Last night, I wandered down to see Action Bronson at the Independent in San Francisco by myself. It’s maybe the third or fourth time in the last year I’ve gone to see a hip-hop show by myself, and I’ve found that as long I show up at the right time, 5-10 minutes before the headliner starts, and don’t feel let myself self-conscious about flying solo, I can really enjoy myself. In my teens/twenties, going to see music wasn’t about seeing music, it was about having a night out on the town with friends, drinking, carousing, trying to sneak backstage to meet the artist, getting all kinds of high and trying/failing to hit on girls.
Nowadays, however, I drink plenty enough as it is. And most of my friends, aren’t into the same music as I am, so I’d be dragging people who weren’t interested, thinking that one live show could convert them into rap (or experimental electro or vintage soul or Belle & Sebastian) fans. I remember once, in college, taking my friend Tom, to a rap show across the border in Burlington, Vermont, two hours away. As we drove home, after four hours of various 2001-era underground rappers yelling at the audience to put their hands up and demanding to know who was getting high, Tom said, “Well, that should do it. I have seen all the live hip-hop I will need to for my whole life.” To be fair, at this age, I wouldn’t sit through four hours of that kind of show, either. I don’t care how high you are. It’s fucking boring. Especially, I assume, by yourself.
If you’re only at a concert for 90 minutes you can resist the urges that make going to a show alone a somewhat dorky thing to do: walking around the venue hoping to bump into a friend or acquaintance, dicking around on your smartphone, drinking non-stop. For instance, last night, I got there right before Action Bronson went on, I didn’t tweet or facebook or netflix or any other silly thing. I got 2 beers, I accepted a couple hits off the blunt of a stranger (it was a rap show), and when it was over, I went home, satisfied that I just watched someone who is good at rapping rap good for 50 minutes (the ideal length for a rap set, btw).
If you don’t know Action Bronson, he’s a newish rapper from Queens who does throwback NY-style rap with a Ghostface-sounding flow, dropping tons of food references like a blunted Jim Gaffigan. A lot of his lyrics seem like stream-of-consciousness riffs, composed 15 minutes before recording, and then put to tape in one take, with little thought to choruses or other hooks. In other words, this is strictly headphone hip-hop for rap aficionados. Wait. “Aficionados,” implies some sort of sophistication. What I mean to say is “ rap junkies.” This all to say, that this isn’t the kind of show for everybody.
Oh, and I should totally say that the male to female ration was about 15-to-1. I’m willing to bet there would be more women at a skinhead-death-metal show. Also, the fact that there was no live band, that there are literally no sing-along hooks, save for maybe the part of “Jar of Drugs” where Bronson spits ““I got the jar full of drugs, fridges filled with Snapple / Southern coast of France tar fennel with the apple / the feet are purple ’cause I’m stepping on the grapes / consensual the rape, I got the presence of the greats”. There’s very little in the form of dancing, just head nodding and the occasional arm wave. Very few friends would be into this. But I still thought it was great.
Bronson came to the stage with eyes barely open, clearly having smoked weed all day (his current twitter name is “Hideki Matsui Eyes”). As he lit his second giant blunt, 10 minutes into the set, he said, “At this point, this blunt is just for show. I don’t think I can get any higher.” He cuts a distinctive presence, a 5-footish, 315 pound Albianian-Jew mix, with a shaved head and a giant red beard. On stage, he lumbered around looking like a hyperactive, tattooed Gimli from Lord of the Rings, stirring up trouble in the tavern. The show was just an hour of Bronson rapping and a DJ diligently running loops, neither outstaying their welcome or recycling banter/crowd-baiting. The sound was good enough to make out most of his lyrics. The crowd was engaged enough to keep Bronson interested, full enough to almost seem sold out (I bought a ticket at the door, so it wasn’t completely sold out) and the venue had weed smoke to remind me of rap shows of my youth. All in all, for someone like me, a lifelong fan of formal rappers that will never rise beyond semi-obscurity, this was a good way to spend an evening.
The reason I’m going into all the specifics of the show I enjoyed last night is to say that this is the stuff of music nerds everywhere. The genre might be different, the crowd might look different and have a different set of behaviors that are standard for this kind of music. But in the end, you’re in a small dark room appreciating music you like that not many other people do. It’s your thing and if you have haven’t outgrown the stage where you still care about musicians, you shouldn’t let yourself off the hook when they come into town. And that’s the main point. If I could please take a rare moment to offer my fellow new adults a piece of sincere advice; you’re not too old to go to live shows (at least for the next 2-3 years. Ha!). Soak it up while you can. Even if it’s across town. Even if you have work the next day. Even if it’s a band out of their prime. If it’s affordable, and you know well enough when to show up and how to act, you should just go. Even if you’re by yourself.