There is something elemental about music that only exists when it’s heard live. Maybe it’s the feeling – the echo of the music against the ceiling of some old venue, that then gets mixed in with all of the other sounds that have echoed up there over the years and never come down.
Or maybe it’s the people – the mass of bodies that you cannot escape, that transpose the sounds into motion, engaging so much more than just your ears.
Whatever this element is, it has the power to transform, and in some cases even validate, once-familiar music into something more.
Yelawolf, a rapper from the southern United States, is someone who understands this. There is nothing immediately noteworthy about his music. His debut album is not in short supply of fast and angry tracks about suburbia and the troubles of being “real”, and is not particularly memorable by itself, save for being a pertinent rendition of well-worn ground.
I was expecting this from the show – a competent, if not particularly memorable hip-hop performance. Then I actually got there.
Waiting for Yelawolf to take the stage was like being in a shopping mall on Christmas Eve. The audience at Fortune was eager to start the party long before it was scheduled to begin. Impromptu dancing, singing, and chanting defined the early night. The energy was electric, and I wondered if maybe, I had missed something. Then, Yelawolf appeared on stage, and I learned quickly that, yes – I had missed something indeed.
We like to think of music as a solely auditory experience, but I’m convinced that it is much more. I think Yelawolf agrees. It’s about presence – when you’re listening to something – that is, only listening – you’re only looking at a product – the author is absent from your experience. On Friday night however, it was absolutely impossible to find where the product ended and the author began.
Yelawolf appears as both artist and art. Standing high above the crowd in front of him and the stage behind him, he is a musical lightning rod, the words coming out of his mouth with effortless flow. Whenever he stopped, the crowd took over, filling the spaces between his verses with their own.
While his songs may not be remarkable on paper, they are a whole different beast on stage. Yelawolf’s command of his audience makes each line an anthem with the ability to spur a drunken crowd into flawless recitation. However, his own delivery is never lost in the crowd’s. His effortless flow is always the most engaging thing in the room.
While each of his own songs was reproduced (almost remixed) with great new energy, my favourite part of the show was when he went into a fantastic cover medley.
If the crowd was matching Yelawolf’s enthusiasm before, they were practically possessed of it once they heard the first words to “Fight for Your Right”. The medley consisted of songs by the Beastie Boys and Eminem, who incidentally started Shady Records, which signed Yelawolf last year.
After that chaotic mid-set detour, the show continually grew wilder, with the line between performer and audience blurring until the final song, which prompted Yelawolf to jump into the crowd, dissolving his energy into theirs.
Honestly, that very well could be what actually happened, because that was the last I saw of Yelawolf that night. It was one of those magical things that just tied together the whole show and signaled a definite end. As the crowd quickly took to reclaiming the venue, I made my way out the doors.
I was not expecting to see a particularly memorable show that Friday evening, but Yelawolf turned out to be one of the most memorable performances I’ve seen all year. And I wouldn’t have ever believed it unless I’d actually been there – so presumptuous was I of his recorded material. But it proves that music and performance are actually two very different but closely related things.
Yelawolf released his debut album Radioactive on Shady Records last year, and you should really take a listen. And after that, you should do everything in your power to find out where he’s playing next, and go enjoy the show.