Septum-pierced tweenagers in beat-up Converse sneakers and young professionals looking for a reprieve from the work week filtered into The Waiting Room on a cold-as-f**ck night in Buffalo, NY, bypassing the three dollar coat check to save enough money to buy their next package of Ramen-flavored let down. My upstairs neighbor Gina and I stood among them. We arrived in a state of toxicity and disrepair. Sounds dramatic, but that’s because it was and it wasn’t. The world shows its ugly from time to time. People are fun until they’re not. Work blows until you get a promotion. Shortly after that, it blows again. Etc. etc. etc. We did what any late 20 to 30 somethings would do when faced with the abominable: we put our big girl pants on to have a good time because sometimes that’s all you can do. For a few hours we looked forward to letting go of our inner bitchy selves.
The bar was half empty when we got inside the venue. Everyone had already bum-rushed the stage. We plowed our way through the crowd and settled near the front just as the first act was about to go on. We were packed in like sardines. I looked to my right. A heavy set girl with pigtails and hipster glasses stood in front of her boyfriend while he nuzzled her shoulder. I looked to my left. A group of K. Flay fan girls and boys in trucker hats and flannel shirts were moshing to background rap. I looked behind me. A blonde woman who looked like my mother’s age was amused by the scene before her. The air smelled like a Burger King bathroom. For half a second I felt old.
The two acts K. Flay brought on tour with her were polar opposites of each other sonically. One, an experimental rock group from Nashville, Tennessee called Paper Route and the other, a funky, Afrocentric riffing indie rapper named Daye Jack. The Nigerian-born rapper opened with “Casino,” a disco funk track that made me feel like I was walking on a rainbow in a video game from the 80s. The video for this song was just released this week. The rapper is filmed tossing roses from a sun-streaked convertible. That care-free attitude was conveyed in his performance. What I loved about it was that he seemed happy throughout, like he was just thankful to be able to perform his art in front of a packed room of people. Daye Jack really got the audience two stepping in place with his next song “Save My Soul,” a track off his 2015 album Soul Glitch. This track really showcased the strain garnishing his voice. It was kindred to that of the raspy grunt of Kendrick Lamar. Switching up his levels and bobbing about the stage, Daye Jack moved harmoniously through his performance, pointing to audience members in a sort of bonding initiative, like he was telling them, “I got you.” He ended his set with “Finish Line,” a personal favorite of mine from that night, along with “Hands Up,” a timely song he originally collaborated with Killer Mike on. “Finish Line” oozed of Daft Punk, but more soulful, crunchier even. Daye Jack could easily makes waves with any popular nerd rap hall of famer: Chance, Lil Dicky, Childish Gambino. It would be my dream come true to see him collaborate with one of these artists.
Paper Route, a band that formed in 2004 and has been on tour with Paramore and Jack’s Mannequin, was the next act to perform. Lead singer JT Daly stepped on stage in a fitted black Adidas shirt and Madeline hat (the hat threw me off a little), making his presence clear. He let us know that his posse was Nashville and proud, his sweet southern drawl echoing through the microphone. This four-piece band had a lot of personality, i.e, JT’s Madeline hat and his interactive snare drum sequence during the breakbeat of “Chariots.” Nashville is the mecca of music industry booms. Many artists travel there with a dollar and dream, only to be swallowed whole by the industry. I admire Paper Route for forging through with an experimental sound and preserving their brand for over a decade. Their indie soft rock sound is catchy. They are not a group that I would go out of my way to seek out on a music streaming forum, but they were enjoyable to listen to for the night…until “Balconies” played. Immediately my mind went to Keane’s Hopes and Fears and Switchfoot’s The Beautiful Letdown. Both great albums, just not together. Aha. Earthy. Choirish. Christian rock? I looked over at the group of K. Flay fan girls. They were full-out moshing to “Balconies.” A little voice whispered to me: Rules were made to be broken, Jessica. This was a music first for me, at a show, anyway.
I figured maybe K. Flay’s record label Interscope put her up to this, this off-colored lineup. I swear I’m not a music snob. It’s not the direction I see music going. There’s no iron fist anymore and rules really are meant to be broken. On those assertions alone, I can see why the roster gels. K. Flay’s genre-defying sound rolls into an emerging underground-to-mainstream current nicely. She is the Jean-Louise “Scout” Finch of college rap; there’s a non-threatening, messy intelligence about her. She’s the big sister who has covered up our fuck-ups time and again and helped us make a few. She’s the pretty, standoffish tomboy our guy friends wish they could abandon their conventional relationships for. Her music is ageless because we all know someone like her or someone who would like to be her. Or maybe we are her. K. Flay’s not a replica of an Avril Lavigne skater girl or the I’m-lonesome-please-fuck-me image of a Lana Del Rey. She’s not trying to fit her clique into an industry; an industry is trying to fit into hers, except her vanguard group doesn’t hand out member’s only jackets. Too pretentious.
The room was chatty when the lights went out. The roadies shuffled instruments on stage. Everybody was either drunk, blazed, or impatient. Some maniacal middle-aged woman was pulled on stage and then escorted off by a body guard. I looked at Gina. I gave her a look. We’ve entered the crack asylum and there’s no turning back. We both were tired and ready for K. Flay. K. Flay must have been ready for us, because a few moments passed and she was in front of us, clear as day. The lights hit her flushed cheeks as she came out, guns blazing, to “Sunburn,” an autobiographical anthem off her 2012 EP Eyes Shut. She teared up the room with her high energy convulsions, whipping her dark strands to the left side of her face and letting them fall over her eyes, public as can be, but still managing to shroud herself in mystery. K. Flay does fine without the dressings of pyrotechnics or fancy voice modulation. Her music is unfussy, and you can tell that she’s found a failsafe in her bandmates, whom she remained extremely attentive to on stage. From “Get it Right” to “Felt Right to Me,” every K. Flay song has a driving backbeat ushering us toward complicated realities. / I want you to know that I want to be better but it feels like it’s gonna take forever / she sang to the crowd in pleasurable exhaustion. I looked around. Everyone appeared safe, alright, unbothered. Great music has the ability to do that.
The Illinois poet worked more songs from her 2015 Life as a Dog album into her set, such as “Can’t Sleep” and “Thicker than Dust,” two of my favorites next to “Black Wave,” which she debuted along with a surprise encore set she performed on her guitar. It included sneak peak material off her next album, Every Where is Somewhere, to be released in April (check out her website for the project preamble). “Black Wave” was probably the performance that the audience got into the most. The Suburban Rap Queen held nothing back: Waiting on a black wave / living under bad days / shaking in my own cage / what do I believe / stumbling down the street I swear to god you don’t want to test me / I jumped in unison with the crowd. A short brunette was standing in front of me. I accidentally kept knocking her (lightly, I’m not a hitman) in the head with my telephoto lens. She cranked her head a sliver to the side for the remainder of the song. She was still hyped though, crank neck and all. After performing “Hollywood Forever,” K. Flay informed the audience that Buffalo was the last stop on her US tour. She was headed for Europe. Everyone died. The rapper, spent but not exasperated to the point of no return, concluded her show with the radio hit “Blood in the Cut.” Everyone died a second time.
Gina and I stumbled out of The Waiting Room with nostalgia in our hearts and hamburger infused vodka stench on our clothes. It was mission accomplished. Back to the 9-5s we went, tired and hyper, wanting to do it all over again, like, yesterday. “I smell like B.O.,” Gina whined as she got into my car. We both laughed. “But it was awesome!” I sounded like a septum-pierced tweenager.
Photos: Jessica Helen Brant