by Ben Hussey
If you are anything like me, hearing that Armand Hammer was performing at Northeastern, nonetheless as an opener for Faye Webster, was surprising. I mean, one of their members, Billy Woods, has a song titled “Western Education is Forbidden.” I asked Woods about this after the show, to which he responded, “That’s part of the irony.” This succinct answer was more than sufficient considering the ticket they were included on, and answered several of my other questions for Woods and ELUCID (usually styled E L U C I D). The New York rap group was the second act for one of WRBB’s biggest concerts to date, Common Cents Music Festival: sandwiched between the Berklee band Winkler, a local favorite, and Faye Webster, the aforementioned indie-pop artist quickly gaining the music community’s attention. The irony was apparent, but despite that, here we are, and here I am, on a cold October night at Centennial Common, surrounded by Huskies eagerly waiting for the talents to emerge.
In classic Billy Woods fashion, as soon as the lights came on, he kindly asked for them to be turned off again. For those who are unaware, Woods prefers to keep his identity hidden and finding a picture of his unblurred face on the internet is nearly impossible. Thus, the stage was only illuminated with backlight, switching between colors throughout the performance. The set was incredibly sparse, consisting solely of a folding table covered in a black tablecloth with ELUCID’s laptop positioned on the left side, perpendicular to the audience. Woods and ELUCID’s outfits mirrored this minimalism. ELUCID donned a green work jacket with gray jeans and Woods was in a simple black hoodie, black jeans, and beat-up Vans. All of these aspects emphasized the esoteric and authentic vibe of the duo’s music.
The show began with some technical problems, but ELUCID kindly filled the time with songs from Wood’s newest album, Church, which had released just a few days earlier. Unfortunately, that was the last we heard from Church, depriving the student body from being the first audience to hear the masterpiece live. Once the audio was fixed, Woods introduced himself and ELUCID, then commented, “It’s chilly. I like it cold though,” not at all surprising for a man with such crisp delivery and an incredibly chill demeanor.
The first song they performed was, in fact, not an Armand Hammer song, but “Spelling,” the first track on ELUCID’s 2022 album, I Told Bessie. The song’s chorus consists of ELUCID repeating the line, “Just got to heaven, and I can’t sit down,” which was an incredibly apt way for the show to start, as I felt like I was in heaven watching these geniuses rap (I quite literally couldn’t sit down, but more on that later).
The next two songs were solos as well, this time performed by Woods – “NYNEX” and “No Hard Feelings” from his album, Aethiopes. For the majority of the show, Woods and ELUCID continued to hop from project to project, but put an increasing emphasis on Armand Hammer’s 2021 album Haram, a collaboration with legendary hip-hop producer The Alchemist. Although many of the songs they performed were solos, it never felt uncanny or uneven. Both ELUCID and Woods demonstrated to the audience how strong their connection and appreciation for each other is. If one of them wasn’t featured on a song, they were still involved in the performance – pacing around the stage, bobbing their head, and tossing in adlibs at just the right moments.
During “Black Sunlight,” the front two rows on the left side of the audience, myself included, were graced with the presence of Centennial’s sprinkler system. Only a few students got soaked, but puddles began to form around my feet and the “Spelling Prophecy” was thus fulfilled. I was in heaven, albeit a wet one, and could not sit down even if I wanted to. One of my favorite songs they performed, “Charms,” occurred during the Sprinkler EraTM and includes a sample of Audre Lorde discussing survival at its close. Woods made sure to shout out Lorde after the song ended, a reference that I and other devotees of Armand Hammer were sure to appreciate.
Outside of the sprinklers, the highlight of the show was the last song they performed, “Stonefruit.” “Stonefruit” is the final song on Haram and is easily my favorite of theirs. A strong case could be made that “Stonefruit” is the greatest song of all time, and was reportedly placed at the end of Haram because Woods believed it was too good for any song to follow (a decision I wholeheartedly agree with.) For much of the show, the lights stayed in motion, casting dynamic shadows of Armand Hammer across the stage, but they stayed static for this one. This decision, whether it was by Armand Hammer or the lighting director, added a whole other layer to the performance and emphasized the poetry being spoken through the microphones of ELUCID and Billy Woods.