Live Review: El-P + Killer Mike @ Fine Line Music Cafe
Often shows have such castaway openers that the headliner performs in a vacuum, their performance only measured against either previous times you have seen them or whatever crackpot expectations you dragged in the front door. Then there are shows like the El-P/Killer Mike/ Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire one at the Fine Line last Thursday, which kept building throughout the night and kept the crowd entertained throughout the nearly four hours of music.
Headliner El-P could have filled the space on his own, but he decided to bring an all-star team of openers (who happen to guest on his new LP) to make for one of the best top to bottom hip hop shows I have seen in a while. His set was focused on his great new LP Cancer4Cure, which he played start to finish to start the set. When he was done with the album he went through his classic material from his older solo LP’s. He has a detached but commanding stage presence that mixed with his steely beats and bombastic songs had the crowd eating out of his hands. Like all of the performers, he seemed genuinely surprised and appreciative with the rapturous response the full crowd was giving him.
The thing that made El-P’s set so surprising was that it was able to keep pace with the preceding Killer Mike set, which was one of the best sets I have seen all year. After a goofy set from Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire, Mike came on stage and simply destroyed the Fine Line for nearly an hour. Focusing heavily on his El-P produced album of the year contender R.A.P Music, Killer Mike whipped the crowd into a lather with nothing more than a DJ and a mic. With his growling rhymes, imposing frame and Seattle Mariners hat tilted low over his eyes, Killer Mike didn’t need any theatrics to create a powerful performance. In addition to R.A.P highlights “Reagan,” “Big Beast” and “Go!,” the set also touched on older favorites like “Kryptonite” and “Ric Flair.” The biggest crowd reactions may have come from his performing of tracks where he guested on, including the Outkast jam “The Whole World” and a seriously amazing version of “Never Scared,” which had the crowd going crazy. Despite not being the headliner, I doubt there was one person in the crowd who wasn’t hyped after Killer Mike’s set and he set the bar incredibly high for El-P.
While not at the level of the two main acts, the two openers still held their own. I only saw one song from Despot, but he seemed versed in the Sims version of indie hip hop and seemed to do it fairly well. Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire has been getting some buzz, but came across to me as a pastiche of a “goofy” rapper and, especially after Killer Mike came on after him, like someone who really needs to beef up his skills to really make a dent in the game.
The fact that El-P’s set, which was outstanding, wasn’t the highlight of the show goes to show how great this bill was. Even the fact that the show was at the Fineline, one of my least favorite venues in the world, couldn’t take away from what was one of the very best shows I have seen all year and a true testament the energy that a great top to bottom bill can provide. While bringing along random openers could have set the table for El-P clearly being the top dog, he had the confidence to bring along two buzzing rappers and the guy who created what will probably be hip hop album of the year. Good for him to have the confidence in his live show (he should) that allowed this tour to happen.