Saul Williams, Steve Duncan, Blue Saint: 24 Kitchen Street, Liverpool

Saul Williams

Saul Williams

Saul Williams was in Liverpool to play his first headline gig in support of his latest album Martyr Loser King and Getintothis’ Mike Stanton was privileged to catch a very special performance.

24 Kitchen Street is an industrial space; all pipes, iron girders and rough brickwork. It’s basic, no frills, dimly lit and big in atmosphere. This is a venue all about the music, not the venue. The bands and artists take centre stage here. Only a solitary and large glitter ball gives any sense of glamour or flashiness.

Steve Duncan and Blue Saint have the task of opening for Saul Williams and the growing crowd gets a chance to hear some performance poetry from Steve the Poet first. Steve is from London but has been based in Liverpool for the last 13 months and is easy charm and warm charisma. He is articulate and passionate with soul in his spirit. He delivers a series of spoken word poems, holding the room with poise and noise, with scope and hope. He plays with rhyme and meter and comes armed with parable and decibel.

Blue Saint aka Daniel Sebuyange, originally from DR Congo, now a Liverpool son and still clearly learning his craft produces a set of impassioned lyrical poetry and warm soulful beats. An ambitious set contains a play within a play, Sebuyange takes on a schizophrenic stage persona, donning a balaclava and hoodie for the dark Frankenstein, speaking of who he was, who he could be and who he would go on to be. An obvious talent still searching for his voice, Blue Saint will reveal himself to be a leading force in the region’s spoken word/soul/hip hop scene and deserves all the success he will undoubtedly enjoy.

By the time Saul Williams emerges the audience is heaving, people crammed together craning necks to see this most charismatic of performers. New York born, LA based, Williams‘ background is in acting and theatre but he plays so many strings; performance poet, rapper, songwriter, rock star, novelist, filmmaker and activist. One of his great skills is seeking out the nuances of narrative and his latest release Martyr Loser King (his fifth studio album) achieves this with a fully immersive multi-media experience.

He kicks off with Horn Of The Clock-Bike during which he summons a tech guy to fix the projector bestowing the lucky chap with a paper crown for his troubles to loud cheers. Then some spoken word sans microphone; Coded Language from Amethyst Rockstar (his debut album) is captivating and the place listens in complete silence, hanging on his every word:

Equate rhyme with reason, Sun with season,
Our cyclical relationship to phenomenon has encouraged
scholars to erase the
Centers of periods, thus symbolizing the non-linear character
of cause and
Reject mediocrity!

Face painted with tribal lines and holding court like an electric messiah we are all worshiping at the altar of Saul Williams, preacher’s son and purveyor of truth. His unbridled energy pours forth backed by projections displaying warped images of politicians, lines of static flickering as slogans flash up ‘HACK INTO CRAZY’, ‘HACK INTO LUNATIC’, ‘HACK INTO AMBITION AND GREED’ (over a glitched picture of Donald Trump), ‘HACK INTO FAMOUS’, ‘THE EFFECTS OF POVERTY ON THE PSYCHE’ and ‘THE VICTIMS THAT SURVIVED’. This is visceral, powerful and emboldening. He is giving us the tools to set ourselves free. Saul Williams has opened the cage and is showing us how to fly.

“Art is something that compels you to think” – up and coming MC Nelson forces Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby to use his brain. 

The Bear / Coltan as Cotton is next and Williams is in the audience, preaching, throwing down slam poetry both on and off the mic. So much poise, so much control, power, energy and a burning charisma that shines with a light of a thousand supernovas. Pogo-ing underneath the glitter ball it is his call to arms. All Coltrane Solos At Once is delivered among the moshing crowd, here he is with his people, entrancing, bewitching, and spinning in a dense cloud of jackhammer industrial beats and super-heavy glitch-fuck electronics.

It is a staggering performance. We are barely able to comprehend the full majesty of this experience, Williams is a whirling apparition lit by several million lumens of photonic energy. It’s hot in here and the heat is emanating from one man, Saul Williams.

No Different growls and boils with his muscular delivery and incisive lyrics:

I’ll never give up on you, I’ll never give up on you
Even when you’re short sighted and arrogant and too selfish to be true
No different from the way I am, you’re no different from the way I am
And you never know, one day we’ll look at this and laugh and understand
Don’t ever give up on me, don’t ever give up on me
Even when I’m tortured by my arrogance and too selfish to be free
Don’t ever give up on me, don’t ever give up on me
Even when I’m tortured by my arrogance and too selfish to be free
Keep thinking about the way I am, keep thinking about the way I am.

Roach Eggs is a bass-heavy floor rumbling power-wave followed by a convulsive rendering of List of Demands that snarls and spits with rhythmic venom. The crowd is dancing, bouncing, and pumping arms in the air, shouting, singing and rejoicing in his phosphorescent presence.

Saul Williams wants to save us, to release us from our lives of conformity and oppression and he shakes us awake with his polemic explosions.

DNA closes out and a clearly exhausted Williams’ leaves the stage to rapturous applause and cacophonous cheering and shouting. He returns to recite one more poem, one more chance to spend some time in his magnetic company before bowing out to an enthralled and clearly stunned crowd. What we have just witnessed is clearly special, a performer of raw honesty, cloaked in a kinetic aura that drew us all in.

Saul Williams‘ power and intensity shook the souls of our ancestors.


Pictures by Getintothis‘ Michael Kirkham