Stardom is a funny thing. It’s ineffable, indescribable, like the famed phrase U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once used to describe pornography: "I know it when I see it." Thursday night’s show at Brooklyn Bowl, sponsored by a cadre of music blogs and the music blog aggregator Hype Machine, was an exercise in stardom -- who has it, who does not, and why.
Fresh off his stellar, perhaps career-defining album R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike tore through a 30-ish-minute set full of career highlights which reminded the audience that though he might be looked at as a journeyman by some, he’s been around for a lot of pivotal moments in Southern hip-hop -- he was with Outkast for “The Whole World” and a generous swath of Stankonia, as well as T.I. for “Ready Set Go,” and partnered with Big Boi for one of the more energetic marijuana-oriented posse cuts in recent memory, “Kryptonite (I’m On It).”
The woozy, apocalyptic funk of R.A.P. Music finds Mike partnering with Brooklyn alt-hop stalwart El-P in something of a 2012 analog to Ice Cube’s Amerikkk’s Most Wanted -- a renowned regional MC stepping out of his comfort zone and in the process allowing his producer and himself to find the best in each other.
Onstage, Mike is quite literally a pillar, managing to command the crowd’s attention despite standing nearly still on the mic. The massive rapper closed his set in the crowd, performing “Kryptonite” surrounded by his exuberant fans.
While Killer Mike managed to enrapture the crowd by simply standing still, High High, the band that followed him, did not. A synthesis of trendy notables from Rogue Wave to Grizzly Bear, they were a black hole of energy. Their music is fine, but perhaps the best context to experience them is in the privacy of one’s home, on headphones. Following Mike’s set, they seemed flat.
High High could stand to learn a thing or two from Brooklyn four-piece DIIV, who delivered what might stand as the defining set of their nascent career. The band, headlining off the strength of the buzz surrounding their upcoming record Oshin, managed to whip the crowd into a frenzy despite the fact that few songs from the record have actually been released.
Drawing more than a little from Kurt Cobain’s stage presence, lead singer/guitarist Zachary Cole Smith flopped around stage with aplomb, cascading through Oshin in its entirety.
There is a magnetism about Smith, the type that’s hard to explain but easy to recognize. DIIV clearly believes in the strength of their material -- Oshin is so good that it will more than probably be in the musical conversation for 2012, and if anyone in this band still has a day job, they should quit it immediately, as one gets the sense that they won’t need them soon.
DIIV makes sense in the context of contemporary indie rock, but feels timeless in a way -- one feels the texture of this music and sees that it could exist alongside My Bloody Valentine in 1987, or as a jangly hybrid of Kraftwerk and Big Star in 1973.
The band looks the part as well, dressing in ensembles that are uniformly baggy, eschewing the tighter-than-tight aesthetic that defines latter-day indie fashion. DIIV is here to stay, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.