Comprised of anti-folk singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson and indie rapper Aesop Rock, The Uncluded have been my favorite new band of 2013 since I first heard their album, “Hokey Fright.” So when I heard they were performing in Detroit on June 5, I had to go.
While driving to and from the show, I listened to the album a total of three times. During those three listens, it became abundantly clear that even my extremely favorable review had underrated The Uncluded. Claims this bold usually backfire in the long run, but “Hokey Fright” is not only the best album of this year, it may be the most enjoyable release of the decade.
Seeing them live did not retract this enthusiasm, but instead encouraged it. Taking place at Trinosophes, a coffeehouse on Gratiot Avenue, the show took a bit longer than expected to begin.
While it was a little disappointing when we still had to sit through an opening act once the show finally started, it turned out that the opening act was none other than Hamell on Trial, a New York City punk folk musician with a fairly large following. He’d somehow slipped past me and this performance was my introduction to Hamell’s music, but it was more than enough to get me interested.
His set was rife with political statements, funny anecdotes and vigorous guitar strumming brought on by multiple cans of Red Bull, all of which made me want to check out his records.
Once Hamell was done being a maniac, Dawson and Aesop stepped onto the stage, along with multi-instrumentalist James Lynch. Dawson was wearing a party hat which, it turned out, was due to it being Aesop’s birthday. She encouraged the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to him and, as we did, you could truly feel a sense of community, much like the one Dawson describes in “Delicate Cycle” (the kind “that comes from hauling your big old load out in public and airing your dirty laundry”).
They went through nearly all of the tracks from “Hokey Fright,” including the bonus tracks. In fact, the only track from the album they didn’t perform was “WYHUOM,” a hilariously repetitive experimental track. While the song has more of an electronic feel than the hip hop and folk that Aesop and Dawson are respectively known for, it would have been a nice way to let Lynch show off his chops.
Still, what they did perform was marvelous. Highlights included an improvised version of “Superheroes” (the song that consists of the duo shouting out the names of different sandwiches), “Organs” and (my personal favorite Uncluded song) “Tits Up.” Dawson’s emotional performance of “Walk Like Thunder” (a track from her 2011 album “Thunder Thighs”) movingly left the crowd silent.
The songs themselves weren’t all that offered highlights, however. The crowd offered several, most notably a kind gesture to Dawson during “Teleprompters.” After she sang the beautiful line, “I sing these messages to you/But now I need to hear them too,” a few audience members made sure she heard them: “You are beautiful! You are powerful! You are strong! And you are loveable!” This was a truly inspirational moment from a group of fans that wanted to make sure that she not only knew she was loveable, but that she knew that she was loved.
This show definitely made me think about how great this band truly is and, a few days later, another listen to the album left me totally convinced. I haven’t been this impressed by a new group since I first heard Vampire Weekend’s debut LP, and The Uncluded have the advantage of originality that even Vampire Weekend’s melodic Afropop influence never had. Mixing folk and rap isn’t especially original, but mixing Kimya Dawson’s brand of folk with Aesop Rock’s brand of rap sure as hell is.
Between their uniqueness, their songs and their chemistry, The Uncluded is irresistible. In the realm of pop music, there may be better groups. The question is, do we need better groups?