Incendiary. From the moment the Coup took the stage at San Francisco's Independent Theatre on August 19, 2011, they made it clear that they were there to prove that hip-hop is able to deliver live instrumentation to challenge even the wildest rock music.
Composed of a guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and DJ Pam the Funkstress, the Coup band opened the show with a driving blues-meets-late '70s rapid funk riff increasing in intensity until frontman Boots Riley literally jumped on stage and immediately burst into "Bullets and Love". In stark comparison to the "laid-back MC" performance style currently prevalent, Boots perpetually leaned forward, swinging his arms and spinning in circles in a high-powered mix of Jackie Wilson, Prince, and James Brown moves. Even more impressive, Boots was without a hype man, literally shouting the Coup's dense lyrics while whipping himself about the stage.
As with modern Coup shows, the set comprised of material almost entirely off their last three albums. Because Riley was backed by such a crack band, the live versions of the songs rarely mirrored their studio counterparts and instead featured thick, energetic grooves that pulled from equal parts late Funkadelic and early Prince electro-funk.
To keep the energy high, the band rarely broke between their songs and kept kicking out jam after jam. Midway through the concert, Riley apologized to the crowd, "Unfortunately, we had to take a sponsor, so I have to say something about them...," at which point the band broke into their tune dedicated to black revolutionaries, "Ass-Breath Killers". That song merged into an instrumental interlude of Funkadelic's "Cosmic Slop", which warped into the Coup's own version of the Cosmic Slop saga, the heart-wrenching tale of motherhood prostitution, "Me & Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night".
Early in the set, Coup backup singer Silk-E took the stage and matched Riley joule for joule in energy. Between her thick, clanging gold bracelets, long, crimped hair, and perpetual arm pumping, she resembled a Tina Turner gone berserk (and Tina Turner is pretty berserk already). Alternating between whipping her body around, pantomiming Riley's lyrics, or singing in a combination of sweet and rough, Silk-E did not stand still the entire show. Near the end of the concert, she performed a track off her upcoming solo album that, between its NASTY grooves and slightly threatening/slightly inviting lyrical performance, echoed Turner as well as Betty Davis' wildest work.
Balancing out the group's trinity of wild performers, Pam the Funkstress displayed how essential an active DJ is to live hip-hop. Impressively, it seems that she used actual records to cut and scratch in the mix, as opposed to a "scratch record," used by many modern DJs, which are just blank vinyl used solely to create scratch effects. But, while Riley and Silk-E impressed the crowd through their physicality, Pam lassoed attention with her unique ability to act in conjunction with her scratching skills. When the beat would slow down, she would emote the slightest sign of surprise, pursing her lips and widening her eyes, which was as captivating as it was hilarious. When the beat sped up and her two decks crashed beats atop the other, she demanded applause with the mere arch of her eyebrows. Neat the end of the show, she showcased her skills, which involved her moving the manipulation of the records up her body starting with her hands, migrating up to her torso, and finally to the point where her nose itself was doing the scratching.
With a new album, EP, and movie on the horizon, it appears the Coup has big things planned for 2011 and 2012. If these projects are fueled by the same fire as their live shows, then there just might actually be revolution on the streets—or at least, the venue that the band hits next.