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November 30-December 7, 2005

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The Rock Show

Lyrics Born Again

By Peter Koht

If your family is anything like mine, than the most entertaining show of the year is their valiant attempt to make Thanksgiving dinner less of a disaster than it was last year. Yet however hilarious your aunt is when she gets loaded, her antics were probably less inspiring than the music that graced Moe's Alley's stage on Nov. 22.

Even before the headliner, Lyrics Born, hit the stage, the evening was in fine form, with Mr. Free at center stage delivering raw and powerful lyrics over his own tracks. It's a dangerous thing to mount the stage alone with a mic, but Free did damn well, exhorting the crowd in advance of Lyrics' entrance. As a solo act, it was one of the best opening acts I've seen in a while, but when he brought out a pair of guest MCs and Lisa Taylor on vocals to wrap up the set, Mr. Free straight tore it up.

After a short break, Tokyo-born, Berkeley native Tom Shimura, a.k.a. Lyrics Born, stepped up onstage. Within seconds he proved why he is an undisputed master of underground hip-hop. Finding his stride with the Quannum crew (DJ Shadow, Blackalicious) while marooned in college out in Davis, Lyrics is a self-made man, whose music is as unpredictable and independent as his career arc. Now happily based in the East Bay, Lyrics is still defying the laws of tradition and making hip-hop that is at once groundbreaking and familiar. Maybe it's the Grandmaster Flash samples ...

Lyrics brought the whole band to the Moe's show, and the sextet that backed him up was superb in the extreme. Classic keyboard patches were re-created in real time, the drummer was sick beyond reason and the vocal hooks from tunes like "People Like Me" were sung live by Joyo Velarde, the woman who provided the vocals on almost all of Lyrics' original cuts. After attending about a dozen Powerbook-based shows (e.g., Jennifer Johns, Run_Return, So Percussion) in the last two months, it was both refreshing and exciting to see hip-hop created live.

At the center of it all, Lyrics bounced around, never satisfied with the energy level in the house. A consummate showman, his mugging and exhortation turned a sleepy Tuesday evening into the best night of the week.

But the real lesson that Lyrics brought to the stage was unstated in any of his lyrics: Real hip-hop is made by entrepreneurs. Like his Oakland neighbors the Hieroglyphics and his label mates Blackalicious, Lyrics shows that if you want to make groundbreaking hip-hop you have to do it yourself, even if you are stuck in a "hip-hop desert" like Davis.

On that tip, a number of Santa Cruz MCs and DJs are gathering at Surf Bowl on the evening of Dec. 9 to present an evening of local hip-hop. Proe, whose latest record, Perfect, matches anything put out on a major label for pure quality and replay value, will perform with the reunited members of the Moonies and Sayre from the Lost and Found Generation.

The Moonies, whose music revels in the kind of observational humor that got everyone excited about Seinfeld, are a phenomenally tight crew whose local legacy stretches back most of the last decade. An equal opportunity groove juggernaut, the Moonies are accessible without being simplistic. As crew member Rob Rush once told Metro Santa Cruz, "Your mom gets down at our shows."

SCAP, the Blue and You

The Blue Lagoon in recent months has become the nexus of the local music scene on South Pacific Avenue. All props aside for the hard work that people at the Attic have done, it's the Blue that welcomes at least six local bands a week to their stage—from established acts like the Chop Tops and the New Thrill Parade to newer ones like El Sonido and Splitting Seconds. The Blue's backroom is a cozy little cavern of rock wrapped in a great big gothic package—and it rules.

Now the Blue is uniting a significant portion of the local talent this coming Sunday, Dec. 4, in support of the Santa Cruz AIDS Project (SCAP). New Type, Sean Kennedy, Mule Train, Oliver Brown and the Dark Town Rounders will all play to raise funds so that SCAP can continue to provide outreach services, prevention information and HIV/AIDS education. Every dollar counts in the global fight against the epidemic, so show up at 8pm, drop a few bucks in SCAP's hat and enjoy the talents of these local acts.

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