The fifth and final Best Love Is Free occupied both the First Avenue Mainroom and the 7th St. Entry in its biggest iteration yet this past Saturday night. Botzy, who was both hosting the evening and performing with his new project VAYNS, looked dapper in his gray tux. Along with him, a wide range of acts made the night one to remember.
See Also: Slideshow: The Best Love is Free 5 at First Avenue
Providence, Rhode Island's Symmetry kicked things off in the Entry with a rap set that highlighted his tight, melodic flow over beats by producers like Ryan Lewis and Budo. Opening with a quickly rapped yet down-tempo tune about his experiences struggling with and surrounded by addiction, the set maintained the introduction's heaviness but cut through it with a light approach that rarely felt in-your-face. With many out-of-owners on the bill, the show served as a great introduction to a wide variety of artists, and the setlists in both the Mainroom and the Entry were well-spaced so the crowd could dip between acts and likely catch everything.
's return to the big stage found him in great form after performing at last month's Best New Bands concert. His movements were spontaneous and manic at times but largely he played it cool, keeping his energy subdued and the focus on the raps. There's a number of ideas lurking inside Allan's music, and the best moments found him bursting at the seams expressing them. The delivery veers into Chance the Rapper's sing-songy chop-rap on occasion, but the wordplay and topics feel uniquely his. It's evident that Allan will progress in directions that will defy any comparison.
After Allan's set closed, Botzy returned to the stage but with a full band behind him this time for the debut of his collaboration with producer and singer MunQs, collectively known as VAYNS
. The band featured MunQs electronic production underneath live guitar, bass, drums, and two backup singers. Botzy and MunQs' dual lead vocalist duties incorporated a number of different musical influences and managed to filter them into a big, cohesive sound that felt stadium-ready and massive. Ashley DuBose and Sophia Eris made cameo appearances on a few songs and bolstered the energy even further. A very successful first run at a new project, VAYNS made a solid introduction and stands to propel even further.
Back in the Mainroom, Brooklyn's K. Flay played to a captivated and enthusiastic audience. Amplifying her self-produced beats with help from a live drummer, K. Flay's performance found the middle ground between her humble personality and her energetic material. As she moved between rapping, singing, drumming, and working the mixing board, she displayed an impressive array of skills that retained a downplayed subtlety. Rapping over Weezer's "Say It Ain't So" was a bit of an easy audience-grab, but it worked remarkably well and made for a big finale to her tight performance.
In the Entry, Psalm One stole the show with an amazing performance as Hologram Kizzie
, running through a range of new material that pushed in bold new directions and sounded incredible live. Backed by the pink-haired Fluffy, Psalm One touted an effortless swagger that brought life to the forward-thinking songs about sex, violence, and power dynamics.
The beats felt very modern, moving away from the boom-bap inspired tracks that defined her earlier work, and the audience responded to the upbeat sounds with boisterous dancing and loud cheers. Psalm One powered through a long set teaming with laid-back enthusiasm and an experienced control of the microphone. Often times songs would occupy a space between singing and rap, and her voice tackled it with ease and encouraged active crowd participation. The set was a standout of the evening.
The final performance of the night was Astronautalis in the Mainroom, who recently returned from touring New Zealand and Australia. He brought his well-traveled charisma to a large audience of fans, many of whom were singing lyrics back and swaying in time to the rhythms of his backing guitarist and drummer. He worked his way through a number of new songs, cutting in-between with his trademark stage banter and anecdotes.
Instead of pulling topics from audience suggestions, Astronautalis dedicated his usual mid-set freestyle to the late Big L, who was murdered 15 years ago that night. In a touching tribute to the MC that helped inspire him early on, Astronautalis displayed his impressive freestyle abilities by detailing his own relationship with L's music early on and the influence it would have on future generations of rappers, all to the tune of Trinidad James's "Tonk for the Money."
Finally, the balloons that had loomed above the crowd all night (and sporadically popped here and there) were released and the party came to an epic conclusion. An excellent send-off to a fantastic series of parties: Best Love, you will be missed.
Personal Bias: I like shows with a variety of acts, and this one was pretty tightly run, which is nice for someone trying to capture everything. I intended to catch the set of another new group, False Teeth, in the Entry, but their set ran a bit earlier than advertised and all I got the chance to see was the giant piles of confetti strewn across the dance floor. Seemed like it was a chaotic and impressive set from accounts I read later.
Random Notebook Dump: Astronautalis asserted Big L as a predecessor to Odd Future and other new wave devil rap, an astute observation.
The Crowd: Nice to see a number of people take the opportunity to dress up. As is the tradition, free compilation CDs were handed out to everyone, and special-edition Best of Best Love vinyl albums highlighting the mixes of previous years were given to the first people who showed up.
Overheard in the Crowd: Someone really appreciated that K. Flay was wearing her grandma's T-shirt.
The River, the Woods
This Is Our Science
Big L Freestyle