Take the release of DOOM’s new live album Expektoration as a reminder to buy his earlier albums. Not that it isn’t a good performance; with audio that sounds like most of it was taken from the soundboard, and some crowd noise thrown in to demonstrate that several members of the audience were singing along and enjoying themselves, Expektoration provides a rare document of DOOM sounding energetic and gregarious over his songs. The setlist, heavy on material from MM.. Food, the widely revered Madvillain LP, and Operation: Doomsday, the villain’s masked debut — along with references to a food drive connected with the tour — suggest that this show was recorded around half a decade ago. Material from last year’s BORN LIKE THIS. is conspicuously absent, in spite of the fact that something like “Lightworks” would jibe well with the underground rap world’s current affinity for Dilla tributes. Instead, Expektoration features an intermission composed of Star Trek samples and, elsewhere, a reference to busting DOOM’s chronically unlucky former cohort MF Grimm out of prison. The show’s conceptual framework lacks a lot of the depth DOOM has explored in recent years; this isn’t a timely live album by any stretch of the imagination.
That being said, it’s pretty focused. Besides DOOM’s good-humored hype man Big Benn Klingon, Expektoration boasts no surprise guest verses or shocking collaborations; it’s just DOOM reciting a couple sets’ worth of his tongue-twisting, chorus-deprived verses, staying nimble enough to stay one step ahead of sudden beat drops, never falling behind or missing a line. And this record’s pace is less labored with sample collage interludes than MM.. Food was, brightened instead with lively banter, with Big Benn interrupting DOOM to call attention to some of his grosser lyrics (like “begged him on the regular for kegs of more vomit spit”) and to hype up the crowd with impromptu call and response, at one point during a stretch of songs from MM.. Food, chanting “we all need food” until a sea of voices joins in with him.
Rap shows carry a lot of inherent difficulties; besides being frequently plagued by spotty sound quality, poor organization, and a host of useless individuals roaming the stage, it’s difficult for artists to be flexible with something that relies on the rigidity of prerecorded background tracks. An MC needs charisma and an element of spectacle in order to make a live performance seem necessary or even desirable. The issue with DOOM is that even though his recorded delivery tends toward the deadpan, his quirky sense of personality and the spectacle of his self-assembled pastiche of a personal mythology come across strongly on his records, which are consistently rich with imagination and detail. This leaves his live performances to serve as a footnote to an otherwise essential body of work. Expektoration offers a strong tracklist, heavy with fan favorites (opener “Hoe Cakes,” “Accordion,” “Rhymes Like Dimes”) and peppered with rarities (“People Places & Things,” “Change the Beat”), but it’s not the type of strength you can’t feel from going back to the originals. Not that the thought of chanting “super” along with a crowd on “Hoe Cakes” doesn’t seem a little tempting.