Northern California’s sonically schizophrenic culture expo

    “From this event, a community of change will be formalized; from this event, one will rise,” reads Be The Riottt’s self-proclaimed “manifesto.” Ah yes: We, the underrepresented constituents of mass culture’s underbelly, would have one day, three stages, and ten hours to rage against the machines through music, art, and . . . street fashion. Of course, any actual thought of an uprising that November night in the heart of San Francisco’s governmental and civic center came crashing down when I arrived at the venue and saw three tricked-out Scions strategically staged in front of the venue. Now, I’m a Scion owner myself, but suddenly Be the Riottt reeked of the very corporate stench its organizers seemed to be so vehemently against. Still, with an eclectic line up that ranged from the Clipse to the Rapture, I was ready to grant the benefit of the doubt. And regardless of muddled politics, Be the Riottt delivered on the promise of a night of dope music.



    Some disclaimers: I was focused on football for the first half of the day (my team straight choked against the Arizona Wildcats), and although the bill included some great rock acts (including Explosions in the Sky, Deerhoof, Xiu Xiu, and the Wrens in addition to the Rapture), I was mostly there for the hip-hop. I rolled into the Bill Graham Civic Center in time to catch the Living Legends. Greeted by a crowd of folks throwing their Ls up, the Legends emerged one by one onto the main stage. Each of the eight emcees effortlessly ran through new and classic material, but emcees Grouch, Eligh and Murs stole the show. Grouch stuck to his simple-man shtick, and Eligh impressed with his breath control. Murs kept things animated on and off the mike, acting a fool and engaging in a running-man marathon with Scarub. By the time “Never Fallin’ ” rounded out their set, I (a recovering backpacker, I’ll admit) was ready to dust off my old Unsigned and Hella Broke joints.


    The Fingerbangerz were well into their set when I entered the smaller and considerably less-embellished third stage (i.e., the hip-hop stage). Eschewing the mind-numbing sounds of a typical turntablism set, the ‘Bangerz brought a bassist, a guitarist, a drummer and a bongo drummer into the mix. Fingerbanger DJ Cutso pulled double-duty on the guitar and the tables while DJ Squareone manned the MPC. Vocalist Star and Ozomatli rapper Kanetic Source also stopped by, albeit for some pretty lackluster performances. But the Fingerbangerz’s blend of organic and digital music conjured up a cool-and at times funky as hell-vibe.


    A ‘frohawked CX KiDTRONiK then roamed the stage, readying an MPC and midi keyboard to back Saul Williams’s performance. For a dude rocking a shirt with corporate logos flipped and dissed (“Evils” for “Levis”; “Jack in the Crack” for wellyou get the idea), it would seem CX had no qualms about the Adidas shell-toes on his feet. An equally (faux)’frohawked Williams swiftly emerged on to the stage and launched into “Coded Language.” An adept live performer, Williams’s body language is as fascinating as his prose. CX channeled a sort of punk-rock spirit into his work behind the boards, furiously slapping his keyboard and MPC. Things got a bit awkward when Williams dropped the hook to “African Student Movement”: Surely he didn’t mean for the group of white guys standing next to me to pump their fists in the air and chant along to “Now tell me where my niggaz at?” (It was also awkward on the numerous occasions when it became obvious that dude doesn’t believe in wearing drawers.) But Williams kept the rants brief (the songs his eponymous 2004 album are heavy enough as it is), focusing instead on delivering a strong performance.


    L.A. underground do-gooders the Visionaries followed Williams, bringing their brand of down-to-earth b-boy stylings. In typical fashion, the crew’s positive vibes more than offset the somewhat unpolished live technical chops. Certainly, with cuts like “Blessings” and the J Dilla-produced “All Right,” the Visionaries brought a level of warmth that had been absent in the previous acts I saw. Far from simply kicking “soft” cuts, they also flexed their b-boy bravado with songs like “Blessings” and “Pangea.” Unfortunately, their scheduled hour-long set was inexplicably cut short by the stage manager. Undaunted, the crew performed “If You Can’t Say Love” with a visibly irked DJ Rhettmatic and 2Mex leading the way.


    After a mercifully quick set-up and sound check, Breakestra took the stage and straight killed it. Weaving in and out of breaks from classic Native Tongues, Gangstarr and Jurassic 5 cuts, the Los Angeles-based band also worked in covers of soul/funk classics and tracks off its 2005 album, Hit the Floor. All the while, Mixmaster Wolf lurked about the stage, channeling an oddball mix of Sun Ra, Bootsie Collins and Weslie Willis. Lead vocalist and bassist Miles Tackett lead the band’s journey through dusty grooves, while drummer Shawn O’Shandy kept time with jaw-dropping precision. Where Saul Williams brought the intellect and the Visionaries brought the heart, Breakestra brought fun(k) to the night.


    All this time spent pinned at the front of the third stage was really for one reason: the Clipse. Like an omen, bars from the ceiling fixtures came crashing down on audience members when the Clipse’s deejay triggered a spine-crushing bass tone during sound check. Gunshots from the speakers then ushered in the kings of the night. Oozing a nonchalance reserved for rap kingpins, brothers Pusha T and Malice crept onto the stage. Some quick shouts-out to the Bay and it was off to “Virginia”-and straight pandemonium. Fans began breaking through the barriers separating them and the photographers at the front. Malice, sporting a blue Pyrex shirt, seemed utterly amused by the whole scene, grinning and slapping hands with the fans. Meanwhile, the sounds of gunshots blared and CDs and promotional aprons slapped folks upside the head, and amidst it all I could do nothing but snap my neck to the beats and shout along. With fellow Re-up Gang members Ab-liva and Sandman joining them on stage, the crew ran through a catalog of bangers in an hour. They ended with their latest single, “Wamp Wamp,” and quickly vanished from the stage.


    Fiends were left to ponder the likelihood of an encore or even the performance of new treats off Hell Hath No Fury. The rest of us headed for the exits, backs aching, ankles swollen and minds blown from a night of schizophrenic sonic bliss.



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