Saul Williams confuses the hell out of fans at the Varsity

Categories: Concert Review
Afropunk paintings.jpg
Photo by Carl Swanson
It is interesting to consider when things started feeling wrong at the Saul Williams concert presented by Afropunk at the Varsity Theater on Sunday night. It may have started early in the night, the first time that MC Tchaka Diallo, who was acting as host for the evening, thanked their sponsor Budweiser. The Converse sponsorship was tolerable -- if you can get money to finance a tour, more power to you Afropunk -- but Williams has never seemed like the kind of man who would endorse American light lager. The feeling that audience expectations may have been out of sync with the touring show Afropunk put together was compounded when, after impressive and impassioned sets by local acts Dearling Physique and No Bird Sing, out trotted Houston, TX, band American Fangs, who delivered high-energy, Vans Warped Tour-tested, MTV2-ready pop-punk with little discernible political content or formal innovation. 

It was loud and aggressive, aggravated by two light boxes aimed directly at the audience making them difficult to watch, let alone listen to. True to the spirit of Afropunk embracing multi-racial bands, American Fangs proved that in this day and age, anyone of any race or creed can make power-chord based pop pablum. The audience who began with an excited buzz had began to wander and lose focus as producer and DJ CX KiDTRONiK set up for Williams' set. But before Williams and his guitar and keyboard player would come on, Diallo and KiDTRONiK would perform as Krak Attack, and at that point the show definitively went off the tracks.

Wearing a vest decorated with a ribcage and flexing his biceps, Diallo rapped about being the best, as rappers are wont to do, but then paired it with lyrics like "Al salaam-aleikum/I don't eat bacon/I am not Jamaican." As if that was not ludicrous enough, the hype act became downright derogatory as Diallo and KiDTRONiK pulled women up onto the stage to perform their single "Big Girl Skinny Girl." For an audience who came to see Williams -- an artist whose book of poetry S/HE was a fragile, fierce and honest exploration of the relationship between him and the mother of his daughter, who refers to the powers he sees in the universe as "goddess" and promotes art as a vessel for independence and liberation -- having some stereotypically objectifying bullshit club grind open up for him was downright insulting.
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