He’s known by many names. Formally, he goes by Michael Larsen. To his fans, he’s Eyedea. To the ladies, he’s Little Mikey. And to his friends, he’s the guy with the really good weed. At least, that’s how he introduced himself. He shared the stage that fine Sunday with his musical accomplice, DJ Abilities. Appropriately, the pair calls themselves Eyedea & Abilities. To an outsider, the duo may look like a disorganized junkie and hipster goofing off for an audience. A true fan wouldn’t disagree with this appraisal, but they would add that this junkie-hipster group has a lot more talent than they receive credit for. On Sunday, July 11, 2010, the group performed at the Walker Open Field in Minneapolis; with their unique blend of hip-hop, punk, rock, jazz, and everything in between, Eyedea & Abilities gave a performance that would have impressed even the most skeptical of outsiders.
The clock crept towards seven o’clock, and a crowd began to build in front of the sad two foot high stage. After a brief introduction by the event host, Eyedea and DJ Abilities came out. They reintroduced themselves, Eyedea listing off his many names. Following this and several other jokes, they started their hour long set with “Hay Fever,” followed by “Glass,” which Eyedea paused in the middle of to light a cigarette, and then “Exhausted Love.” During this song, Eyedea stepped into the crowd, where he rapped from inside a circle of fans. This was one thing that seemed to set them apart from other groups—their connection with the audience. While some groups talk to the audience complacently from the stage, Eyedea puts himself in the audience, and even brings the audience into the show.
After noticing a group of guys at the front who could recite every one of their songs, he commented that the audience knew his songs better than he did. He challenged them to sing along to “Sky Diver,” a lesser known song, calling one fan up on stage. The man boldly took a microphone and rapped along with Eyedea, who seemed to be looking for the guy to mess up. He didn’t do so in a rude way, though. It seemed more like he was expecting him to mess up, and was not trying to make the guy feel bad but make himself feel better.
This and several other times, Eyedea showed great insecurity with himself and his music. His voice reached the farthest fan and he made the ten by ten stage feel like it was a stadium, but he did very subtle things that gave him away. In “Factory,” he purposely slurred the entire chorus the first time around, and part of it the second. He contorted his face as he did it, making it seem like he didn’t believe a word of what he wrote. He played it off to be comical, but it was still unusual. If he ever changed his songs when he performed it was in an innovative and almost necessary way. It rained at one of their concerts about a month prior; when they performed “This Story,” he added the word “rain” to every line in the first verse. He even made it fit well with the rest of the song. While Eyedea does have an eccentric feel to his performance, a lot of it seems like he’s just trying to prove something either to the audience or to himself.
Eyedea dominated much of the show. Though, at the end of their earlier songs, DJ Abilities played his outros long and complicated, with the outro for “Burn Fetish” carrying on, and on…
“Oh, so is this DJ Abilities time now?” Eyedea asked. He didn’t seem mad or bothered, just amused. The answer came in the complex beats that followed. Scratching, booming guitars accompanied by bass, snares snapping and cymbals crashing, DJ Abilities made his presence known and he did it with grace. It was a needed contrast to Eyedea’s brazen gesticulations and wacky displays. Though the freestyle mix was long, it was never boring.
Afterwards, Eyedea did some freestyle rapping. He began with a joke about what he does when he goes on stage with Kristoff Krane, who can freestyle as fast as Eyedea can rap rehearsed, and he turned that joke into a rhyme which morphed into a short freestyle rap. After this and a comment about how out of practice he was at freestyling, he seemed to have enjoyed the short bit he did and had DJ Abilities make another beat that he did an even longer freestyle rap to. It was coherent and it flowed like a well-practiced rhyme, and the collective thought buzzed through the audience—what a liar—to his remarks about not being as good as he used to be. It was just about perfect, except for one small part where he must have lost his train of thought because he said “Da na na” over and over. It worked well, though, because it added to the goofy, comedic front that he kept up throughout the set.
“Smile” closely followed this, and it was one of the songs where most knew the chorus, if not the entire song. He performed without joking around, and afterwards he thanked everyone and said that this particular song meant a lot to him. He got very serious when he said this; as if Michael Larsen had broken through the Eyedea persona. He added that it can be important to put on a smile for the world, because sometimes it does actually make a person feel better. Michael Larsen only stuck around for these short few sentences, and Eyedea returned to introduce another crowd favorite, “Now.”
“I bet you guys can’t sing this one,” he joked. “Nah you guys probably could.”
The song started slow and built up to his mesmerizing, tongue-twisting verse. He held his palm in front of him, face down and shaking back and forth, his neck and face tense as he spoke in a rhythmic and incomprehensible rush. His rapping only slowed towards the very end, where he seemed exhausted from the string of relentless rhymes. He looked elated as the crowd cheered. Later in the song, he messed one of the lines up, laughing the rest of words away and changing the line that followed to, “Success ain’t only based on self-esteem / It takes a sense to differentiate between old lyrics when you can’t even think.” Once again, he made this change fit in the song perfectly, as if that was how he had written it.
He finished the song breathing heavy, and turned his back to the audience to drink—no, chug—from a metal flask.
The group rounded out the show with some slower tunes, Eyedea probably still a little out of breath from “Now,” and also perhaps feeling the alcohol start to affect him.
Even with their set so disorganized, Eyedea & Abilities used this and every other self-induced setback to their advantage, giving the show a unique and memorable element that sets them apart from the cookie-cutter performances that even the most talented of musicians give. Their act was well balanced with the crazy, bellowing antics of Eyedea, and the mellow, behind-the-scenes work of DJ Abilities. A true fan would say they don’t get the credit they deserve—and anyone who’s not a fan would agree after seeing an Eyedea & Abilities concert.