With Villa Rosa & Greg Grease
The Cabooze, Minneapolis
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Marxist hip-hop must be a tough flag to march under. Embracing strong political ideals while simultaneously attempting to carve out a large enough fanbase to support their art couldn't have led to a lot of fun van conversations. But yet here the Coup are in 2012 with a new album Sorry to Bother You, six years and one nearly fatal tour bus crash later. By the way, that new album is a actually a soundtrack to a forthcoming film of the same name, written and directed by Coup mastermind Boots Riley. Just to set you up. Good news is, Boots and company are still as incisive as ever, delivering their trademark East Bay funk sound with a surprisingly punk rock flair.
Warming up the crowd before the rest of his band was touring keyboardist Kev Choice was a fun change of pace. Apparently a scholar of music, the Oakland native made the most out of a pretty indifferent crowd with capable verses and some occasional classical piano interludes. After vamping on one after a minute or so, Choice leaned back from the piano and remarked "You know, you gotta show respect to the greats... Schubert and all that shit." Then proceeded to riff on Charlie Parker and Nas ("The World is Yours"), paying homage with a natural charm.
The rest of the Coup band, made up of some great names like B'nai Rebelfront on guitar, J.J. Jungle on bass and Hassan Hurd on drums. Immediately, something way different than the rubber band P-funk of their earlier material starts to happen. The band rips into a keyboard driven, definitely rock intro. It's a tough sound to categorize, there's a marked influence of hard rock in a Living Colour vein, but with the more modern hip-hop sensibility of groups like the Roots. Boots Riley hits the stage soon after, tearing into "Strange Arithmetic," a demand for teachers to "stand up, tell us how to flip this system" off of Sorry to Bother You.
Boots Riley manages pull off lyrics like that and still rock a party because the man is just dripping with charisma. Splitting the difference between Iggy Pop-esque rockstar energy and bonafide MC skills, Boots prowls the stage until the hook comes in and he's in the air, willing the crowd to jump and get live with seemingly endless stamina. Enough of the crowd seemed familiar with new single "The Magic Clap" to make it the first real banger of the night, and the live punk take on its percussive beat got a serious response. Boots doesn't get all the credit for this though, as The Coup's new secret weapon Silk-E, a dominating Chaka Khan like figure that matched the frontman toe to toe on physicality and personality all night long. The pair had an effortless chemistry, and I hope we'll see her on even more material in the future.
For a band that's deeply rooted in the active advocacy of Occupy Oakland, the Coup kept speechifying to a refreshing minimum during the set. Boots seems happy to let the messages of his songs do the heavy lifting, keeping the in-between song banter mostly centered around getting a party atmosphere happening. When the spirit moved him, Riley manifested his beliefs with this simple statement: "The people should democratically control the wealth they create through labor." Following with a call for action "the best way to change the world is to engage with the world, so if you're standing against the wall while everybody else is dancing, you ain't really at the Coup concert."
The Coup are also really funny. Boots seemed to enjoy playing with the earnest crowd, pitching Party Music classic "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO" as a cover of a traditional song that he had been inspired to perform after performances by Harriet Tubman, Joe Hill, and Paul Robeson. Even the band's somewhat desperate finances in the wake of their tour bus accident were fair game for a little black humor. Riley closed a sincere thank-you to the fans who supported their Kickstarter program to purchase a new bus with a bit about the Coup needing to take on a corporate sponsor to make up some of their shortcomings. He even endured a few boos before introducing their new sponsor as "Ass Breath Killers", a song off 2006 record Pick a Bigger Weapon.
More standouts included the group's breakout hit "Me & Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Grenada Last Night", which married one of Boots' best storytelling verses with a new kickass rock treatment, the rapper bellowing "MINNEAPOLIS! DO YOU WANNA RIDE TONIGHT?" over Rebelfront's shredding guitar. Some of the group's newer material seemed to breathe more in the live setting, especially "You Are Not a Riot", a critique of aesthetic rebellion that felt much more convincing and necessary with the band's urgent playing. Silk-E also deserves another mention here for working every single bit of energy that she could out of Tuesday night at The Cabooze on her solo guest feature. Headbanging, kneeling, roaring and, yes, even rapping, the woman was a total dynamo, working the crowd up for the closer "Laugh/Love/Fuck", a deeply funky alt radio hit, which transitioned into an extended band-introduction-and-solo segment to finish the night.
The Coup barely left the stage before their encore began, and seemed justifiably tired for the bonus two, still managing to inject night-ender "Ride the Fence" with some seriously smokin' drums and one of my personal favorite Boots Riley performances of the night. Bring the show to a close for a second time with a thunderous Keith Moon crash-out, Hassan Heard and the rest of the Coup band played their frontman offstage in the classic soul-revue fashion, with a small twist. Rather than waving and stepping back into the curtains, Boots jumped forward into the crowd, shaking hands and exchanging hugs with his flock, perfectly encapsulating the night's mix of strident protest music and warm, funky humanism.
We are the Ones
The Magic Clap
5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO
My Favorite Mutiny
Land of 7 Billion Dances
Ass Breath Killers
Me & Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Grenada Last Night
You are not a Riot
Silk-E Solo Joint (didn't catch the name)
Ride the Fence
Only a passing fan of the Coup's bigger singles before tonight, the show definitely cemented me as a diehard believer.
The Crowd: A pretty diverse mix for a TC hip-hop show, with a couple of anarcho and crust punks in attendance in addition to the usual Cabooze "fringe" regulars.
Overheard in the Crowd: More than one fan vocally missed the presence of Coup DJ Pam the Funkstress, who stopped touring with the band in 2006.
Random Notebook Dump: Now that the Cabooze is starting to book more hip-hop shows, it really ought to go the extra mile upgrade its sound-system and make them more bearable. Silk-E pointed out the problem with her trademark swag: "Now do I gotta talk dirty to the sound man to get my mic right for this next one?"