San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore is a place of history, half of it unwritten and lost to time. You can feel the old souls of the past lingering like smoke in the air even when no one is on stage, so try to imagine the intensity of being there listening to a young storyteller who has the ability to raise history with his craft.
That’s what it’s like when Buddy Wakefield comes to town. He sculpts delicate moments in time with his words with control but not without emotion.
The beauty of spoken word on a big stage is that it forces you to not only listen to what is being said, but to actually hear. What you hear when Buddy Wakefield is on stage is your own dark truths echoed back at you in words so clear and concise that at first you have a hard time believing he’s not inside your head. But the thing about him is he knows how to show you that we are all alike; that those dark truths aren’t just yours – they belong to all of humanity. Besides being extremely gifted, the man is also humble. He got paid peanuts and earnestly made his way across the country calling pianists, beatboxers, and other musicians to accompany him in each city. In San Francisco, he even got Mac Dennis, the renowned Slam champion, on stage to share an intimate portrait of his own life. But that wasn’t even the highest point – the climax came when Wakefield recited Convenience Stores and brought the crowd to an eerie silence.
“I can tell, buddy, by the Mini Thins and the way you drive,
That we’re both taken with novelty,
We’ve both believed in mean gods.
We both spend our money on things that break too easily like, people.”
Next up, Alias. After a long anecdote about asking a rapper to punch him in the face, the Anticon emcee spit tale after tale over his own handcrafted beats. He stopped for a minute to invite the audience into his personal life and spoke about his wife and then took it back with “Watching Water”. His performance, while strong, felt like it went by a bit too quickly and didn’t leave enough lingering in the atmosphere to savor.
He was followed by Canada’s favorite electro-poppin’ and booty shakin’ weirdo – Buck 65. He makes girls laugh and swoon at the same time and even with an almost broken neck (wrestling with your tour mates can get ugly), he managed to maintain his constant gesturing and wiggling about. You know someone has mad love for a city when he really shouldn’t be performing but does it anyway, down and dirty. And by down and dirty, I mean sharing a strange SF story about how he overheard a nun on the street say, “I heard you can tell the size of a woman’s vagina by the size of her mouth” before busting it back to 1986 with an ode to MC Shan. The most intimate story came with “Temporarily In Love With A Stranger”, where he ruminates on falling in love with a person for only a brief 10-15 minute encounter. I think it’s something we can all relate to and at that moment, I think every female in the room fell a little bit in love with him. As humans, we come complete with a whole range of fucked up emotions and Buck 65 knows how to turn their complexity into short, easy to swallow fragments.
At last Sage Francis, the wittiest wordsmith in the game, went on stage wearing an eye patch and stirring the crowd into roaring with applause and laughter. His live shows are always off kilter, but this one was like a happily schizophrenic experience at the playground. He had Cerberus Shoal’s Dilly Dilly singing and plucking on her banjo for Got Up This Morning but in typical Sage fashion, he ended the song with a Spice Girls “Tell me whatcha want, what you really, really want.” Then he broke into “Climb Trees,” (without a doubt one of the best tracks on “Personal Journals”) and the whole crowd went absolutely insane. And of course, he took it back to the 80s, but it’s Sage – he’s always gotta be different. To accompany one of his own songs of the same title, he busted out with “Broken Wings”. Yes, the song by Mr. Mister. And every moment of it was fantastic. Somewhere in the middle of all this he took of his shoe, danced with it, and spit on it.
Later, he had the entire crowd chanting, “I spread my love like the legs of a crack whore” during Specialist like it was some sort of ballad. I guess when it comes to Sage, it is. The Rewrite spews the stark gut-wrenching truth of an ugly divorce. He blew through more of the old classics that everyone loves, all performed over fresh new beats. Towards the end, he got back to Human The Death Dance, with “Keep Moving” and my personal favorite, “Hell Of A Year”. He brought Buddy Wakefield back out and as he uttered, “Recording eternal silence and playing it back to an empty room” the crowd went silent once again. Theatrical venue was perfect for this set of performers. Sage alone is like a poetic vaudeville act, but the fact that he had such gifted storytellers join him on tour made it another legendary page in the Fillmore’s history.