Saturn to Portland: prepare for Saul Williams’ landing

SnoCore Icicle Ball
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
Saul Williams
Crystal Ballroom
1332 W. Burnside – Tonight at 8 p.m.
$25 general

“I am not the son of sha clack clack, I am before that, I am before before.” In 1972 an amethyst rock from Saturn landed on Earth, spewing words of wisdom as he descended from the cosmos, and today, he is still in rotation, a star in orbit … an amethyst rock star.

Saul Williams is one of those artists who transcends the boundaries of his art form, refusing to acknowledge the limits prescribed to him. As he’ll tell you, don’t even try to put him in a category as “hip-hop artist,” “slam poet,” “actor” or “singer.” For him, he is simply a human, going through the travails of life and learning how to express himself.

It’s not contradictory or even difficult for Williams to do all of those things and more, since they are all related to his experiences, resulting in his powerful message.

It is this freedom of expression that resulted in Williams’ debut album, Amethyst Rock Star, on American Recordings, which, for the casual observer, is a surprise – at least musically. Going beyond the abstract hip-hop style of the various singles he has released in years past such as “Ohm” and “Twice For The First Time,” his most recent musical work rocks hard.

Covering a m퀌�lange of sounds with his band, which includes a cello, viola, guitar, drums, bass and DJ, the eclectic sounds go from moody rock to dark trip hop to intense drum ‘n’ bass, taking the listener on a trek through Williams’ own musical inspirations, but without wearing them on his sleeve, as he “works to find his own voice among his many influences.”

On the cut “La La La,” Williams lets us know that “out of chaos comes order, out of chaos comes order,” setting the tone for the album, and also showing his intentions for “redefining mainstream culture.” Feeling that he had reached a level of writing where “a stronger sense of urgency was needed,” Williams felt a need to penetrate mainstream media, something that poetry is not as suited for because of its periphery status in this culture.

Currently, Williams is on tour with the SnoCore Icicle Ball Tour, which will be at the Crystal Ballroom tonight with the groove jazz of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, the activist funk of Spearhead, and the hip-hop duo Blackalicious. Though he is doing some headlining gigs of his own, on all SnoCore dates Williams and his band will be the opening act. On his Web site Williams writes, “Many of you may be wondering why we are the opening act, well, this isn’t a poetry show and in the music world we got dues to pay.”

He also adds, “Back in the day, when I used to perform at Lyricist’s Lounge they would always ask me to open the show with what we would call ‘lyrical libations.’ It was like having an opening prayer dictated to all of the lyrical forces of the universe. I see this opportunity as sort of the same thing, except this opening prayer will not be limited to simply lyrical forces.”

On the phone Tuesday, Williams cited his spiritual connection to the performer, activist, and all-around human being Paul Robeson. Williams hopes to “feel release of words unexpressed,” and to give “people a stronger sense of themselves, of self-empowerment.”

It’s no surprise, given this sense of transcendence and inspiration that is so dear to him, that Williams’ father was a preacher, who is even sampled on the track “Our Father.” Growing up in African American church culture allowed Williams to be exposed, musically and rhetorically, to the tools of the trade that help him create his “Coded Language,” reverberating incantations. “Find your mantra and awaken your consciousness.”

Regardless of whether he is playing a troubled kid in the critically-acclaimed film “Slam,” electrifying audiences at poetry slam performances, singing and rhyming with his dynamic vocal cords or expressing himself through his books “She” and “The Seventh Octave,” there is still that inextricable link between it all, his pure desire to change the hearts and minds of his audiences and make them think about themselves by thinking about his expressions of the human experience.

So when he tells us in the song “Wine,” “And I know God, personally. In fact, she lets me call her me,” you’re likely to believe him, because somehow, you know that he can back that shit up as much as anybody.