On my way to see AM & Shawn Lee at Missisippi Studios, I really had to give myself a stern talkin’ to. Despite the fact that I had muchos time to kill, I didn’t really feel like watching that evening’s opening bands. I’ve recently become kind of jaded about taking a chance on openers, because so very many are underwhelming. It’s a sad truth.

So, in defiance of my journalistic duties, I travel across town as lethargically as possible, but still arrive in time to catch the last few songs from the first opener, Adventure Galley. There’s a lot that I might say about their set, including that the lead singer’s pants are hyper-confusing — but let’s just keep it simple. With every song, Adventure Galley make me feel grumpier about my decision to come early. And though I’d heard good things about Seattle’s Don’t Talk To The Cops! from other REDEFINE writers, I vow that if they too offer up an Amateur Hour, I’ll defect and gorge myself on Mississippi Studios’ delectable french fries instead.

Luckily, Don’t Talk To The Cops! soon prove that they have the chops to save me from unnecessary fatness, as well as make me feel much more pleased about the state of music in general. Thank yorb.

June 13th, 2013 @ Mississippi Studios – Portland, OR

 

Don’t Talk To The Cops!

First to take the stage is the group’s laptop-manning beatmaster, and I mistakenly think that perhaps he is Don’t Talk To The Cops! But no sir; he’s just preemptively hyping the crowd with a grating sample that mixes the words “Don’t talk to the cops!” with, if I recall correctly, a whole bunch of N-words. And then come a short Asian gal donning a beanie and Coke bottle glasses, a giant redhead with a dark barf-patterned t-shirt, and a skinny bearded lad that looks relatively out of place considering the hip-hop aesthetic the rest of the group throws down hard.

Don’t Talk To The Cops! are kind of more like theatre than anything. Their entire set is rife with hip-hop posturing, whether it be found in their synchronized dance moves, repetitive lyrical styles, or photo-worthy hand gestures. They’re a co-ed batch of Fly Girls who also rap to a live mash-up of original sounds, found sounds, and random unexpected instrumentation like Omnichords. As is often the case with hip-hop, their songs playa hate quite often — but somehow, they manage to hate playfully rather than offensively. A big part of this is found in the band’s sense of humor, which one can glean through everything from their stage banter, references to Saved by the Bell characters, and praise given to Shock G of Digital Underground’s use of the phrase, “Yeah, one big stupid butt nest.”

 


Tracks like Don’t Talk To The Cops! “Big Ass Head” are kinda reminiscent of “Yo Momma” jokes top ten lists.

 

Indeed, Don’t Talk To The Cops! are a bit humorously here and a bit humorously there, but always with a backwards glance and a lot of what the fuck. We’re talking lyrics about Asian gal rapper emecks being from Laos and riding on elephants (?) or about emcee djblesOne having freezing balls. They also retool phrases from ’90s rappers to include proprietary lyrical content; possible references include Lil Kim’s “Wanna rumble wit the bee, huh?” and Puff Daddy’s infamous, “I thought I told you that we won’t stop” as “I thought I told you don’t talk to the cops!”

These guys are definitely singularly unique, and the edition of their latest member, Goldbones, contributes further to this. Goldbones is the aforementioned skinny out-of-place lad — but he adds a perfect degree of strange charm to the mix, what with his Skeletor hand jewelry (gold, predictably), wicked basslines, even wickeder tambourine-playing, and absolutely ammmmmmmmmmmmazing dance moves. In fact, the whole lot of them get props for their dance moves, which rarely lose steam, even when crowds like this evening’s are nearly incapacitated and weak as fuck. Don’t Talk To The Cops! don’t care about these trivialities; that everyone in the room stood so far back from the stage that they were lost in the shadows merely provided an opportunity for the hip-hop group to make jokes about Batman and bat caves.

 

AM & Shawn Lee

Though this evening’s Portland showgoers obviously found it difficult to get down with the relatively rough sounds of Don’t Talk To The Cops!, they are quite a bit more prepared for AM & Shawn Lee’s dub, funk, and disco-inspired sounds. Countless youngsters are attempting to merge the same styles of time-tested sounds that AM & Shawn Lee are, but with notably less success. Maybe it’s the years of compounded experience the band has in the industry, but the main thing that continues to make an impression on me is just how very adept they are at putting together melodies and crafting exquisite hooks.

The four-piece band is fronted, naturally, by AM and Shawn Lee, who have no problem running track-after-track through a catalog of unbelievably catchy songs. Almost every song they play this evening is full of rad synth lines and get-down-on-it basslines; extraordinarily rich guitar tones also serve as the most delectable bits of ear candy.

According to some reviewers and fans of the band’s recent full-length, La Musique Numérique, AM & Shawn Lee are giving Daft Punk a run for their money. I don’t necessarily see the direct correlation between the two musically, though of course there are many points of crossover — but what I can say about AM & Shawn Lee is that they are just downright good at making music, and it is in this very basic idea that comparisons to Daft Punk feel appropriate. It’s not like what AM & Shawn Lee (or Daft Punk, for that matter) are doing is exceptionally strange or death-defying. It’s just that what they’re creating is an upper echelon of accessible music — a mainstream radio alternative that both casual consumers and indie music critics can most likely join hands together to. And that’s definitely an important and impressive feat, if you ask me. That’s good pop music, period.

But to thrown down a critical word for a moment, I have to say that there is one major cue AM & Shawn Lee might take from younger generations, and that would be to stop making performing look so very easy, and to give it all a little more oomph…! As the night progresses, and especially during their dubbier and reggae-influenced tracks, AM & Shawn Lee seem to get down a bit more, but I’d still like a bit more caution thrown into the wind. On record, they possess a cleanliness that really works, but live, I believe that a little less concern over delicately perfecting every vocal line, or even just more dancing, could go a long way in bringing the audience’s enjoyment to the next level.

 

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