SAUL WILLIAMS with K-OS and SPEARHEAD at the Opera House, March 31. Tickets: $35. Attendance: 800. Rating: NNNNyou'd expect a rap show to beway behind schedule, but who knew gospel concerts ran on hiphop time?At 9:30 Sunday night, the Easter gospel revue was just letting out at the Opera House, and the result was that Toronto hiphop saviour K-OS was given time to perform just four songs. Of those, only two came from his new debut disc, Exit.
Perched on a stool and backed by a guitarist and a tabla player, the MC stripped his songs down to the bare essentials, putting the utmost emphasis on his lyrics about reclaiming hiphop.
An opening track twisting the hook from Yesterday into a rhyme about hiphop slipping into the abyss got the crowd's attention, as did inspired readings of his album cuts Heaven Only Knows and The Anthem. Then, just as he'd started to settle in, K-OS unwisely turned the stage over to a duel between his supporting musicians and simply disappeared. Hopefully, K-OS's upcoming shows with a full band will be more satisfying.
While K-OS was peeling his songs back to the basics, Brooklyn poet Saul Williams has been beefing his up. The actor/MC's crunching Amethyst Rock Star disc came as a massive shock to those who expected him to quaintly recite verse over hiphop beats, but even that didn't prepare fans for the intensity of his current live show.
Backed by a four-piece band, Williams has tried to create music that's as confrontational as his poetry. The result was an overpowering gust of guitar-heavy rock that veered from Bad Brains-style punk blasts to live jungle, power pop and rap-rock. It was the first poetry reading where earplugs would have been recommended.
Every bit the son of a preacher man, Williams ranted about Easter, religion, hiphop and identity, working himself up into a lather but never losing his focus, and playing with the essences of hiphop while pushing them further and further out.
It was unlike any other hiphop performance in memory. The bewildered looks on hiphop heads in puffy parkas clustered at the back of the room were proof enough.MATT GALLOWAY