For the first time, the entire Doomtree crew from Minneapolis played Chicago as a collective. Best known as the group which P.O.S. calls home, Doomtree is in fact a much larger entity. The remarkable thing about them is that, unlike so many hip-hop crews, each MC has a distinct solo style that isn’t compromised when the group records as one unit. Even the most seemingly opposed styles (Mike Mictlan’s politi-rap, Dessa’s soulful crooning) gel remarkably well with the group at large.
Their live show as a whole is structured much like a lot of folk shows; a few songs as a group, then round-robin time for solo material, then back to the group, sometimes collaborating between just two or three members. This also lent the set the added boost of having every chorus pop when six other people were delivering every hook. At the start, Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak came out, as they were the two with the newest material to sell. Tiger mainly traffics in beats, and did a couple of live tracks, before Lazerbeak picked up a guitar, and after promising the audience “I’ll do some pop music, and then bring out some rappers,” he tore through a woefully short set from his new record Legend Recognize Legend. That album’s bizarre but enjoyable mix of indie pop and hip-hop works really well live, especially when LB is going as hard as any MC.
From the minute the group as a whole took the stage, it was clear who drew the sizable crowd. P.O.S., or Stefan Alexander, has spent most of 2010 touring on a victory lap behind his career-best record, 2009’s Never Better. This also gave him a popular single (“Optimism,” the song with the flip-cup beat) and a good deal of critical acclaim. To his credit, despite being the big draw, he only did about four solo songs, no more or less than any of the others. Disappointingly, though, he strictly stayed to new material for the evening; having seen him five times now, I can honestly say that he’s in his best voice when tearing through Audition cuts.
For the most part, the show featured solo work, and a lot of it. Luckily, there’s not a dull rapper in Doomtree, for the most part. Cecil Otter was on the mic a lot less than the rest, which is a shame, because his few forays into center stage were definitely on the level, particularly when he dropped verses over Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks,” which seems to be the trend du jour in indie rap at the moment. Sims, debuting some new material from his upcoming collaboration with Lazerbeak, put forth a good mix of intensity and “aw shucks” congeniality, two elements that don’t often jive. Mike Mictlan is definitely the most intense onstage presence that Doomtree has, but he’s a talented enough lyricist that he’s elevated beyond being the token tough guy of the group.
The real stunner here was Dessa. Having just released her debut LP A Badly Broken Code earlier this year, it’d be interesting to see how she would fare breaking out solo after a lot of collaborative work. Onstage she’s at once vulnerable and furious, tenacious and gentle, and there was a noticeable change in the audience dynamic whenever she stepped up; a stunned, almost reverent quiet took hold. At one point Matthew Santos (best known for the amazing hook on Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar”) came out, and was completely upstaged.
Moral of the story: Doomtree are a force of nature, in pieces or as one. We can only wish all our friends were this cool.