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Over The Weekend: Busdriver and Abstract Rude at The Cavern

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Busdriver, Abstract Rude
The Cavern
September, 25, 2009

Better than: listening to the Micro Machines Man recite spoken word poetry.

Long-hailed as one of the world's premier epicenters of culture and diversity, Los Angeles brought some of its artistic variety to the Cavern this past Friday night. The staccato stage scientist Busdriver entertained locals on the venue's downstairs stage, supported by fellow Angeleno Abstract Rude.

Given the elevated status that each of these rappers holds in the world of underground hip-hop, the buzz on the streets during the build-up to this event was whether The Cavern would be able to hold this pair of heavyweights. But the Lower Greenville staple turned out to be the perfect host as the show was amply packed with serious enthusiasts for the duration of the captivating performances.

If you grew up with a voice like opener Abstract Rude's, you too may have found yourself drawn to a career in oratory--his deep soulful delivery seems like it was created to be heard by the masses. Given this natural affinity to entertain, Ab Rude had the entire crowd moving, smoothly gliding from classic head-nodders to soulful lyrical rap and back. The highlight of the audience's enthusiasm came when he performed over an instrumental of Lionel Richie's 1983 melodic Motown gem "All Night Long."

But the night clearly belonged to Busdriver, whose technical prowess and eccentricities were on full display. Beginning the set donning an odd wooden crown in his 1980s-style afro and well-worn They Might Be Giants tee, it was clear before he even opened his mouth that this man is cut from a different cloth.

Abandoning the traditional approach that many emcees take to live performance, Busdriver had a rather involved setup--two microphones, a drum-machine and a handful of vocal effects pedals that fueled his multi-layered harmonic experience. He was also accompanied by another MPC 2000 drum machine, whose operator even played live bass on a couple of tracks. At times, Busdriver threatened to descend into sonic disarray, only to reel things back to equilibrium with a technical grace not duplicated in the world of hip-hop.

And to those who think that Busdriver is simply a tongue-twisting, fast-rapping anomaly: The artist proved the breadth of his talent on Friday, keeping the crowd enthralled throughout his long-winded set that stretched to over 90 minutes, with musical influences that went from classical to jazz and beyond. He even joked at one point in time "I'm obligated to play until 3 a.m.," to which no one seemed to oppose.

Busdriver made sure to play many of the singles that showcased his lyricism, including "Along Came a Biter" and the classic "Imaginary Places," a track many will recognize by the sample of Bach's "Minuet and Badinerie Orchestral Suite No 2 in B Minor."

(Yeah, that's where that comes from.)

While the music that he plays is a dense ball that cannot be penetrated by everyone, the reward to those who can jive with Busdriver's style--or put in the time to unravel it--is paramount.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
As a bigger fan of Abstract Rude, it would have been nice to see him play a longer set. It seemed as if it was a totally different set of people that got down to his performance--the Busdriver fans seemed more cerebral and in awe while the crowd just danced during Ab Rude.

Random Note: Near the end of his set, Busdrviver broke out a freestyle over Extreme's terrible power ballad "More Than Words," during which he rhymed "Greenville" with "seems ill." Sometimes it does seem that way.

By The Way: While the two rappers seem like an odd couple, they both cut their teeth in the underground rap world in the mid-1990s at the legendary LA open mic Project Blowed, known for its progressive take on the genre when gangsta rap (also originated in Los Angeles) dominated the airwaves.

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