The Four-Eyed Horsemen
(Schäffer the Darklord, MC Frontalot, Mega Ran, and MC Lars)
September 24, 2021 at City Winery
Walking into the small, tavern-like venue, the first person right there is Andrew Robert Nielsen, stage name MC Lars, manning the merch bar and having animated conversations with everyone who passes by. The show hasn’t even begun, but already it feels like one big house party. At the far end of the room a small stage contains a drum kit, some audio equipment, and a curtain splaying out the tour poster depicting the Four-Eyed Horsemen of the Hip-hocalypse.
First onstage is Raheem Jarbo, also known as Mega Ran and playing the part of the Red Rider, preparing the crowd for a “war” against shyness, thanking them for coming all this way and crying out how good it is to be back on tour – as fast as his lips and the backing track can carry the words. He has no wicked sword, but instead pulls out a gatling gun arm and assumes the persona of Barrett Wallace from Final Fantasy VII while leading into “Avalanche.” It’s a stark reminder that the genre of the night is “nerdcore” rap. From there, Jarbo serves as the hype man of the show, cracking jokes in between tracks to get the audience comfortable and directing them to shout out chorus refrains. This event isn’t just for the guys on stage: it’s for everyone on the floor to have a good time and nerd out unhesitatingly. Jarbo follows with several heartfelt anthems, leading the audience through a whirlwind of wistful, dreamy worlds. He also hints at a recurring trend of duets throughout the night by inviting a co-showman, Schäffer the Darklord, to volley with him in “Fighters.”
Jarbo bids the crowd a good night, and Damian Hess (alias MC Frontalot, the Black Rider of the group, and he who coined the term “nerdcore”), trots out bearing not scales, but a bright red headlamp straight out of the cover of his 20th-anniversary album, D20. Additionally, live drummer Beard Magic (real name unknown and unannounced) joins him on the stage for a bit of live music accompaniment. While Jarbo had only himself and the crowd during his songs, Hess displays music videos and animatics to accompany the audio. Hess tells tales of strange “famines,” rather, a staunch lack of decency, self-control, grip on reality, and common sense; every song is a four-minute-long scoff. He humors the audience and reminds them that someday COVID-19 will not be so bad, inviting Jarbo back onstage to perform the pre-nostalgic post-calamity “Apocalypse Bards.” The solo act continues with classic tunes that sound more and more like the ramblings of Don Quixote, becoming so entrenched in the wild stories and settings of modern media that it leads one to remember the light of a cellphone at midnight with a grimace, and to be ever more glad to get out of the house for once.
Hess falls away, and the twilight hour begins. Schäffer the Darklord, pictured as the Pale Rider on the tour poster, arrives with a commanding air of pomp and self-assuredness, and everyone forgets for a while that his real name is Mark Shaffer. Smoothing his crimson jacket and snapping on a pair of nitrile gloves, he begins to spit out lyrics as though they were boiling up from the pits of his stomach, moving around the stage with immaculate precision and care in every twist of sinew. He does not bring the legions of Hades with him, but leads a danse macabre nonetheless, firmly stating that though he is as much of a nerd as the three around him, he is a confident nerd. Doubly so, as many of his songs are nothing short of manic chatter, be they about baking a “Banana Cake,” riding in a self-totalling car, throwing everything to the wind in “Quit Your Day Job,” or just emptying the mind and cataloguing everything in his pockets. Hess comes back on stage to duel with Shaffer, but in a civil lawsuit rather than a rap battle, as they struggle to acquire the judge’s (audience’s) favor for their clients, Tom and Jerry.
Regaining his composure, Shaffer retreats, and the final performer for the night, Andrew “MC Lars” Nielsen, representing the White Rider of the apocalypse, takes the stage. True to both monikers of the apocalyptic bowman, Nielsen conquers the stage with a self-assuredness and raw energy that even Shaffer could not match while also quipping about former drug use and his current struggles with ADHD, excelling in spite of those “pestilences.” He opens with two songs from an upcoming album, “Fear of a Blockchain Planet” and “Five Seventy-Five,” demonstrating right off the bat that his nerdiness is of a more erudite fashion than his peers, despite the clearly punk backings and vocal tones. He raps about New England literature with “Finite Jest,” “Ahab,” and “Mr. Raven,” recapping stories that everyone forgot since they were last read in high school. Beyond nerdy passion, Nielsen also delivers heartfelt rap ballads about his heroic late grandmother in “Nana” and his own newborn, hopeful son in “Atlas.”
Nielsen takes a breather for only a moment before calling up his fellows back onstage, gathering all the Four-Eyed Horsemen for one final merry act, with Beard Magic on drums again. Taking turns at the helm, they rap in matching tracksuits to express grand gratitude in “Rabbit Out Of A Hat,” romantic availability in “Four-Eyed Heartthrob,” and personal responsibility (as well as one last hurrah for nerdiness) in “Who Watches The Watchmen?”
At the end of the night, the hall rang with laughter, chatter, and roaring applause for what felt like the best house party in the city. Even after the emotional wreckage caused by the pandemic and quarantine, the horsemen were ready and raring to ride out once more: further, nerdier, and bolder than ever before.