Celebration of the Life of Mikey 'Eyedea' Larsen, 11/9/10

Categories: Last Night
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To many of his fans, he was known as battle rap legend and Rhymesayers recording artist Eyedea. To others, he was Micheal Larsen, the frontman of genre-bending experimental groups like Carbon Carousel and Face Candy. For others still, he was known by his alter-ego Oliver Hart.

But to most of the performers who filed on and off the Mainroom stage at last night's four-hour celebration of his life, he was simply "Mikey."

"The one thing we all have in common right now is that we were touched by Mikey in one way or another," Slug reflected toward the beginning of the evening, as he warmed to his role as the event's emcee.

As was to be expected, the evening unfurled with a sense of gravity and purpose, and it was hard not to become entranced by the undercurrent that tied every last one of us together. It's not often that a concert (if that's what this could be called) is carried off with such a singular aim, let alone such a serious one, and I'll be the first to admit I had a lump planted securely in my throat within minutes of setting foot in the door.

"Everyone who is performing tonight is either a close personal friend of Mikey's, or someone Mikey looked up to very much," Slug announced--and with that the evening's long list of surprise performers got to work.

The first hour of the show passed quickly, with each act performing one or two songs apiece. There was Carnage, a Minneapolis native who proudly wore a St. Paul T-shirt in Mikey's honor; No Bird Sing, whose somber narratives took on even more heft as bandleader Joe Horton paced furiously around the stage; and one of Larsen's many close friends  and collaborators, Kristoff Krane, who brought out an acoustic guitar to sing "two of Mikey's favorites" off of his most recent album, Hunting for Father, and got more than a few lighters up in the air.

"I'm proud of this kid," Slug said while introducing Krane. "Eyedea is the guy who introduced me to Kristoff Krane."

With the mood at its most pensive, Alexei and Channy Moon Casselle of Roma di Luna stepped into the spotlight to play a few duets, including Bob Dylan's "He Was a Friend of Mine." And though they didn't say it outright, it seemed that one of the songs they performed was written specifically about Mikey, with lyrics like "Brother where you been, brother where did you go?"

Before their last song, Alexei cleared his throat and spoke into the microphone, fighting back tears. "The last time I saw Mikey, we were working on a new song together. At one point, he sat down on the couch, picked up a guitar, and started playing this song."

And with that the couple launched into a stunning version of the Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize?" that soaked my cheeks with tears and set the tone for the rest of the night. It was one of the saddest, most beautiful moments I've ever witnessed at a live show.

Slug welcomed DJ Kevin Beacham to the stage to spin a few Eyedea & Abilities tracks as the musicians from Larsen's Carbon Carousel group set up on stage, and then Slug instructed the audience to stand still for the evening's first moment of silence. Carbon Carousel (Jeremy Ylvisaker, Casey O'Brien, and JT Bates) played just one song, "Skinny," with Glo Pesci from Abstract Pack filling in on vocal duties. Glo knelt on the floor for most of the song, back to the crowd, and sang into a floor-length mirror as an interpretive dancer acted out the lyrics from the song.

The vibe started to soften a bit as Slug returned to hype up the next few acts: Abstract Pack would kick off a medley of old-school hip-hop jams that would flow into a breakdancing set by Battle Cats and a bucket-drum solo by Felipe of Los Nativos. The mood was jovial as the performers bounded around the stage and paid their respects to Mikey; many of them first met Larsen when he was still honing his own breakdancing skills as a teenager.

Next up was another in a series of intense moments, as Slug introduced Eyedea's longtime musical partner and best friend Gregory "Max" Keltgen, a.k.a. DJ Abilities. As the room roared for Max, he stepped behind a pair of turntables and hugged his arms around himself tight, as if trying to soak up every last bit of love in the room. Left alone on the stage, Abilities scratched his way through a series of Eyedea & Abilities tracks that ranged their entire career, ending with the emotional "Smile."

Midway through the night the screen was lowered over the stage for a memorial video, which included photos from Larsen's childhood, video footage of him practicing his breakdancing skills (the crowd went especially wild for a scene where he spun around on the floor of a grocery store), and segments from interviews conducted over the past few years.

