The stage was flanked by screens that read ‘SLUMERICAN’ in crisp block lettering. The room was circumfused with thick, earthy smoke, which spouted towards the ceiling before settling at eye-level. It was a sea of hoods, beanies, and caps with brims bent upright. A kid rested his bud grinder on his iPhone screen, on which the wallpaper is a picture of Mac Miller sitting open-mouthed in a red jumper. Bodies were already moving to Shimmy Shimmy Ya playing over the PA. The curtains open and the crowd bucks forward. Hard White (Up In The Club) drops, and the smiling Yelawolf, who donned a leather jacket pasted with ‘Slumerican’ bumper stickers on the back, sunglasses, a dixie flag do-rag, a grill reflecting the stage lights of the Corner Hotel, and sporting a large black beard, appears with his middle fingers raised defiantly in the air.
The crowd followed his every move and his every word. Fans themselves showed incredible oral dexterity, rapping along with Yela’s maze-like triple-time rhymes. DJ Artime – who often looked on at his MC with amazement at his energy, skill and generosity with the audience – kept the beat and boasted respectable scratch skills. The crowd wailed as Yela proclaimed a love for VB, tipping the contents of a stubby into his mouth before settling it on the DJ table. Every time Yela turned back around to the audience, a wide grin would spread across his face.
“Hold up! We’ve got a problem,” Yela suddenly proclaims. “Who knows the words to Billy Crystal Meth? I forgot the lyrics. Who knows the words to Billy Crystal Meth? I can’t remember the words so I’m gonna need someone to come up here and do this song for me.” He retrieved a flashlight and began manoeuvring the beam through the smoke into the audience. He found a tall young man, shaved head swathed in a beanie and covered in tattoos. On stage the two looked like funhouse mirror reflections of each other. The kid took the mic in his hand, bug-eyed. Tenaciously fighting through nerves, he didn’t flub a word. He interacted with the crowd, much to the delight of Yela, who stood in heartfelt awe.
After an incident involving the theft of Yela’s dixie rag that caused him to leave the stage, he returned jovial and eager. “Well that just fucked the set up,” he said. No matter; within minutes the room became a true mass of fans once again. Heads shook convulsively, limbs spiralled and bodies slammed before screaming “Marijuana-a-a-a-a-a!” over Yela and Kurt Cobain’s acrid harmony—fan favourite Marijuana, its hook sampling Nirvana’s All Apologies b-side, Moist Vagina.
He displayed vocal chops besides the double-triple-quadruple time rhyme schemes. His singing voice is surprisingly melodious, avoiding the eluding tactics of Eminem’s own squeaky geek sound and the overwrought cartoonishness of the ODB. No AutoTune either. It’s reminiscent of fellow whiteboy rap punk Mike Patton’s early Faith No More work, nasal but far less bratty than Patton. Singing several times throughout the show, his voice was always on-point and often he slipped into sing-rapping verses, taking on hooks like Growin’ Up In The Gutter, Get Away and closing out the show with an apt rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man. During the latter, Yela beckoned the crowd to raise all lighters and cell phones in the air. It is worth noting that there were more lighters than there were cell phones.
The show came to a close with a medley of Beastie Boys songs – (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!), Brass Monkey, Paul Revere, Intergalactic – which morphed into My Name Is, over which Yela gave a shout out to Shady Records, the label he calls home, and gave props to “the boss man, Eminem”. The opening chords of Simple Man flew over raised, slowly waving hands.
“Thank you very much, Melbourne. Thank you for coming to see a country boy from Alabama on a Monday night,” he said. Ronnie Van Zant disappeared from the PA and Yela declared finally, “I love you all. I really do.” Because nothing breeds love like acceptance.
PHOTOS: Yelawolf – Corner Hotel, Melbourne 8/07/2013