Saul Williams Experiment: The Dual Review

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Saul Williams

Saul Williams

I’ve always wanted to do this. 

So I did it.

But before I share with you Part One of a recent Live Fix Experiment, I want to thank my friend and fellow music writer Moira McCormick for giving me the chance to test out some ideas and explore another aspect of live music.

The Dual Concert Review

Last Tuesday, I reviewed Saul Williams and the Afro Punk tour stop when it came to the Double Door. You can check out my review and more of Colleen’s photos here.

But I’d like to give Moira’s review center stage because it was her review that made this Dual Review Experiment a success.

For some time know, I’ve been wanting to team up with a fellow music writer and have us attend the same concert and both write reviews just to see what sort of things show up.  I wanted to see if there would be similarities or differences in how the show moved or didn’t move us, how we each interpreted the crowd response, and what sort of expectations we both brought to the show and how those expectations influenced our reviews.  (The bold areas are my additions that I’ll explain later.)

Moira’s review

 
Saul Williams live at the Double Door, Chicago, 27 October 2009
 
When Saul Williams played Lollapalooza 2008, the multi-hyphenate artist (poet-actor-emcee-activist-writer-avant-rocker) scorched an already sultry Sunday afternoon. His skin-flaying barrage of electro, industrial, rap, and riffage was glandular in its intensity; the fact that it scared off a pair of yammering fratboys to my left made Williams’ startling set that much more delicious.
 
Thus, my question: was the impression that Williams’ Chicago appearance (Tuesday night at the Double Door, as headliner of the Afro-Punk Tour) was just a skosh less gobsmacking due (at least to some degree) to the following: the amiably dank Wicker Park venue’s near-capacity crowd was rather emphatically preppy?
 
And my answer: Oh, probably.  It’s that how-radical-can-this-be-if-these-people-like-it bias, embodied since time immemorial by music snobs everywhere (I will admit, grudgingly, to swelling their ranks now and then myself.)
 
If Saul Williams is swelling his own ranks with this brand of mass audience, it’s due in no small part to the brands of two corporate footwear titans: Nike, who made indelible use of Williams’ ferocious punk salvo “List of Demands (Reparations)” in a 2008 ad campaign; and now Converse, sponsor of the multi-city Afro-Punk Tour. It’s large-scale exposure, and it works.
 
Headliner Williams (who was immediately preceded at the Double Door by the workmanlike clatter of Houston-based American Fangs) took the stage calling a litany of names who have influenced him (and his alter ego, Niggy Tardust.) Baldwin, Coltrane, Hendrix, Shakespeare, Marley, and many more were invoked, while the four-piece band Krak Attak – led by drum machinist and Williams’ longtime compatriot CX Kidtronik – loosed a fire-hose spray of large rusty nails.
 
“Too many people to dance?” queried Williams, crowned with turquoise feathers and sizing up the sardined throng in the mosh pit. “No? Prove it!” He lurched into the fury of “Sha-Clack-Clack,” his declaration of incandescence from the 1998 movie Slam, going on to deliver a seething hit parade of signature tunes, including the sinuous “WTF,” jazz-inflected “Black Stacey,” jagged “Surrender (A Second to Think),” and deeply rocking “Tr(n)igger.” All eminently worthy, if (as mentioned) maybe not quite as utterly staggering as Williams’ Lolla set. 
 
A handful of new material did intrigue, in particular the piece Williams introduced as “a demo,” all ominous synths oozing between anxious staccato beats. By his performing the work-in-progress, Williams announced to the crowd, “You’re helping me write it.”  Also striking was a song so freshly minted Williams described it as “barely written;” it had a loping, psychotic-Asian-cowboy feel – the soundtrack to an Eastern Western, maybe.
 
The show could very easily have done without Kidtronik’s playing-to-the-groundlings antics towards the end, soliciting “the ladies” to dance onstage, but it was followed with a respectable version of “List of Demands” – a crowd-pleasing closer that got the desired response.

 

I learn a lot from reading the work of fellow music writers and this was no different.  The areas I bolded were spots where I really zeroed in because Moira’s descriptions were either strikingly different than mine or revealed a side to Williams music that I hadn’t seen before.  We had talked about her Lollapalooza 2008 review before the show and I didn’t expect her to use that as a lead.  Nonetheless I loved how she used “delicious” as a way to describe her excitement and anticipation Williams show.

The other part I loved about doing this Experiment was how it unlocked ways to describe live music.