Thinking back over the past two hours, I couldn't help but wonder: If this much has happened already, what could possibly come next?

It turns out a surprise appearance by Kimya Dawson was what could possibly come next. Introduced by Slug as one of Larsen's favorite musicians, Dawson sat down center stage and played a solo acoustic set, once again throwing the rap kids at the front of the crowd for a loop. Dawson and Larsen didn't know each other very well, but she explained that his mother had invited her and sent her a list of his favorite songs.

After playing familiar songs "Underground" and "Remember That I Love You," she announced that she was going to play a new song. "After watching that video, I think he would like this one," she said, then proceeded with an intimate song about "looking out the windshield as the world goes by." She closed her set with "I Like Giants" and the jarring, poignant "Walk Like Thunder," which featured a surprise walk-on rap by Aesop Rock.

The energy was brought way up again with a set by Eyedea & Abilities tourmates Themselves, whose high-octane, frenetic verses were reminiscent of Larsen's own work. MC Doseone also offered up one of the most poetic metaphors about Larsen of the evening, comparing Mikey to a giant flame "that a candle can't handle."

Ylvisaker and Bates returned to the stage with saxophonist Michael Lewis for a performance of "Sleep Tight," a song they said Larsen liked to cover, and then Ylvisaker and Lewis filed off to make way for Casey O'Brien and Kristoff Krane, who performed with Larsen as the improvisational live hip-hop group Face Candy.

When introducing Face Candy, Slug joked that he was going to start rapping if Kristoff didn't get to the stage, and as the band started to play he hovered at the edge of the stage, unsure if he wanted to stay or leave. Krane launched into a recurring refrain of "Live to love" and started freestyling about his relationship with Larsen, and at the end of his first verse he turned to Slug and asked, "Sean, you know what I mean?"

Slug jumped at the chance to join in, and the two rappers traded slow and serious verses about their mutual friend. It was incredibly intense and it left Slug looking stunned; after the first song he slinked backwards toward the edge of the stage and down the stairs, unsure of what had just unfolded between him and Krane.

For the last part of his set with Face Candy, Krane asked that the stage lights be turned all the way down, and he stepped to the front of the stage in darkness to deliver an even more personal ode to his friend. By the end of the song O'Brien was wiping tears from his cheeks; though some moments in the evening were celebratory, others were simply about taking the time to say goodbye.

The crowd was starting to feel weary (or maybe it was just me and my over-active tear ducts), and it was time to gear up for the grand finale. After another DJ set by Beacham, the stage flooded with many of the performers from throughout the night and a few extra guests as Mikey's mother, Kathy Averill, flanked by Abilities and Slug, came on stage to read a prepared speech about her son.

After sharing some memories of his childhood, Averill said she wanted to read something Mikey had written when he was younger. She called it "Ode to Hip Hop" ("he never liked that I called it that," she laughed), and it was a dizzying and desperate flood of thoughts from a young man who was still grappling with his role as an artist. It was a powerful and very personal glimpse into the inner workings of Larsen's mind.

The rest of the event was an all-out freestyle freakout, part catharsis and part celebration, as MCs from every aspect of Larsen's life circled around one another to spit verses about their fallen friend. It was hard to even keep track of who all was on stage (see a partial list below), and it was an overwhelming and joyous conclusion to a night that seemed to unleash every emotion imaginable.

As all the rappers filed off stage, Slug stayed behind with the mic. "We all gotta remember to push and challenge the people we love to do better," he said, choking on his own tears. "This dude pushed everybody he loved to do everything better--that's something we could all use more of. Push those people and make those people push and challenge you."

Keltgen climbed up on stage one last time and reached for the microphone. "Mike's favorite time was being on stage and sharing with you guys. Thank you so much."


Personal bias:
I had a professional history with Larsen and respected him greatly. He will be missed by me and by many.
The crowd: Somber yet celebratory.
Overheard in the crowd: Kimya Dawson! (Okay, that was me.)
Random notebook dump: There were no cameras allowed, which made the night feel even more unique and special somehow.

