It’s always a toss-up as to what songs an artist will play live after recently releasing a new album. Aesop Rock has been touring in support of None Shall Pass (released in August via Definitive Jux) for the past few months, and he’s got his show down to a science. His set is mostly new stuff, with a favorite thrown in to break it up. But as it is with hip-hop shows, that favorite might not be what we’re used to. Such was the case with “Fast Cars, Danger, Fire, and Knives”: Not being able to recognize a song until you catch the lyrical hook can sometimes be cool, but if the underlying track is boring, well, the whole thing’s boring.
On record, Aesop Rock is one of the most inventive and skillful emcees out there, and he’s a wicked producer to boot. Live, he’s energetic and funny, and he knows how to handle a crowd. But like some arena acts, if you have seen him once on a tour, you’ve seen him every night. For someone whose trade is based on finely crafted wordplay and language manipulation, it’s hard to stomach that he uses the same silly stories and stage patter every night. This is common, of course, but it’s antithetical to a scene that privileges freestyling and ingenious command of language.
But don’t let the gig-by-numbers fool you. Aesop and his fellow Def Jux crony Rob Sonic put on a fun show. They like to get the crowd involved: Even the people all the way at the back are cajoled into giving Big Wiz a high five, because according to Aesop, deejays get no love and he and Rob Sonic get to have all the fun joking around with the people up close. It’s a funny little segue between songs — even if you know it’s coming.