Is MIKE Struggling? The Answer May Surprise You…

Queueing up outside of the somewhat newer venue Cheapsteaks (est. 2021), fans of Sideshow, Slauson Malone, and MIKE conversed about what was new on the music scene. Specifically, the topic of these artists arose, with each sharing passionate takes and expressing love for their music. Though the artists are relatively lesser known in the music scene, amassing a little over 1.5 million monthly Spotify listeners altogether, it was clear that the devoted line members each shared a considerable passion for the musicians they were prepared to see.

After arriving at the outdoors stage, an unseen DJ loosened up the crowd with energizing dance tracks to precede the show. It was a subtle choice, but key to inviting the crowd’s warmth. Sideshow later entered the stage as the night’s first act, vocalizing his desire to simply share a good time with the audience. I had never listened to or even heard of the rapper before the event, but with his first song, he would be added to my growing list of “Openers whose music I wish I had known before the show.”

The first thing I noticed about Sideshow’s performance was his perplexing, irresistible beat selection, which can be noted as being most similar to that of AKAI SOLO’s; the stuttering, almost glitchy drum patterns commanded me to feel the groove, knocking powerfully through the speakers directly to the left of me. His confident attitude stuck out to me next, not only in terms of the way he delivered his raps, but also in the content of the self-assured lyrics themselves. Aside from his charismatic musical performance, Sideshow took the time to interact with a few crowd members, leveling with them through humor and respect. It was another act of poise that ensured I’d be paying attention to whatever he does from now on. The night was off to an amazing start.

Slauson Malone, notably sporting a puffer jacket and Minion-charmed tie-dye Crocs, proceeded to set up multiple stage devices that were absent from the previous setup of a sole microphone. He was accompanied by Nicholas “Nicky” Wetherell, a cellist who helped Slauson form the performance duo named simply “Slauson Malone 1.” After a bit of instrument tuning and sound checking, the two began a conceptually challenging and highly entertaining show. With Slauson Malone beginning on the acoustic guitar, ostensibly disjoint notes were played, echoing resoundingly off the walls of Cheapsteaks. Combined with Nicky’s cello play, it was a warm reminder of the beauty that awaits us in string instruments.

After a bit of sound collage thanks to shoe pedals, flangers, and sound effects, the performance quickly ramped up in intensity. Time suddenly began moving at light speed, with the number of things happening and the level at which they were executed maxing out. In the span of what felt like five minutes, Slauson Malone did many things: He sang vocals that alternated between exhausted mutters and frenzied shrieks, made a wardrobe change, set foot in the crowd two separate times (in one of which he maniacally repeated the phrase, “What time is it? What time is it?”), engaged a light-up soundboard, and performed more vocals. Nicky’s play often matched Slauson in eccentricity; though he did use his bow typically, he also plucked at the cello with his fingers, played it frantically with what appeared to be frayed violin bow hairs, and used a regular bow to play the cello’s wooden body on its side. It was an abstract production, to say the least, though this shouldn’t have come as a surprise given the eclectic style of the artist’s music. When Slauson Malone 1 wrapped their thoroughly distinguished set, they bowed to the crowd, much the same way conductors bow following a masterful orchestration.

Watching the tour crew remove Slauson Malone 1’s extensive gadgetry in preparation for MIKE, the crowd took to waiting one final time. After a few minutes, DJ Taka boarded the stage and began playing an old, soulful dance track — a cue to fans that had previously seen MIKE perform that the man was due up. After patiently waiting 15 feet away from the stage all night, the tall, sure-footed rapper treaded the platform steps, an anticipatory glower on his face. He looked to me and the rest of the crowd, giving out daps and low-fives as we all roared in elation. Allowing the anonymous dance track to settle in, MIKE avoided the mic, letting the audience sway and two-step to the music. When ready, he first spoke about his gratitude for being in Dallas and for all that helped contribute to making the night possible (from the light person to the bartenders). It was big love from then on.

The most immediately evident aspect of MIKE’s performance style is his immense passion for rap. With every bar, even every word spoken, MIKE emphatically pronounces his lyrics. Similar to Pusha T’s typical delivery, it sounds as though the 24-year-old needs every point to be felt equally as great; he even pauses between two songs to mention “I feel like my lung is about to fall out.” Grasping the microphone in a death clutch, cord draped around his neck, MIKE borders on shouting the uplifting lyrics of tracks like “Evil Eye” and “Aww (Zaza).” In the latter, he calls out to the audience in a question: “Stuck in the midst of it all / Struggling?” We respond “Nahh! / Nahh! / Nahh!” as a collective affirmation, and the empowering cycle repeats for a unique back-and-forth between audience and performer. Though I’ll always love artists that do more than simply perform at events, this exact positive feedback loop will stand among my favorite audience interactions at any show I’ve ever been to.

All in all, these three acts combined for a remarkably stellar night. From the swagger of Sideshow’s fleeting set, to the unpredictability of Slauson Malone 1’s avant-garde performance, to the warmth of MIKE’s enthusiastic and spirited raps, the event was my favorite in over a year. I couldn’t recommend seeing them in person more, particularly MIKE; simply put, some of the things that happened on Wednesday night won’t be done justice by a written blurb. You just had to be there.