counterfnord

Gigs, dance, art

March 23rd, 2008: Sugar Hill Gang / Kurtis Blow / Melle Mel / Grand Wizard Theodore

@batofar

A gig billed as “visitflorida.com presents the hip hop anniversary tour” sure smells funny. But I’m lame enough to have never seen any of the guys in the lineup, and despite all the warning signs — including the venue — I just couldn’t pass on seeing Grand Wizard Theodore. I was hoping he would DJ after the gigs, but that didn’t happen. Or maybe it did and I missed it; I’d be a fool then, but that’s not exactly news.

It all started well enough, with Sly the mic buddha DJing. Maybe not great, but for a warm-up act, it was really good, enough to make me make a note to maybe check this guy out in a better setting; I think he was not expected to steal the show anyway and mostly played records, as opposed as playing the turntable. He did a very good job of that, letting on that he can probably do more. A very nice — if distracting — touch was the screening of Wild Style on the flat screen scattered around the room. I take it as a personal good sign that I was more fascinated by the trains than by LADY PINK this time around — it was too close for comfort though, I’m not out of the woods yet.

Grand Wizard Theodore was first, and that rang alarm bells. He’s amazing, don’t get me wrong. There was a lull at some point, but most of his set was mind-blowing. It’s not pyrotechnics and showing-off. Just the right mix. There were a few displays of technique that were extremely smooth, which is the most impressive to me, but I never got any feeling that he was putting on a show, it just flowed naturally. Playing the turntables but with a respect for the music that made toeing that thin line look easy, even though my experience seeing such acts makes me think it’s anything but. I don’t know how long he played but it seemed awfully short. Even the fact that he sported a A-Rod jersey didn’t make him any less grand in my eyes, and that’s telling something — that’s a joke, I think. That was the best DJ performance I ever saw, but I couldn’t really pinpoint why. It just struck a chord deep within.

Then he was joined by Grandmaster Melle Mel, who made his entrance to Nirvana’s Smells like teen spirit. That was a nice touch, if I suspend disbelief. His first entrance, actually, because he want back out after saying he should have made that to some old-school hip hop tune. These antics went on for the whole of his set. He does know how to work a crowd, no contest. His shout outs to dead figures of hip hop was nice to hear, even though it went on a tad too long. Hearing the crowd screaming for J Dilla was heartwarming though. But still, the history lesson was fitting and nice, but there was little else to his act. History is important, but I think the message is all the more powerful when there is some good MCing to back it up. I was left with the impression than this was more of a stand up act, unfortunately. His performance of The Message was disappointing. I know it’s an old saw for him by now, but I still think it deserved better than what it got. Anyway I was pissed off that Theodore had been cur short was in the back and couldn’t get anything going, so I guess I could not be fair anyway.

Kurtis Blow took things back to a higher intensity level. The guy’s smooth and proficient on so many levels. He works a crowd like putty, and can still go through the moves while taking shots at his age, holding his back and all. At times it was hard to keep the old cynical fiber off, but somehow I want to believe his cheesy message was heartfelt, and his MCing with his son was a cool thing — I somehow care about this handing off to another generation thing. It could have been done better, but his reminding the audience about what hip hop was in the beginning felt right. From the comments I overheard, it was lost on part of the audience, which was extremely ironic because it was overwhelming white and privileged — well off white people playing tough ghetto boys is kinda depressing to me. Airforce crew provided some dancing, which finally completed the circle; that was oddly satisfying for me, given how much of a poser I am. I guess he was disappointed in how little reaction Basketball got out of the crowd, but this is soccer territory. I love the guy for his positive attitude, but I have to say that his railing against commercial hip hop would have sounded more credible had he restrained from name-dropping the sponsor of their tour so much. I hope he gets good money out of this, for his sake, as a trade-off for ruining part of the experience for me.

Then it was time for Sugar Hill Gang. I didn’t expect much from them, and got even less. That dance contest thing they put on was borderline disgraceful. I’m only qualifying that because their rendition of Rappers Delight sucked big time. Bringing people on stage just highlighted the lameness. I kinda like that record, in a light hearted, unpretentious way that was altogether lacking. Judging from news I got from other performances, it was not a good one for them though. I think I need to record that they did a couple of “Big 3” tunes after that, meaning the crew that put a record together for this tour, Sugar Hill Gang, Kurtis Blow and Melle Mel. Not including Theodore pretty much ruled out my buying it, and the live performance didn’t do anything to make me reconsider.

There was a signing session after that and I actually got Grand Wizard Theodore to sign a flyer — completely out of character for me, that’s how awestruck I was. I had planned to stay, hoping Theodore would be on again, but as he had just signed that thing I looked at my watch and it was — what else — 4:19. That was just too good to pass up, so I took my cue and left.

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March 24, 2008 - Posted by | Music | , , , , , , ,

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