In most cases, it's a real motherfucker to watch a 40-year-old man rap onstage somewhere. But this isn't most cases: We're talking for a moment about Aesop Rock returning to the Grog Shop on the heels of a career-defining new album. So it's not half bad.
Indeed, Aes turned 40 on Sunday, as he told the sold-out crowd at last night's show, and threw down an awe-inspiring set of mostly new stuff — the sort of material that runs circles around younger rappers still debating whether they should write in blue or black ink. The set actually began with the first four tunes of The Impossible Kid, a whirlwind of humor and introspection that took us through "Mystery Fish," "Rings," "Lotta Years" and "Dorks." (Check the embed below.)
Aesop was joined onstage by his bud, Rob Sonic, who has always been an excellent lyrical complement. The two traded verses on a few songs from their project, Hail Mary Mallon, like "Jonathan," "Krill" and "Whales," and it was pretty clear that most people in the crowd had a firm grip on the guys' collective catalog. The sing-along trip during "Whales" was funny as hell.
And that's another thing: Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic have always maintained a sense of humor in their writing. Most of the songs already cited here and plenty others throughout the night contained hooks worthy of laughing out loud in the audience, which I found myself doing frequently. It helps that these guys are wildly smart. (There was also some terrific stage banter, including Aesop's concerns over the sort-of-flimsy fire thing onstage and a brief discussion over what everyone's favorite flower is. Aes and Rob hugged at one point.)
It must also be said that DJ Zone held down the 1s and 2s all night with ferocity. He was given a few chances to spin freely and, while he came off a bit more restrained that previous DJs touring with Aes, he at least added a dose of high enthusiasm throughout the night.
Like last year's show, Homeboy Sandman opened things up with a set of his latest stuff. Aes has repeatedly praised Homeboy as the "hardest-working rapper out there," and the props seemed justified as the guy spit clever raindrops to get things going early in the night.