aesop1Twelve years and three albums later, Labor Days still remains Aesop Rock’s masterpiece. Yes, there are proponents for debut Float out there, but Labor will likely remain Aesop’s (aka Ian Bavitz) defining record. I believe it, his fans know it and Aes himself likely agrees. Yet, the rapper waited until the last two songs to reward us with Labor material during his show at Portland’s Roseland Theater.

Postponed due to a broken rib, this Aesop Rock concert was similar in set list to last year’s shindig at the Wonder Ballroom, but carried on without the cloying, ghastly heat that forced me out into the street before the finale last time. Armed with co-MC Rob Sonic – looking fit and ready for battle – and DJ Big Wiz, Aes concentrated on new material for the bulk of the concert.

Five years elapsed between last year’s Skelethon and the previous Aesop Rock record None Shall Pass, but Aesop’s recent creative explosion dominated the set. So not only did we get Skelethon songs, but those from his Hail Mary Mallon project, including some unreleased ones from an upcoming release. This month Aes’ collaboration with Kimya Dawson called the Uncluded drops. Although Dawson was in the audience, she didn’t take the stage this time around.

For those of us who saw Aes’ show last year, this iteration wasn’t too much of a surprise. New songs such as “Leisureforce” and “ZZZ Top” may sound a little more lived-in, but the set wasn’t too far off from a facsimile of last year’s, pushing the sublime to the simply utilitarian. The stunts were the same: opener Busdriver shaved some guy’s head during “Racing Stripes” and DJ Big Wiz got a few minutes to himself to spin. Aes surrendered the mike to Rob Sonic for a few tracks, moving the show from an Aesop Rock concert to something more akin to Aes and Pals.

Where was the security at the Roseland, however? Both Aes and Rob Sonic were openly dismayed at some of the crappy behavior happening in the pit. Two dudes got into a fist fight next to me, people threw things at the performers and when some guy bum-rushed the stage, Wiz had to come out from behind the turntables to cut him off. All of this went unchecked. Of course, the minute a guy lit up a joint next to me, he was dragged away.

It wasn’t until the end of the set that Aes kicked it old school with a rushed version of “No Regrets” and “Daylight.” I never begrudge an artist looking forward and avoiding a greatest hits set, but Aes had to know that the same fans would turn out to see him again. Varying the show a little more would have gone a long way.

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