Last Thursday a friend and I took a trip to New Haven to catch Das Racist’s Relax Tour, with openers Danny Brown and Despot. For my friend, the trip was as much an occasion to visit his friend at Yale. Yale’s relationship with New Haven proper hits a point of semi-soluability: they get along, but there’s still awkward tensions. The venue for the tour, Toad’s Place, illustrates my point.
Toad’s Place is a venerable New Haven institution, the Wikipedia page is a fun read re its history. That bold green awning certainly distinguishes the place from the gothic architecture across the street. It seemed like a great environment for a group like DR, with one foot in Queens and one in Middletown. On non-show nights it’s apparently the place for kids looking for a step up from the standard Yale party experience. There was a line of about 40 kids outside the building for opening an hour before the first act came on, mostly young Yalies looking ready to wile out. I was pumped!
First though we visited my friend’s cousin at the bar next door, called Mory’s. Mory’s is actually a venerable New Haven institution. It’s clientele is professors, alums, and students who wish they could skip to the professor/alum stage of their life. The cousin was performing with his accapella group all night in the bar area (random breaks into song, etc), in return each member got a free meal and unlimited drinks. Ivys are weird. My friend and I did most of our drinking out of a plastic 750mls of Jim Beam, in the smokers’ benches out back.
Despot started off 15 or so minutes late. I am not too familiar with his oeuvre so I won’t spend much time on him. He had a confident and even calm stage presence and a strong voice that could through the back wall of Toad’s (as a convenient signal to finish up the Jim to get inside and collect blogable content). In general his lyrics could do better for themselves and he was especially wanting for some huge hooks. Also the camo jacket was not the best look among performers on the night I felt. As another positive, he led the crowd in a brief aerobics routine at one point.
Danny Brown was more dominating, maybe because of the half-foot or so he has on Despot. He also just has a star power attitude though, which made for a truly fantastic set. He went for a good 10-12 songs without losing intensity or stamina (it’s difficult to rap for that long!) and kicked into overdrive for a couple moments; Lakutis cut out the beat and the crowd let out audible gasps as D Brown leaned out from the stage and hurled himself through a verse. At these moments, eyes closed, face almost completely obscured by mic, he looked truly like a man possessed.
Alot of the energy came from Danny Brown’s surprisingly substantial collection of anthemic jams. Standouts included “New Era” and “Radio Song,” a track I wasn’t too hot on while listening at home but which sounded perfect when chanted by the growing crowd. I still didn’t like “Bruiser Brigade,” although featured rapper Dopehead did a nice job and had some verses from his own mixtape add as well.
The two best songs of the set came late, with the crowd frenzied with Das Racist anticipation. Stripped of his Hundreds jacket and hat, D Brown skipped quickly into “Greatest Rapper Ever” and just killed it. Sorry I just have to post the video:
The other great moment came soon after, when Danny Brown slowed it down with “DNA.” It’s a very real song, and even on the album I’ve felt shivers listening to the chorus. The crowd was sort of struck dumb, which is I think the song’s intended effect. A+ set.
Das Racist had alot of work to do, but unlike at their miserable outdoor set on Dartmouth campus last week (outdoor, smack in the middle of campus – that’s all you need to know) they had high energy and crowd support. They’re adroit rappers on the stage, and they can afford to keep the pace high by spreading the work among the two rappers and hype man. Heems and Kool AD also made the bizarre choice to wear very similar horizontally striped white and black shirts. It was definitely the shirts and not the Jim that made me sort of dizzy.
I wasn’t a huge fan of their set ordering choices. They needed a bigger track in the early half of the show, as it stands they are leaning heavily on “Who’s That? Brown!” to bring the heat. But absent that, they sounded great and did some of their most lyrically intricate stuff from the Sit Down, Man mixtape. Great moments also when Despot came out to rap his verse on “Rooftop” and Lakutis got pulled from behind the DJ table for the first time of the night to do “Amazing.”
The consequence of a backloaded set is a crazy closing progression from “You Oughta Know” to “Michael Jackson” to “Rainbow in the Dark.” Not much can be said except that these are awesome songs and Das Racist bravado gives them full force. I think that they should probably cut the outro to “Michael Jackson” so the transition to “Rainbow” is smoother though. They did an encore but I was dancing too much to figure out what the song was, sorry.