That was the idea proposed to me before Tobacco took the stage Saturday, April 24th at Holocene, and my answer was nothing but laughter. Not in a mocking way, just in a, “Oh man, you’re in for a treat!” sort of way. It’s not often that a concert is remembered as much for its cinema as it is for the music being performed, but Tobacco has an odd way of cementing itself in fan’s memories.
2011 – 04/24
But before Tobacco took the stage, it was hip-hop lyricist Beans, of Anti-Pop Consortium, who surprised the crowd with his fast-paced rhymes and upbeat demeanor. Armed with just a computer on stage to cue his beats, Beans’ setup might have been plain, but his vocal range filled the room with energy. It was obvious that the crowd wasn’t there to see him, as not a single person appeared to be singing along, but there’s a undeniable execution to Beans’ show that invokes a sense of admiration. He’s essentially naked on stage, and armed with just the mic in hand, he cruised through a quick set of material mostly from his newest album, End It All. It was one of the more impressive showcases of hip-hop I’ve ever seen, partly due to the minimalist nature of it all, but mostly attributed to the way Beans could spit an entire track at a feverish pace while barely stopping to take a breath. And as he performed his last two track a capella, the room was still, completely enraptured by this rapper nobody really seemed to know much about but had the skill of some of the all-time great freestyle artists.
Listen to “Maniac Meat”
By the time Tobacco was supposed to take the stage, there was a since of anticipation amongst most the concert goers, either because they had heard rumors about some funny videos or because they knew exactly what was about to assault their eyes. The projector flickered on, filling up the entire stage, and cast the number 666 onto the wall. To my surprise, Tobacco’s Tom Fec took to the stage with two other members, his usual stagemate Maux Boyle (also of Black Moth Super Rainbow) who plays the keyboard aside Tobacco, in addition to a drummer across the stage. I’ve seen Tobacco on two occasions before this show, and each time it was just Boyle and Fec mixing together, but with the addition of a live drummer, Tobacco’s sound took on new powers live. Instead of feeding every sound through various electronics means, having a live drummer meant a heavier bass kick and the ability to improvise, which the band took full advantage of during their raucous encore. The smash of the cymbals on “Heavy Makeup” and the double pedals kicks on “Berries That Burn” finally made a Tobacco show seem like a live concert, instead of just a guy pressing play on an iTunes library.
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But as Tobacco started in on “Fresh Hex,” the first track of the night, a precipitation of laughter rained down from the crowd. The video for some ’80s group called the Fat Boys played in the background — the same video he’s been playing for years now, sure, but hilarious all the same. Plenty of bands perform with projectors behind them, blasting various fuzzed-out clips onto the walls, but there is something about the way Tobacco juxtaposes his harsh sound with even more brazen visuals. It’s immediately funny and usually what sticks with the audience after the show, but the way his music is seemingly constructed around the videos limits Tobacco’s ability to improvise and really perform during the set. The visuals are cued to run the length of each studio track, thus limiting any deviation from the studio sound aside from a few pitch changes. It does, however, ensure that Tobacco plays as many songs as possible during his slot since there’s no layover between each video. Ripping through favorites like “Super Gum,” “Gross Magik,” “Sweatmother,” and “Dirt,” Tobacco had a once quiet crowd bouncing around and smiling from ear to ear.
Tobacco might not be the most innovative band to see live, but it’s the combination of unabashed hilarity on the screen and garish beats coming from the speakers that make for an enjoyable time. Sure, we all saw a woman sucking on an eight-foot-long alien penis, but when you’re dancing to a song as fun as “Hairy Candy,” you can’t help but find the experience to be fun, and that’s exactly the kind of magic Tobacco brought to Holocene.