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Black Milk at Third Man Records, Destroyer and The War on Drugs at Mercy Lounge

The Spin


Does a body good

We've said it before and we'll say it again: Nashville's hip-hop scene is alive and very, very well. There was a hot second there — right when we showed up at Third Man Records to catch Detroit rapper/producer Black Milk — that it looked like it was gonna be an old-school Nashville hip-hop show. You know, like, back when you could get to a show featuring a great underground artist and it'd be a complete crapshoot as to whether or not anybody else was going to be there. But then again, this is the new Nashville hip-hop scene, and we shouldn't have been worried. The room was comfortably full, and the crowd was all about some participation.

The thing about Black Milk is that he's a dude who knows how to collaborate — his productions and solo albums are always a who's who of the underground — and when we heard he was in town to work on a single with Jack White, we had this inkling that the results would include a band of unparalleled quality. We were absolutely correct. Hot damn, those dudes could rip it up like few we've seen. The thing about live hip-hop when done correctly — and Friday night could be the dictionary definition of the phrase "done correctly" — is that it touches on the genres that make The Spin's heart go pitter-patter. It's heavy, it's funky, it's psychedelic, it's jazzy — hell, there was even an outbreak of Western swing-style shuffle at one point — and overall, it transcends the formalism that defines the genre.

Sadly, we didn't write down the band members' names. Early in the night, Black Milk told us to put our hands up, and — in a very un-Spin-like move — we actually did. And we kept them there. It was that kind of show: the kind where the audience is almost a member of the band, and participation is mandatory. Compulsive may be a better way to describe the situation: The vibe was so good and the band was having so much fun that even jaded assholes like ourselves felt the need to particpate, hoot and holler. We almost turned into puddles of ecstatic, gelatinous goo when Black Milk & Co. dropped "Give the Drummer Some" — and the drummer instead gave us the show of a lifetime. (Think "Neil Peart drum solo" crammed into two bars and a four-piece trap set. Fuckin' killer, dude.)

And while it might be trite to mention that "MC" is supposed to mean "move the crowd," it's a maxim that bears repeating. It also bears repeating that Black Milk is in fact a real emcee who does in fact move the crowd. There's a level of give-and-take between artist and audience that elevates a good show to a great performance, and we will unequivocally state that Black Milk was on that motherfucking level in a big motherfucking way. We've seen some pretty remarkable shows over at Jack White's clubhouse, and good gawddamn, this one ranked right up there.

Seek and destroy

With little previous knowledge or frame of reference of either of the bands playing Mercy Lounge Saturday night, The Spin decided to go in fresh, letting our ignorance double as a vessel to discovery. We walked in and noticed a couple-hundred folks were obviously slightly more in the know than we were.

An ambient guitar drone trickled off the stage while The War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel rambled something incoherent into the microphone. Eager to hear what we were in for, we sized up the crowd in hopes of getting a feel for what the band is like. Only, we're talking about the most nondescript mob of individuals ever gathered for one event. Our best guess is a mix of college honor students, graphic designers and Sigur Rós fans. After two minutes of waiting and wondering, we got a song — an upbeat number pushed by a thin beat running underneath a mush of guitar effects and atmospheric electronics. Complete with harmonica breaks and a hoarse, mumbling, nearly monotone hum, Granduciel's Bob Dylan impression was far too accurate to be characterized as an influence. Though shameless aping aside, it did make for an enjoyable mix.

After sound-checking for the better part of an hour, Destroyer came out to provide a starter-course in ironic band names. See, one might expect a band called "Destroyer" to employ a more literal method of destruction — be it with volume, chunky riffs or a throaty growl accompanied by pummeling double-kick. But that's what they want you think. The twist comes when you instead receive a loving spoonful of '80s soft rock fused with parallel-era synth pop, and updated with all the necessary modern indie-rock amenities.

Backed by an eight-piece band, sometime New Pornographer Dan Bejar serenaded an enthusiastic audience with his signature nasal croon, which floated over a sea of synthesizers, echoey saxophone and bass grooves that could all only be described as "smoooooth." Midway through Destroyer's set, there were a couple more rockin' numbers, laced with squalling guitars and full-force beats, which we're guessing were dug up from earlier in the band's 15-year career. As far as the rest of their set goes, there were no frills, spills or surprises — least of all any actual destruction. Just smooth sailin' on the SS Destroyer.

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