Anyone suffering from immediate Pitchfork festival post-partum headed down to the Empty Bottle where, Friday, July 13 through Sunday, July 15, Struggle Inc. and Turntable Lab hosted the We (heart) Chicago series. The culmination of that weekend-long after-party was Sunday night’s lineup of local rhythm kids Mahjongg and Tampa Bay rap-trio-cum-blogger-feed Yo Majesty and Canadian deejays My!Gay!Husband!. For a brief moment we pretended we’d been transported to New York’s Greenwich Village circa 1981, when hip downtown beat punks like Liquid Liquid and James Chance mingled(http://www.downtown81.com/) with players in the burgeoning hip-hop scene like Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash, but of course the similarities to We (heart) Chicago’s trendy cross-marketing lineup are probably just coincidental.
Why can’t I shake this feeling every time I see Mahjongg that I am hearing one of the great unheard bands of the past five years? It’s difficult for me to assess this great band critically, because I’ve known and known of Mahjongg since it was a kinda lousy (but still interesting) post-rock group in Columbia, Missouri, and I’ve watched its progression into a funky, experimentally informed but melodically accessible Chicago indie band. Mahjongg’s confounding below-radar status seems to be solely due to the members’ reluctance to tour and delightful contempt for self-promotion (just try to penetrate their website(http://arc6ery.com/) and MySpace page(http://myspace.com/machinegong), as well as troubles with former label Cold Crush Records.
On Sunday night, Mahjongg (back to a fivesome with the addition of side-project Water Babies’ keyboardist) was as tight as ever, probably owing to the fact that they’ve finally been playing out again and just finished recording their K Records debut (due in January). Their new stuff abandons the straight rock of songs like “The Stubborn Horse” from their 2005 debut LP, Raydoncong, in favor of dense, drum-heavy workouts. Live, they were intense and brooding; bleeding synths and jerky drums packaged in genuine polyrhythms worked the crowd up into a frenzy by the set’s closer, a trancelike fusion of Can and Liquid Liquid.
Then came Yo Majesty, which is currently more spectacle than substance. The three girl rappers (Shunda K, Shon B and Jewel B) hail from the musically desolate Tampa Bay, of all places; rap energetically about masturbating and partying (their most well-known lyrical hook is “Fuck that shit”); and are known to rip off their clothes and verbally abuse audience members at concerts. The group’s Empty Bottle performance was a bit of a letdown as far as shock value went; no nudity or profanity-laced harangues((http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXdQ4_2uw0c), and one of the three ladies (Shon B) was missing. Shunda K and Jewel B seemed a bit out of place on even the tiny Empty Bottle stage, but the enthusiastic audience helped warm them up.
For its part, Yo Majesty had the crowd enrapt and dancing, but it was still a little off-putting to see a bunch of white hipster tastemakers bouncing along to n-word laced lyrics about getting wasted and beating people up (okay, this from the guy who was five feet from the stage the previous day bouncing along to the Clipse’s performance at Pitchfork fest). Although their rapping skills are dubious at best, the girls have taste in their production, and all the music moves forward at a breakneck, party-perfected pace. I can’t see Yo Majesty giving Lilly Allen (let alone Missy Elliot) a run for her money any time soon, but the girls are Fader-cover ready (take that to mean whatever you might), and, if they break just right, could become late-2007’s Bonde Do Role.
By the time My!Gay!Husband! hit the stage, most of the audience seemed pretty exhausted and headed toward the door. It couldn’t have helped that their set was basically deejay spinning in the performance-centric Empty Bottle. But all in all, the entire show was a solid coda to an exhausting weekend.
Mahjongg audio: http://myspace.com/machinegong
Yo Majesty: http://www.outthererecordings.com/yomajesty.html
Yo Majesty audio: http://myspace.com/yomajesty4life