Friday Night: Sage Francis & B. Dolan at Fitzgerald's

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Sage Francis, B. Dolan, Thurogood Fitzgerald's April 27, 2012

The last time Sage Francis came through Houston, he played at the House of Blues' Bronze Peacock room. In case you aren't familiar, Sage is a heavily antiestablishment rapper with a stiff shot of anticorporatism thrown in, so needless to say the Bronze Peacock with its $9 Shiner Bocks and Citibank merchant booths was not a great fit.

Friday, he played at Fitzgerald's, and the difference was immediately palpable.

The vibe of the place was much more suitable, not just from the fact that the lighting is better and there's not as much asinine art on the walls, but from the audience. Simply put, kids who love music go to Fitzgerald's.

Nearly everyone in the crowd was singing along, and we've seen no better example of what a difference an audience full of true fans makes, as opposed to the ever-present cluster of brosephs at the House of Blues who evidently are only there to eat overpriced appetizers, guzzle expensive Bud Light and yell drunkenly at the artists.

Unlike last time, Sage didn't have to tell anybody to shut the fuck up. Venue: Yep, it's that important.

A rapper named Thurogood opened up, and apologized for starting his show ten minutes late. If you regularly attend hip-hop shows, you know this is a pretty goddamned hilarious thing to apologize for. Rocks Off is not familiar with Thurogood [check here -- ed.], and his set was pretty brief, but all in all he did a fine job of waking everybody up and getting them primed for the headliners.

That's what an opener does, right?

B. Dolan was next. Having seen him twice now, we can say that we've seen few performers capable of switching from playful and amiable to truly scary in such a rapid and natural way. Chatting with him before his set (and talking up Houston's own B L A C K I E as a potential opener), we found Dolan to be as nice a guy as you could ever meet, and that carries over to his onstage persona.

His skill, however, lies in tempering this niceness with savage, biting lyrics that run the gamut between absurdist humor and apocalyptic tragedy. He took the stage with a hangman's noose around his neck, which was a humorous accessory...right up until the point that it wasn't.

Every now and then, he would shift from court jester to cackling demon, laughing at the doomed world instead of with it. It was engrossing as hell, to say the least.

He also yanked a guy up on stage for maybe the goofiest dance battle Rocks Off has ever seen, so it wasn't all dramaturgy. Go see this guy if you get a chance, seriously. Performers like this are few and far between.

Of course the main attraction was Sage Francis, a favorite of the independent hip-hop circuit. Last time, Sage came with a live backing band, which while fun to watch, limited his set list. There's only so many songs a band you've never toured with before will have time to learn. This time, it was just Sage and his backing tape, and it was really all he needed.

He grabbed the audience right off the bat, launching into older material from Personal Journals and even Makeshift Patriot and Sick of Waging War. Also significantly represented were his two most popular albums, A Healthy Distrust and Human the Death Dance, as if to make up for the fact that so few songs were played from each during his last visit.

Indeed, only one track from 2010's Li(f)e made it onto the set list, cementing Sage's desire to reconnect with an audience that may not have even caught him on his last trip through Houston.

Sage kept the proceedings lively, engaging in the occasional moment of banter but keeping things rolling along at a quick but not hurried pace. B. Dolan came out towards the end of the set to help out on one new song and one old one: "Damage," a classic from Sage's days as half of rap duo Non-Prophets.

And did the kids at Fitz recognize it? Yes, they did. Would the people at House of Blues have recognized it? Not bloody likely.

Sage's set list was about 45 minutes longer than last time, and he made damn sure we all got our money's worth. After the show, both performers hung out at the merch table as they had before the show, chatting and taking pictures with fans.

The atmosphere was so relaxed and positive it nearly defies description. After the politicians and preachers and celebrities received their sound lyrical beatings onstage, the rest of us were treated to a little reassurance and warmth.

The calm after the storm, but with none of that tiresome rebuilding.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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