Say it. That’s the way it is.
Equal parts theatre, spoken word, street corner quartet and beatbox, Universes treated an audience at the Works last night to an incredibly unique and exciting performance. The group blended rhythm, music, word and movement as deftly as the best club DJ’s. But they didn’t need the two turntables- all they needed was the microphone.
Universes formed around the Nuyorican cafe, the nexus for spoken word poetry in New York, during the years when Slam poetry was taking off. The fervor of Slam poetry has cooled in the last few years. The Slam form has gone a long way to take the dynamics out of spoken word. However, through their method of blending acappella blues, jazz and hip-hop with a wicked sense of rhythm and theatrics, Universes is breathing new life into the tired performance poetry form.
A good example of the groups’ range and scope of influence could be heard in a piece that addressed the issues of hurricane Katrina. Using the driving rhythm of soul they set powerful monologues and stories against a backdrop of melodies that crossed genres from Sly and the Family Stone to Tom Waits.
But Universes power as an ensemble did not eclipse the ingenuity and strength of their solo performances. Steven Sapp, Universes artistic director, blew the roof off the Works with an amazing piece of alliterative poetry that progressed through the entire alphabet while maintaining a strong narrative. Simply amazing.
Now that they’ve made their first trip from New York to Portland, we can only hope that they will return to keep things aiiiiight.