When Saul Williams released The Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust independently late last year he trundled a similar download release path to Radiohead by offering fans a choice whether to pay or download for free. For an artist like Saul, distinctly more underground than Radiohead but still visible to the mainstream on occasion, the release was an astounding success. The album was paid for ($5) or downloaded for free in a ratio of 1:3 with 100,000 downloads in the first week alone.
The pay-off has really come to fruition in the live arena in the past few months. The association with Trent Reznor who produced the album no doubt helps the cause. Fans will show up to see what the fuss is about. Saul’s most recent US tour saw most of the venues sold out with an audience packed with thugs, indie-rockers, goth kids and college backpacker types. Over here, it’s a little different. Saul has already established a relationship with the Irish people through his incendiary recent appearances here at Crawdaddy in 2005 and Electric Picnic in 2006.
So, while there are a few first-timers amongst the audience in the Button Factory, the echo of poetry chanting back from the audience tells you there are lot of die-hards in the room. Saul’s band consists of a guitarist who SHREDs metallic riffs, a keyboardist who is dressed like an extra in a bad science fiction movie and DJ CX Kidtronix with an array of illuminated sunglasses and headbands. Saul joins the stage in his Niggy Tardust character – a hybrid of species breaking down the social construct of race, resplendent in feathers, facepaint and a hair-lined military jacket. You may have gathered by now that the Niggy Tardust stage show has more in common with Liberace than Lil Wayne but he still brings the thumping beats.
He challenges the audience’s initial slightly dour reaction with disbelief – “Is this Dublin? Is this Dublin??? Don’t tell me it’s London!”. Shortly afterwards, there are limbs flailing and feet pounding on the stickiest floor at a gig ever (© – The Button Factory). A dose of material from his self-titled second album – ‘Grippo’, ‘Surrender (A Second to Think)’ – sends the die-hards into non-stop pogo mode while Saul uproots the feathers from his head. The concentration is on the harsh, dark songs in his repertoire. Saul’s tongue never stops moving, a breath is barely caught. They play a bit of Bjork’s ‘Declare Independence’ as an outro, Saul travels through the crowd, whipping up an atmosphere as he goes during ‘Break’ and a wonderfully dubby version of ‘Black Stacey’ gets an airing.
As the show progresses into the second half, the poetry monologues become more frequent and the contentious U2 cover ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ is played. It’s freaking awesome considering. So much energy, so much time. We are treated to 1 hour and 40 minutes of poetry, beats and outer space noises. Fittingly, the encore is concluded with a passage from Saul’s book Said the Shotgun to the Head. Later on in the male toilets after the venue has emptied, State sees a man reading said book purchased from the merch table with one eye on the book with the other eye on the toilet bowl before him. Says it all really. Saul Williams – Infinitely more important than taking a piss.