The Fleece, Bristol | September 16th
The news of El-P playing underneath the intimate rafters of the Fleece & Firkin sent ripples through Bristol’s hip hop contingent.
The Brooklyn bred rapper has won many accolades over his almost two decade-long career. Whether it’s through his breakthrough with Company Flow, his dedication to the cause as co-founder of Def Jux or his multi-faceted solo work and production portfolio, his credibility reaches far and wide.
Support comes from Despot. He’s a slight, white, ginger, cardigan donning, Queens-based rapper. He coolly shoulders some lame heckling as he impresses with his Eminem-esque delivery over tracks from his iPod, with Knock Knock, Who Cares?, Crap Artists and House Made Of Bricks proving standout moments. His long-awaited debut drops later this year and features production from Ratatat. Keep an ear out.
As El-P’s turn approaches, the venue is packed and the backs of white graphic designers’ flat caps obscure the best views of the stage. You know that shit’s about to get real, son.
Multi-instrumentalists Wilder Zoby and Little Shalier appear first. Between them they man synths, keys, turntables, samplers, a ‘cocktail’ style mini drum kit and an electric guitar. The pair – of Def Jux alumni Chin Chin – head to their stations and open up with the breakneck breaks of Request Denied, the opener from EL-P’s recent Cancer 4 Cure. Offstage, El-P and his hype man Shannon await their first verse. When it comes it’s huge, and the Fleece goes nuts.
Starting as they mean to go on, the quintet then lay on the majority of C4C in order. Like much of the LP, and to some long-term fans’ dismay, second tune and recent single The Full Retard sits closer to traditional hip hop blueprints than previous material. Drones Over BKLYN provides us with an early set highlight, accentuated by swirling guitars interwoven with characteristically textured layers.
The new material sounds weightier live and many of the typical hip hop trappings are sidelined to aid this. El-P’s mic-stand gives him a rock n’ roll edge and turntables are used sparingly amongst other instruments rather than granted automatic prominence. The raps are raucous and the beat is played hard. Between songs, El-P is honest and funny as he trash talks his friends and is humbled by the impressive Sunday turnout. All frills are spared for the songs.
Despot is re-welcomed to add vocals to Oh Hail No and Tougher Cold Killer before we are taken through the LP’s side B. True Story and Sign Here take us from catchy gang-vocal choruses through to Doors-style Moog synth. C4C culminates in a rare flash of flamboyance as Zoby and Shalier take center stage for the crescendo, wielding an electric guitar and a keytar. Oh yes.
Following a short encore, El-P bounces back with EMG and a medley featuring samples of Tribe’s Can I Kick it, some Company Flow and Slick Rick’s Children’s Story. He ends with the rapturously received Deep Space 9mm from his 2002 magnum opus, Fantastic Damage, concluding where his solo career began.
As El-P exits the stage for a well-earned cigarette, like a veteran he leaves a gripped audience wanting more. A man who loves what he does and dares to experiment, as far as ginger-fronted rap shows go, it doesn’t get much better than this.
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Words: Ian Ochiltree