This show was a long time coming. I fell in love with Sage Francis‘ music in 2005, when I first discovered Personal Journals and became instantly hooked. Sage’s aggressively passionate delivery coupled with complex & poetic lyrics was exactly the type of hip hop I’d been looking for. Mainstream rap had failed to engage me past my high school days, so the underground scene (mainly the labels Strange Famous, Rhymesayers, and Stones Throw) was where I found the good stuff. And since then, Sage has continued to impress & entertain me with every release. His latest, Li(f)e, continued on a trend (started by Human The Death Dance) of veering away from the traditional hip hop beats in favor of a more instrument-based attitude– a bold move in today’s climate of electronic music and over-the-top bass. But this show was the 10 year anniversary of Personal Journals, so Sage put together a set that heavily featured this album, while deftly mixing in some of new, more orchestral-sounding material as well.
Not only did Sage bring in new material but he also packaged his older material in novel ways. This was done very carefully by DJ No Spin Zone (a.k.a. Sage) through clever placement of some very unexpected songs as the backing tracks. These ranged from Steve Miller Band (during “Civil Obedience”) to Nine Inch Nails (after which Sage said, “A little boy named Trent made that beat for me.”) This was an unexpected and really interesting way to create a diverse set packed with twists & turns. At the end of “Broken Wings” he even dropped a sample of Mr. Mister’s “Take These Broken Wings” over which he lip synced the brutally 80s vocals… working on his singing voice indeed. Van Halen, The Pixies, and Billy Idol were also sprinkled into the set in various ways. I definitely did not see any of that coming…
But what I did see coming was the overwhelming emotion Sage displayed. His stage presence was punctuated by an uncanny confidence that bolstered each lyric & made every point that much stronger. The way he carried himself on stage was every bit as impressive as his flow and ability to spit a ridiculous amount of lyrics. His energy boomed exceptionally strong in the versions of his songs that were straight-forward. And these were some of the highest highlights as the sold out Bottom Lounge crowd was extremely well-versed in Sage’s lyrics. The opening track from Personal Journals (and one of his biggest bangers… seriously, listen to that drop at 0:35) “Crack Pipes” made the audience go totally apeshit. And his re-creation of the spoken word piece “Hopeless” was spine-tinglingly powerful. Sage’s energy was infectious; the passion in his voice spilled over the mic and washed over everyone in the house like a beam of light.
Like just about every hip hop show, it felt much shorter than we all would have liked. But as a treat near the end of the set, he brought out the opening group, The Metermaids, for a sick version of the very old song “Damage 96.” Then he dropped yet another ‘cover’ with A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” where he invited the other opening artist, Kristoff Krane, out for a little freestyle battle– a badass touch to end the set. But he returned for an encore which consisted of two songs: a new song (title unknown) that was dark & brooding, and the closing track from his latest album “The Best of Times.” It was a dreamy & atmospheric way to end the set, sending a chill down my back with poignant lyrics and buttery smooth delivery. First concerts with long time artists are always packed with high expectations, and in this case, all of them were entirely surpassed. Sage is a virtuosic lyricist and the way he commanded the stage drove the live performance to a wildly entertaining level. Sage Francis is unquestionably one of the brightest hip hop artists around today; this is what hip hop oughta be.