Live Review: Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman – Hip Hop sells out the Visulite Theatre

By Erin Tracy-Blackwood

Photos by Brian ‘BT’ Twitty

July 3, 2016

In his rap career that spans nearly two decades, Aesop Rock had never headlined a show in Charlotte until Friday night. (His only previous appearance here was on the Warped Tour years ago.) Queen City hip-hop heads, alt/indie kids, metal fans and everyone in between were ready. The Impossible Kid Tour, also featuring Rob Sonic, Homeboy Sandman and DJ Zone, sold out the Visulite Theatre hours before doors opened.*

Homeboy Sandman rocked the stage first with an aerobic 45-minute opening set that would’ve left a less athletic emcee breathless. I’ve seen Sandman about six times now and he’s one of my favorite live performers. It’s visibly evident he’s a fan of his own songs; you can read it on his face every time a beat drops. He performs like it’s his favorite thing in the world to do and his energy is contagious, making it impossible not to rock with him.

Homeboy Sandman – Photo by Brian ‘BT’ Twitty

He began with “America the Beautiful,” setting off both the show and Independence Day weekend on a hype note. His set was mostly comprised of songs off his new album, Kindness for Weakness, including standout tracks “Eyes,” and the beautiful “Seam by Seam.” He did a few classics as well, including “Whatchu Want From Me” and “Tablecloth,” the latter of which he jumped and jogged through without missing one word of the intricate, fast-paced rhyme pattern. He told me that earlier in the day he had run nine miles. Cardio game so tight.

His opening set concluded with “God,” which was an unexpected, but cool choice. It felt like he was giving thanks before he left the stage. Homeboy Sandman is a positive, health-conscious, rhyme-slaying beast emcee who ends his shows with a note of gratitude. If ya don’t know, now ya know.

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Rob Sonic and Aesop Rock – Photo by Brian ‘BT’ Twitty

Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic and DJ Zone entered the stage. It was decked out full Impossible Kid-style with taxidermied deers, a faux campfire and a general appearance of wilderness.

Aesop wore shorts and a T-shirt with a tent graphic (in keeping with the wilderness theme) that read “Home is where you pitch it.” Rob Sonic wore a pullover sweater and baggy jeans. He was dressed like a dude I went to high school with in the late ‘90s, right down to the long belt hanging. It was O.G. af, but it felt like 150 degrees inside the Visulite, so I worried about how he’d hold up in that outfit.

Aesop began with “Mystery Fish,” the perfect jump-off with its epic production feel foreshadowing the audio journey to come, plus providing an extended scratching opportunity for DJ Zone. Standing near a speaker made the heavy bass drop on the next track “Rings” an experience all its own. Aesop performed every song from his newest album, The Impossible Kid. That makes sense, because how could he edit any of them out? They are all incredible.

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Aesop Rock – Photo by Brian ‘BT’ Twitty

In case you don’t know, The Impossible Kid is Aes’ strongest work to date. It’s an introspective album full of lyrical subtleties that can sometimes get muddled in a live environment and not translate well for the audience. That wasn’t the case at the Visulite, though. The sound system was dialed in perfectly and every word came through crisp and clear. Aesop comfortably worked the stage, performing each song unassumingly, as if he were having a one-sided conversation with the crowd, and not spitting some of the most brilliant bars ever written. No big deal.

Less comfortable was Rob Sonic who was visibly hot in his aforementioned pullover. “I regret everything!,” he said after performing “Gorf,” a fast-paced track from his last solo album, Alice in Thunderdome. He was committed though, and he never went backstage to change. Respect.

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Rob Sonic – Photo by Brian ‘BT’ Twitty

He and Aesop performed some joints from their group Hail Mary Mallon, including “Whales” which had a gang of girls next to me dropping real low when the chorus hit like “Moneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoney.”

DJ Zone flexed his turntablist credentials with some ill scratching and cutting, Rob Sonic performed more hot selections from Alice in Thunderdome, then broke the leg off one of the taxidermied deer and Aesop rounded out the set with throwback classics from his catalog including the seminal “Daylight” and “Nightlight.” He ended on a somber, poignant note with “Get Out of the Car.”

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Aesop Rock – Photo by Brian ‘BT’ Twitty

The sold-out, sweat-drenched crowd demanded an encore and was treated to an appearance of Lice. Saying it that way sounds like it could be bad, but it was quite the opposite. Aesop and Homeboy Sandman released a surprise EP together called Lice back in November. Witnessing it performed live was something spectacular. The energy and chemistry between them was on point and I found myself wondering why I don’t play the EP every damn day of my life. I think I will from now on. You should too.

When the show was over, both Homeboy Sandman and Aesop Rock made an appearance at their merch tables. A line of about 100 people formed for the chance to meet and snap a selfie with Aes. The notoriously introverted emcee/producer stayed for nearly an hour to meet and greet every individual. Because he is the nicest – on and off the mic.

*I really hope this means venues will start booking larger indie hip-hop tours in Charlotte. There is clearly an audience for it.

Promoters: someone pick up the torch!

Set list:

Mystery Fish
Lotta Years
Alice In Thunderdome (Rob Sonic)
Blood Sandwich
Krill (Hail Mary Mallon)
Gorf (Rob Sonic)
DJ Zone showcase
Lazy Eye
Kill Joy (Rob Sonic)
Not For Nothing (Rob Sonic)
Homemade Mummy
Jonathan (Hail Mary Mallon)
Whales (Hail Mary Mallon)
Catacomb Kids
Night Light/Daylight
None Shall Pass
Get Out of the Car
Katz (Lice)
So Strange Here (Lice)
Environmental Studies (Lice)

Erin Tracy-Blackwood is an editorialist, music journalist, professional shit-stirrer and lifelong hip-hop head.

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