Show Recap: The Coup perform a different kind of balancing act
Words and Photos: Adria Bani / July 26, 2013
After a recent return from touring Europe, Oakland natives The Coup brought their politically-charged, punk-rock hip-hop fusion back to the bay in a sold-out show at Yoshi’s San Francisco on Sunday night. Known for their radical roots and danceable sounds, The Coup encompasses the spirit of the SF bay area (and more specifically Oakland), but the band was hesitant about playing at this upscale fixture in the Fillmore district. In the words of frontman Boots Riley at the show’s outset, “At first we didn’t want to do Yoshi’s because we thought it was gonna be too many seats and too many people sitting down and observing… If you’ve been to a Coup show before, you should know—if you didn’t dance, you weren’t really at the Coup show.”
The venue did indeed bring the question of ‘down-ness’ into focus, as a restaurant with well-dressed middle class clientele hosting an anarchist-leaning band, but they accommodated by removing tables and chairs from the main downstairs floor, allowing the energetic crowd to dance together. The music seemed dialed-in to the juxtaposition, as The Coup opened with the intro to 2009’s album Pick a Bigger Weapon—“I’m a walking contradiction / like bullets and love mixing / Slur my words with perfect diction / I’m guilty of my convictions.” As the electric guitar, keyboards and bass grooved to the dark metal-esque beats of Hassan Hurd on drums, the nagging cognitive dissonance of the music of the proletariate in the venue of the bourgeoisie dissolved into a unified head bang and hip shake. As Riley says, they do music because it engages people, and this was an example of that power. Not every question has a clear clean answer, and sometimes it is less about thoughts and more about feel.
Female vocalist Silk-E entered shortly after the intro, matching and at times exceeding the energy of Riley. Boots is the face of The Coup, but Silk-E felt more like a partner, not just a back-up. Audience members were wowed by her performance, wildly cheering her solos and exuberant dancing, and she led the show independently at points, with Boots exiting stage while she shone. The band blended selections intuitively, moving back and forth from recent hits like “Magic Clap” and “Guillotine” to recent history such as “We are the Ones” and “My Favorite Mutiny”, as well as some 90s classics like “5 Million Ways…” and “Fat Cats Bigga Fish”, finally closing with the infectious lyrical rhythms of “Get that Monkey off your Back.”
Audience members were connected, cheering, dancing, feeling it…and they surely had a well of feelings to draw from, as one audience member demonstrated by questioning Boots about the Zimmerman verdict during an interlude.Boots however seemed hesitant to address the Zimmerman verdict specifically (”...this isn’t really an appropriate forum for a discussion…there have been a lot of Trayvon Martins…”) His tone seemed to reflect the frustration (shared by many activists) that this kind of racism has been unacknowledged in the mainstream for so long until now. But he did speak for several minutes toward the end of the show about the power of labor strikes such as the recent strike by BART employees, and suggesting that such labor strikes could be used to respond to situations like the Trayvon Martin killing. Organize, organize, organize was his message. The power is in the numbers.
The Internet of course provides an unprecedented opportunity to access the power of numbers, and The Coup, with a Facebook following of more than 20,000, is doing just that. But in a career spanning more than twenty years, they’ve struggled to reach a critical mass, as Riley explained during a poignant interview in SF Weekly in anticipation of this performance: “At certain points in time, anger helps in some situations. But I don’t think anger causes optimism that you can change [circumstances]. Anger leads to frustration, which leads to people backing off, deciding that they’re going to create collectives in the woods, or collectives in a basement somewhere. It’s definitely always a struggle — you never know where the next rent check is going to come from. But it’s been like that for the whole time. I have this very un-revolutionary superstition that it’s all going to end up working out.” If the large crowd and intense energy of Sunday’s show is any indication, that day may be just around the corner in the epic journey of The Coup.