Set list/order of performers:

Carnage
No Bird Sing
Kristoff Krane
Roma di Luna
Kevin Beacham DJ set
Carbon Carousel with Glo Pesci
Abstract Pack
Battle Cats breakdance team
Felipe from Los Nativos
DJ Abilities
Memorial video
Kimya Dawson
Themselves
Alpha Consumer
Face Candy with Slug
Kevin Beacham DJ set
Speech and reading by Mikey's mother Kathy
Freestyle jam with Aesop Rock, Doseone of Themselves, Joe Horton, Kristoff Krane, Psalm One, Sector 7G, Glo Pesci, Kevin Beacham, Battle Cats, Carnage, and more.



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15 comments
kate
kate

amazing article. so much love. so much inspiration.

Elliott R.
Elliott R.

Eyedea was and still is a legend in music and is truly talented, he certainly is an inspiration to me and also to many of his fans his legacy will live on forever through the twin cities and around the world, we all will miss and remember a great Artist

Luke Redfield
Luke Redfield

Thanks, Andrea, for an in-depth review of this celebration. I am in TX and was unable to attend. Mikey was a dear friend of mine and touched me dearly. Thank you to everyone who performed and witnessed the show. Sending love to MN during this time of grief...

spawn orange county
spawn orange county

i wasnt able to attend the "show", but as a long time fan, fanatic of eyedea i just gotta say that im really glad i got to read this article. it does somewhat fill the hole i have in my heart that i got since i found out he passed. thanks you very much for writing this for the people who live too far away to attend this historic moment. eyedea's passing was felt everywhere, especially here in little orange county california. rhyme in peace eyedea.

Swift
Swift

For real thanks for writing this. This "show" was my last MPLS show for this year, and saying goodbye to my City, my favorite venue and one of my favorite artists proved to be a bit too much for me. I made it to the end of Abilities'bit and had to dip. I missed a lot unfortunately, but I'm grateful you recapped it. What an amazing man.

Pakou
Pakou

When I read this, it immediately brought back that night. It was the most chill I've felt in a long time. Even thought I never got to see Mikey perform or got the opportunity to meet him, his music has forever influenced and inspired me, as well as his view on life. When Carbon Carousel performed, I got the biggest chills ever because the style reminded me of Mikey so much. Just seeing so many people touched by Mikey was amazing. Thank you for re-capping this celebration and I'm so glad I made the decision to attend the celebration.

r.eye.p

Shaun
Shaun

Great Breakdown Thank You!

"Love people" - Eyedea

Erica Rivera
Erica Rivera

Brava, Andrea. That you captured this event so poignantly is a gift, both to Mikey's memory and those of us who were unable to attend.

Papa Geezy
Papa Geezy

RIP Eyedea....I still can't believe you are gone.

Sage Francis
Sage Francis

I had to choose between attending Mikey's wake or attending this tribute show. I attended his wake which I think was a good choice but I'm disappointed that I missed this celebration of his life. A part of me was scared that I wouldn't be able to muster the strength necessary to perform on the same stage I had shared with Mikey many times before. Halfway through this show review I had tears flowing down my face. I still don't know if I could have done it. Thank you for sharing the events of last night. Much love to Mikey's family, friends, music partners, and the fans. Andrea...thanks for writing this.

maclown
maclown

Thanks Andrea for covering this "somber yet celebratory" night (with tearful compassion), and for noting the performers/friends emphasis on "challenging the people we love to do better". Mikey had amazing friends, people with great talent and greater character who loved him dearly. He was a life FORCE. And with life so precarious....they wanted us all to reflect. We will all miss Mikey. He is an amazing soul and was certainly gap-toothed smiling from the wings of that stage last night.

GEH
GEH

Thank you for sharing so gracefully. It was a beautiful night that ended with only an empty mic on stage and the crowd somberly filing out.

I choked up again reading your story.

REM
REM

Thank you for the in-depth coverage! I couldn't make the show either and it was a great read to know the details behind the celebration/goodbye of a true hip hop artist! RIP Mikey!

cmj
cmj

andrea,

this is really fantastic work. i didn't make it to the show but it looks like you did a great job of capturing how things went down.

thanks!

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