Review: Ann Lee
APPEARING on stage at the Mean Fiddler in a
blue stripy jumper, grey jacket and white jeans with his hair
slicked back, leftfield Canadian rapper Buck 65
(that’s Rich Terfry to his friends and family) looks like
a mime artist. Just add a black beret and some white face paint
and you could just imagine him on the streets of Paris.
This first impression is particularly fitting given that he
is one of the most expressive performers I’ve ever seen
– pulling silly faces, telling witty anecdotes, playing
on word intonation and gesticulating throughout his songs - a
far cry from the macho posturing you’d usually expect from
a hip hop gig.
But Buck 65 isn’t exactly what you would call a typical
hip hop artist. Coming from a tiny former gold-mining village
in Nova Scotia, he made the record Man Overboard after
his mother died and was feeling 'aimless, bored and depressed'.
It was by his own admission 'never meant to be heard' but it
was - the poetic, heart-felt raps over foggy beats was a radical
departure from mainstream hip hop impressing people like Vincent
Gallo and Radiohead who quickly started spreading the word.
Big labels soon came calling and he recently signed a multi-album
deal with Warner. But if he ever did decide to give it all up,
he could easily carve out a successful career as a stand-up raising
big laughs as he indulges in jaunty banter with the crowd - he
is searingly charismatic.
Buck 65 is often described as a hip
hop Tom Waits – growling out songs about a vivid array of
misfits in that distinctive, gruff voice of his which sounds like
it’s been ravaged by years of nicotine abuse even though
he doesn’t smoke. Just add a dash of Jim Carrey and you’re
The set-up on stage is basic, just him and his decks with a sultry
female singer, known only as Claire, who provides the backing
vocals for several tracks which work well except when she joins
in on the chorus to Cries A Girl - the effect is jarring
and ruins the simple, haunting lyrics.
Then there is the mixing as he grimaces and sticks out his tongue
in concentration, spinning, caressing and cajoling the decks to
life with a masterful touch as the lights go mad behind him.
Plucking songs from his extensive back catalogue, including crowd-pleasers
like 463, Wicked & Weird and rarer B-sides such as
Highway 101, he also road-tested a song that he claimed
he had just wrote in the car as well as new material from his
forthcoming album, Secret House Against The World made
in collaboration with post-rock outfit, Tortoise.
On some songs he even takes a crack at singing and there is
the continuing sense that he is moving away from hip hop beats
towards a more bluegrass, country, folk-addled sound.
He never loses sight of his visceral word-play which is impeccable,
wrapped tightly in a cloud of intense introspection which he shares
with a thrilled audience. Unfortunately, though, he doesn’t
play Phil, by far my favourite Buck 65 track.
The set over he leaves, teasing the crowd when he comes back
on stage that he is only there to get his book but settles in
to play a three-song encore ending with a devastating track about
domestic violence, a sobering finale to what has been a most entertaining
Buck 65 - not just a rapper but a consummate performer.
Buck 65 was caught live at the Mean Fiddler, London,
on June 21, 2005