I’ve been to a few concerts and seen many live performances featuring K-OS. Pretty much any time he does a show in Toronto, I’ll go. From what I’ve seen though, I have to admit that his performance style sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. But when you make great music, sometimes you just get a pass. Full disclosure, I’m a fan.
On Friday, November 20th, the historical Danforth Music Hall was the setting for the Toronto tour stop, right on the heels of his latest album Can’t Fly Without Gravity, released in August. The album is great, but being familiar with his outside of the box style, I really wasn’t expecting to hear much from it at this show.
One thing that I was really looking forward to taking in was his opener, singer/songwriter/poet/actor, Saul Williams, who I first became familiar with from is stint on the TV show Girlfriends way back in 2003.
The lights dim and the crowd quiets down to an expectant buzz and the show starts.
Saul Williams appears. When you see him, you kind of know what to expect. Long trench coat, long scarf, all black except for some well worn brown boots. He is a poet, and he looks the part. His stride is strong and determined as he takes his place on stage, and he begins. He doesn’t just recite his words. His style is that of a seasoned artist not unfamiliar with the stage. He performs each piece with such declaration and passion. The poems he performed spoke of politics and pain, curiosity and wonder. “I speak what I see”, he said, as an explanation after he introduces his next poem, saying, “This next poem is called, ‘I For One Am Happy They Keep Casting White Actors In Old Testament Films’, then he stops and with a slight smirk, he gives the crowd the moment we need to realize that the title is also in fact the poem. So the mood lightens slightly. A single voice of agreement yelling back at him, “For real!”, breaks his intense demeanour, causing him to laugh, which encourages other “call-outers” to join in the back and forth. After that, he speaks candidly to the crowd, placing in our minds his thoughts and contemplations about religion and conformity: “Beliefs are the police of the mind” and “Are you certain you’re not a victim of identity fraud?” He spoke about his familiarity with Toronto and his friendship with K-OS, transitioning the remainder of his time from performance into a more intimate sharing. He sings a song called Black Stacy (the preacher’s son from Haiti) and before exiting he explains, “Music is the way that we practice non-violence”, never making mention that he came with no music. Tonight he came raw. Poetry. No music, just a man and his microphone.
This concert is off to a great start.
The music hall is now full and we really don’t have to wait very long before K-OS comes bouncing out, full energy along with his dancer and hype man. I’ve never experienced this with him before. I am now torn between matching his hype and trying to snap as many pics as his constant movement will allow me.
His performance was a great representation of his body of work, performing both known and unknown songs from his impressive six studio released album spread.
One thing that seems consistently lacking in his shows though is the way he doesn’t really interact with his audiences. With a quick, low mumbled, “What’s up?” after the first three songs, and some, at times awkward lulls between songs, this show started out no differently, at least for the first hour or so. Then came his homage to hip-hop. Starting out with a mashup of his Emcee Murdah and Eminem’s chorus in Forgot About Dre, then with the DJ playing some classics, including some Wu-Tang Clan which the crowd wasn’t quite able to follow. He let us know his disapproval saying, “I wanted to do a show, but this is turning into class!” There was also a bit of scolding during Sunday Morning because we weren’t singing along enough. Well, at least he was talking to us now. And of course there was his moment of pettiness towards Drake, by taking Hotline Bling and changing the words up a bit singing, “You used to keep it real son…”
I should mention his evening attire. If I were to try and categorize it, I would say that it was ‘Eclectic 80’s and Classic Rock Vintage with a Rap battle Edge’. Oh, and there was a black feather boa, because why not? Sounds strange, but it seemed to work. These influences come across so clearly particularly in his last two albums (remember the collaboration with Corey Hart?) This brings me to the show’s highlights for me. I really enjoyed his opening with the blending of Sting’s Roxanne and Pink Floyd’s We Don’t Need No Education with his Man I Used to Be. And then when the set was over and he left the stage, he returned with an encore that I can only hope has made its way to YouTube. It began with the starting melody of Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. As he began singing Heaven Only Knows I forgave him. I forgave him for not speaking to us and I forgave him for the earlier scolding. This was my favourite moment of the night. And it didn’t even end there. He talked about his influences and how some of the music was inspired, including how David Bowie’s voice inspired Born to Run, and of course Outkast’s Hey Ya, the inspiration for his final song of the night, Crabbucket. And that’s how the night ended. The overall feeling was that of being more than satisfied. I overheard many a conversation on how good it was and how “he killed it!”
For me this concert exceeded my expectations. Beginning with finally seeing Saul Williams in a live setting and then seeing K-OS actually “perform”. Although it did feel like he was just getting started during the encore, but, that’s okay, because he makes great music, so, he gets a pass.