As someone who's always had a lot of time for the highly political Boston M.C. Mr Lif, this review isn't gonna be a whole lot of fun to write; not wanting to beat around the bush, let's keep it to three observations:
The sound at Holocene was really quiet.
So it's been a while since my last Holocene show, but the first thing noticed is that apparently it's now possible to conduct a civilized, non-yelled conversation mid-set while standing in the tight confines of the main performance room. That's lovely for our social graces and all but WTF? This is a rap concert, right?! I want bowel-shaking bass and head-splitting tinnitus for days afterward, not a sore neck from craning towards the stage. Surely Holocene is not so timid on club nights, so what's up with that?
Mr. Lif needs El-P's production.
Hurts a little to acknowledge this, but after several spins of new record I Heard It Today
and then this show, it's gotta be admitted: it was a bad move for Lif to branch out from El-P's Definitive Jux stable. The bulk of production duties on previous full-lengths I, Phantom
and Mo' Mega
—both Def Jux releases—were handled by El-P and both were front-loaded with bangers before losing momentum on the second side. Especially in the case of Mo' Mega
, those flip-side missteps were very conspicuously made when El-Ps dense future-funk tracks were swapped for breezy, easier-going beats. Unfortunately it seems that Lif didn't notice the correlation, and in El-P's absence his conspiracy-theory rhymes now sound naked against the lighter musical backdrop. Tonight we get a whole bunch from the new record and just one from its predecessor in the shape of that album's truly heinous low point: a faux-dancehall ode to personal hygiene entitled ”Washitup.” Someone more optimistic might suggest the new material just needs longer to sink in, but I think not, and it's no surprise that the best crowd reception by far comes when “Live From the Plantation,” the solitary offering from I, Phantom
, kicks in.
It sits uneasily watching Mr. Lif preach his radical politics to a bunch of privileged white kids.
Firstly, it's tough not to conclude that Lif's politics are a tad confused when he follows up berating the lack of universal health care by bemoaning a long list of federal taxes—but that's a side-issue. More obviously it slaps you round the face that when he's lambasting the bank bail-out in the new record's best song “What About Us,” the “us” he's referring to (those with "just enough change to ride the motherfucking bus") isn't necessarily the same one that's paid to see him play and open a pricey bar-tab tonight. Yeh, I know, that's not any new insight about the demographics of rap shows, but it's more noticeable than normal when there's such a strident working-class warrior up on the stage. That probably could have been overlooked if I'd been busy losing my shit to the beat, but these things become easier to dwell on when you leave all your best tunes at home.
Photo used courtesy of Mr. Lif