Underground hip hop veteran Aesop Rock came to Pearl Street in Northampton Saturday night, ready to put on an incredible show. The event was a multifaceted hip-hop experience, employing deep lyrics, catchy melodies and head-crushing beats.
As expected during any promotional tour, Aesop performed several songs from his latest full-length LP, “Skelethon,” but the Los Angeles-based indie rapper also had some more surprising tricks up his sleeve.
The dusky ballroom was supercharged with adrenaline as Busdriver, the seasoned rapper, granted the privilege of opening for Rock, finished his fast-paced, rhyme-laden set. Throwing manic couplets at the audience in rapid-fire succession, Busdriver flaunted his talents by simultaneously rapping and spinning his own tracks.
During one particularly notable moment in the 35-year-old Los Angeles rapper’s set, Busdriver performed an improvised freestyle verse honoring the city of Northampton.
Still, even an artist as talented as Busdriver could not have prepared the audience for what would come next.
DJ Big Wiz, one of Aesop Rock’s closest and most well-known collaborators, came lumbering onto the stage following Busdriver, ready to hype up the crowd as he introduced the man that music fans of the Pioneer Valley had packed the venue to watch.
As Aesop Rock emerged from backstage followed by another close friend and collaborator, rapper Rob Sonic, it became clear that viewers would be treated to more than just an Aesop Rock show; all three members of the little-known group Hail Mary Mallon were poised and ready for action.
What followed was essentially a “musical buffet,” sampling tracks from the discographies of all three individual artists, as well as a handful of songs released by the group as Hail Mary Mallon.
Crowd favorites included more recent Aesop tracks such as “ZZZ Top” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Fans were also treated to some of Aesop’s older, more classic songs from earlier releases, such as “Holy Smokes” and “Nickel Plated Pockets.”
Video images were projected onto a screen behind the performers, completing the visual experience with artistic, sometimes surreal imagery. During the performance of “ZZZ Top,” the screen displayed an epic kung fu battle featuring the legendary martial arts expert Patti Li.
Rock and his cohorts worked the stage like true masters of their craft, pacing back and forth, crossing each other’s paths and grooving to the beats as they rattled off verse after verse.
Even DJ Big Wiz was given several minutes to scratch and spin some of his instrumental solo material, allowing a sweat-covered Aesop Rock to enjoy a quick rest.
At one point during the show, Aesop invited an audience member onto the stage to receive an impromptu haircut from Busdriver, while Aesop performed his song “Racing Stripes.”
After the haircut, Aesop and Busdriver performed their collaborative song “Superhand’s Mantra.”
Toward the end of the show, Aesop did something not many artists do during live concerts: He asked the crowd which songs they wanted to hear. The audience erupted with screams and howls as members called out the names of their favorite Aesop Rock tracks.
While Aesop openly rejected a request for his song “Daylight,” he indulged audience requests for “No Regrets” and “Pigs.”
It was clear that the crowd enjoyed the show put on by Aesop and his musical colleagues, and local fans will be pleased to learn that the hip-hop virtuoso also enjoys his performances in Northampton.
“Shows there are always fun, so we come back,” Aesop said in an email interview before the show.
Hopefully his statement will help to reassure those who missed the show Saturday night that more chances are still to come.
Chris Trubac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org