If the WSO discussion board is at all representative of how sensational a performance can become within the College’s community, then this fall’s Homecoming concert certainly had many students divided. Without a doubt, those who walked into Towne Field House last Saturday night were well aware of not only the huge contrast between the two groups of artists being showcased, but also their individually and specifically divisive nature.
Perhaps more controversial of the two was the opening act, the Brooklyn-based, Wesleyan-educated hip-hop outfit Das Racist; in a number of ways, the group confirmed many of the expectations already formulated about them. After arriving on stage nearly an hour late and setting up the samples for their songs on iTunes, band members Heems, Kool A.D. and hype man Dap began the inevitably brief recital of their quite extensive repertoire, interspersed with their well-known small talk, careless antics and sardonic joking. They fittingly opened with “Brand New Dance” from their latest full-length album, Relax, which begins with an example of their signature nonsensical, faux-dumb lyrics: “It’s a brand new dance/Give us all your money/Everybody love everybody.”
Overall, this impression of confusion and amusement before their music was very much present in Das Racist’s set as a whole; to the left of the stage an immense screen projected an assortment of alternatively funny, frightening or even disturbing images, a loop of what is best described as an amalgam of distorted Simpson characters, bizarre symbolic horror and android pornography. When Heems introduced one song, he said, “This next song is called ‘Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.’ It’s a song about love,” a reference to their now infamous YouTube sensation entitled “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” which sometimes, rather unfortunately, comes to define them.
The group performed a fairly broad teaser of their style, from their more famous, danceable tracks like “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Michael Jackson,” to lesser-known, more playful songs such as “Shorty Said” and “Rapping 2 U.” Throughout the set, the Das Racist trio maintained their nonchalant, lighthearted demeanor, highlighting the farcical and deeply humorous aspects of their music. This is the very reason Das Racist makes such an interesting phenomenon. As the contemporary Andy Warhols of rap, they mock the genre (and everything else for that matter) and parody it to such an extent that they produce music that simultaneously constitutes intelligent, self aware hip-hop and questions its very existence as a style. Without a doubt they made for an odd live performance that most of the audience, aside from their very visible fans clinging to the front barrier, were not used to.
As Das Racist left the stage, the crowd swelled considerably, waiting in the darkness for the arrival of the main feature: the up-and-coming R&B singer from Michigan, Mike Posner. From the minute he confidently strode onto stage, it was clear that Posner represented everything Das Racist was not; he was polished, rehearsed and eager to please. Performing the very last show of a long nationwide tour, one could have easily expected him to appear tired and anxious to get it over with. Instead, all of the songs produced for us, from the opener, “Please Don’t Go,” to the last, “Cooler than Me,” both of which represent his most successful hits, were done with the utmost professionalism and attention to detail. He even took care to diversify his palette, including in his set list covers of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” and Oasis’ classic “Wonderwall.” Moving from soulful to upbeat with relative ease, he was clearly doing his best to keep the crowd excited and somewhat surprised.
Without a doubt, the audience reacted quite positively. Most of the concert-goers who had simply waiting around during the opening show burst into life when Posner started progressing down his tracklist. The tumult at the front of the crowd grew with his encouragement; he certainly can’t be faulted for not interacting with members of the audience. From his requests to dance, or simply jump around, to his occasional visits to the closest fans, he was certainly doing his best to keep up the intensity: some lucky girls even received a quick kiss, which expectedly increased the excitement. Many of his songs, such as “Drug Dealer Girl,” he made a point of addressing directly to many of the ladies in attendance, which was not without effect. Perhaps the men in the audience felt somewhat left out, but the lack of attention didn’t seem to be a real problem.
Yet, something about his show rang somewhat false, especially, perhaps, because of his juxtaposition with the previous act. His broad, sweeping smiles were too strained, his fist-pumps too numerous and his constant directions to clap or jump in the air much too scheduled. In a sense, he is a true performer: By paying meticulous attention to detail and premeditating every single aspect of his concert, he delivered a smooth, controlled performance, but eschewed almost all clues of genuine enjoyment or enthusiasm. Even his token shout-out to the College, which he made clear by ripping off his jacket to reveal a Williams basketball jersey, came across as quite forced. The excessive symmetry of the setup, added to the squeaky clean veneer of his uniform and that of his henchmen, lacked personality and established a certain distance between Posner and the audience. All in all, this combo of musicians led to an interesting Homecoming concert which most seemed to enjoy very much, but which as an artistic performance made little sense.