Thursday, September 20, 2012


I brought my field recorder to last weekend's final show of the NOFRIENDS TOUR 2012 in nearby Charlotte, NC. I also brought my iPhone steadicam mount to capture some live video. But I ended up leaving all that shit in the car. I decided, for the first time in a long while, instead to totally lose myself in the show. And I did.

Okay, well not immediately. I mean, first there was the requisite pre-gig dinner at Pinky's. (Sean owed me hush puppies!) And then we kicked around the Milestone's well-worn bar in part two of our ritual. Where I mostly pestered poor Jesse Dangerously – fishing for listening suggestions from the substantial number of Canadian hip-hoppers who are what you might called Backburner-adjacent and complaining about how wholly unprepared I am when approached with questions concerning things of greater global import than, say, music or video games.

The night kicked off in earnest with MC Stealth, a local rapper that I know better as "that chick that stands next to me at the Dual Core show." She brought the house to order with a blend of sultry swagger and geeky self-awareness that I wasn't quite prepared for. Up to this point I'd only really seen her do the odd guest verse with The ThoughtCriminals, and though the crowd was sparse this early in the night she played to the goddamn rafters.

Next up was Sulfur, a cat I often see perform as part of the aforementioned TCs, in a sharp but too-short solo set. In the absence of the rest of the crew, Sean's personal style – I like to describe it as that of the world's warmest and most fun-loving street corner prophet of doom – really came through, especially on joints like the atomic-powered "1945." Oh, and let me pause here to give a nod to Tribe One for pointing out that Sulfur has a spit that is rather reminiscent of another southern hip-hopper, Goodie Mob's Khujo. (Good ears, Niles!)

Sean's musical soulmate Mikal kHill (AKA: The Human Disaster) then did his thing, and I was once again reminded that, no matter how many times I see that same dude at that same venue, kHill always brings something a little different to each set. Like Sulfur, Mikal naturally comes through a little different in the absence of the funky chip-rock of his fellow ThoughtCriminals, and that dynamic naturally shifted yet again with a little on-stage assistance from his various tour-mates.

Halifax Rap Legend Jesse Dangerously took the stage in one of his very rare appearances this far south, and, as I said to the man himself after his set had concluded, it was exactly the performance I'd been waiting 5 years to experience. Jesse had mentioned going in that he planned to concentrate on newer material, but I was particularly impressed by how well his latest single, the haunting "Slept Through a Landslide," translated within what had been up to that point a predominantly aggressive musical event.

Tribe One, who served as Jesse's immobile monolith of a hype-man took point next, and, as I've been assured he did literally every other night of the tour, fuckin' killed it. From massive set-ender "Kaiju (CrushKillDestroy)" to the nigh Jesse D level of motormouthery in "The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z" (which hit hard on my Wired podcast earlier this week) to the goddamn-Niles-don't-make-me-cry-at-a-rap-show performance of "Different," Tribe delivered the goods.

A mowhawked Adam WarRock did the final solo set with a fairly eclectic selection from his vast back catalog. He came correct throughout despite late night time constraints, but "Waka Flocka Swanson," with its crazy audience call-back, was an easy highlight. I honestly expected the guys – especially Euge, who'd only recently returned from the road prior to embarking on this tour – to be a bit worn down at this show, but they were electric. I never should've doubted.

The final ThoughtCriminals set, which was really more of an everybody set, was a proper sendoff to a night of lyrical magic. I've come to the realization that there is simply never a time when I don't want to hear a live rendition of "Earthbound," though I can't imagine that puts me in the minority. I'll stop short of saying this was a perfect show, mind you, because the Milestone is no place for perfect shows; it's more a place for loose experimentation and seat-of-your-pants set lists. In short, it's the perfect place for this motley crew of musical miscreants.

The 'Stone is a live venue in the truest of fashions. It's a place brimming with history that only seems to take on more relevance as it expands its scope into an ever-branching series of distinct musical tributaries. The audience and the performers are separated by mere inches, and that sort of intimacy feeds directly into the brand of hip-hop community-building that NOFRIENDS is all about. Okay, it doesn't hurt that Sulfur and kHill quite literally grew up on that stage, but regardless it speaks volumes about both the often ignored strengths of the Queen City as a live music destination and the pure artistry of its local talent and their vast network of allies.

Maybe I didn't get to hear "Gravity Falls" or "Out of Gas," but I did get a night of unbelievable performances from friends fam old and new.