Bambu and his Party Worker album landed on stage at the Crocodile last week. If Bambu and DJ Phatrick had produced this album in 1950 (highly unlikely since the hip-hop scene in 1950 was limited to the guys who produced Refer Madness) they certainly would have been called before Senator Joe “I see a commie” McCarthy (R Wisc.) and his House on un-American Affairs Committee. (Wisconsin has a history of electing idiots to office, for example, the current republican governor, Scott Walker. A diet of cheese and Packer football does have side effects.) Party Worker is an ambitious thematic album set at an organizational meeting where each guest rapper represents a different member of the working class, in other words, communism. (At least this is how Faux News would view the show, and since I am currently slipping closer and closer to their primary demographic–old, white male–I thought I should start using the proper verbiage.)
Bambu was in Seattle to perform and sell albums (more capitalist than communist, but a man has to eat), and I was in Seattle on a school night because I am a bad parent and my daughter (Emma) has spent the last six weeks of my son’s chemotherapy being largely ignored, so when she asked to see Bambu’s show I could not refuse. (Bad parenting is full of sentences that end with…I could not refuse.)
The Crocodile is a Seattle landmark club in Belltown where everyone who is anyone eventually performs, so Emma and I have been there several times. We had a plan, and it was a good plan: eat dinner, get tickets, hang out at the dirty coffee shop, see the show. The plan got derailed right away as I spent 40 minutes driving around in circles looking for a place to park. Belltown is a popular place and unlike Capitol Hill where everyone rides a fixed gear bike, people in Belltown drive cars and so by the time we got to the restaurant I was a little grumpy.
As we entered the restaurant we were confronted with a question from the hostess, “Are you here for the show, the thing in the back, or dinner?” We were there for dinner. “Well sit where you like then.” Emma and I took a booth against one of the walls and within 30 seconds I was ready to leave. There was a small group of people testing a sound system by saying, “Test, test, test…” while walking up to the speakers and getting Jimi Hendrix levels of feedback. It was annoying, but not as annoying as the group of people who were arriving for karaoke (aka ‘the show’). There are two types of karaoke, regular drunk karaoke where everyone knows they suck, and then there is the type of karaoke where people show up in costumes and think they are the next Susan Boyle. People were showing up in costumes. I turned to Emma and said, “If these people start to sing, I’m leaving. I don’t care if we haven’t eaten yet.” One guy, in a full length Liberace jacket, was walking around the restaurant randomly testing how loud he could sing high notes, I don’t know if he was trying to psych out his karaoke opponents, but I do know that people who “warm up” for karaoke have an emptiness in their hearts only matched by the emptiness in their heads.
Liberace continued to roam around looking for attention, but what started to interest me was “the thing in the back.” Youngish guys wearing backpacks kept coming into the restaurant and telling the hostess they were here for the thing in the back. They would walk by “the show,” past the bar, and through a red curtain covering a doorway. These guys fit the profile. There was a disaffected, lost quality to all of them; outsiders not accepted by society and forced to meet secretly in a Slavic Belltown restaurant. Had I fallen into a secret meeting place for terrorist cells? Were these guys plotting? Were they falsifying passports? Should I call the FBI? These questions lingered until my food arrived and then I forgot about the burgeoning terrorist plots of losers in the back of the Slavic restaurant.
The food was good, the bill came, and we escaped the restaurant before the singing officially started. As Emma and I walked around the corner, I saw two of the karaoke singers hiding in a doorway smoking a joint like they were Miles Davis preparing for a concert. Their attempt to hide made it obvious that they were doing something naughty and when I looked to see what other nefarious activities could be taking place in the vicinity, I saw what the “thing in the back” was. A curtain was drawn back just far enough for me to see the disaffected group of young men huddled together. They weren’t plotting, they weren’t falsifying passports, they were playing video games.
We arrived at the Crocodile, got our tickets, and were let into the venue. This was an all ages show, so anyone under 21 had to stand in an area the size of an elevator to the right of the stage and the rest of us were free to wander to the bar and drink beer from plastic cups. I found a dark corner with a seat and did what I do at concerts, waited and watched. As 10 PM approached, the crowd grew and my personal space started to shrink. This is when Conner came bee-bopping into my life. Conner was a little guy, we were never formally introduced, but because of who Conner is everyone within ten feet of Conner got to know him. Conner was wacked out of his gourd. He was smoking something from one of those vapor pen devices that caused him to have an excess of energy; whatever he was smoking caused his buddy to vomit in a nearby trashcan. Conner didn’t vomit though. Conner jumped around, bumped into people’s drinks, and generally annoyed everyone. I don’t know Conner, but I am going to guess a few things about Conner: 1. He rides a motorcycle, 2. He carries his motorcycle helmet wherever he goes so people know he rides a motorcycle, 3. Conner spent a good part of his high school years getting stuffed in lockers. At one point, Conner sat next to me. He had a girly drink from the bar. How do I know it was a girly drink? It had a straw and ice. After Conner finished sipping his drink, he began taking the ice cubes and tossing them at people’s legs in the crowd. This gave Conner such a charge of joy, he looked over at me for approval, I gave Conner the “get off my lawn” old man look, and he got up and ran away. Of course, Conner spilled the remains of his drink and ice on the bench before leaving so the next four people who sat there got wet pants.
While Conner focused on the “party” portion of Party Worker, Bambu took the stage and left no doubt that his allegiances were with the workers attending his show. His lyrics bend towards issues of social justice and equality, and his performance was a celebration of his working class roots. The set began with tracks from the Party Worker album which I am certain won’t be played at the Mitt Romney for President 2016 rallies. Well, to be honest, there probably won’t be any Party Worker tracks played at any of the democrat rallies either, unless Elizabeth Warren wants to attract the hip hop demographic to her campaign.
My favorite part of the night was when Bambu was joined by DJ Nphared and Prometheus Brown on stage. For those of you not as hip as me, this trio is known as The Bar. I saw The Bar at my first hip hop concert, so when they began their song Rashida Jones it was like a little journey down memory lane for me. Bambu and Prometheus Brown have mastered the art of emcee stage presence. There are some standard movements for all emcees: pointing with non-mic hand, non-mic hand raised above the head, march across the stage to the left or right non-mic hand pointing at crowd, and then there is the jump straight up and down while bouncing the non-mic hand like you are patting a dog on the head. The more difficult mc moves are combinations of the above moves, but also involve spins and Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation chopping motions with the non-mic hand. (Don’t try this at home if you are too white, or uncoordinated, you might put an eye out.) I have begun to believe that 1/3 of the show is stage presence and both Bambu and Prometheus Brown have that 1/3 down.
After the set by The Bar, another emcee came out, but she did not want to be known as a lady emcee, she just wanted to be known as an emcee, so I won’t assign a gender to her. She also said that everyone should love each other for who they are and I was feeling all warm inside…then she began to rap. Let me just say, her message to the audience and her rap lyrics didn’t seem to be from the same person. Maybe this was a paradox, or irony, or maybe even a juxtopositioning, to hyperbolize her situation, but her set confused me. I’m not saying she didn’t have energy and a message, I’m just saying that I am probably not her target audience. My daughter liked her, so there you go.
Bambu closed the show by telling us to go out and change the world. Don’t wait for the change to drop by and invite you over. Go out, organize, and change things.
Taking my 17 year-old daughter to a hip hop concert on a school night might not get me the Redbook Father of the Year Award, but when I think about what I want my daughter to know about the world, I am happy that she has these experiences. True learning isn’t something that takes place only in a classroom, it isn’t something that can be boiled down to a few stupid test questions, it isn’t something that can be learned through reading, it is something that must be experienced.