French DJ/Producer JC Le Saout aka Wax Tailor recently hit the West Coast in support of his excellent third album, In the Mood for Life, and I was lucky enough to catch him at Slim's in San Francisco on a warm Friday evening.
About five hundred people showed up for the show, a combination of hip hop heads, French expats, hipsters, and DJs looking to do some trainspotting. L.A. rapper Abstract Rude opened, and did an excellent job warming up the crowd with his positive, upbeat hip hop. I'm always skeptical of seeing rappers live — too often it sounds like a dude yelling over a guy playing records — but the sound at Slim's was great and Abstract Rude and his DJ worked together perfectly.
Wax Tailor went on around 10:30. He came out in a black shirt and white tie, looking like a Gallic Moby. He was accompanied by a cellist and flautist. This may seem unusual for a hip hop show, but given Wax Tailor's brooding and cinematic music, it made perfect sense. Anyone who doesn't think flutes belong in hip hop hasn't heard the Beastie Boys' "Flute Loop" or Gil-Scott Heron's "The Revolution Won't Be Televised."
Wax Tailor had a video playing in synch with his music, which is essential for any DJ act. If you are basically a guy playing with your Mac on stage, you better supply some visuals. Some of the visuals were graphics, some were clips from Wax Tailor's own videos, and others were clips from videos of music he was sampling.
Speaking of sampling, his music was dense with samples and references to other songs and artists. My skills as a trainspotter are not all that well honed, but I still caught snippets of Wu-Tang songs, Tribe Called Quest, and other classic NY hip hop acts.
It was Wax Tailor's way of paying homage to hip hop's history, while at the same time making it clear that he was carrying on the tradition of real hip hop pioneered by rappers in the early nineties. The two obvious reference points I got from Wax Tailor were DJ Shadow and DJ Premier — he has the sampled trip hop of the former, and the heavy boom bap of the latter.
You can add one more reference: Portishead. Not only does the music have a meloncholic trip-hop sound, but he also brought out vocalist Charlotte Savary to lend her haunting voice to several songs. She is excellent on the album, and was a great addition to the live show. She came out looking gorgeous in a vintage dress, and her singing added a whole new level of atmosphere to the event. If the cellist and flautist hadn't made it clear, this wasn't just a DJ set; this was something much more.
The other guest to join Wax Tailor on stage was MC Mattic from North Carolina. I've been to my share of hip hop shows, and Mattic did the best job I've ever seen of integrating with what the DJ was doing. His commanding flow complimented the beats, and he worked with Wax Tailor effortlessly and flawlessly.
I'm going to have to check out Mattic's band, the Others, because I need to hear more from him. He also embodied the classic golden age style that Wax Tailor emulates in his music.
The few songs where there was a prerecorded vocal track were less engaging, but he kept it lively enough so that you never felt like he was just playing records. His self-effacing stage present and thick French accent were pretty damn charming ("'Ello San Francisco, one two one two!"), and he put on a great show for the crowd, who responded to the energy he was putting out.
There's something pretty damn exciting about seeing five hundred heads bobbing up and down in synch to a beat. Wax Tailor finishes up his North American tour in San Diego on the 18th, and then has dates in France through November. If you have a chance to see him, do. You won't be disappointed. The only thing that could have made the show I was at better was if it had been in a club in Paris.