There are very select performances that linger in the memory long after the house lights come on and security manhandles concert goers out of the venue. It’s taken me over a week to figure out how exactly to describe Doomtree‘s “All Hands” Mesa, AZ tour stop, and to this moment I’m still not sure exactly how to put their set down into words. I could go the cliche’d route of using “Marathon” (the name of the closing track to their latest all-crew album, All Hands), or I could use any number of overly expressive descriptors that are casually thrown around in concert reviews. All of those, though, have the unfortunate effect of placing Doomtree into a specific box. A tight-knit crew of MCs (Dessa, P.O.S., Mike Mictlan, Cecil Otter, and Sims) and producers (Paper Tiger, Lazerbeak), Doomtree is the marriage of seven distinct personalities into one of the most solid, coherent, innovative and box-defying voices in Hip Hop today.
Being a nearly-whole-crew tour (Lazerbeak was conspicuously absent), Doomtree stormed the stage, opening their set with a mix of songs featuring each of the artists individual voices. With Paper Tiger masterfully manning the decks at the back of the stage, each of the MCs took their turns in the spotlight on songs from both All Hands and their previous whole-crew record, No Kings. Each artist not currently rapping or mixing at a given moment hyped the crowd, sang back up vocals, or generally bounced around stage, adding to the spectacle while never detracting from their crew-mate currently in the spotlight. The crowd, doing their due diligence, belted out and rapped along with every single song, never missing a beat or word to a flurry of whole-crew tracks throughout the show, including “Gray Duck,” “Marathon,” “Final Boss,” “No Kings,” and “Bolt Cutter,” among other high paced, frenetic energy-filled numbers. It was impressive watching each musician pour their heart into each track, never resting, never missing a step. This was even more impressive to take in after POS mentioned that their was no set list for the evening, that the whole show was at the mercy of Paper Tiger mixing and pacing. Nearing the end of the tour, each member would have known the general order of the whole-crew songs. This would not be the case, however, for the individual artist spotlight songs.
These spotlights were mixed in between whole-crew numbers to provide each member with the every important moment to breathe. P.O.S., Dessa, Sims, Cecil Otter, and Mike Mictlan each took center stage at least twice to perform tracks from their respective solo catalogs. With Paper Tiger picking some of the tracks seemingly on whim, the solos kept Doomtree’s set from turning into a 2 hour “sprint to the finish,” and, due to the (slightly) slower nature of some of them, more on pace with a meticulously planned out, well, marathon. The crowd responded equally enthusiastically to these solo excursions, particularly regarding Dessa’s “Call Off your Ghost,” and “Sufficiently Breathless” by Cecil Otter. Mike Mictlan stole the show, however, when he took the entire theater hostage with “CLAPP’D,” off his latest album Hella Frreal. Awash in blood red light, the entire audience stood silently as Mictlan ordered all hands up and launched into one of the most literate and scathing indictments against stereotyping and hood violence ever voiced on a stage. This single performance, from a two-hour long set by the most intelligent players in the current hip hop scene, made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, the specter of which will now be the measure of every show I attend.
The only complaint that I can muster about this stop of Doomtree’s All Hands tour is that it left me wanting more from each individual and not wanting to leave the venue. With five MCs and two DJs, there is no plausible way for every DJ and MC to have as much of, or as long of, a spotlight they deserve. That will come with their individual tours, where they will grace stages solo until their next all crew album, which will undoubtedly result in another sold out performance that will set the bar even higher than they did on this one.