A Tribe Called Rad

A Tribe Called Red with Saul Williams at the Commodore Ballroom 11/18/16

Photo by Ryan Johnson

The loquacious Saul Williams opened last Friday’s A Tribe Called Red show an hour beyond the time listed on The Commodore Ballroom marquee. The combination of it being night one of the monumental tour for the headlining act, with it also being in the group’s home and native land of Canada put Williams on “R.E.D.” alert.

Williams was his usual artistic yet stoic self. Calculatingly coordinated in his presentation as well as his execution, the rock steady Williams looked over the sea of intrigued eyes and delivered the sturdy messages that brought the slam-poet to this point of his long standing career. Hand selecting his blend of spoken word and beat poetry with works off of five of his six studio albums, noticeably absent was anything off of his collaboration with Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust. Focussing instead on cuts from his 2016 LP MartyrLoserKing, it still did not sit well that given the incredibly gifted electronic musicians seemingly at Williams’ disposal, not one sampling from the legendary crossover NiggyTardust album was offered up.   

A segue that practically writes itself,” Virus” turned out to be the last song of Williams’ short set on the evening. Serving as a catalyst in the union shared by Williams and A Tribe Called Red, “Virus” also acted a transition for the unlikely pairing from lyric-only to lyrics-sparsely.

Assumedly a longstanding battle that Williams continues to wage, often the company the New York based poet keeps on performance day lacks the fan base conducive to extensions of their collective or undivided attentions; at least in the medium that Williams is accustomed to delivering his often profound sentiments. That is not to say that the Tribe Called Red fan-base is incapable of pondering or deep reflection; it’s to say that when you bring a tribe together expecting to dance and let loose, it can be a difficult chore to then first wrangle that same crew into quietly hinging on a single person’s accompaniment-free vocal and artistic perspectives.

One gets the feeling that Williams is not ignorant to the uphill battle he wages on crowds when he selects these types of tours. Whether it is touring with A Tribe Called Red or The Mars Volta, Williams no doubt gets a few open ears from venue to venue. These types of experiences also gives the philosopher a portal to a world he can later expound upon and sap from it any wisdom he is able to. Perhaps more receptive to William’s’ peculiar ways would be the crowd had he continued to open for The Infesticons or Coldcut for the remainder of his career. Although, the spiritual pragmatic Williams would not be on the very unique path that he has set out for himself with complacent decision making of the like.

Seemingly meaning no disrespect “Who the f*^k is Saul Williams?” was heard on more than one occasion. Those that knew what to expect from the activist were grateful for the time with Williams that they were afforded. That said Williams picked the perfect duration for his set and vibed his departure appropriately.

Aside from the subtle digital backing for Williams on the aforementioned cut “Virus”, A Tribe Called Red came out swinging. Utilizing the famous Friedrich Nietzsche quote ‘what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’, turned Daft Punk song “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, turned Kanye West track “Stronger”, turned oft opener for A Tribe Called Red…the trio of DJ’s knew how to kick a night off.

With a soaring and infectious energy, DJ NDN, 2oolman, and Bear Witness entertained perhaps the best live show crowd witnessed in two decades worth of consistent concert going. Forget a frown, there was nary a person at The Commodore Ballroom on Friday night that did not wake up Saturday having a couple less inches shaken off their asses.

From “Electric Pow Wow Drum” to “Stadium Pow Wow” A Tribe Called Red have at all times a firm foot proudly rooted in their indigenous ancestry. ATCR’s ability to take the essence of their culture’s music and through the use of dubstep, hip-hop, moombahton, and a dash of reggae create an upbeat atmosphere while tackling social inadequacies is nothing short of impressive. Get ready to hear even more from these First Nations activists, because as their star ascends they continue to pick up the attention of other prominent artists with a platform and tireless desire for social progression.

In addition to their current opener Saul Williams, ATCR recently collaborated with Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), and judging by The Commodore Ballroom’s reaction to their song “R.E.D.” from last month’s We Are Halluci Nation album, what doesn’t kill A Tribe Called Red will only serve to make them stronger.