Sage Francis at the Fox Theatre
In the early evening, a small crowd slowly begins to gather in the Fox Theatre, eagerly awaiting the highly anticipated spoken word and hip hop artist Sage Francis. But before the man himself made a début, he brought with him two acts, one from his self-created record label Strange Famous, Prolyphic, and another based out of Denver, Wheelchair Sports Camp. A five member group fronted by their small but mighty MC Kalyn, Wheelchair Sports Camp gave a melange of jazz influenced instrumentals with classic hip hop beats and a fearless lyricist. Backed by both tenor and trumpet, live drums and a turntable, this eclectic bunch dropped fat 909 layered drum beats, gnarly social-politically conscious raps, smooth jazz rifts and muted trumpet delay lines. Having played many shows in Denver over the past several years, WSC knows how to put on a great show, and with the night’s only live instrument performance, they brought an aspect to the show that a MacBook sadly cannot. Notable songs included (with a casual shout-out to Radiohead for sample approval) a enjoyable cover of “15 Steps” that got the crowd bobbin’ their heads.
Next up was Prolyphic, a gritty underground reppin’ rapper sporting a beanie, an SFR t-shirt, and a whole lotta heart. Despite the use of his MacBook as the only recognizable DJ, Prolyphic boasted a set full of potential and catchy lyrics. His lyrics often included ideas about the “fakeness” of the newly marketable “indie” style, noting Nikki Manaj and Justin Bieber as culprits, the lack of importance and influence criticism should have on the artists (Rainer Marie Rilke, anyone?), and choruses with heartfelt metaphors, such as, “Two sides to every story, two sides to every track.” Prolyphic did several theme-based songs, including a pro-green and recycling track embellished with Exxon Mobile callouts, as well as an anti-drug dealer anthem, drug dealer in the Big Brother, prescribed pills kind of sense, something that Prolyphic “takes seriously, like my mom’s cancer”–an attention grabber, indeed. While Prolyphic had some dope beats and the style to match, perhaps what was lacking was a stronger stage presence. Several songs resorted to simply standing with hand gestures to the lyrics, which, despite being a hip hop standard, can become slightly banal after several songs. Overall, Prolyphic provided a nice segue into the one-man-show style that is Sage Francis, and as more fans slowly shuffled 0n to the floor, anticipation was rising.
In the moments before Sage Francis stepped on stage, the Fox was packed wall-to-wall with fans so eager you could equate them with Catholics awaiting the appearance of the Pope. Emerging from the darkness of backstage, Sage strode confidently out, walked right back to the Strange Famous Records flag hanging up in the back, took it down and draped it around himself. Donning the new-found cape only added to the curiousness of his attire, which included a white head wrap and a long, single piece black garment like the garb of a spiritual leader–an attire fitting considering Sage’s influence on both spoken word and the underground hip hop community. Emitting a natural aura of greatness, a critical eye, and mental dexterity, Sage proceeded to bring the audience into his world for the night, one that is no stranger to a plethora of emotions, ranging from honest confessions and seriously criticism to word-play witticisms and just plain fun.
Opening with three throwbacks to his 2004 album Personal Journals: Runaways, Escape Artist, and Crack Pipes, Sage provided those throwback hits that ever fan craves for. Interlaced between these classics were wildly entertaining covers the likes of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” (accompanied by generous hip thrusts), the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” (posed to the audience with seemingly genuine curiosity), and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” (trading freestyle fours with in the house hip-hop artist Sole from Denver). Sage, lively and jovial, at one point stopped all music, and since he was “feelin’ so good,” dropped new material that had not yet been set to music, giving a sneak peak to a rumored new album. Other songs included an excellent spoken word version of “Hopeless, Damage (Uhh!!),” “Climb Trees,” “Makeshift Patriot,” “Smoke & Mirrors,” “Sea Lion and Broken Wings,” which were all well received.
As if the show weren’t already entertaining, Sage Francis provided further gags such as baby-powder hand claps, a belly-kissing fan, broccoli launched into the crowd, necklace harmonica sessions, and ballerina twirls. Choruses frequently involved crowd participation, filling in their favorite lines and phrases at the behest of Sage’s audience-directed mic, creating a unified atmosphere that kept smiles on all faces. While most of the songs fed into each other, on several occasions they were interrupted by brief splices of musical throwbacks, giving big ups to Public Enemy, Johnny Cash, Steve Miller, and others, and at one point concluding, “There’s a lot more Flava Flaves than Chuck Ds, and that’s a problem.” Sage’s satisfyingly long performance was concluded with his sincere track from his 2010 record Li(f)e, “Best of Times,” after which Sage dropped right into the front of the crowd for some after-show loving. It’s always a wonderful experience when an artist gives their time and attention to an audience of admiring fans, to whom a hug from someone they truly look up to mean just ask much as any album can, and it was a fitting way to end a fantastic show.
Photos and review by David Riott.