Friday, April 21, 2006

Blackalicious, Showbox, 4/20/06

Well the Blackalicious show last night was killer. I got to the venue extra early in part to miss the traffuck into downtown. Grabbing a parking space near the Deja Vu club a block from the venue, I went straight to the bar next to the club. The Green Room is an adjunct of The Showbox. People who hang there get first access to the club when it's doors open. My companion forgot the tickets and had to take the ferry home to get them. We agreed to meet at the Green Room at 8PM when doors to The Showbox were to open. While I was walking into the Green Room, I noticed a sign on the doors of The Showbox. The sign read that the concert was sold out and that there was to be a video shot that night. Cool.

Sitting down at the bar, I managed to hold myself to 3 beers and an order of fish and chips. Not bad for a 2 hour stay. During that time I listened as the band went through final sound checks. Eventually the lead singer, Gift of Gab, emerged from the club. He was led downstairs in the Green Room. At around 7:15, I got up to go take a leak. The restrooms were downstairs in the bar. As I walked down the rather steep stairs, I missed one. While trying to stop my momentum and regain my balance, I made quite a bit of noise. I steadied myself at the bottom to find that there were 2 video cameras and lights shining on the Gift of Gab who was being interviewed. A smirking camera operator waved me by one of the cameras - they were completely blocking the way to the tables and restrooms in back. Embarrassed, I walked on and went about my business.

My friend, PJizzlex, arrived at 25 after 8PM. We were told that we missed early entry and had to go stand in line.
PJizzlex suggested that we stay in the bar and have a beer which, normally, I'd have been down for, but the show was sold out and neither of us knew how long the line was. I mean, I've been there before under such circumstances (Ryuichi Sakamoto for one) and found the line down the block, around the corner, and 3/4 of the way to the next block. PJizzlex was flustered for being late, but we walked to the end of the line which, as it turned out, was really short and we were back inside in a couple of minutes. The club was fairly empty and I snagged a table and chairs. Time for more beer. PJizzlex wasn't happy with the selection, but then again he is a beer connoisseur.

Opening act was a young man who goes by the name of Pigeon John. His music was canned, but he was a pretty good rapper. None of the Gangsta bullshit. He sang about funny situations and about his life and love and sex. The early arrivals standing at the front of the stage seemed to really like the guy.
PJizzlex and I agreed that he was good, but not quite yet seasoned as a performer. Count him amongst the up and coming.

Next up was Omni. He appeared on stage with another rapper and a DJ. Now, these guys were OK. What I think they did best was when they took on some trip hop beats and slowed down the words. The couple of times that they did this they sang the words in unison and the effect was mesmerizing. Truly trance inducing stuff, but then again that could have been the fifth beer talking.
In any case, they were OK. PJizzlex's brother-in-law's brother, Cred, who came later to the show, said that Omni's album was really good. He also told us that the guy was from LA.

Fatlip was up next. Now, Fatlip was da shit. Seriously. He rapped well, performed well, and got the crowd, which was now nearly full, up and moving. His set was too short (about 20 minutes), but it was excellent. I was little surprised when he mentioned that his former band was The Pharcyde and then ripped into a couple of their tunes. I liked The Pharcyde and I thought Fatlip's voice sounded familiar.
PJizzlex, Cred, and I were impressed.

Lifesavas was up next. This Portland trio featuring 2 rappers and a DJ who joins in on the raps was clearly a crowd favorite. Hands were waving in the air and booty was shaking in earnest for the first time of the night. Neither of the rappers was as entertaining as Fatlip, but both were excellent. Again, none of the Gangsta stereotypes, but they did get political on a couple of numbers. The DJ was better than the others of the night. Being from the Northwest, this was somewhat of a homecoming for the band and you could tell that they were in celebration mode. The joy emanating from the stage was infectious. Like all of the acts that night, the set was tight and managed well.

