Review: Pizza Luce Block Party 2014

Categories: Last Night

Photo by Patty Grover
Pizza Luce Block Party
Saturday, August 9, 2014

It's telling that more than one artist at the Pizza Luce Block Party shared jokes about stumbling in for a slice in the midst of a late-night bender. Pizza is the fuel that keeps America partying, and Luce is an oasis for wayward revelers in a town that shuts down its best food far too early.

Despite the fact that Luce has grown into one of the larger local restaurant empires, the restaurant's tattooed, rock 'n' roll aesthetic has remained thoroughly intact and amassed the company a diehard following. It's particularly beloved by the music scene for cheap beer, solid tunes, late hours, and vegan options, so it's no surprise that the restaurant's annual Block Party seems to draw on a diverse talent pool, artists who might not have much in common besides their love for the Pizza Athena.

See also:
Slideshow: Pizza Luce Block Party 2014: People & Scenes

Photo by Patty Grover

This year's 10-band roster was nearly 50 percent rap-related, giving a nice sense of continuity and familiarity between sets. Of course, there were a few odd men out. This being a Minnesota festival, we had to hear rootsy sounds courtesy of the legendary Charlie Parr and hot young guns Ginstrings, some indie rock from the freshly reunited LoveLake, a world-funk dance band, and rock provocateur Mark Mallman.

Things didn't seem to really kick off until Carnage the Executioner willed them to. An indomitable spirit onstage, Carnage took a handful of lemons in the form of a constant threat of rain and an audience seemingly unfamiliar with his deep catalog of underground hip-hop and painted that shit gold. It helps that his genius beatboxing is impressive to even the most casual hip-hop fan, but Carnage won the day by refusing to be ignored, growling, stomping, and cajoling his way through a tight but powerful performance.

The rainclouds finally broke midway through Black Market Brass's ruling take on Fela Kuti's "Water Get No Enemy," and the massive 12-piece band, plus PaviElle collaborator and singer Tai-yo made it a turning point, pushing the crowd to dance with their righteous horn vamping. The massive Afrobeat-stylin' funk group seems to grow more fearsome with every show, and when their four-man horn section and three percussionists go full-bore, the sound hits like a runaway elephant. Trumpet player Cameron Kinghorn is a relatively recent but welcome addition to the band. A naturally charismatic frontman, he's comfortable with psyching up the audience and holding down the center stage.

With a handful of gifted soloists in the band, Black Market Brass don't really need a singer to connect with a crowd and get the party started. They brought one along anyway, and Tai-yo's authentic presentation of the Kuti cover, plus an original called "Power" was a welcome addition. Closing with a fiery run through their Secret Stash-released single as the sun started to finally warm the block, Black Market's performance was the perfect way to begin the headlining portion of the night.

Photo by Patty Grover

Thrust into the spotlight on this year's Welcome to MN tour opening for his mentors in Atmosphere, St. Paul-bred Dem Atlas has made significant strides in the last few months, and could definitely be a national name. As the Rhymesayers signee has grown more comfortable in his own skin, he has relied less on the explosive histrionics he used to go in for in favor of a cooled out, troubled Mr. Sunshine-type vibe that fans of Chance the Rapper will find immediately gratifying.

Like that Chicago whiz kid, Atlas is at his best when he embraces his natural melodicisim. He's got a strong singing voice and a good feel for sing-song hooks that separate him from the pack of other rappers that have that '90s West Coast vibe. His showmanship has really taken off as well. Fighting through a few technical difficulties to get some call-and-response participation from the audience, he hopped down on the barrier to get right in his fans' faces. With a 22-date tour supporting Atmosphere and Prof in his near future, we can fully expect to see the same improvement the next time Dem Atlas returns for a hometown show.

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