Humboldt county, north of the Lost Coast, east of the Sierra Nevadas, and smack dab in the middle of pristine redwoods, is no doubt a special place. Chock full of natural wonder, the epicenter of a liberal cultural bubble, and the site of a growing electronic music scene where dubstep DJs are hired for high school dances. Visitors come from all over the world to experience the friendly attitude and earthly vibes of Humboldt residents. On Thursday we were lucky to have some special guests; RJD2 brought his live band, along with indie rap artist Busdriver, to perform some of their greatest tracks at the well known Red Fox Tavern in Eureka, California.
Busdriver, born Regan John Farquhar, was using every inch of stage space when I arrived at the venue, displaying energetic body movements matched his sound appropriately. The growing population of the bar was requiring some sure-footedness while maneuvering through the crowd, Budweiser in one hand, camera in the other. Not knowing much about Busdriver I was immediately taken by his individuality as an Emcee. He evoked a mental image of a combination of Old Dirty Bastard and Bill Cosby, with a touch of Wesley Willis all rolled in one. (Referring to the Cos’s mostly unknown singing career). Fast paced lyrics, at times completely inaudible, gave him an interesting signature flow. This style dominated his set, with the exception of a few tripped out slower songs, including an awesomely weird cover of David Bowie‘s “Major Tom” rounding out the rest of his performance. (That’s right, cover, not remix.) He is no newbie to the game, having created 11 studio albums, and recently wrapping up his Australian tour in a van, no less.
On stage with Regan was his compatriot in riddims D Fresh, who along with an electric guitar manipulated Ableton through an Akai APD 32, one of the original abie-controllers. “We just trade off every other song,” Fresh told me after his set. Busdriver, a fellow hardware hero from LA, made full use of the simple yet effective FX on his lone Dennon CDJ. Using the pitch slider and jog wheel he tweaked and glitched out his tracks, blasting them through a simple 2 channel mixer. Occupying the 2nd channel was a SP-303 phrase sampler made by BOSS, a fun and cost effective tool dubbed “Dr. Sample.” He would use this sampler to isolate and loop parts of the disk playing, all the while singing into two mikes, one of which was hooked up to floor pedals, applying a sick phazer and reverb to his vocals. During these sometimes lengthy FX solos Busdriver would contort his face, kneel by his gear and rock his head to the rhythm, twisting knobs and pushing pads, as D Fresh would take over the next track. What impressed me was the technicality of his set using the basic, entry level professional gear he had, and his entire setup is about the cost of one mixer or CDJ used by most artists now a days.
A few of his songs would start off with a minimal house-y drum pattern, then crash into an emo-ish hip hop song, half singing half rhyming. My initial reaction, I think, was a bit like the rest of the quickly growing crowd. Some confused faces were captured on film, as well as those concentrating hard on the lyrics. Some were captured bouncing in the masses, matching the high energy displayed on stage by the MC, and some were not captured at all because they were avoiding the crowd outside, waiting for RJ to take the stage. All in all I would say Busdriver puts his own twist on the sound that exemplifies underground hip-hop, one that seems to keep it underground where the fans love it, and non-fans just don’t get it.
There were a few moments between acts, as Busdriver said his goodnights and thank you’s, while RJ and his band set up on the small stage. The Fox’s dimensions are what give seeing shows in Humboldt County their special feel. The intimacy of the small venues allows people to connect with the music on a more personal, in your face level. Artists are forced to walk through the crowd to the stage, allowing us to appreciate that these other people, who are people just like us, are doing what they love on stage so we can do what we love, LOSE OUR HEADS and express ourselves individually.
RJD2‘s act started as a DJ set, alone onstage with three turntables and his MPC 3000 sampler/drum machine(MPC’s ARE HIP HOP, and are RJD2’s sound to the max). Mixing seamlessly between tracks, he maintained a cool yet energetic demeanor, nodding his head to the sampled heavy hip hop instrumentals. Witnessing his mastery over the equipment from the balcony allowed me to get lost in his dextrous maneuvers. Being a DJ myself, its always awesome to see vinyl get manipulated with utmost perfection, timed flawlessly with drum rhythms played live on the MPC. I was snapped out of my daze when he transitioned into a hip-hop style Dubstep pattern, with live hits on the 1’s and 3’s. As the melody from one record mounted in energy over the newly sampled drum beat, RJ exhibited his first display of scratching, chopping up and splicing in Trick Daddy’s “uh-huh, ok, shut up!” With that, the sold out crowd’s energy reached its full level, and I finished off my whiskey and descended the stairs into the thriving mob to contribute some of my own rage displays on the crowded dance floor.
In between DJ sets, including a small Donkey Kong theme solo on the MPC with the help of a Mario finger puppet and stage mounted camera, RJ‘s live band took the stage to continue his signature
riddims with a live twist. RJ showed equally impressive skills on the guitar, singing melodic and funky jams that resulted in a loss of the crowd’s hypeness, but did not take away from the show. The wall bending energy was quick to return when the band banged out a live version of “Work it Out,” and absolutely killed it with “The Horror” while 70’s gangster flicks and chase scenes were projected on the screen above stage. During the finale performance of “Ghostwriter,” RJ disappeared momentarily backstage, only to reappear donning a welding mask and robot jump suit true to his roots as a performer. Equipped with a pad controller utility belt, RJ played out the rest of the song to a highly engaged audience. With the sold out crowd erupting and calling for more, RJ returned with a calming acoustic track as an encore, enticing the audience to spark lighters, joints and cell phones to finish out a well rounded evening of live music and fitting visuals.
The mix between DJ sets and the live band expressed all of RJ’s talents, and this sonic expression was matched ruggedly, yet perfectly, with grainy visuals of B-movie action sequences. Add an accompaniment of live art from my favorite psychedelic duo, VORCAN, and you could call the night a stellar success, all brought to you by the hard working Reba of “Thats How We Roll Productions.”
LostinSound.org would also like to thank RJ’s press manager Jake Daneman for getting us on the guest list and allowing our readers access to an awesome live experience, full of hip-hop soul and electronic funk. LostinSound is growing rapidly, but we still need all of you who like what we do to spread the word, so we can continue to grow and bring you the down low on what you love: live music. D~R Dyaphonoyze, the doctor of rage, signing off, reminding you as always to keep it moving and not let the bullshit in life hold you down, and when it does… turn up the bass and freak out the normies.