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Review Mon Jun 18 2007

Blown Speaker: Drizhollering with Plastic Little @ the HPAC

driz adjective 1: the state of being intoxicated by substances of illegal or legal nature 2: feeling elated to the point of frenzy and/or public urination. see also drizholler

In what was one of the most ambitious billings of the Empty Bottle's event series hosted by the Hyde Park Art Center, the Philadelphia rap crew Plastic Little played inside of the Speaker Project this past Friday evening. Sadly, audience turnout was somewhat on the lighter side. Something about venturing down to the Southside proved too much of a hike or a challenge for too many folks. Possible deterrent number two: The event was at an Art Center instead of a club, meaning that no drinks were being served. Sorry, folks — it's a BYOB affair. So the early part of the evening involved the ebb and flow of attendees arriving and then re-arriving with six packs in tow, scattering out into the neighborhood in search of a package store, their paths crossing as they wandered the surrounding blocks, sometimes packing in groups in the course of the quest. Juan Chávez, the artist responsible for the Speaker Project, was there with some gear to record the evening's events and a smile that didn't leave his face for the rest of the night.

DJ Logan Bay got things started with broad-spectrum selection of club cuts. The Center had rolled up one of the metal garage doors in the front of the exhibition space, and everyone was filtering in and out, gathering in front of the Center to talk and drink, still within earshot of the music. A few folks started dancing around on the sidewalk. Plastic Little emcees Jayson "PackofRats" Musson, Kurt "Mr. Bombadillo" Hunte, and Jon Thousand were circulating, hanging out and talking to people. At some point, however, the music shifted — turning into an ear-effing, splattering array of goofy electronic effects and fragmenting beats. It was local leftfield beatmaker Protman, who had his laptop set up on a table in the Speaker, navigating a maze of samples in a sound program by means of a Xbox joystick and control panel.

Plastic Little did not, naturally, come unequipped for the occasion, bringing to the speaker four microphones, their DJ Si Young, and an ample supply of fuel (re: intoxicants). Much of the crowd piled into the Speaker as the group started up their set, and the cozy quarters of the setting made the whole thing very much like a basement party, with the band face-to-face with the crowd. The group's outrageous boasts and threats might be hyperbole and inflated fiction for its own sake, but their party vibe is definitely genuine. The table left over from Protman's performance inhibited their movement a bit, so it ended up serving as a bartop, with each of the three emcees constantly taking pulls from the collection of bottles and cups when they weren't dropping verses. The first part of their set was very loose, casual, and delightfully sloppy as a result.

l to r: PackofRats, Mr. Bombadillo, and Jon Thousand

But eventually the bar ran dry and, sans distractions, the P Little guys got heated and started throwing their full energy into the matter at hand. The group and the audience started bouncing around more, mics were passed back and forth, the rhymes reached a more intensified pitch, and there was a lot of laughter throughout. They did a good portion of their recent She's Mature LP before tearing into "Club Banger," a song that details an evening's over-the-top exploits and ends with the sound of a blaze of gunfire. Someone in the audience stepped up to critique of the plausibility of its premise: "You can't do that," he shouted, "You can't die and then come back to life and rap about it!"

"Yes, you can," PackofRats countered, "I had a comic book once that explained'd it all to me!"

As their set veered into the home stretch, things started getting a bit off the hook. At one point, PackofRats was careening about the space with a mic in each hand and a plastic bag over his head, all the while continuing to spew verses. Next thing you know, all three emcees had dropped from sight and had stretched out on the floor of the Speaker, the opening bars of Peter, Bjorn & John's "Young Folks" came plunking and whistling along through the sound system, and the guys started doing calisthenics to the music with their legs in the air as they started up with the raunchy sex rhymes of "Get Close." The backing track soon switched up to the bouncy instrumental for the Cure's "Close To You," and the guys were rolling around on the ground and all over each other as they rapped. A track or two more, and Si Young cued up the group's exit music, Madonna's "Holiday." Let the dance party recommence.

P Little get closer

Chicago emcee, DJ, and producer Vyle was there with some of his friends and associates. Reportedly, Plastic Little had in the previous week attempted to find a venue for a second show on Saturday, hopefully one at a proper club — but nada on such short notice. Vyle told me he was trying to see if he find the group a place on a billing somewhere, but wasn't so sure about the likelihood of anything coming together at the eleventh hour.

As DJ Logan Bay played a second set, a good portion of the crowd gathered in front of the Center. A second bottle of Jack Daniels materialized from somewhere and was given to the group. The bottle was only a few sips light, but Kurt handed it to me. "Here, PLEASE take this from me. Help yourself…I can't have anything further to do with it." Not looking to drastically shift gears so late in the evening, I opted to just hold the bottle while we all stood around yacking. Eventually I tried to pass it off to Jon Thousand on my right. "I can't," he told me, "I've already got about a half bottle in me already." Then eventually he shrugged and said wtf, took it off my hands, and the thing started making its rounds again. The garage door of the Center soon dropped, meaning the party's definitely over, so the where-to-next discussions started up as the crowd began thinning. Northward, all.

A Saturday show for the group never panned out, so they reportedly ended up flying back to Philly the next night. Who knows, maybe they got there in time to catch Blowfly's appearance on their home turf that night.

Note: The Speaker Project at the Hyde Park Art Center is open until July 8. Check the Center's website for details on future events and performances.

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