People Under The Stairs at The Fillmore

(photo by Harrison Laver)

By Harrison Laver

'Twas the day after Thanksgiving, on a crisp San Francisco (k)night, when Thes One and Double K of People Under the Stairs (PUTS) walked out onto the timeless stage of the Fillmore to perform in front of an energized Bay Area crowd. Though hailing from Los Angeles, the veteran hip-hop duo has garnered a loyal following here after years of love shown for SF.  On Friday, they delivered the goods yet again.            

From the opening moments of the show, two things were apparent: for one, these guys aren’t just performers; they’re entertainers.  The intense involvement with the crowd, engaging banter and storytelling, and gestured communication throughout the show made them incredibly in tune with the audience.  Second, they're all about the music.  I never saw ego from either one of them.  They have a deep understanding and love for what they do, which is a completely self-sufficient and pure method of creating hip-hop; the duo produces their own beats, then writes and records their own lyrics.  The synergy between the two seeps out into their music. 

PUTS started out the show with a few oldies that got the crowd moving.  Without stopping, the duo moved on to a few tracks from their new EP “The GettinOff the Stage, Step 1” which hit the shelves a week before the show.  The EP is nothing groundbreaking, but stays true to their jazzy, hard-hitting but smooth, nostalgic sound which has graced listeners since their debut title in 1998. 

Thes One hopped around the stage with a backwards cap and a scarf while Double K held down the turntables wearing all black.  They floated through the first fifteen minutes with the poise of classic hip hop.  Already I was standing in a pool of spilled drinks on the floor.  At times it almost felt like a punk rock show, the way the crowd bounced around.  The energy brought out on the stage was palpable all night.   

It wasn't long before Double K had stepped out from the turntables to join Thes One for some uncompromising flows.  The way those guys worked off each other was impeccable.  One line from Double K moved on effortlessly to Thes One, who threw it back soon after.  Their voices seem to fit the instrumentals so well, which I think can be attributed to their DIY approach to hip hop.  The sense of ownership that they take over their songs is a rarity in the rap world, as most instrumentals pass through different hands before they arrive at a rapper who will use it to write a song, as opposed to PUTS creating all the pieces themselves. 

After one beat closed, Thes One came out with some more discourse to further fire up the Fillmore audience, “You know, we’re so fuckin’ thankful for y’all.  The only reason we can be out here doing this is because of you guys.”  And with that, they dropped into “The L.A. Song”, which is a tune about their protectiveness of their hometown and upbringing in L.A.  Nevertheless, these guys reject the notion of tension between SoCal and NorCal.  They spread love for all areas of California, from “Humboldt to Oceanside, ya dig?” 

Before the next song began, Thes One asked the crowd if anybody knew the Rob Ford dance, which is a series of dance moves that PUTS jokes around with at their shows.  About a dozen people screamed, and Thes One pulled a guy standing next to me in the front row on stage.  The guy immediately went over to Double K at the turntables and slapped hands with him.  The guy was pretty drunk, so Thes One double checked with him: “You sure you got this? Can you do it?”  Laughing, Double K started the beat.  Sure enough, the guy screwed it up right away.  “Alright alright, step back for this one,” directed Thes One, and the beat began again as he performed the moves himself.  Needless to say, the second time around went much smoother for Thes' inebriated subject. 

For the final track of the night, Double K emerged from the tables to flow with his hip hop partner; a song of affection for the Bay Area called “San Francisco Knights.”  If you aren’t familiar, this song samples the classic chorus and guitar lick from the California Dreamers song called “San Franciscan Nights,” originally written by the 60’s garage rock band The Animals.  PUTS started out the track with a clip from the sampled song, then dropped into the smooth jazz guitar lick and heavy bass.  The crowd went crazy.  And to top it off, as Double K made his rounds across the stage, he picked my friends SF Giants hat off his head and held it up to the crowd as he and Thes One spoke the words, “We doin’ we doin’ shows in San Francisco.” 

The duo walked off the stage amidst resounding applause from the audience, after giving my friend his hat back of course.  The crowd never ceased clapping, so PUTS came back for an incredible encore song, then walked away from a satisfied San Francisco crowd.  Their show at the Fillmore was a testament to their musicianship and showmanship, from Double K’s scratching and DJ’ing skills on the turntables, to Thes One’s lyrical ability and charismatic persona.  It was fitting that they should play such a classic venue, one that has adapted and grown with the times.  PUTS is much the same, as they have paved their own route in hip hop between the old-school and the new-school.  Hats off to People Under the Stairs.