dystopian non-sequiturs like “a job that slowly kills you, bruises that won’t heal” and “I’ll take the quiet life, a handshake of carbon-monoxide” roll out of their beautiful mouths was exactly what I needed to counterbalance the hot dog incident from earlier in the day.
Disliked: So what makes them anonymous? Are they anonymous compared to Nona Marie now that she's pals with TV on the Radio? That seems rude, Nona. The choir have to learn all those words. Don’t denigrate them.
To avoid further confusion with the name, here are a few tips: The choir could perform with their back to the audience so we couldn’t see their faces. Or: They could all wear ski-masks. Or: They could all get facial reconstructive surgery that would give the appearance of sameness. That would be so fucked up!
Liked: There’s a lot of sloganeering in hip-hop. Little phrases that come to occupy a greater place in culture. I’d provide an example, but I’m sure there’s already one rolling around your head. Sure, there’s a certain amount of “fun” in these innocuous little phrases, but I’ve grown less and less impressed with them as so many rappers seem to be more in the business of putting out a well-packaged slogan than an actual rhyme.
If rappers don’t want to be businessmen but a business, man, the business is advertising. And advertising is whack, dog. (Trust me, I listen to the Sex Pistols.) That said, every now and then one of these things still manages to worm its way into my soul. When it happens it’s not even against my better judgement, but like a chemical reaction that turns my mind into pudding.
When Serengeti came out (a second time, as alter-ego Kenny Dennis) anticipation was high for his great Kenny Dennis III single “No Beginner” and its brilliant interior slogan. The chorus, nay, mantra being, “Hot dog for lunch, hot dog for dinner / Don’t eat breakfast, I am no beginner.” It’s amazing because it’s true and you can identify with it. YODO!
Disliked: The small stage had a few sound issues but none more obvious than the feedback glitches that interrupted Serengeti’s set. Due to the already pretty strict time constraints, our man ‘Geti was only able to do two songs in character, neither of which were “No Beginner.”
One poetic moment did occur during a fallow period in the marred set. While DJ Andrew Broder futzed with some XLR cables trying to find the source of the sound problem, Koo Koo Kangaroo could be heard enticing the audience of their pop-up set to chant “everybody poops.” Synchronicity in the universe. Shit happens.
Liked: The stage banter speaks for itself. Here are some quotes I pulled from my notebook: “Get on your friends heads, I wanna see chaos. Chaos!”; “Pretend like this is the first music you ever heard. Go fucking crazy!”; "I want you all to bang your heads and try to break your fucking necks.” Children at the festival were referred to as “little fucks.”
Disliked: All of Trash Talk’s songs sound the same. When they shouted out Dillinger Four, I wondered if the festival didn’t overthink itself in booking so many national acts when sometimes equitable (and in the case of Trash Talk/D4, superior) groups could have simply been driven across the river. Sure, the scene here can be a little circle-jerk-y sometimes, but what happens when the audience longs for that familiar tug?
In that same vein, I saw Lizzo walking around the grounds a few times and was a little disappointed she wasn’t on the bill. I know having disparate performers made the event more “Zoo-like” but it’s hard to imagine Lizzo not being a better choice than the garbage-thrash of Trash Talk. Also hard to imagine: Lizzo calling children at the festival “little fucks.”
Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic
Liked: The real draw here was the DJ, who killed it on the circle spinnies. Tons of great skreachy-doos and wub-wubs on the flippy dials.
Disliked: Saw both ends of the party spectrum during Aesop’s set. I myself “never touch the stuff” but I’ve been around long enough to know how it’s done. On one end, this is when my plus-one admitted to being drunk. All I saw him drink were two $8 beers and I only saw the bottle of Fireball he snuck in when it was down to the last nip. This amazed me as we had been together all day. The guy is like the Harry Houdini of boozing.
And the party-foul: I saw a guy stumble through the crowd then spill half of one of his two beers all over his girlfriend. After a mumbled non-apology (“the grass is wet”) he handed his girlfriend the half-spilt beer. Dog, you gotta give her the full one. Also, you’re too good for him. Also, if you’re reading this I’m single.
Liked: This was a fantastic, one-of-a-kind event and one that could only have been hosted by Doomtree. As a Cool Guy, I’m driven by some honor code not to like the mega-popular local group, but their charisma was undeniable. I was forced to reckon with the fact that whatever my misgivings, the production was awesome in the true sense of the word. If I was 18 and growing up in the Twin Cities, I probably would have had a homemade jacket, too.
The MVPs of the set were pretty easily P.O.S (the most talented rapper in the group) and Mike Mictlan, who, as always, was the most game. This was most obvious on the P.O.S solo track “Get Down” which features Mictlan and absolutely brought down the house.
Lofty, abstract Disliked (or is it a "Liked"?): A funny thing happened toward the end of Doomtree’s set at the group’s massive, bewildering, and aptly named Zoo at CHS. I was doing some freewriting in the old Moleskine, soaking in my surrounds. For example: “Who keeps farting? and “Is the guy in the P.O.D. T-shirt making a joke? Brilliant.”
My last note concerned #rapgod and local media sacred cow, Dessa. I smiled an empty little music journalist smile (closer to a sneer in appearance) and chortled hideously, quite pleased with myself and my clever note. Right then a young woman in front of me turned to her friends and squealed with delight, “Dessa is just the best!” The exact same thing I had just written down, but with praise in place of the common pejorative which ended my statement.
But here we were on the same soggy baseball field experiencing the same event. Right then a chill went down my reptilian spine and something occurred to me that had never before considered.
Follow me here: Perhaps contrary to everything I’ve learned up to this point about being hip and cool, maybe the things I like and the things I don’t like, my preferences artistic and otherwise, are less indicative of my human worth than I’ve been led to believe. Perhaps liking Joy Division doesn’t make me any better off than if I were a Blake Shelton devotee.
Or, what if the things I like and don’t like don’t actually say anything about me? What if they have more to do with arbitrary circumstances like sibling order, the region I live in, and the language I speak?
What if my proximity to record stores growing up, hours spent watching MTV, the people I’ve dated and their (equally arbitrary) set of proclivities have more to do with what I like and don’t like than the strange taste altruism I’ve assigned myself with? What if I’ve spent my whole life building pointless barriers between myself and the people around me based on the fact that they might be into some bogus bullshit?
Who the fuck am I even?!