People Under the Stairs returned to Santa Barbara on Saturday night, bringing back conscious rap to a sold-out crowd at Velvet Jones.
The young scene seemed to be a mixture of die-hard PUTS fans and a happy few who had just happened upon the venue. Five minutes into the opening set of Santa Cruz-native Eliquate, the audience was enrapt. Eliquate lead-man Elliot Wright came across slightly unhinged as he bounded around the stage in rhythm with his music, dropping heavily introspective bars and keeping the audience engaged as a self-deprecating MC. Santa Barbara’s Chaye Tione took the scene afterward, stepping up in a red leather jacket for a rap performance marked by its humble, R&B feel.
Within an hour, PUTS’ Thes One and Double K came onstage to roaring applause, and delighted the crowd further when Thes described Santa Barbara as his second home. The two began their set with “Saturday Again,” a weekend warrior anthem from the duo’s newest EP, The Getting Off Stage. PUTS then treated the audience to a freestyle mix featuring UCSB, with special shout-outs to Isla Vista and the popular surf spot Rincon. “What are you drinking tonight, fam?” Thes asked, teasing the crowd for a performance of “Beer” as he popped open a bottle and downed it onstage. “I was on the phone with Donald Trump all day, fam, and I said to him…Everybody in this fucking country, whether you’re Mexican, German…your parents. drank. beer!” In contrast to the otherwise inviting nature of the concert, Thes then elicited a surprisingly aggressive chant from the audience of “If you don’t like beer, get the fuck out of here!”
Later in the night, Double K set aside his more mellow stage presence for “Trippin at the Disco,” bringing out a mesmerizing flow and a choice selection of disco dance moves for iconic lines like, “Ate the Aunt Jemima and Nabisco / They say I do my thing at the disco / And keep the groove real slick like Crisco.” The duo’s most popular song, “Acid Raindrops,” made its appearance toward the end of the show, as an enlivened audience threw back the hook to the song, singing, “When the stress burns my brain just like acid raindrops / Mary Jane is the only thing that makes the pain stop.” Double K worked the turntables with vinyls from PUTS’ own collection as Thes visibly mirrored the crowd’s energy in his dance moves.
The concert hit a small bump when PUTS requested a lighting change for the last song of the night, facing resistance from the venue. “Turn off the lights, let’s pretend Kanye just walked in and we don’t want him to know we’re here,” Double K repeated, getting ready for the crowd-requested “San Francisco Knight.” The management conceded, and the select few who brought lighters for the old-school duo illuminated Thes as the crowd reverberated with energy in the dark of Velvet Jones.
The venue was still buzzing after PUTS’ last few words, and Wright could be found working the crowd after the concert, passing out the few CDs he had left from his prior disc-flinging. Found backstage after a nearly one-hour set, PUTS graciously accepted a short interview. “I got up there and I felt a lot, a lot of love,” Double K said, remarking on PUTS’ twenty years as performers. Thes and Double K talked about their inspiration and described George Clinton, LL Cool J, Eazy E and Guru amongst their favorites of old school hip-hop. The independent duo is talented and humble, and has transferred its method to the next generation of performers. Double K said keeping it “consistent” is important for PUTS, and that the only featured artists on their albums are close friends. Reminiscing about his younger years listening to Run DMC, the almost 40-year-old artist said the duo retains the goal they had when they met in 1995. “It’s all about the music,” Double K said. “We’re not looking for no one to cosign us and make us big, we doin’ our own thing.”