Hippies and hipsters. Thick beards and thin moustaches. Eye-catching hats to be regretted later. Twelve guys who could have appeared in a Zach Galiafinakis lookalike contest; and all won.
From amid the perspiring throng stepped a man who looked like everyone’s accountant’s assistant. Skinny, pale, un-tattooed. White long sleeve business shirt and black pants. The only concession to danger being the extension of the clean shave to a bit higher up the side of the head.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am the legendary Buck 65.”
And he was. My beginning and end of Buck 65 prior to Sunday was buying Talking Honky Blues on spec some years back and having an itunes binge on a few other songs shortly after. It was only the prospect of a quiet inexpensive night out that dragged my from my comfy abode. With my limited awareness of the subject matter I was prepared to expect the unexpected.
To start with Buck was twenty years younger than I anticipated. But that was merely the first of many surprises, all of them pleasant.
Buck 65 doesn’t work in any one space. Hip-hop underpins his act but every song provides the promise of the new. He seems to start with bass and drums, building the foundation, but the overlay production slips genres, samples, even historical eras. I tried to explain the core elements of the gig to a colleague the following morning and was told ‘It sounds so random’. That’s the best description I have heard to date.
The ‘setlist’ seemed to be written on sheets of paper that Buck returned to intermittently. There were well over a dozen full songs interspersed with snippets of, and segues into, other tracks. While you can indeed call some tracks ‘novelty’, the musical cred was obvious. There was a great song about the zombie apocalypse, a two parter about the drudgery of laundry (dirty and clean), and in between some banter with the crowd (a cosy 150 odd).
I only had a wishlist of three tracks. Wicked and Weird was present but only familiar in vocals, the backing track was all new but quite effective. Dang appeared but seemingly only as a one verse intro to another track. Only Kennedy Killed the Hat (and to an extent 463) were missed, and even they were well covered for with some newer tracks, many of which were assisted by an attractive young woman named Tiger Rosa (I think). Her presence was sporadic but vital.
Always moving. Scratching. Dancing. Clowning. Engaging. Buck 65 knows music is the core, but he was hell-bent on ensuring everyone left knowing they got their money’s worth., practically demanding you be entertained. When on the microphone he was intense, crisp and lyrically superior, his delivery clear even in his odd gruff voice that defies his youthful appearance, like early Paul Dempsey or Allen Iverson. When not on vocals Buck spent his time honing a series of strange but entirely different dance moves, many of which were unabashedly ridiculous, again looking like that accountant’s assistant, although this time at the Christmas party after seven beers.
There were far more to references sex than I expected both in terms of samples and lyrics, but again I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect a one song encore where Buck left the song duties to Tiger Rosa so he could schmooze through the crowd, selectively slow dancing to Careless Whisper with randoms, with him ultimately choosing a tall handsome bald bastard immediately in front of me (OK he’s a bastard because I was RIGHT THERE and Buck 65 didn’t give me a second glance…)
Buck 65 is Beck with a lousy publicist. He is Eminem with far more skill and likability, but without marketable angst and the ear for a commercial hook. He has an array of songs like no other and this was a gig like no other, fresh, funny and fun.
I arrived prepped for a lazy Sunday evening as a familiar to Buck’s work. I left a fan.