The indomitable Sage Francis approached the Belly Up stage sporting a tiara, politician wig, sunglasses with X’s painted over the eyes, and a flag tied around his neck like a cape. As the familiar drums of “Personal Journalist” exited the speakers, the impeccably-dressed emcee tore into the multisyllabic rhyme schemes and clever wordplay of an “oldies but goodies” set. It was somewhat strange seeing Sage by his lonesome after years of touring with a rotating door of backing musicians, but within the evening’s essence of taking it all back to where it started, the one man band delivered.
Affectionately rapping into the sneaker he had kicked off mid-verse and placed on the mic stand, Sage planted delicate kisses on his perched footwear throughout “Climb Trees.” Past live renditions of this song have seen the lumberjack-bearded wordsmith go for broke and lick well-worn soles. “Makeshift Patriot,” the scathing political diatribe penned in the wake of America’s response to 9/11, was a fitting inclusion as the election cycle ushers in new waves of xenophobia. Further mapping out the country’s ills was the electrifying “Slow Down Gandhi” as well as “Waterline,” a solemn ode to inaction.
The tide flowed from societal critique to soul-bearing introspection as the night wore on, with Sage rearranging his compositions dramatically by way of alternate backing beats from artists as diverse as Buck 65 and Steve Miller Band. “Mourning Aftermath” was set to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” giving the song a paranoid, claustrophobic feeling. As Reznor’s signature soundscape filled the air, Sage careened maniacally around the stage like a whirling dervish of disturbing, sexual fury. While his antics have you laughing so hard you can barely breathe one moment (e.g. his creepy cover of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”), the next he is leading the crowd in a powerful call-and-response of “Make love to the present – FUCK THE PAST!”
Sage’s career-spanning thematic continuity is something to be marveled at. You can connect the dots from his earliest mixtapes to his Epitaph era releases and see a larger, luminous picture. He explained his heart vividly to the packed Solana Beach tavern through the time-lapsed scopes of “Rewrite” and the show-closing, Yann Tiersen-produced “The Best of Times.”