Listening to Open Mike Eagle for the first time is like drinking coffee for the first time; your first experience might leave a bitter taste, but there’s something there that keeps you coming back. The self-described “Art Rapper” flows over unorthodox beats with wit and dexterity unparalleled in contemporary rap. His dense rap style can be laborious to listen to at first, but before long it becomes an addictive challenge to decipher. Just days after releasing his newest album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, Open Mike Eagle performed an intimate set for a small crowd at the High Noon Saloon.
Opener Kosha Dillz took the stage first to a couple dozen fans who came early to get their craft beer fix in. Dillz was able to engage with the crowd in a genuine way, even holding conversations with fans in-between songs. Supported by a live drummer playing over his beats, the set remained entertaining throughout, capped off by an impressive 5-minute freestyle about things he saw in the crowd.
Following every song, Dillz asked someone in the crowd to tell him what time it was in an effort to squeeze as much music as possible into his limited time. During his songs he was calm and collected, but the end of his set turned him manic in an effort to pick and play the next song.
After Dillz’s set ended late, New York rapper Sammus began (before you ask, yes, her name is inspired by the video game character). A stark contrast to Dillz’s live drummer, Sammus was only equipped with her MacBook. In most situations, such a bare-bones set up makes for a boring show. However, the raw emotion of her performance was too compelling to ignore. The highlight of the night was easily her a cappella performance of the second half of “1080p,” in which Sammus slowly lowered the mic and raised her voice until her screamed verse was the only audible noise. In the midst of a doctorate program, Sammus’ intelligence was obvious throughout her set — especially on tracks like “Weirdo. “Shoot my peoples like we are free throws / Loot the speech codes of negro queer folks,” she rapped. Overall, her set made showing up early well worth it.
Finally, after an extended wait between sets, Open Mike Eagle made it to the stage. For the beginning of the show, he mostly stood still with his beat pad in hand and DJ Artistic by his side. The first half of his set was primarily filled with songs off his newest album — an album much calmer than his previous works. The result was an oddly static concert scene, as if I was watching a still life painting. The crowd’s eyes fixated on Mike and their bodies stayed statuesque. Mike returned the favor by motionlessly delivering his rhymes. The only one out of place was DJ Artistic, who was dancing with unmatched fervor.
The show became more energetic once Mike started playing his older tracks, with a very obvious transition point occurring during fan-favorite track “Doug Stamper.” Mike preceded the advice-littered song by giving some personal tips to the crowd. One fan asked, “how do I balance my career of stand-up comedy with my music career?” Mike laughed and responded, “make a lot of money from stand-up really fast.”
As if he turned on a switch, the room’s mood brightened up. People started dancing and singing along — norms at any other concert but unprecedented at that show. The energy stayed in a steady crescendo throughout the night, peaking with his closing track “Ziggy Starfish (Anxiety Raps)” that saw his earlier calm demeanor replaced by a screamed chorus.
In true indie rapper form, Mike ended the show by pleading the crowd to buy merch and offering to hug anyone daring enough to touch his sweaty shirt. Overall, Mike’s ability to keep the energy in a constant rise was an impressive feat of crowd control that ended on a high note. However, it came at the expense of a boring first half. If you ever find yourself going to an Open Mike Eagle show, I’d recommend coming early for the openers, then bringing a good crossword for the beginning of Mike’s set. But whatever you do, make sure you’re there to see the still life art rapper come to life at the end.