Neon Reverb recap: Sage Francis leads the hip-hop charge at Beauty Bar

Trade Vorhees
Photo: Bill Hughes
Mike Pizzo

10:00 p.m.: As I arrive at Beauty Bar, rain droplets are teasing a guest appearance at Neon Reverb, and the entirety of Fremont Street smells like weed. I see Sage Francis outside, who I’ve been doing business with since 2001, but had never met in person. We briefly give each other pounds, awkwardly. He looks different than the picture he sent me on the Internet.

10:15: Local hip-hop act Late for Dinner is performing, part of the Rap Is Fun collective. They’re an able bodied, boom-bap hip-hop act, heavy on facial hair. Joining them onstage are two furries, Turnt Up Tom and Jerk Off Jerry, who are acting inappropriately with the crowd.

10:25: Francis is hanging out outside at the merch table, greeting fans. We catch up about forgotten '90s hip-hop artists, millennials' love for vinyl and the current political landscape. He says he can’t vote for Hillary, would vote for Bernie, but likely won’t vote at all. He also reveals that an Epic Beard Men album with B. Dolan is on the way.

Wheelchair Sports Camp

Wheelchair Sports Camp

10:30: The Mars Volta-endorsed Wheelchair Sports Camp (“Denver’s biggest smallest band”) hits the stage. Its lead rapper is 3.5-foot Kalyn Heffernan, who uses a wheelchair due to a genetic bone disorder, performing “It's Hard Out Here for a Gimp” and “Dance Off.” Sh's backed by live drummer Gregg Ziemba and killer trumpet player Joshua Trinidad, the latter of whom steals the show. The whole thing is a bit strange to take in, but it's clearly meant to be. Go on, girl.

11:06: There are dudes wearing actual backpacks here.

11:10: Trade Vorhees hits the stage, channeling Rick Ross’ “BMF” hook for his Breaking Bad- inspired rap. “I think I’m Walter White, Jesse Pinkman.” The bohemian crowd seems into it.

11:38: This cat in front of me smells like Kashi Good Friends.

11:45: Ekoh, the self-proclaimed “emo rapper that got a flow with a bone to pick” hits the stage. He's the most commanding solo emcee among the evening's local acts.

12:13 a.m.: Phil A and Hassan hit the stage. “Someone get me a Jameson and I got a T-shirt or CD for you.” Two fans oblige. Even exchange.

12:20: Dubbler of Late for Dinner joins Phil and Hassan onstage for their final cut, which is seemingly about Vegas: “Live fast and die pretty/This is our city…” YOLO, etc.

12:25: Rain is sprinkling again. I guess I will go stand by this heat lamp that is turned off.

12:47: Sage Francis hits the stage with a tight-knit show, draped in a very punk-rock army jacket with patches of old hip-hop groups sewn on to it. The Public Enemy logo is the largest, taking up much of the back of it. “Are you guys rocking the vote in 2016?” he says sarcastically, before going into “Slow Down Ghandi” to kick off the show.

12:49: A surprise interlude of “America! F*ck Yeah!” from the Team America soundtrack makes an appearance. Sage animatedly pumps his fist, mouthing the words, and the crowd does the same.

12:50: Appropriately, he follows with 9/11-inspired “Makeshift Patriot.” It was one of the first hip-hop songs released after the 2001 tragedy—and by far the most poignant.

1:16: “Escape Artist” and “Sea Lon” follow, celebrating the 10th anniversary of his A Healthy Distrust album, according to Francis. Actually, it’s the 11th anniversary, but hey.

1:20: The rain picks up and cuts the music out, but Francis continues a capella like a true professional. “Don't negotiate with terrorist clouds," he declares.

1:30: Sage does his own versions of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” the latter with lyrics to “Mourning Aftermath.”

1:35: Performs “Get Schwifty” from the Rick and Morty animated series. There’s a statement about how bad commercial hip-hop is in there somewhere.

1:45: Francis winds down his set with “Make 'em Purr,” and it’s pouring rain. The crowd doesn’t seem to care, singing along to every word.

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