Friday Night: Aesop Rock at Fitzgerald's
It was a characteristically hot August night in the H on Friday, but I'd wager that no place was hotter than the upstairs room at Fitzgerald's. The club was crowded with sweating hip-hop heads anticipating hot rhymes, hot beats and maybe even a haircut or two from San Francisco's indie-rap icon Aesop Rock.
The bearded MC is rushing across the country these days performing and promoting Skelethon, the new album that finds him doing all of the writing, rhyming and production himself for the first time.
The assemblage at Fitz was anxious to hear the new songs live, but Aesop didn't come alone. Openers Dark Time Sunshine, featuring MC Onry Osbourne and DJ Zavala, warmed the crowd up by chilling them out. The duo's music is gentle and introspective -- headphones rap. The deep sound collages produced by Zavala had an almost ethereal quality, approaching something akin to new-age hip hop.
It wasn't quite trippy, and it wasn't quite danceable. Basically, it was rap you could do your homework to. The crowd seemed to dig it, obliging Osbourne's repeated commands to put their hands up "from the back."
A bigger buzz went through the room as the next act, Edison, set his gear up. Edison is an instrumental hip-hop artist who plays a 256-button minimalist music controller called a Monome. The audience, not quite sure what it was seeing, was mesmerized as Edison's fingers danced across the large keypad, lighting up buttons in sequence to create beats and clicking them off again.
It was certainly unlike any hip-hop performance I've ever seen; it didn't seem possible that so many sounds could be coming out of a small box that looked like Steve Wozniak put together in his garage.
As it turned out, the Monome was hooked up to a laptop with what I can only assume was a pretty badass soundcard. Edison kept the crowd engaged between songs with little observations from his life, from his frustration with San Francisco public transportation to disappointment that slick new Lego Star Wars sets weren't available when he was a child. Each time he started pressing buttons, the crowd was nearly spellbound. The amount of practice time it must take to memorize the precise patterns he punched into the machine has got to be outrageous.
Edison brought local rapper Evak onstage for a rap over his beats in a nice moment, but the real showstopper in the set was his last track, a beat battle between the Monome master and a former Houstonian, DJ Big Whiz -- Aesop's turntablist. It could have gone on a lot longer than it did without any complaints from the crowd.