Thursday, December 11
It was the first Sage Francis show in Wellington since 2010 – his return to touring the world. And it was all energy, every minute of it – all of it a performance, Francis is a gifted wordsmith but it wouldn’t work – even with years in the underground, actually performing on and in the Subway, in train stations, busking, delivering at slam-poetry contests as well as with backing tracks – without the utmost conviction. For Sage Francis is the show. It’s just him, the microphone, a cape draped over his shoulders as if a stage-costume – and a laptop to trigger the beats.
That conviction, that tremendous self-belief, that energy – the confidence to push what he is doing down the throats of an audience, to hope they’ll be won over by the words and the charisma – well, in the end, that’s Sage Francis’ weapon, as potent as any of the verbosity he hurls from the stage. Well, in the end of course, it’s all part and parcel. That tremendous self-confidence comes from working hard, from playing to audiences that – at first – don’t care, or aren’t there to be any sort of audience…until they’re hooked. That energy that he bottles – it’s from a belief in the words and the work.
And so this is one of the great solo performances I’ve seen – from leading a singalong to a twisted-but-cute Casiotone-like rewrite of the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind to a couple of beatless pieces, a capella poems if you like. There’s sweat and spit and fury and it all works – and only works – because of Sage Francis.
There were plenty of new songs – and he went back a decade or so too, some of the earlier material.
The opening set was from Wellington’s turntablist-wizard Alphabethead. Here he hit hip-hop hard across the head with dubstep’s broad sword. He scratched and tweaked and cut to pieces then rebuilt towers of sound for a post-dubstep world. Ominous soundscapes that slowly turn into danceable grooves – and all with his infectious performance style.
Turns out Alphabethead opened for Sage the last time the big man was in town. They’re a great match. One does it with words, one does it with records and sampled drum-machine pulses. It works, in both cases, because of the tremendous energy that goes into it. It’s impossible for the audience to not feel that, feed off that and give in to it, giving back as well.