The Uncluded show at the Irenic Tuesday night brought in an almost indescribable crowd: a small mob of huge beards, tattoos, long hair, crew cuts, tattoos, high heels, boots, polo shirts, tattoos, tapered jeans, baggy camouflage shorts. Did I mention tattoos?
The new collaboration between folk singer / songwriter Kimya Dawson, 40, and indie rapper Aesop Rock, 37, also featured the band’s tour manager James Lynch on stage playing a variety of instruments, including bass, flute and blow-organ.
The rap-folk show filled about half of the 400-person-capacity, North Park church-turned-music venue. But the intimate performance evinced a genuine almost trance-like state from the crowd.
“We’ve created this new type of person, I think,” Rock told CityBeat before the show. “It’s weird. We used to send James out to see what was the ratio of hip-hop to hippie. Now he’s like, ‘I can’t tell who’s who.’”
The trio went on at 8:30 p.m. and finished before 11. There was no encore. But everyone left looking satisfied, as if the heavy emotional ingredients of an Uncluded show demand only small portions.
The fans connect with the music because it draws on sincere, and often difficult, personal experiences, Dawson said.
“They’re just like, ‘I needed someone to say these things in this way, badly,’” she said. “The number of kids who have come up and said, ‘My best friend just died last week.’”
The two met in 2010 after, on a lark, Aesop Rock contacted Dawson through mutual friends. “My first email was like, ‘I am your fan,” he said. “Thank you for writing your songs. I enjoy them in the van when I’m on tour when I’m stressed out.’”
Eventually, the two met at a music studio in Berkeley where Dawson was recording her latest album Thunder Thighs. Rock ended up contributing to that project and Dawson subsequently appeared on Rock’s recent solo project Skelethon.
“I think from the beginning, him doing some stuff on a couple of my songs, I liked the way it sounded and it felt like it was easy to work together,” Dawson said.
At the same time, they discovered they both recently had lost friends to cancer, a subject their joint album Hokey Fright explicitly deals with.
“We just started talking about how you cope with that or in my case how I never really coped with it,” Rock said. “I never properly found an outlet or a psychiatrist to speak with.”
Rock admits Dawson’s straightforward style has rubbed off on him, perhaps for the better.
“Where as I tend to talk about things in my solo stuff and I layer it a lot and get it pretty cryptic,” he said. “But with her she cuts right to the chase. I was like, ‘Well, there’s no weaving around this topic. Now I’ve got to go in and get right to the meat of the thing.’”
Such transparency brings a unique set of rewards and challenges, Rock said. “It feels crazy and kind of nervous. But it feels good, too, to be like, ‘Wow, I said that. I finally said that. And that’s been something that’s been in me for a while.”
For Dawson the structure of working with Rock was extremely productive.
“Sometimes it takes me a longtime between songs to write another song,” she said. “I can write a song in two hours, but then it might be six months before I write another song. With this stuff, I was excited about it.”
The Uncluded pumped out their first album in about a year, and so far the duo agrees their brand of group therapy through music has had a positive impact, and they plan to continue working together in the future.