I don’t write reviews. Rambling sermons about whatever research or observations are in the forefront of my brain: That’s more my thing. Lately though, politics have been invading more and more of both my waking, and nightmaring lives. And it’s in the best interest of myself and those I care about that I fight off the urge to go full-on Spider Jerusalem (again) for as long as I can.
My alarm went off too early. Like it always does. Like everyone’s always does. I want to argue with the screeching little banshee but’ll settle for it to just stop yelling at me. I’m not sure if it’s codependency or Stockholm Syndrome but I’m sure my love/hate relationship with my phone will some day be in the DSM. One of these days I’m going to nail the fucker to my front door as a warning. But not today. After a quick brushing my dentist will lecture me about later, I was putting the setting sun in my rear view. For the next few hours it’d be just me and my phone singing strange esoteric shit to each other. Back on good terms. One of the problems with liking arcane musick is that when you tell folks you’re to see Ceschi and P.O.S, they have no clue how fucking cool that is.
I’m one of the people who likes to be there as soon as the doors open. I’ve no logical reason for this other than I like to mill about and get a feel of the place before it fills up with meat, sweat, and hair. Figure out where the bars, merchandise, and emergency exits are. In case I get wasted, flip the tables like Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple, and have to make a break for it. I guess? I don’t know.
The Sinclair is a decent mid-sized venue. It’s clean, but not uncomfortably so, the staff is friendly, and the bar is decently stocked. I usually prefer my clubs smaller and dirtier, but overall this place manages to hold on to an “authentic” feel, even though the stage is five fucking feet high. The last time I was here, to see DoomTree, the huge stage made sense. After all, the group has 81 members and you can’t stack them like cord-wood – they’re far to wriggly and never stay where you put them. That’d been a very frenetic show. With all the members of the crew taking turns crisscrossing the stage, it had about as much energy and movement as an Olympics opening ceremony. Now, standing in that almost empty hall it seemed strange to imagine Ceschi with his guitar filling that space.
The last time I saw Ceschi was with Factor Chandelier opening for Astronautalis (Do yourself a favor and buy This is Our Science). That was across town at the Great Scott, a venue so intimate the stage is only a foot high. For all those brave enough to be in the splash-zone of spittle and spilled poison, this puts most performers’ crotches about face-level – which is all fine and good until a quick shove from the mosh-pit and you windup head-butting the person your looking up to in the junk. Oopsie. Sorry.
Anyway, the way I remember that show was Ceschi spending more time out in the crowd than on stage, without a mic, and acoustic, doing a lot of beautifully personal, rage-fueled folk-punk. Which until then, I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t even know was a thing.
Back at the Sinclair, I looked up at that huge stage and tried to imagine him getting off it without hurting himself.
The place began to fill in with what one might expect to see at a midweek Hip(ster)-Hop show. There were the Harvard crowd and underground music fans – with their dark earth-tones and postures slumped like question marks. Then those one might picture as “typical Bostonians” – People in sports-ball caps, clothes that actually fit, and who stood tall like exclamation points. Oh the diversity; here were beards of almost every texture.
While I sliced through the gaggle, the only person who complimented me on my BusDriver shirt, was Ceschi. If the man isn’t on stage, he’s either working his own merch table, or in the crowd enjoying the other performers and talking to fans. If you go to one of his shows you will meet him. But I must warn you, there seems to be something resplendently down-to-earth, and intimidatingly kind about the man.
The first young man to take the stage was called Hard_R and looked like he was trying to win a Raggedy-Ann look-alike contest. I’m not making fun; I too had a Raggedy-Ann phase when I was his age. But as is often the case with first-openers, I’d never heard of him, and the quality of his sound was what one might expect from his place in the line-up. He was young, and glistening with potential that I’m sure he’ll one day grow into. But he wasn’t who I was there to see.
Next came Transit22. Another guy I’d never heard of, but who had a professional sound you could tell came from years of honing his craft. Transit seemed to have deep lyrics filled with soul churning poetry. At one point he joked with the crowd that he’d discovered a surefire cure for writers block; divorce. When he wasn’t making his words hopscotch over a beat that, in turn, skipped across the air like a stone over the water, he told interesting stories and joked with the crowd.
Apparently, Once upon a time, he made a joke-video that went viral about how easy it is to make pop songs. Then one day an evil king (Gene Simmons of Kiss) , summoned him and asked if he’d trade his soul for being a pop tart for real. Since he was an opener for an underground show, you can guess how that story ended.
Transit was good and made me wanna checkout some of their music. Unfortunately there was a problem getting their merch through customs. So I guess I should go do that now.
