Arriving late and breathless and stinking of fryer grease (oh, the life of a moonlighting freelancer), I was certain I wouldn’t get in. And sure enough, with the Uptown Bar already at capacity and a line beginning to form at the door, chances seemed slim. Through the bay windows near the interior booths, I could see the crowd, backed up well past the sound booth, standing in rapt attention while Paper Tiger in trademark shades spun a dance set, the bass pulses muted by the mortar that separated us. The fence around the Uptown Bar is waist high, an outright dare to the gatecrasher. I considered vaulting it. But, with the help of a most gracious door man and a little begging, I was grudgingly stamped and whisked out of the cold.
First off, Paper Tiger has an impeccable ear. His talent for building a dance set is a quilter’s talent-- spinning Rockwell and gangsta rap side by side, he kept the crowd up close and personal, occasionally dipping his white sunglasses to look out on them. A strange lack of dancing can be attributed to unusual sobriety and self-awareness (the crowd made getting drinks a nightmare), handicaps that would more than wear away before the night ended.
The first of the night’s unexpected treats was the opening act. After spinning for just under an hour, Paper Tiger scooted his coffin to stage right, revealing a drum kit. Three skinny, hooded figures took the stage, hoisted guitars to their shoulders and tore into a detuned thrash set that approached grind core in its tempo and shrill high-end leanings. The crowd remained, perhaps too paralyzed to move. In a set lasting little longer than 20 minutes, a dozen songs were played. As unceremoniously as they appeared, they left the stage, and the dance music returned.
It was a move that perplexed even the Uptown Bar’s sound man. This act appeared on no poster, and was not noted on his own roster. A little poking and prodding unmasked the drummer, Shawn Walker from Gay Witch Abortion, who’s affiliation with Doomtree goes back to last year’s Blowout at First Avenue, where the noise-metal two piece kept the concert goers company as they waited outside the club for doors to open. Their success this time around was mixed, and the decision to include them on the bill seemed a wink from the seasoned hip-hoppers, who seem always eager to challenge their crowds’ willingness to tag along.
The next surprise was slightly less unexpected. Rather than perform separate sets, P.O.S. and Sims shared the stage, joined for the entire set by crewmate Mike Mictlan. The show opened immediately with Stand Up (Let’s Get Murdered), which, since its release on P.O.S.’s "Audition" in 2006, remains one of the most rousing anthems to arise in the Twin Cities’ hip-hop melting pot. P.O.S. was fast out of the gate, performing the first three songs with such ferocity of attack that he often ran out of breath by the end of his inning. It’s a compliment to him-- it’s a form too often weighed down by the unenthused, and all three performers delivered with immense energy, with Sims’ enthusiasm increasing as the night went on, making his choked delivery all the more urgent and enthralling, and Mictlan striking a typically intense, totemic posture onstage. The effect on the crowd was obvious. The hands didn’t just hang in the air, but pumped all set long, as if the crowd were desperate to deflect some of the sound and fury being cast upon them from the stage.
By the time the set was done, the line to enter was intruding upon Northern Face’s storefront space. The crowd milled, reluctant to leave. P.O.S. and Sims posed for pictures. It was sweaty and overwarm, but with winter coming on and the likelihood of seeing any member of this crew on a stage this intimate becoming slimmer and slimmer, it was an excellent way to break a sweat and go partially deaf over beer and cheap whiskey.