Review Summary: Not many rappers can pull off a good live album but Sage Francis excels in this setting.
Most rappers would never release a live album because for the most part, this genre doesn't translate well to the live arena, it takes a special type of artist to release a good live hip hop album. Sage Francis is that special type of artist. This album features tracks from "Personal Journals," "A Healthy Distrust" with random songs from his “Sick of…” series and various spoken word pieces. With the exception of The Roots, I wouldn't be looking forward to any other hip hop act to release a live album but Sage Francis does an amazing job and provides an energetic and emotional performance. This album was recorded over the course of two years(2003-2005), different tours, different locations and different backing bands but the bulk of the album was recorded with a six-piece band called Gruvis Malt.
The first proper track is the excellent “Runaways” starting with a painfully slow guitar, it has a different feel from the album version with Sage doing some parts slower, some faster and getting help from the audience. Sage’s major strengths are his clever wordplay and deeply personal lyrics which are sometimes left for the listener to decipher as on “Broken Wings.” “Inherited Scars” is a very personal song about his sister’s self-mutilation where the phrase “body language” takes on a whole new meaning as Sage wonders “How would your body be different if I still dropped by for visits?” Done over a somber saxophone it is truly a powerful, moving track. Another very personal track is “Rewrite/50ways” about an ex-girlfriend that includes so many details that it even makes the listener uncomfortable knowing all this information.
There are some fun cover tracks here such as Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” and The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” where Sage asks “What’s your name? Who’s your Daddy? Does he *** like me?” It’s unfortunate that Sage’s other cover/parody song “My Name is Strange”(Sage’s take on Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page) was not included on this album as well as “Mourning Aftermath” an excellent track that works even better in a live setting. Sage’s style blurs the lines between hip hop and poetry he has an unusual way with words, taking common phrases and giving them his own spin “Is that me wearing my hard-on on my sleeve,” “I’m a low self-esteem engine.”
Gimme Fund was a band that Sage put together to back his live shows and although they are only on two tracks, “Next Testament” features a jaw-dropping guitar solo at the end of the track. The other band Gruvis Malt is featured on most of the album, they add a dynamic to some of the songs that while not making them completely different their touch definitely makes these tracks better as well as Sage’s more energetic delivery.
This album was recorded shortly after the album “A Healthy Distrust” was released and although only three tracks from that album are included, they are probably the best ones. “Sea Lion” features an extra verse from Swam Burger and “Product Placement” is combined with “Personal Journals’” "Crack Pipes" to create one amazing track but album closer “Bridle” is the best of all; done in an extended version(the original is ridiculously short) which includes a verse from "Emperor's New Clothing" done with backup singers, it is a spectacular way to close the show.
This is an outstanding recording and I wouldn’t expect too many other rappers to even try to record a live album. If you’re already a fan of Sage, this is an essential album because there some of the songs are done BETTER than the original album version and if you’ve never heard him before this is a great introduction to his music because it includes his best songs up until that point.
Sea Lion (extended)