Mezzanine, San Francisco
January 8, 2007
Lady Sovereign’s Jan. 8 appearance was heralded more by drama than hype. To begin with, her Nov. 14 gig at the Mezzanine was atrocious, a tired, miscued debacle that presaged an onstage meltdown in Los Angeles the following night. Add last summer’s well-publicized, verbal tête-à-tête between Sov and SF graphic designer Zach Slow, who raised ten grand to win a date with the UK MC, complete with weed, booze, and chartered yacht, only to have Sov slag him and his friends as media whores in a San Francisco Chronicle interview. Slow responded with a letter to the editor, claiming it was Sovereign who was trolling for press and ungrateful for the attention. Given the heated circumstances, odds were against a wrinkle-free show.
Still, Sovereign tried her damnedest to keep things ironed out. That meant DJ Jamie Frampton opening with indie rock-mashed big beats and her stylized profile emblazoned across an enormous backdrop.
Sovereign’s name – complete with dotted “I” – was slapped onto the bass drum, putting that Def Jam money to good use. The drummer, a gum-chewing Ryan Simmonds took the stage with bassist Mikey Cusick and immediately segued in time with Frampton. Before long, Sov rushed the stage, with a Heineken in one hand and a cig in the other, literally spitting out high-volume versions of “Ch-Ching” and other cuts from Public Warning. “I came here to do exactly the same show because I fucked up the last time,” she said.
And she delivered – shouting, groaning and grunting as much as rapping, spazzing out for an equally spazzed-out crowd. The rhythm section locked in and turned up to 11, injecting a much needed funkitude into the music’s raggedy boom-crash, though Sov’s hooligan-esque vocals got muddied in the resulting mix. Her full-throated roar was all anti-melody, not monotone but so aggressive as to demolish any notion of tunefulness. If you don’t take her music as hip-hop, and if you allow it to be something closer to AC/DC with a pint-sized, potty-mouthed Bon Scott and breaks instead of solos, she can be pretty invigorating.
Slow & Co., however, were in attendance, determined to stir shit up – or at least put Sov on the spot. They passed out flyers before the show and gave notice that Jelly Donut, the costume-clad alter ego of local actor Andrew Bancroft, was set to battle Sov after her fourth song. The puffy pastry man made it to the front of the stage and a chant of “Battle Jelly Donut!” went up from the crowd. Despite the fluffy, full-body costume, Sovereign recognized Bancroft as Slow’s sidekick on their date a few months earlier and called him out: “Look, it’s Beavis and Butthead! I love San Francisco but I hate these two!” Jelly made for the stage but Sovereign sloshed a cocktail all over him and very dramatically, very visibly gathered a plug of Lady spit and hocked it in his face: “Novelty! Stoner! Your granny is orange! Go on, go home!” She kicked at him from the stage, and eventually the donut was physically ejected from the room.
The incident loosened Sovereign’s grip on the crowd. There was an extended pause between songs as she stalked around the stage, and revelers in front threw beer and balled up donut flyers at the band. “This guy’s pissed because I dissed his granny,” she brayed. “I dissed my own granny just last week.” She seemed thrown off but recovered well and came harder. She saved her heaviest-hooked numbers for the end of the show, and the crowd chanted along to “Hoodie, “Random,” and “Public Warning.” But it was “Love Me or Hate Me” that best summed up the just-turned-twentysomething MC’s MO: “Love me or hate me, it’s still an obsession.” She’s right. Like a bratty teenager, any attention is welcome attention in her world, and her juvenile certitude is sour, frustrating and damnably alluring at the same time. With a stance like that, she’ll never lose.
Photography by Colinero. You can view more photos from the show on his Flickr site.