El-P @ Irving Plaza (June 9, 2007)

El-P is a “b-boy brainiac who will smack you out your mittens.” His mic skills support his pedigree but the vibe at the Fillmore East at Irving Plaza last Saturday came out more rock than rap. It’s a comment on Hip-Hop that a loud and emotive performance transcends the genre; shouldn’t the people’s music reflect the urgency of modern times? El-P threw himself into mostly I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead material, offering up depression, political outrage, and information overload without a trace of too-cool posturing.Dressed like a beat-up nerd, the crowd supported El and his vulnerability from the moment that Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” (sorry Nas) hit the speakers. El-P is a cult artist, inspiring palpable devotion amongst his fans; the crowd reciprocated his love and excitement at being home with friends in New York City. He set it off with “Tasmanian Pain Coaster,” the first song on Sleep, and then went right into the squealing “Smitheerens,” another wailing high point from the album. From jump, the house PA enhanced the density of the power packed rhymes and tracks’ Bomb Squad related noise. El, for his part, never let up, reaching a crescendo midway through the set with the horrifically personal relationship-ode “The Overly Dramatic Truth,” staying lithe with the rhymes but his body language screaming. A live bass player and keyboardist, along with acrobatic DJ Mr. Dibbs, drove home the 2007 point. With a b-boy’s foundation and creativity, the band has absorbed all the digitally streamed music, sounds, and words of the last decade or so and used all of it. KRS-One once offered, “I simply made use of what was upstairs in the attic.” That attic’s gotten huge and EL-P and Definitive Jux are up there dwelling. “EMG” gave the baddest old school 808 blast of the night, the keyboards on “Flyentology” turned the room into the Acid Tests, and El kept it as local as the bodega on “The League of Extraordinary Nobodies,” a cynical paean to stepped on coke and NYC familiarity and togetherness.Variations aside, the set remained consistent, and the place stayed locked-up in El Producto’s world. His anthemic chants—“This is the sound of what you don’t know killing you” and “I might have been born yesterday, sir, but I stayed up all night”—work just as well as choruses like “Throw some Ds on that bitch.” At the end of an evening, both are authentic and exhausting. Here is a question though: if music takes people’s energy, what does it give them in return? Is it food for thought or the want for more? El-P and his band gave back both on Saturday night and his devotees left satisfied.