A sold out show of poetry hit Cardiff on Friday night, with the 200+ capacity of Clwb Ifor Bach thronging with both well-known, hardened local faces and the fresh buzz of a new crowd. Saul Williams is in town.
First to flex some poems tonight is Zhubat. Originally from North Wales, the now Cardiff-based MC and spoken word artist laments his lack of Welsh language ability – but drops some Cymraeg regardless. He works his way through a considerable opening set, with every word his muscles bulge and his eyes widen. Sweat drips from his brow only a few songs in. His poetry-inspired rap is layered with samples and scratches from his excellent DJ, but it’s hard to stay hooked. It’s easy to catch the occasional smart reference, but unfortunately it’s never built upon or structured well enough to really impact.
The Gothically monikered Dorian Greyskull is next, and with the name comes theatricality. His deranged performance interweaves pure spoken word and lyrics underpinned by beats. Clearly off his face on something – perhaps maybe just the limelight of a sold out club – he falls into and away from the microphone. Showing huge potential but a lack of musicality when it comes to putting words to music, Greyskull is a highlight of local talent nonetheless.
A lone wolf takes to the stage after a tribal chant stirs the crowd up into anticipation. Decked in glittering purple make up, and overlaid with glitching graphics, Saul Williams is about to awe us. With a five album back catalogue, as well as a whole repertoire of poetry, Williams first mainly sticks to the new album Martyr Loser King as well as stopping the crowd in their tracks with spoken word pieces. He delivers each song or poem with greater energy than the two opening acts combined. Despite definitely being twice their age, he never lets up.
Just before you feel he can exhaust the crowd no longer from his perch above them on stage, he loses the spotlight to get in amongst them. Singing three songs – as well as performing a poem completely off mic – in the baying Welsh crowd, the highlight comes from him screaming the chant of “Swoosh! I’m a candle!” from the latest album’s stellar track ‘Burundi’.
The crowd in turn gives him so much love and affection; it can seem at times overbearing. He is humble to the point of annoyance with their generosity, rejecting their adulation. He informs them all that he’s “full of shit”, just like everyone else.
Saul Williams is an intense figure; he looms over the crowd as he strikes out with past songs ‘Grippo’ ‘DNA’ and ‘List Of Demands’. Living off the audience with every fresh anthem, he doesn’t let it go to his head – even if it was adorned with a crown at the start of the set. He is outward as he dances, chants, raps and sings – but also inward, introspective and focused on the words he is firing out across music at one point and silence at another.
The set ends with an encore that contains no music, just a thank you. How can one man tell poetry to 200 drunken Welsh men and women and still command their attention? Only Saul Williams knows.