Sometime I get in ruts and when I read reviews like these I walk away inspired and pumped because I feel like I have just added new weapons into my music writing arsenal.

Reading her “loosed a fire-hose spray…” and  “…soundtrack to an Eastern Western…” descriptions were truly  “new weapons” moments.  And it’s moments like those that make writing, and reading, about live music so fun and a great creative adventure.  Because let’s be honest, writing about music doesn’t always pay the big bucks so there’s got to a be reason why we do it for so long and for so little pay most of the time.  One reason, I know, is because when we’re having fun doing it, it’s a highly pleasurable creative outlet and a powerful form of self-expression.

And this makes perfect sense because many music writers (me included) are better at writing about music than playing, so it’s only natural that we’d turn to the written word to express ourselves. 

The other part of this experiment that I loved was the chance to connect and collaborate with a fellow music writer.  It’s not to often that I get to meet and work with my colleagues in this way, so this was a great chance to do something fresh with a old craft and build our  Live Fix community.

Part Two:  a music journalist  tells her story

I hope you enjoyed Part One and stay tuned for Part Two as I interview Moira about some of her favorite concert experiences as a fan and a music journalist.   We had a brief time to chat before the Saul Williams and I’m excited to share the rest of her story with you.

Are you a music writer?  If you want to share your story or do a Dual Review send me an email at chris@christophercatania.com

 Photo credit Colleen Catania

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Saul Williams Spares A Penny: My Eternal Afterthought

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That video above is evidence that something eternal happened last night at the Saul Williams show.

It was a case of my brain processing one thing while my heart processed another.

During what I believe was the song “A Penny for a Thought”  I misunderstood the lyrics in a way that surprisingly served my soul and comforted my mind and heart.

It was an unusual show in that the energy of Williams wasn’t quite at his normal level, which is still pretty intense compared to most artists.

That said, I had a hard time finding an emotional entry point into the show. 

But then, towards the end of the show, he played what I believe was “A Penny for a Thought,” but I’m still not sure. 

In any case, there was a verse that caught my ear as Williams kept repeating it:  “Even death is a part of life…Even death is a part of life..”

And each time he repeated that verse the doorway to the emotional entry point I was looking for opened wider and wider.

So I stepped in.

And then it hit me. 

For the last three days, my wife and I have been mourning the death of her Uncle John who died last Thursday after his battle with brain cancer.

One of the reasons it’s been hard for me is because I got to know Uncle John’s love for live music earlier this year when I interviewed him for Live Fix about meeting Kid Rock backstage.

And naturally, that conversation and John’s death have been on my mind and heart in some pretty heavy and profound ways.

So during the Saul Williams concert I believe something eternal happened because this morning as I was writing this post I looked up the lyrics to “A Penny For A Thought” and realized that the actual lyrics were “Seven mountains higher that the valley of death/Seven dimensions deeper than the dimensions of breath..”

Now, I’m pretty sure I heard Williams sing “…even death is a part of life..”

But what I think was eternal and even spiritual about last night was that, for whatever reason, I heard what I needed to hear so that I would find some level of comfort and clarity as I grieve and process John’s death.

Whether I misheard the lyrics or not, what happened last night my friends was an eternal aspect of live music. 

And I think it was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had at a concert in recent memory.  I didn’t plan on having it.  I just happened. 

Writing this post makes the whole experience even feel predestined or preordained in a way. 

It was as if God knew I needed to hear Saul Williams croon those words right into my heart.

So, as I mention in the video,  I encourage you to take time to listen for moments like I had last night when you go to your next show.

Have you ever had an eternal or “misheard” moment during a concert?

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Live Preview: Saul Williams at Double Door

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The Afro-Punk tour has arrived in Chicago.

And poet/actor/emcee Saul Williams is leading the funky freak charge to the Double Door tonight.

If all things go as planned, I should have a special treat for you once the show is over.

But you’ll have to be patient to see what that treat is.

The concert of memory inside my head

Since our minds store everything we experience in one way or another, I’ll be thinking about the last time I saw Williams in an intimate club like the Double Door.  I deemed it a  BAAD show.  Because my pre-show interview with Williams changed the concert experience for me.

But I don’t think this one will be because I won’t  be interviewing  him beforehand.

This time around I’m expecting Williams to create some new concert memories and bust out some new songs from his “album in the works.”

And I’m sure in one way or another he’ll show off his multi-colored sonic arsenal of funk, punk and hip hop; and leave us grasping  and gasping for more.

Follow along on with me on another Live Fix Experiment via @chriscatania

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