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Buck 65 - Not just a rapper but a consummate performer


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 almost there.

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 night.

Buck 65 - not just a rapper but a consummate performer.

Buck 65 was caught live at the Mean Fiddler, London, on June 21, 2005

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