Photo credit: Glynnis McDaris
It seems like at every show I go to these days I’m the oldest one there—and I’m 21. Everywhere I look I see those telltale black X’s, warning us that if we want to buy these girls a drink, it’s going to have to be a Coke.
MC Paul Barman
15 May 2003: Black Cat Washington, DC
But it seems MC Paul Barman doesn’t have a problem with jailbait—this age group is his bread and butter. To paraphrase the emcee’s own rhymes, he’s happy to target the fans most rappers don’t even want. Who else but white high school/college kids wants to hear a not-so-nice Jewish boy from New Jersey sing a song called “Cock Mobster”? Forget not being able to drink, the audience Barman really speaks to probably can’t even drive.
Which might explain why his concert turnout added up to less than fifty. At a sold-out show, the Black Cat holds a couple hundred people, but this was no sold-out show. With the cancellation of his opening act—the impressive British hip-hop/R&B singer Jessy Moss—and the dreadful college rock of local group Fishmarket as a feeble replacement, the mood Barman came onstage to face was nothing less than grim. Our small group huddled close to the stage in the hopes that if we didn’t turn around to the empty dancefloor, it might feel a little more like a concert rather than a high school talent show.
And Barman made it happen. He appeared unfazed when he came out, backed only by the totally-unknown DJ Orange Alert, and acted as if he was before a packed house, walking from the back to the front of the stage and then straight off the edge and into the crowd. His eyes intense, as he singled out fans, directing every rhymed barb at another shocked and delighted kid.
Barman’s flow and his handle of rhythm have always been choppy, but he can recite his lines easily enough to keep up a lively stage show, hamming it up more like a vaudeville entertainer than a serious performer. But his friendliness has its limits. There are no breaks between jokes and threatening to break the Tiger Beat photographer’s camera or bodychecking two boys onto the ground as they attempt to rush the stage.
He’s much kinder to the fairer sex. During “I’m Fricking Awesome”, a song off his It’s Very Stimulating EP, he dragged up “Lauren”, one of the crowd’s too-young ladies, so that he could sketch her. Though he sent her back into the crowd at the end of the song, he held onto the drawing so that she could pick it up after the show.
Whatever direction his post-show predilections might take, Barman appears to be rankled by his position as strictly a joke rapper. He wants to be the Beastie Boys circa “In a World Gone Mad”, not “Brass Monkey”. His set was mostly a great, cheerful mix of the sophomoric tracks from his first EP and the more recent full-length, Paullelujah!—as well as his bizarre song “Enter Pan-Man”, as hackneyed a reworking of Metallica’s hit as Puff Daddy’s take on “Kashmir”. Yet in the middle of the set DJ Orange Alert strapped on a guitar and fumbled with some chords as Barman tried out a new rap outlining his political views. Judging from audience response, he should have just let his “George Bush & Sons: Family Butchers since 1989” t-shirt speak for itself.
In the end, Barman swallowed his maturity and played out his repertoire of sex and fart jokes, finishing out with a hilarious bastardization of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. If he wants to get political, he’s going to have to wait for his fans to reach voting age. But in the meantime, if you want to buy a “Cock Mobster” vinyl—mostly for the cover art, won’t Mom freak!?—then ask DJ Orange Alert. Barman’s busy giving Lauren back her picture.
// Notes from the Road
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