Milo at Sonia
by James Ammirato
While scrolling through Facebook one day, I was dumbfounded to come across an article (by Stereogum no less) called “Milo Announces That ‘Milo Is Officially Finished.’” A fan of the rapsmith’s for years, I had to see the reason, the motivation for this news. All that greeted me were two brief tweets from the MC.
I sat there, confused. Why would a person so obviously at his peak cut such a career short?
The first thing I did after reading this was bought tickets to the Milo show in Boston that weekend. Though he goes by other names with various collaborators (Scallops Hotel, Nostrum Grocers), this would be my last chance to see him as Milo, and I had to take that up. “The Green Horse For Rap Tour,” as he named it, references one of my favorite Milo songs, “Napping Under The Echo Tree.” The show would not just be a set from himself, but a compilation of something he calls the “Ruby Yacht house band,” referring to his own label, Ruby Yacht. There would also be an opening set from Kenny Segal, producer of So The Flies Don’t Come (2015), my favorite Milo album. With all these things going for the show, I was beyond excited, not just to see one of my favorite hip-hop artists, but to see his label as a cohesive unit playing together, and really displaying the essence of what they make as a collective.
Getting off the bus at Sonia, I was nervous that the line seemed as long as it was. I like to be in the front of a crowd when moshing isn’t something I expect to happen, and the line seemed lengthy. However, I got inside, made a beeline for the stage, and found myself behind only one other person. Scrolling mindlessly through Instagram, my train of thought was interrupted by the fact that Milo himself walked right through the crowd. Impossible to miss, the 6’3” giant strolled through the audience as though he were lost, wearing a bright green and gold jersey from the Mighty Ducks, and sunglasses with the lenses flipped up. “‘Scuse me, ‘scuse me, just trying to get backstage,” he muttered, not giving anyone any time to react to what we were looking at. “Welp…” a fan said behind me, “that was him.” “That was him,” his friend repeated, a dreaminess in his voice.
At around 7:30, a scruffy looking man with glasses and shoulder-length hair walked onto the stage. He began almost poking at the electronic implements on the foldout table, and tapping the microphone to see if it was on. “Check check… Hey guys, I’m Kenny Segal, and I’m gonna play some music for you.” The crowd cheered with uncertainty. “Do these people really not know who this guy is?” I thought. Almost at once, the speakers hanging from the ceiling began pulsating with bass and samples most likely from cartoons. Segal grabbed one of the implements with a large button on it and began violently squeezing it, resulting in a sound with varying degrees of compression and dynamic, as if the sound itself was going from wide to narrow, the soundwaves literally being crushed under the direction of the interface. The next half hour or so was a collection of some of the most interesting sounds and unique samples I had ever heard. The set had a sort of beauty to it, one that I wasn’t sure everyone else was experiencing, but I knew I was witnessing something great. By the end, Segal shuffled over to the mic, said his thanks, then meandered off stage. Having just experienced one of the greatest openers I had ever seen, I was in a bit of shock. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical that Milo would be able to top what I had just watched. But, I was not disappointed.
About 20 minutes later, the Ruby Yacht house band approached the stage, consisting of former Boston area rapper Pink Navel on drums, Randal Bravery on synths and mixing boards, and Chris Misch-Bloxdorf on trombone and synths. A longtime fan of Pink Navel, in particular, I had no idea they were able to play drums as well as they had showcased, performing lag-time for perhaps the entire set. They began to jam together, and at one point the music climaxed, and Milo suddenly appeared on stage.
He’s not the kind of person to just walk on stage. When I say he appeared on stage, that’s because in my memory he simply became apparent to the crowd. After saying a few words, he and the band launched right into the first song, complete with Randal Bravery using a small VHS television that was playing an anime film titled “Neo Tokyo” as an instrument. This alone made the performance fascinating, I had never seen anything like it. Equipped with only an interface, a microphone, and a tangle of XLR cables, Bravery seemed fully enveloped in his own world on stage, yet completely in tune with the other musicians. It’s easy to imagine a producer sampling something like an anime in a recorded project, but I had never seen a movie being sampled in a live setting. In between songs, Milo would say something funny that would evoke laughter from the crowd, or he would just make some noises into the mic, which usually had the same effect. They did a bunch of cuts from his newest record, some from So The Flies Don’t Come, and various others from his lengthy, collaborative discography.
Much of Milo’s latest album, Budding Ornithologists Are Weary Of Tired Analogies (2018), consists of some of the wordsmith’s most whimsical tracks, and he relied heavily on this factor to make the show fun. Among the performed songs from Budding Ornithologists were “Mythbuilding Exercise No. 9,” “Tiptoe,” “Nominy,” and “Mid Answer Trying To Remember What the Question Is.” Never afraid of song titles that some might feel alienate the listener, the MC uses these names to his advantage, embracing the spirit of their ridiculousness to strengthen his persona and cement himself in the mind of the audience. In the end, it’s an extremely useful tool, as the crowd undoubtedly knows the names of the songs without Milo ever actually having to say them. Most of the set consisted of recent material, which I was happy with because I like to see the artist willing to put their new material out there, not relying on old material to please the crowd. The air of his most recent album was felt by the whole room, making this last tour feel like a send-off.
I think my favorite part about Milo’s set is how informal he made it feel. Even though he stood on a stage and towered over the crowd, we might as well have been in a living room with a really nice sound system. He seemed real. He danced around the stage like a giant bird, making the performance space his own. He made it clear to us that he was messing up during some songs, but who cares? He made the show fun. With only a few songs left, he iterated to us that this would be his last tour as Milo. Someone from the crowd shouted out, “What’s next?!” to which the rapsmith smirked and replied, “I don’t know.” It was greatly reassuring, that someone could knowingly be ending a segment of their career and be so fine with it, so confident that it would be what was necessary for them. He went on to say, “When I finish this tour, then I’ll know. But I gotta get through this tour first. But after that, I’ll know. And I’ll let y’all know.” And that was all he needed to say. The TV’s “Neo Tokyo” cut to static. No one seemed to mind.
Unfortunately, around 9:30, he was cut off and the set was forcibly ended early. Visibly caught off guard, Milo turned to us and curtly went, “Uh, bye,” and hurried off stage with the rest of the house band. I looked around. No one seemed sure of what to do, but as soon as everyone was certain there was nothing left to the set, people started filing out. I knew that I would have a chance to meet everyone in the band, so I stayed back and waited for them to come out of the doors.
I didn’t have to wait very long. Kenny Segal was already at the merch table, so I went up to him and talked a bit. I told him he reminded me a lot of Madlib, which he seemed surprised by, which in turn surprised me. I got a picture with him, and then went over to the line of people waiting to talk to Milo. We talked about his music and what he was doing for the future, and I told him I wanted to go up to Biddeford, Maine, where the guys from Ruby Yacht own a record store called Soulfolks. He said I should, and I got a picture with him and left feeling good.
The show was an incredibly positive experience. I was relieved to see that Milo was as cool off stage as he was on, as real of a person as he seemed to be when he was living the persona during the performance. We’ve all had the experience of talking to a celebrity or a person we’ve seen perform and had them be less than nice after the fact. Even though I had something of an idea that the people from Ruby Yacht would be approachable and friendly among their fans, it was great to experience it first hand.