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True Live @ The Basement - 7.12.2006

Author: Saffron @ Tranzfusion
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
It is seven thirty. I 'm already at the venue, and only now realise that the acts are not going to grace the stage till nine. Still, I don't mind waiting. The Basement is indeed a very rocking place to pass time. The ambience has a rawness to it; its all about the music here and the walls, adorned with posters of past acts, don't let us forget it. Above me, a dilapidated looking fan revolves languidly, not fast enough to cool the air, and not slow enough to be still, but still moving. Just for the heck of it. Nestled in the exposed cement ceiling, in and amongst pipes, speakers and wires, this place reeks of unpretentiousness. Add to that a good dollop of ultracool, and you've got the Basement.

Eventually though, even the surroundings aren't enough to keep me entertained for more than an hour. I order a plate of wedges and a cocktail; a Billie's Holiday. The wedges are horrible, fried to the point of torture and fairly dripping with oil. The cocktail, in keeping with Lady Day's tradition of glory, is sublime. I manage to finish half of the wedges, and impatiently wait for something to happen.

Finally, the lights dim and the first act comes on, a hip hop group called the Free Agent Crew. The lead singer is enthusiastic enough, and the flutist rather good, but eventually I tire of them all, and secretly hope the rapper will get entangled in the wires on the stage. He doesn't, but no matter, they are done anyway.

The second band is a mellow jazz group that produce some pretty hypnotic though soporific sounds; they are the Martinez Brothers. Then they start jamming, and the whole room is bopping with them. Just as I really get into the groove of it, the lights change again: the sound technician is being accosted by a drunk. He leaves, and taking advantage of his absence, the drunk starts playing with the lights. The stage flashes green for a while, then red. Then the whole room plunges into darkness. The sound of a violin softly practising explodes and is quickly muted. The sound guy reappears, and the drunk walks meekly away. All this, and still no True Live- Hang on…

The air is electric. True Live is on.

Ryan Ritchie, the lead, lyricist and MC, is the first man I've ever seen who truly swaggers. He knows how cool he is, and he couldn't care less. As for the music, it is superb. True Live is a six piece hip hop group with the usual members, the keyboard guy, the drums and the MC, but they have three quarters of a string quartet thrown in as well. They, in my opinion, are what makes True Live a truly novel group. Not many rappers in Hollywood can be heard in tune with a violin, cello and a double bass. And not any can do so and get away with it.

Ritchie raps with expertise that is uncommon these days, with lyrics clever and laced with irony. The words blend extremely well with the orchestral sounds of the strings. The pace is built up to dizzying speed, and slows down to a leisurely crawl during the chorus. The voice is smooth, slightly husky, incredibly appealing. Like dark chocolate drizzled with rum. 'Some day,' he croons, 'we might be on TV', during the song aptly titled TV. The cellist jams for a while by himself, and redefines versatility in about 4 seconds, with classical, oriental and jazz styles all combined to produce some very beautiful sounds. All heads nod, all bodies sway in synchrony, the atmosphere is unbelievable.

The audience are drawn further into the performance by Ritchie, who invites them to offer words which he can use for some improvised rap. We come up with billy goat, sex, honey, saline and vegemite, and the result is a hilarious bit of a capella. Some of the more lively tracks like Question This get the room jumping like mexican beans, and when the clock strikes half past 12, I am filled with despair. I don't want them to go.

This superlative band has released a d