Words by: Nick Boeka | Images by: Steven Walter
BLVD :: 09.27.08 :: Slim's :: San Francisco, CA
Some of the benefits of human nature and forward thinking at work, when it comes to musicians, often translates to better experiences for their fans and extends their possibilities into new areas. These experiences can come in the form of a new sound or approach when writing songs. It can be additional team members, adding to what they have built, or it can be a completely new lineup centered around a leading member or core group. Sometimes it can even be a member leaving the group to pursue a solo career. Any of these angles can produce success, and when it comes to San Francisco's BLVD, the group has put their forward thinking into practice and have captured their efforts with their new album, Music for People (read the review here), just released on October 7. The album really promotes their new sound and solidifies MC Souleye's position as the fourth member of the band.
On this Saturday evening, BLVD celebrated their new album with a release party, and invited along a couple of DJs to provide pre and post-show jams to keep the party going into the late night. This arrangement was contrary to the typical setup one usually encounters at shows. You're used to seeing the headliner play last, one long set or maybe two. This evening, BLVD took a gamble that paid off, coming on around 10:15 and playing until almost 1 a.m., but was followed by another act to close the show. The effort largely succeeded, as the venue was filled tight by the band's set but dwindled as soon as the first stop in music came, despite a later act.
I arrived at Slim's to catch the last half of Random Rab's opening set, which was significantly more down-tempo than the last time I saw him. And though I enjoyed what I heard, I had a hard time shaking off my memories of the Rocky Mountain Crystallization and what I was anticipating on my way to this show. It didn't take long for me to brush it off though, as I looked around the room and soaked in the extra lights and giant white fabric globes that allowed the projectors in the room to cast moving images in a 180-degree fashion. These visual elements are becoming more of a staple at shows now, and I, for one, am a big fan of the added theatrics.
The headlining set began with the three-piece BLVD, comprised of drummer and sampler Dylan McIntosh, guitarist-effects king Curtis Sloane and bassist Tripp Bains (who switches back and forth between bass guitar and synth bass). The group launched into an older instrumental to jumpstart the crowd into dance party frenzy. As the song came to a close, Souleye emerged and launched into "Come Along," which was one of his first collaborations with the group starting a year ago. I was anticipating many new songs off the upcoming album, and the next string of songs delivered precisely that. New tunes "Sounds of BLVD," "Music Is Medicine" and "LIT" stand out as strong songs that will continue to evolve in the live setting into great groove vehicles for the group.
|BLVD :: 09.27 :: San Francisco, CA|
Souleye is also very much finding his place with the band. In the last year, his stage presence and his awareness of when to spit into the mic and when to lay-off has become more focused and controlled. And while I still think of him as a "900-words-a-minute" rapper, I find myself much more capable of following his rhymes since he's found his own flow within this group. His recent move to the Bay Area will only assist this rising talent from launching BLVD to the next level.
About half way through the set, the group treated the audience to a rare cover of Ghostland Observatory's "Silver City." This track is just straight-up hotness. The original cut is pretty commercial and is one of Ghostland's strongest singles. The remixed version features some new vocals from Souleye and a more exaggerated electronic sound. It was easily one of the highlights of the evening.
After that, the group's set seemed to fly by as they had hit their stride, and the forethought for the setlist arrangement was apparent, as each three or four songs led into an improvised section, which allowed Souleye to leave the stage and let the band take the audience on a sonic journey. By the end, the crowd was un-accepting of the "last song" announcement and essentially forced the band to retake the stage to close with "Stamina," likely the strongest single candidate on the upcoming album.
Following the BLVD set, the stage was stripped down and there was a quick announcement of a DJ set in tribute to Hunter S. Thompson. Soon, five TV sets showing various channels and movies, more moving lights and some antics from onstage "security" people dressed up as Secret Service agents were added to the scene. A suit-clad Richard Nixon look-alike in a really good mask took the helm in front of the tables and started throwing a high intensity drum and bass set. It was DJ James Christopher, who was immediately joined by KJ Sawka on drums. Let me tell you, this guy Sawka can freakin' play the shit out of some drum and bass and jungle beats. After a few tracks, the announced tribute seemed to fall quickly into place, as I was surrounded near the front of the stage by protesters dressed up as hippies in full '70s regalia carrying "Tricky Dick" signs. The rest of the set proved to be more of a visual stimulant than an auditory one. The stage seemed to be overrun by these hippies, who put on a theatrical show, where they were fake-dosing the Secret Service agents, pumping up the crowd and straight-up weirding some people out. Many in the audience couldn't figure out that this was part of the show and had these incredibly hilarious looks of "what-the-hell" on their faces that is still making me grin.
|BLVD :: 09.27 :: San Francisco, CA|
As I left the venue, I couldn't help but think that more DJ acts need to incorporate these types of antics into their shows. There's still quite a stigma in the general concert going public that says DJs and producers aren't really musicians. This evening, I could say that more people were caught up in what was happening onstage and in the room, and that allowed them to just soak in the music, much to the pleasure to the artists that were creating it.
If the last year's new perspectives and efforts are any indication of what BLVD is capable of as the new four-piece, then I am really excited and looking forward to what they will be producing in the future. Their sound is new; and takes successful elements from different genres and combines them into a new package that is sure to deliver satisfaction to many listeners. One thing is sure: their live shows are a lot of fun.
Gold Lion, Come Along, MIAM, Segue, Stained Glass, Endless, In the Wind, Ease That, Silver City, Vortex, Alignment, 108 Rose Pedals, LIT, Santa Gold, Moments Away, Heat, Sounds of BLVD
BLVD is on tour now, their next gig is tonight (10/16) in L.A. Complete tour dates available here.
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