EYEDEA & ABILITIES with more or les at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), tonight (Thursday, May 20). $18. 416-777-1777. Rating: NNNNN
The early buzz at the high-profile Rhymesayers hiphop showcase at South By Southwest was evenly split between Atmosphere and MF Doom, with the masked microphone avenger the sentimental favourite amongst the backpack majority standing shoulder to shoulder in the overstuffed backroom at Emo's. In fact, anticipation for Doom was so high that disappointed kiddos groaned loudly when it was announced that Doom would follow a set by Eyedea & Abilities. The grumbling response to their introduction wasn't missed by the battle-tested Minneapolis duo waiting in the wings, and they clearly took it as a throwdown. If Eyedea wasn't already up for the industry-saturated showcase, he was now.
As Abilities nonchalantly stepped behind the turntables, a demented-looking Eyedea began bouncing off the walls in the side-stage area, about ready to bust. When Abilities dropped the beat and Eyedea leapt forward, raging with a double-time rip that caused a simultaneous recoil of the ballcapped b-boys upfront in sniffers' row, he transformed the grousing doubters into fist-shaking believers before the first jaw-dropping freestyle.
Such a triumphant audience conversion might be considered a memorable career peak for most artists on the rise, but for Eyedea & Abilities it's just house-wrecking business as usual.
"That was just a 20-minute thing," shrugs Eyedea over a cellphone. "It gave us a chance to go in there, hit it and get out, so it was all right, I guess. But with just 20 minutes, people didn't even get to see half of what we can do.
"We've got high standards. There are good shows, and then there are those rare ecstatic moments when we're rapping and scratching and the energy of the crowd comes into play to give you that extra boost that brings you to this incredible emotional high that's unrivalled by sex, drugs or anything I've touched.
"So while the Austin show was good - we sweated, we killed, and the crowd was feelin' it - we didn't get to that level of ecstasy. But that's only happened once on this whole tour."
In a similar way, the new Eyedea and Abilities disc E&A (Rhymesayers/Epitaph) is an impressive display of MC and DJ interaction, demonstrating the devastating power of two turntables and a microphone in the right hands. With skills like Eyedea's and Abilities', who needs celebrity collabos?
Yet E&A still doesn't give you that anything-can-happen thrill of seeing Eyedea verbally take apart an MC opponent in a live battle or watching him exchange free-flowing syllables for scratches with Abilities at full-throttle. Something is definitely missing.
"We did a better job of bringing what we do onstage into the studio with the E&A album, but I think it's just the beginning for us. Doing songs like Glass and Now on this current tour has set us off in a new direction. The evolution of hiphop is about simplifying things and bringing it back to that live essence.
"Some of the greatest jazz sessions ever were recorded with all the musicians playing together in the studio with only two microphones. How do you capture the energy and excitement of a live show? You need to perform in the studio. If that means I need to record our shit with a microphone in my hand with the speakers blaring in front of a crowd of people - that's what I'm gonna do."