One of the great things about the evening was that there was no more than 10 - 15 minutes between the acts. All of the equipment was on stage, except for a couple of mikes for Blackalicious. The first three acts came in rapid succession. Lifesavas took about 10 minutes to hit the stage. Blackalicious left about 15 minutes before they hit. This kept the energy level building all night which I think really worked for the main act. Five minutes before Blackalicious hit the stage, their manager came out and announced that the show was being filmed in it's entirety that night for release on DVD. It would be Blackalicious' first live DVD and it was not being recorded from multiple locations. It was to be Blackalicious live from The Showbox in Seattle. No mixing of other shows. As Gift of Gab would later tell the audience, Seattle is the band's second home and he recorded his solo album here. Before the manager left the stage he said to the crowd, "And a happy 420 y'all." As if to accommodate him, pot smoke puffed up from the crowd.

When Blackalicious came on
PJizzlex, Cred, and I gave up our seats to a couple of ladies and hit the main floor. I'm glad that we did because I needed to get my groove on during the show. PJizzlex and Cred mostly stood there, not even bouncing their heads. They loved the show, but they weren't going to dance which made them standouts in the crowd as the audience was groovin from the first note through the last. Man, what energy! Gift of Gab is one of the fastest rappers I have ever heard. The big man is a monster on the mike. He was initially accompanied by Blackalicious member DJ Chief Xcel, a keyboard player, and one male and one female backup singer.

Gift of Gab was clearly reveling in the evening. After rapid firing through the first 4 numbers without a break, he asked the audience if they were ready for some free styling. While the backup singers took a break, Gift of Gab got the keyboard to follow along with his rapid fire, melodic rap. Chief XCel joined in and in a little over a minute Gift of Gab through down a rap that must of used every last ounce of air in his lungs, but that was meaningful, fun, and amazing. The audience screamed it's appreciation. Gift of Gab hung out at the front of the stage with a gleeful smile of satisfaction on his face. He was having fun and basking in the effect on the crowd.

Eventually, Gift of Gab was joined on stage by Lateef the Truth Speaker who has appeared on many Blackalicious albums. Together, these rappers made a palpable rap team. Their interaction was well rehearsed during the main songs, but also during the free styling these guys had timing and respect born from years of working together. When Gift of Gab gave his blessings for a merry 420, more smoke filled the air and someone handed him a spliff which he took and pocketed. How much pot was in the air? Well, let's just say a visitor would not have known that Seattle has a no smoking ordinance. Everyone there had a contact high. 420 was mentioned several more times through the night and each time was greeted by numerous people lighting up.

The rappers put on a helluva show. They worked the crowd really well. The backing crew was amazing. The keyboard player was funky playing old 70s sounds on his keyboard - think wa-was from a porn soundtrack. Chief XCel was truly the best DJ there that night. The man was fast and furious on his turntables and downright funky. The backup singers were good, but they were never given much of a chance to step forward. The woman got a little more focus, but not by much.

For the first encore, Blackalicious brought out Pigeon John to sing "Side to Side" a catchy and funny tune from their new album "The Craft". This tune tells the tale of a funny night in the club when each rapper is accosted by a woman who wants to get freaky with him and is aggressive about it. The song seemed to have the same effect on the audience. As I looked around every woman who was there with someone was moving next to her partner in a sexy, grinding sort of way. It certainly raised the temperature for many people in the house last night.

For the final encore, the band brought out all of the rappers from the opening acts for a free styling marathon closer. Each rapper got some time in the spotlight and they were all good. In the end, however, Gift of Gab took the mike and, looking like a man recharged by the previous artists and ready to go on for the rest of the night, he fired off a rap that went on for 3 or 4 minutes. He put the rest to SHAME. I mean, you could see the looks of appreciation from those who shared the stage. Lateef the Truth Speaker's jaw dropped wide open and he got this ugly look of excitement and screamed like a man enthused at a hard bop jazz solo, encouraging Gift of Gab to new heights.

In the end, the crowd was spent. I suspect that if the band wanted to go on, the crowd would have stayed for more. Many hung outside or went to the Green Room where the rappers were gathering to press flesh and talk with the fans. The manager told us that the video will be out in August or September. Blackalicious are at the top of their game so far and it's a good time to document their show. This tour showcases some of the finest in the underground rap scene. Blackalicious' latest, "The Craft" may be one of the best albums produced by that scene. It's a must have album and this tour is a must catch if it comes to your area.

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