Shad at #RFF12
This is perhaps the set that I was most excited for tonight and my boy Shad did not disappoint. Well, aside from one tiny detail. But we’ll get into that.
For starters, his physicality on stage was a breath of fresh air. Even the ‘tweener performers that played three or four songs between the longer sets Friday night did not move at all on stage. Every performer before him was static but Shad literally could not stand still, aside from the songs that he played guitar. He dashed and grooved all over the stage, slightly upturned mic in his hand, gesturing with the other hand. He grinned incessantly at the crowd, interjecting greetings, questions, and exhortations in between choruses and verses.
He wasn’t alone either; I missed the name of his DJ but whoever his DJ is laid down the bed tracks and did plenty of scratching on top of them. But Shad also signed up the bass player from fellow Vancouver group Hey Ocean! to play along as well. That was actually the ONLY problem I had with his set — way too much bass! It was like some pimply white teenager had pulled up next to my left ear in a rusty cavalier with a gang of sub-woofers jammed into his trunk. I think it rattled a few vertebrae loose!
Still, his set was uniformly great. The crowd was moving a ton and the thinner parts at the front of the stage filling in quickly with ladies dancing, young fellows jumping and jiving, and even some kids up on their dad’s shoulders throwing their hands up in the air. Charming!
How can you not be won over by a lyricist who makes referencing not just in two songs but two back-to-back songs? A guy whose songs are perfect as they are but he goes the extra mile on several of them to tack on a whole new a capella verse just because he thought of a few more brilliant things that rhymed? A guy who unabashedly plays a song all about the etymology of his name and his familial ties to Africa and makes it unbelievably catchy?
I have to admit “A Good Name” was the highlight of the set for me, by far. One of the many highlights from his 2010 album TSOL (one of the greatest released that year), it’s a song that I’m not afraid to admit has made me tear up just listening to it in the car. It’s what Shad does; he’s unabashedly honest and doesn’t mince words and he gets personal even when it’s kind of uncomfortable but it doesn’t matter because that’s Shad, man.
Really, Shad doesn’t really do rap so much as he does Shad music. He’ll turn anything into a song. Introducing a few songs from his recently-released EP (check his bandcamp page at the link below) he explained that the mini-record was inspired by songs of his youth. In fact, each one is built off samples of songs from his childhood, namely such staunchly 90s artists as The Breeders and Milli Vanilli. He’s the MC that plays guitar on his own songs. Hell, he’s a guy who not only put flute on his biggest single but also had the audacity to drop the musical elements out of the song two-thirds of the way through, finishing the track with nothing but handclaps and vamping, braggadocios (and simultaneously self-depricating) lyrics. He’s a guy who ends a set with the unabashedly-feminist anthem, “Keep Shining.”
Sandra Butel told reporters earlier today the RFF isn’t really about “folk” music, insisting that “folk” music shifts and morphs through time, taking on more modern forms and sounds as it progresses. Rap music might bristle some folks but the way guys like Shad do it is closer to the folk tradition than 90% of musicians. The crowd reception Shad got is proof positive that the younger generations, if not all festival attendees, recognize and appreciate that.
You’re awesome, Shad.
PS – Rich Aucoin is blowing minds right now. More on that later.
If you’re not present for the Festival you can get yourself son Shad shirts n’ shit through his web store on the internets. He also has a few more albums available via the increasingly-ubiquitous Bandcamp. iTunes is here.