Rhyme and rhythm from Aesop Rock

Aesop Rock , a pioneer ofthe alternative hip-hop movement, brought his actto Philly's Union Transfer overthe weekend. CHRISSY PIPER
Aesop Rock , a pioneer ofthe alternative hip-hop movement, brought his actto Philly's Union Transfer overthe weekend. CHRISSY PIPER
Posted: August 06, 2012

The shears came out - real beauty parlor shears - when Aesop Rock introduced his song "Racing Stripes" at the Union Transfer.

The underground rapper pulled a woman from the audience to brave an impromptu haircut while he rapped the less-than-reassuring refrain, "Dude, it'll grow back."

Aes didn't actually wield the clippers. He left that duty to opening band hip-hop duo Dark Time Sunshine, introducing them as "two of the best dudes and worst barbers I know."

That song, like much of his set, comes from Skelethon, Aes' first solo album in five years. In the interim, he assembled the trio Hail Mary Mallon with fellow emcee Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz, both of whom joined him onstage Saturday. Wiz's crisp scratching and ricocheting beats kept an electric crackle throughout the 90-minute set, supporting Aes' typically knotty rhymes as he stalked back and forth across the stage with a wiry, spider-like gait.

Born in Long Island and based in San Francisco, Aes was one of the pioneers of the alternative hip-hop movement in the late 1990s formed around rapper El-P's Definitive Jux record label. Over the course of six albums, he has evolved a verbose, darkly humorous style delivered in a strangled snarl, full of gnarled and kinked twists of phrase.

He didn't delve deeper into his catalog until the show's final minutes, ending the set with "Big Bang" from 2000's Float and his best-known song, "Daylight," from the 2001 concept album Labor Days. The dearth of older material didn't dim the crowd's enthusiasm, however, as Aes engaged them in a call-and-response sing-along of "Take the brain out / Leave the heart in" from "Homemade Mummy" and traded comic barbs with Sonic between songs.

Though their tonsorial skills left much to be desired, Dark Time Sunshine opened the show with an engaging 30-minute set, self-deprecating rapper Onry Ozzborn asking for thumbs-up/thumbs-down assessments of material from their recently released second album, ANX. They were followed by Edison, a skilled beatmaker whose overlong set, which he spent hunched over a computer-interface gadget called a Monome, suffered from the monotony inherent in any guy-pushing-buttons performance.

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