None of the problems at last night’s show were actually The Cool Kids’ fault. Which is not to say there were none, of course, but they mostly fell under the categories of venue issues and a terrible opening act. The headliners themselves did their best to deliver their trademark style of hip hop to an upbeat and receptive crowd.
The show did not sell out in advance, but by a bit after nine when the openers took the stage, the room was mostly full. It was a diverse group – while still heavily male, there were rather more women than I used to see at the indie-leaning hip hop shows that I frequented during college.
The kids and the newcomers may not remember, but back then, in the mid-to-late aughts, one usually had to drive to Baltimore (uphill both ways, naturally) for a show like this. There were not as many mid-sized venues in DC back then, before places like Rock & Roll Hotel came into town. As much as I want to like the Hotel for filling that void, the place rarely manages to really work for me. On this occasion, the lighting was so bright, white, and clinical on stage, that the headliners had to practically beg to have them turned down to something a bit less squint-inducing and more party-appropriate. Similarly, the sound mixing was off such that the MCs’ vocals were not completely clear and the bass fuzzed out rather than delivering the desired resonant bounce.
Nonetheless, The Cool Kids carried on. From the moment they arrived on stage the crowd was enthusiastic. Clearly, these people remembered them from their EP and earlier mixtapes because as soon as they got to an older song, people shouted the words along with them, hands and mobile phone cameras held aloft. I was actually pretty surprised at the level of excitement people seemed to bring to the club with them given the hiatus the group had been on prior to the recent release of their first full-length, When Fish Ride Bicycles. The club must have felt like a claustrophobic and abrupt switch from the massive outdoor festival they had played just 36 hours or so before, but from their second song on, they seemed to fit into a comfortable rhythm on stage.
Back around the summer of 2008, the last time I remember thinking about The Cool Kids, the country was plagued by economic and political turmoil and uncertainty. Given how little else has changed, The Cool Kids fit well in with the current 2008-redux milieu. Their sound is largely unchanged, though perhaps less distinctive than it sounded four years ago when they first gained major attention outside their native Chicago. The particular signature touch that marked their EP – using samples of themselves from one track in another – seems less clever than it perhaps did at first listen. Nonetheless, their music remains accessible and fun, and their moderately minimalist production style is ideally suited to the club environment.
“Fun,” unfortunately, is not a word one would use for the night’s opening performers, Violet Says 5. Here I want to make two pop-culture allusions, though unfortunately they both lie on the very periphery of my own media awareness. The first is in regards to the appearance of Violet Says 5’s font man: I felt strongly that he looked just like Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski” – but, upon reflection, I am not sure I have ever actually seen “The Big Lebowski.” I found this still on Google Images though, and I cannot be 100% sure that is not the guy from last night.
The other thing that sprang to my mind will be more difficult for me to verify. Which is that I think Violet Says 5 must be about what Kid Rock sounds like. Yelled rapping, cheesy backing tracks, stage banter includes mildly insulting the venue which allowed them on their stage (“Rock n’ Roll Hotel ain’t no 930 Club, so… y’all come see us there so we can party.” – Not wholly inaccurate; still kind of unprofessional). I asked the person with me if, indeed, this was as reminiscent of Mr. Rock’s oeuvre as I suspected and was told that, no, not really, but he could see what I was thinking. There was also a panda-suit furry on stage for much of the set, which kind of annoyed me because, seriously, played out, no?