SWOLLEN MEMBERS with BIRDAPRES and DJ ALIAS at the Comfort Zone, August 30. Tickets: $10 advance, $12 door. Attendance: 100. Rating: NN
the first post-junos torontoappearance by Vancouver's Swollen Members had the potential to be a confrontational thriller if local hiphop headz turned out in numbers. They didn't. Instead, it was a pack of designer-denimed converts who came by to show their enthusiastic support, buy T-shirts and whoop wildly whenever DJ Alias cued an Eminem joint. The roars died down to a whisper, however, when, during the "Name That MC" pre-show segment, Gang Starr's Step In The Arena was dropped. "Who's that?" Silence.
The shouts started up again when Birdapres stomped out and began whining about how he hates to work, and then proved his claim with clumsy rhymes. When he followed up a freestyle threat with a recited rhyme slightly speeded up, people didn't throw water bottles in disgust -- they shouted their approval loudly.
Strangely enough, the Swollen Members didn't appear to be any more aware that the concept of freestyling involves a spontaneous flow of ideas. When dreadlocked MC Prevail stepped up to demonstrate his "freestyle" skill, he too simply ran through an obviously memorized rhyme. Sure, his delivery was unaccompanied, but when you spit without a backing track it's merely a cappella, not freestyling.
To claim that reciting something by rote is freestyling is an insult to everyone who ever rocked a party by improvising on the spot. But the fool didn't get the bum's rush -- he was cheered like a conquering hero.
Yet after we saw Mad Child rolling his head from side to side and hollering catchphrases, it was understandable how Prevail's corny display could seem very impressive. Twenty-five minutes later, the show was over and a line formed at the merchandise counter.