[live review] Die Antwoord and Rye Rye rip the roof off of the Royale

Yo-Landi and Ninja, photo by Rev. Aaron at Return to the Pit. For more awesome photos from this gig than you could ever imagine, go HERE.

How confident was Ninja’s swagger at Die Antwoord’s triumphant return to the Royale last night, now that the South African zef crew has finally released an album (the excellently warped $O$ (Cherrytree)) and is poised for potential world domination? Well, let’s just say that when Ninja was up in front bopping to the “next-level” rap rave being put down by DJ Fishsticks, people in the first few rows were almost actually in danger of being whapped in the face by the man’s wildly swinging balls as they played Pit and the Pendulum inside Ninja’s trademark “Dark Side of the Moon” boxers.

An insane level of confidence is, in large part, how Die Antwoord are able to carry their truly bizarre musical aesthetic to a world stage. It takes a certain amount of self-image for Ninja and Yo-Landi, the Flavor Flav to his Chuck D, to stroll onstage in matching over-sized white snuggle-suits and smother an American audience in knotted lyrical tongue-twisters that are, more often than not, in DA’s native Afrikaans, a harsh sound that would probably fall flat on Yankee ears were it not for Ninja and Yo-Landi’s clear rhyme skills. Tonight’s set was super-tight, cramming all of the band’s weirdness and drama and energy into less than an hour of non-stop rhyme action.

The group’s obsession with the grotesque coupled with their general weirdness might peg them, to the uninitiated, as the Mütter Museum of rap acts: but up close and in person, Ninja and Yo-Landi are not only brimming with energy but a certain amount of warmth as well, as they are clearly entering the phase in their burgeoning career where they appreciate the enthusiasm they are getting from world audiences. An early highlight of the show was when Yo-Landi did her solo turn during “Rich Bitch” (pronounced with an inimitable r-r-r-r-rolled r): slipping her dimunitive frame out of her cuddle-jammies and into some skin-tight gold lamé, her proclamation that “I shop at Woolworth’s/with my own paper” no longer seemed giggle-inducing the way it does on record.

“I know it sounds strange/But I used to count change/On the counter at Pick’N’Pay/Or Shoprite-Checkers” is a sort of world-town retort to American bling thuggery, but like all of Die Antwoord’s bluster, it comes across as honest and well-intentioned, even when the lyrical bent is more phantasmagorical and bizarre, as in Ninja’s astounding endurance test of non-stop spitfire machine gun rattle that is the endless “Beat Boy”. It’s almost as if, for Ninja and Yo-Landi, the group can’t help but be as weird as they are, and their music is just being honest to their own twisted thoughts and impulses.

Rye Rye and dancer, again from Return To The Pit

Opener Rye Rye, in contrast, was almost like a trip back to a more wholesome era of show business-- while you could close your eyes and hear her blustery attack as literally dripping with attitude, you open your eyes at this show and are blinded by the smiling eager-to-please energy that Rye Rye seems to naturally exude. Her music is full of rat-a-tat-tat lyrical speed, but with an emphasis on sheer danceability that may be the ticket to the eventual universality of her flow once she finally releases something other than the two M.I.A.-assisted tracks she’s put out in the last year (‘09’s “Bang” and last month’s “Sunshine”). Those two tracks are, oddly enough, the weak parts of her set, as she needs little in the way of vocal assistance in getting a party going-- as long as her flow is backed by the Baltimore-booty-beat that is the backbone of her sound. The 20-year-old's debut, Go! Pop! Bang! has been delayed about a zillion times, although it seems promising that it might actually appear in stores in January; in the meantime, though, all we can do is catch her rare appearances and be blown away by the hooks and the energy. Tonight’s show sees her flanked on either side by male dancers, and her moments of true transcendence seem to come during the parts of the song where she can put down the mic and get DOWN with them. Seriously, there are lots of people out there singing dance music, but very few of them have the sheer ability to cut loose and go nuts the way Rye Rye does when she goes off. Spinning and jumping like she’s going to fly out of her skin, Rye Rye left us with a beaming grin on our face almost as wide as hers.
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