There was no curtain or anything, so one moment the stage was empty, the next they were there. Unannounced, and without any fanfare. An anti-rockstar entrance. Of course. And a split second later, Ceschi and his brother David Ramos, a pleasant surprise, slammed into tribal rhythms on hand drums. Then came the semi-automatic rhythm of Ceschi’s words. The forceful lyrics to Forever 33 wove themselves into the acoustic beats. The percussive reimagining was a refreshing shock, like diving into cool water, a great way to prepare you for a set that’d toss you around like the ocean.
Ceschi must be like a goldfish that grows to fill his tank. His show on the big stage had a completely different feel from the one at Great Scott. He paced and thrashed around the stage like a newly trapped bear in an electrified cage. All over the place, exactly as you’d expect someone with a repertoire that runs from song reminiscent of classic rock to hard-driving hip-hop to old-school metal. One end of the stage to the other. Calmly playing guitar and singing sweetly, then rapping aggressively. From steam rising off him, kneeling in the heavenly blue lights, praying for the human race in his own way, with every word and every song, to deciding that the 5 foot platform wasn’t high enough and standing on his chair. Until finally he broke free and found his way into the audience. Just him and his guitar. No mike, no amplification. And that packed house in Boston shut the fuck up and strained to hear every word of his broken-hearted, rageful 21st century protest songs. He performed wandering around the crowd because, he said he knows what it’s like to be a fan, and wanted everyone to get a chance to hear and see. Now, I’m not one to take pictures at shows, but he had me so giddy I found myself frantically deleting shit off my phone to make room, even though I knew any I’d take would be shit.
He closed with a quiet version of Barely Alive that had everyone singing along and feeling very much alive. And with that he just disappeared into the back of the crowd, and was gone. For me, Ceschi alone was well worth the six hour round-trip drive. But there was still the headliner.I must admit, I didn’t do my homework for the P.O.S show. He released a new album not too long ago, but I’ve an old-fashioned notion about actually handing my cash to the artists. It makes me feel like my money is going to where it really should. So I didn’t buy mine until a few moments before he went on. I also felt the need to buy something from Ceschi. He and I got into a little dispute about how much his merch should be worth. I grabbed a bag with a Fake Four symbol on it. The tag said $7. I handed him a 20, and before I could say, “Keep the change. It’s an investment to my favorite music,” he started to say he felt the bags were really worth more like, $5. The fiercely congenial man wouldn’t just shut up and take my money, and won the argument by grabbing random things off the table and shoving them into the bag.
With more humility than a roadie, P.O.S unceremonious and nonchalantly slunk onto the stage. Another proud anti-star. Then the music erupted with a full-on Sonic assault that rattled everyone’s gonads, and he was like a werewolf busting out of old skin.
Ceschi and P.O.S are similar, but very different breeds of performer/artist. Both inspiring lyricists that lead you down dark paths of obscure references to profound messages – the type rap genius was made for. P.O.S might be a little more likely to lead you to a six-pack of molotov cocktails though. On stage he has an aura that inhabits the whole hall and reverberates back off the walls without even trying. Which makes sense; he’s Part of DoomTree. Every song they make is an anthem of some kind or another.
I’d never seen P.O.S live. His stomach hated his guts for a long time (he showed us the scar) which kept him from the road. One thing that surprised me about him was how loquacious he was. Between every song he’d be talking shit with his DJ, or with the crowd. Like an old friend who pokes fun at you and you wouldn’t want it any other way. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was his brush with death that brought out this giggling rabid playfulness.
While it is true, if you turn any P.O.S album up to 11 you’ll likely have the popo pounding on your door threatening to charge you with inviting a riot, he isn’t all shouting tongue lashings and beats that churn up sound waves and make you feel like you’re up to your neck in a stormy sea. He also has songs that are slow, and strong, and wrap themselves around you. A kind you can feel each muscle tighten like a snake, and take your breath away. Apparently his new album, which of course he played a lot of, is more of this kind. More whispered benedictions of Fight Club anarchism and bare-knuckle buddhism.
After those songs, he again had the crowd cracking up with his jovial goofin’ and clownin.’ Then he segued into something like “Who’s mad as hell with what’s going on in the government right now?” A roar went up from the crowd that rattled the dust off the rafters. Then, being him, he asked, “Who’s actually doing something about it?” And awkward moment followed with the majority of the crowd looking uncomfortably at their shoes. It was at that moment that I noticed I was wearing loafers and no socks.
He brought the energy up so high at some points I had to fight off the urge to try and start a mosh pit. Hard edged lyrics that felt like poetry scratched into bricks with a key. Then down again with a quiet desperate passion, like trying to do it all in too short a life. Like trying to fuck in superposition. Then back again, around and over and through. Then he was out in the crowd and we were all dancing to some good old hip-hop, sweating off our tattoos until the whole thing was brought to a screaming gasping crescendo, and over too soon. And time to go get lost in the cold, trying to find my car from memory, as I used up the last of my phone’s battery taking shitty photos. A sacrifice I’d make again.