B L A C K I E, Abdu Ali, Kilbourne, Biz Vicious, First Ward Sound
October 30, 2015
I’d never seen B L A C K I E perform live before Friday night, but I knew enough about the man to head into Fitzgerald’s with no expectations about what I might see and hear. The pioneering Houston noise/rap artist has dabbled in a diverse assortment of strange sounds over the years, from hip-hop to jazz to flat-out apocalyptic audio trauma.
The only real through line connecting his disparate work has been its remarkable intensity, and that’s been enough to attract a weird, worldwide fanbase of musical explorers. What exactly would we get from him on a soggy Devil’s Night on the Bayou? Would he break off some of the hip-hop stylings from his new release, Black Blades, Vol. 1? Would he simply blast us with squalls of pure, evil noise? It was impossible to predict, and a lot of fun to anticipate.
There was a lengthy bill of odd music to get through on Friday to find out what B L A C K I E had in store for us. Kicking off the proceedings were local MacBook pros First Ward Sound, who offered up a relatively chill array of deconstructed beats. Notes sagged and melted as if under the influence of powerful psychotropics, making it difficult for the gathering fans to nod their heads properly to the beat. Instead, we all simply sort of gawped as the collective took turns behind the laptop array. A rapper appeared halfway through their set to add some Southside flavor to the proceedings, and folks finally started to warm up a little.
Biz Vicious was up next, delivering tight rhymes over electronic bleeps. The backing tracks blasting out of his iPhone were mostly without any snare, lending a strangely primitive foundation to his futuristic, electronic sound. Clad in cosmic leggings and a bright, neon V-neck, Biz felt comfortable getting deep and dark with us, hollering out repeated phrases like “Every night I dream I die; I wake up disappointed!” while his friends and fam hooted and bounced right along.
Things only got crunker from there, with Kilbourne turning in a hard-hitting set of techno-influenced party-rock on her computer. People were starting to feel their drinks by now, milling about and bopping around in front of the familiar downstairs stage. Local rap luminary Fat Tony was among them, right up front, and his pal B L A C K I E was hanging out, too, banging his head with tightly shut eyes for the next artist up, Abdu Ali.
B L A C K I E’s influence on the Baltimore-based MC felt clear from the get-go, what with the lyrical screaming and the future-punk trappings to the music. But Abdu Ali certainly has his own scent — loud, bangin’ and unabashedly queer. After bounding tirelessly from one end of the stage to the next, he knelt down in the crowd and yelled his lyrics into the mike as if he were afraid God might not hear his prayers otherwise. His blood vessels bulged as he repeated “But I exist!” over and over again. Amid such spectacle, there was really no choice but to agree with him.
Finally, close to 1 a.m., B L A C K I E began to set up his gear. The relatively small crowd had already thinned a bit — it was pretty dang late, and the sky had opened up into a disconcerting monsoon outside. Eschewing the stage altogether, B L A C K I E produced four totemic PA speakers and proceeded to soundcheck a bass guitar and a goddamned saxophone right there on the floor. Those of us who remained there in the dark couldn’t help excitedly muttering to one another that shit was clearly about to get even weirder.
Finally, his set began. A primal thunder rumbled out of his rig — not drums, exactly. Just punishing, rhythmic bass. As loud, jazzy saxophone blared from the PA, B L A C K I E added to the cacophony with the self-same instrument, his cheeks puffing obscenely as he blew as hard as he could. The noise was simply devastating. Muscles tensed and eyes closed all around him as he screamed pure pain into the microphone. This wasn’t hip-hop. It wasn’t jazz. It was hurt, anger, pride and a dozen other potent emotions distilled into outrageously loud and affecting noise. This was what we came for.
B L A C K I E switched between the sax, the mike and distorted bass as the onslaught continued. Looking a bit worse for the wear, one young dude simply collapsed near the front of the crowd, his possible less-than-sober brain overwhelmed by the sonic overload. For his part, B L A C K I E kept his back to us at all times, facing the stage before him. It made him feel a bit like a part of the audience, but whatever this music was that he was producing was obviously very personal to him.
The single piece went on for more than 20 minutes before it ground to a crushing halt. Then, silence. The only sounds in the place were the bathroom stall doors slamming. B L A C K I E closed his eyes. He rubbed his hair. Was he thinking? Feeling? Praying? It was impossible to tell. Then he bent down and started unplugging his stuff. “Thanks for coming out,” he told us, and that was it — one long, bizarre piece of music, and his night was through.
I can think of many local music fans who would have felt completely insulted by what they’d heard. A little screaming and some amateur saxophone playing? What a gyp! And it was incredibly strange, no doubt. But B L A C K I E’s fans weren’t pissed off. They were even a little giddy. There was no name for the music they’d just experienced. And the experience was all that mattered.
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Personal Bias: A tad too forgiving, perhaps.
The Crowd: Small but dedicated.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Thank you Jesus for B L A C K I E!”
Random Notebook Dump: The only artwork in the whole of Fitzgerald’s currently appears to be a tiny drawing of Stevie Ray Vaughan behind the downstairs bar. Not what I would’ve chosen, I must say.