By: James Lucey
Travis McCoy is perhaps one of the best frontmen working in music today. I don’t want to gush, as I’m not on the bandwagon; I’m a witness.
The end-of-year spring concert in Roberts Hall last Thursday brought a trio of hip-hop acts with musicians as talented as their vocalists. Opener Audio McSwagger brought a variety of styles to the stage, usually alternating rap verses with soulful R&B choruses. They played to the crowd, and even got a few up and dancing.
The standout song of their set was a pseudo-cover of Weezer’s “Say it Ain’t So.” The infamous guitar riff from the original song, as well as the chorus, was kept intact, but the verses were rapped, sticking to the Audio McSwagger format. This was reminiscent of what Chiddy Band did with MGMT’s “Kids,” more of a remix than a cover, but still very much the original song.
Afterward, Audio McSwagger came out into the audience and mingled, rap duo Oxymorons was up next – the only act without a string section, just a drum kit and a digital DJ. These guys were characters. The pair was dressed in ironically nerdy attire, right down to the bowties. Their dynamics were great; the young emcees played off one another like a modern Vaudeville act. Kid ’n Play isn’t the right comparison to make, but the retro eraser cut made it hard not to compare Oxymorons to the ’90s rap duo of “House Party” fame.
The crowd was encouraged to come up front in what was treated as the biggest deal of all time, in both getting people up front and making them return to their seats. I’m not really sure what the issue with bringing people to the cusp of the stage could possibly have been; this wasn’t exactly a moshing crowd.
Regardless, Oxymorons put on a lively set, although a certain slow jam dedicated to the ladies fell flat and was frankly just a bad song – doubly tragic because before playing this particular disaster the pair worked to pump up the crowd, and all that energy just collapsed.
Contrastingly, Gym Class Heroes frontman, Travis McCoy, had the audience in the palm of his hand. The six-piece band had the fullest sound of any of the acts, with heavy bass and the tightest drumming. Songs were played from the span of their career, although mostly from their newest album, “Papercut Chronicles II.”
Immediately, McCoy revealed the lady killer in him, asking all the single girls to put their hands up. After giving a shout-out to the guys in the audience, Travie said he had a gift for the male GCH fans, asking just the single ladies to put their hands up again, and coolly said, “Fellas, ya welcome.” Whenever McCoy spoke, you kind of felt like you were being seduced; nobody seemed to mind.
Gym Class Heroes as a band was an energetic and articulate musical machine. Guitarist Disashi’s falsetto created a smooth harmony with McCoy on what few sung parts weren’t samples of Adam Levine or Patrick Stump. Drummer Matt McGinley boasted his skills with intricate fills and a gut-busting drum solo. Often, bassist Eric Roberts and Disashi would sort of duel with one another while McCoy spoke in between songs. If you listened, their improv riffing was probably the musical peak of the night.
McCoy may have actually spent more time preaching to the audience than actually performing. Just about every song was preceded by some monologue; whether it is a soliloquy about finding a pile of money on the ground (which turned out to be a lead-in for “Billionaire”) or an anti-bullying PSA. An existential rant about the Mayan apocalypse and human mortality could have been a real fatalist downer, but McCoy then had the crowd turn and stare one another in the eyes and hug, as the five minutes of white noise that had been droning while McCoy prophesized resolved into a soaring full-band.
This Gym Class Heroes performance was as emotional as it was exhilarating and fun. The stage was, and as suspected, always has been, McCoy’s confessional. This is, after all, the man who became of a depressed, awkwardly chubby, pill-addicted boy. Admitting these former flaws, and expressing his raw, real self amidst lively dance anthems like “Clothes Off!” and “Ass Back Home” was a striking contrast. The audience was into it though, hanging on every word.
The event was the third in RIC’s spring concert series – J. Cole came to Gaige Hall in 2010 thanks to WXIN, OASPA, and Iota Phi Theta; T-Pain was brought to campus by Programming, WXIN, and OASPA last year. This year’s concert was the first put on by Student Community Government, Inc.’s new Student Entertainment Committee, chaired by Rep. David Valerio, which included students from RSA, WXIN, Programming, Parliament, and the general student body, as well as Student Union Assistant Director and Parliament Staff Rep. Mark Paolucci, and had about $70,000 in funding to work with.
While this year’s show in Roberts was not a sell-out, the concert was far better-attended than last year’s T-Pain show, SCG officials said.
Gym Class Heroes was a broadly appealing act. As much rock as pop, as much hip-hop as indie. The RIC audience at Roberts Hall was ultra-responsive, constantly dancing. Although it seems a strange time in the band’s career to be headlining college tours, Gym Class Heroes was well-received. With emotional, booty-shaking rap-rock, the champions of physical education delivered.