The last time I saw Toronto emcee Kevin Brereton aka k-os was opening for Gym Class Heroes at House of Blues in 2007. That night, he, along with fellow opener P.O.S., managed to put on a show that far outshone the headliner's set. With that said, his headlining spot at the more intimate Lincoln Hall on Saturday night was nothing short of incredible. His 90-minute set along with opening performances from Astronautalis and Shad help put together one magical night loaded with memorable grooves and talented rhyming.
In support of 2009's Yes! (released this past February in the U.S.) and The Anchorman Mixtape, k-os' set was a mix of newer and older material performed with a cast of skilled musicians. Coming out on stage to the sounds of his band performing "Tom Sawyer," k-os proceeded to the front of the stage and began rhyming to the classic Rush track before launching to older cuts "ELEctrik HeaT - the seekwiLL" and "Superstarr Pt. Zero." From there, k-os and his band delivered inspired renditions of the "Love Buzz" sampling "Uptown Girl," Zambony and its layers of tremolo guitar and echoed keyboards and "Sunday Morning" with an almost punk sounding chorus. One of the more popular singles from Yes!, "I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman," featured the emcee strapping on a guitar to introduce the number with a performance of the opening verse from Phantom Planet's "California," a song sampled in the infectious single.
As k-os' songs are filled with layers of depth in their sound, the live setting allowed you an opportunity to better soak in all of the elements that make up his catalog as each instrument was brought to life by musicians who are confident in their abilities and musicianship. The drums and percussion were tight and in sync with the bass rhythms. The notation of the guitar was precise whether it was for the arppregio/Flamenco stylings of "Emcee Murdah" or the fast paced "Vahalla," a song in which the vocals, for the most part, seemed lost in the mix. Each song managed to build a cohesive performance with little banter aside from thanking the openers, the fans, belting out a brief rendition of Kanye West's recent single, "Runaway," and getting the crowd to sing "Don't Stop Believing" for free CDs.
Another key element to enjoyment of this show were the opening acts. Fellow Canadian rapper Shad has been receiving lots of press on both sides of the border with the release of newest album, TSOL, and justifiably so. At his first appearance in Chicago, Shad had the crowd bobbing the heads and a few of his older fans reciting his rhymes along with him. His sound, vocally and musically, was very rooted in the influences of early-to-mid 90's hip hop like Native Tongues to the more modern sounds of Mos Def and Kanye West and offered a middle ground between both without plagiarizing either. "Rose Garden" and TSOL lead-off single "Yaa I Get It" showcased the rapper's cool and confident mic abilities as did a freestyle over a instrumental to The Cure's "Close to Me" and a brief performance on guitar provided a small glimpse of his versatility. Other than a beat briefly dropping at the beginning of a song, the only disappointing element was that his set felt a little short. In actuality, it was not. Still, it left you wanting a little more which, with some stateside airplay, we will probably get.
Opener Astronautalis had three basic, great things going for him. One is his clever name, the second thing is that he is one of the most American rappers out there and the third is his sense of humor. By the second thing, he has a grasp on the sounds that influenced America from rock to hip hop to blues. He has taken bits and pieces of these genres to create a unique sound that identifiably his own. In addition to the sound was the gravely voice behind it coming from his thin frame. Part-Tom Waits meets Larry Love of Alabama 3 would be the best way to describe it as he rapped and crooned his voice over the dense, musical collage. Adding further to his enjoyable persona was his sense of humor as he provided his own comic relief in between numbers conversing with his band (a laptop) to taking requests for a freestyle over Outkast's "Ms. Jackson," to which he hoped that by doing this, they would be famous. Mind you, the topics chosen by the audience for the freestyle included Back to the Future's Biff Tannen and his relatives, Popeye's chicken, Tiger Woods, Tom Waits and moist towelettes. Without fail, he delivered a humorous rhyme to incorporate each item.
At the most basic level, Saturday night's performance provided a highly entertaining concert from three very adept rhymers. Another level deeper and you would see that the show provided a chance to hear three artists who value the past and the present of hip hop and are not afraid to experiment outside of the genre for influence and sound. The combination of both provided a highly enjoyable concert experience for three emcees who deserve more airplay than they currently receive.