Originally I’d planned to spend the opening night of the 2011 City Arts Festival at Chop Suey, but with various last-minute cancellations and lineup changes, I ended up only spending the early part of the evening there before heading to Neumos for Mad Rad and Katie Kate. Katie Kate’s music had been catching my ear on KEXP recently, so I made a point of being at the show in time for her. When I arrived at Neumos around 10:15, Mad Rad’s DJ Darwin was spinning tunes to keep things warm, a pretty good mix of Latin hiphop. At one point Trent Moorman got onstage and started drumming along for a bit, which was fun too.
Katie Kate is a hiphop singer, rapper, and producer. She was backed by Terry Radjaw of Mad Rad as her DJ, plus a pair of dancers. Her songs were mostly a mix of brash energetic hiphop and slower emotional rnb. But I’d forgotten about “Copenhagen”, a rocking instrumental that’s one of her current singles, so I made the mistake of thinking of her as “just” a singer/rapper and I was caught by surprise when she stepped back to the side of the stage to let that and another instrumental play. She used the instrumentals as opportunities to feature each of her backing dancers, which was a nice touch. I also liked the world-beat rhythms and flute in “Bad Amazon”. Overall, I felt her music lost a bit in the loud in-your-face performance, but I believe that’s just a matter of my personal taste, not a flaw on her part, and I’m definitely interested in picking up her new album, Flatland.
I’m a latecomer to being a Mad Rad fan. I first really started taking note of them last spring as I started hearing songs from their latest release, The Youth Die Young, and it wasn’t until I saw them perform live at this summer’s Concerts at the Mural that I discovered apparently I’m a fan. But there are good reasons to be one. Mad Rad’s live backing band — which has grown from just DJ Darwin’s synths and samples to include drums, cello, and guitar — really makes a big difference to their sound versus many other hiphop acts. The music is original and interesting, and it’s well integrated with the rapping. These feel like complete songs, not disjointed the way sometimes it seems rappers could’ve just chosen anything with a similar rhythm. And Mad Rad’s vocalists aren’t too shouty for me, plus they harmonize well when singing.
Mad Rad engaged in some entertaining banter between songs, but did little of that hectoring of the audience demanding responses which grates on me. They were also generous towards others, introducing their backing musicians during the second song of the set (instead of waiting until the end of the show), and making a lot of noise in support of Katie Kate and her new release. Not all of their songs were quite to my taste — mainly the older ones, I believe, were the less appealing ones — but even their party songs sounded thoughtful, and overall I enjoyed their show very much. They didn’t have an encore, but Darwin went back to spinning dance tunes to close out the evening.