DANNY BROWN AT THE MAIN STAGE
Before Detroit's finest MC, Danny Brown (Em who?), even hit the stage, your correspondent got slammed into by a sprinting security guard who was chasing a young man who'd obviously done something very bad. So if my observations for this set come off as a bit scatterbrained, that's why.
Anyway, Brown's DJ Skylar warmed up the crowd with Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," which segued smoothly into the dankly funky "Die Like a Rockstar." Brown and Skylar moved quickly and adeptly through much of the newest album, Atrocity Exhibition (on Warp!), one of the odder hiphop records of recent times, animated as it is by samples from Guru Guru, Delia Derbyshire, Godley & Creme, Pulsallama, and other unlikely sources. Brown's an aesthete of raw-ass tales of debauchery, spit in a frantic yawp that he wields like a weirdly tuned drum. His tracks' rough, off-center productions—did you catch that This Heat sample in "Adderall Admiral"?—somehow still rock a party... or a big festival main stage, as the case may be.
One drawback: There's not much variation to Brown's flow, so it can be wearying to hear it for longer than 40 minutes at a time. But dude is a pro who doesn't waste valuable stage time with crowd-participation BS. He did stoop to telling the crowd to "make some motherfuckin' noise," but mostly he provoked said motherfuckin' noise through the sheer dint of his performance. What a concept.
After the set, as we were walking away from the stage, a beefy white guy shouted, "I'M FUCKED UP!" He wasn't the only one.
NEWAXEYES AT NEUMOS
If your music's making basic suburbanites scatter in the first few minutes of your set, you know you're on the right path. Such was the case with Seattle quartet Newaxeyes on CHBP's final day. Many heads were not ready for the Sturm und Drang clamor of the gods these guys were summoning in the middle of a sunny afternoon. So long, suckers. For the rest of us, Newaxeyes delivered another seminar on why they're possibly this city's most exciting band.
In recent months, Newaxeyes have accrued a heavier, more metallic sound, encroaching on territory laid down by fellow Washingtonians Wolves in the Throne Room, but bolstered by complex, savage beat programming courtesy of Bret Gardin.
Much of Newaxeyes' set consisted of overwhelming, brutalist art rock laced with Gardin's mercurially adroit, glancingly funky drum-machine beats. Sometimes it sounded like David Bowie's "Warszawa" hit with a nuclear missile. Another piece featured bassist Jordan Rundle's "Careful with That Axe, Eugene"-like scream amid clusterbombastic metallic guitar so dense it was practically ambient. (The Sunn O))) effect.) One newish avant-electro song boasted an absolutely sick bass tone, rippling with mutant funk DNA in the vein of Renegade Soundwave or prime-time Meat Beat Manifesto. Newaxeyes closed with "Assange," the A-side of their debut 12-inch, and its wonderfully melancholy guitar motif already seems classic, like a profound lament for the death of optimism.
BAD TENANTS AT NEUMOS
Bad Tenants are spearheading Revenge of the Nerds rap. One MC—who also plays trombone—looks like Michael Douglas circa Falling Down; the other rapper looks like comedian Ian Karmel and plays sax and sings with credible R&B bravado. Along with a woman backing vocalist, a deft scratch DJ, and a trumpeter, Bad Tenants manifest a lot of feel-good energy with their old-school rap and rhythm & blues, their funky af beats knocking as hard as EPMD's. "We're trying to cram a lifetime's worth of experience into 30 minutes," the Michael Douglas dude said near the end of the show, and Bad Tenants' aspirational work ethic and obvious skills portend pretty major things for them. With a couple of breaks, they could be as big as 3rd Bass.
SELECT LEVEL AT THE CHA CHA
Select Level features two members of soul-jazz psychonauts Afrocop (bassist/vocalist Andy Sells and keyboardist Noel Brass Jr.), but they work in a much more straight-ahead, extroverted vein. What Select Level peddle is sophisticated party music executed by top-flight musicians. Sells and Brass Jr. take a holiday in yacht disco and exposed-chest-hair funk that would go down as a treat in an opening slot for !!!.
Suggestive of more tropical climes and carefree times (and a funkier take on Roxy Music's "Love Is the Drug"), Select Level's shimmery and lubricious jams should get them signed to DFA Records, if there's any justice. (Spoiler alert: There usually isn't.)
Throughout Select Level's performance, a young man and woman engaged in a blatant gropefest. I imagine they're still groping, even as I type. Listen to a few minutes of Select Level, and you'll find you can't really blame them.