Concert Review + Photography: F.Stokes at Majestic Theatre (Madison)

(October 15th, 2010) The Majestic is my kind of venue; a converted theater with several levels, yet intimate despite the balcony and accoutrements. Small standing room ahead of tables and chairs ahead of another smaller standing room. The staff? Unimposing, warm and welcoming as opposed to imagining we are all teenagers with newfangled driving licenses just begging to be “taught” something by power-tripping local police. With J. Dante, Ice Mantis and Stink Tank opening and a special guest appearance, the first true Madison hip-hop show hit it farther out of the ballpark than the Rangers vs. Yankees.

Stink Tank and Ice Mantis were distinct with two separate emcees with distinct deliveries, one reminding me more of Typical Cats while the latter a more solid, core presence. Truth be told I had not heard much more than a fleeting listen prior to the show, but left impressed at the stage duality. That and Ice Mantis is a character to watch behind the tables with a, later discovered, paper mache mantis mask through which he can barely even see a thing. You’d think it would be mesh see-through, but just mere pencil-thin holes despite of which he utterly melted the vinyl on the tables with his tremendous, oft-vocal-ridden beats.

While Madison’s DJ Radish was setting up for F.Stokes, DJ Vinnie Toma (of Dirty Disco Kidz) filled the set silence with a style that reminded me much of Kid Cut-Up, minus the venturing interjections into alternative and rock. With the audience buzzing, the music fell and F.Stokes entered rather unexpectedly into the scene; on the hidden catwalk above the stage. Spotlit and mic in hand, not only was it a unique entrance accompanied by poetic spoken verses, but the energy he built with this technique, coupled with his hometown crowd, was unexpectedly electrifying.

After previously seeing Stokes opening for Astronautalis, Dessa, then P.O.S. in Chicago, his home turf was something I had to see. DJ Radish instead of a laptop and spacebar? Radish was just as at ease as DJ Snuggles was opening for Brother Ali at this summer’s Pizza Luce Block Party. Granted, no beatboxing here, but having just as much fun and showing it track after track.

You see. A F.Stokes set is more than hip-hop, but a blend of showmanship and realism interwoven with a passion and comfort few attain on stage. Showmanship in the sense he works the crowd with his innate sense of how we’re feeling, where we want to go, and exactly how he’ll take us there. One moment, he’ll be unconventionally unveiling personal impressions and thoughts for the betterment and hope to change someone’s life, the next he’ll be pulling a random girl up on stage grinding up against her to “Love in this Club.” Yet F.Stokes is sensible at the same time, kindly asking one other to get off of a ladder he was about to use for sincere concern of her safety. The reassurance that hip-hop is not all what mainstream makes it out to be is the draw to see independent hip-hop, even for those against the genre. F.Stokes just so happens to achieve that with the production and delivery you’d find in Rhymefest or Common.

The thing that I have trouble coming to terms with is the difference between the F.I.L.M. mixtape and Death of a Handsome Bride. The beats are so profoundly different it gives the songs a different atmosphere. “Blessings” has the slow, R&B lounge beat live from his official album as opposed to the Madlib-feel of the F.Stokes & Dirty Disco Kidz mixtape. Thankfully Friday night was a mix between the two versions.

Yet as opposed to forcing myself to make compromises, Madison had other plans. Upon sending out love to Lazerbeak for his production on Death of a Handsome Bride, he showered praise all too briefly on F.I.L.M.’s production-before calling out Dirty Disco Kidz and “parting the seas” so Chris Miedaner could jump on stage. Note: Dirty Disco Kidz is currently opening up for deadmau5 a few miles away, so upset…why? Cause the crowd was given a pre-Halloween treat with their version of “Tickle Me Mars” or “Tickle Me vs. Cozza Frenzy.” DJ Radish and several others ran on stage as dubstep overtook hip-hop for the next four minutes, rattling the crowd more than even your dream sound system could aspire to. F.Stokes’ focus was, at first, split between rapping and dancing before Dirty Disco Kidz’ beat just dominated. Weren’t there? Wanna know why? Watch.


After Chicago, I can see why Madison loves F.Stokes. He is a showman who was far more at ease than the seemingly confused, bare crowd in the Bottom Lounge months earlier. Don’t let that deter you though from seeing him live, because he’ll get in there with you and raise you up to the rafters as he did to us in Madison Friday night.


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