11 Mar, 2013

De La Soul at Cervantes

I was beyond ecstatic to see De La Soul perform Friday night at Cervantes in Denver. Every time I get to catch a show like this, I feel transported to a different era. After getting to experience the energy that other hip-hop groups have been bringing to the Rocky Mountain area, I couldn’t wait to see what an even older set of hip-hoppers could bring to the table. Of course, every time I walk into one of these performances put on by twenty five year old bands, I have to recognize it’s been a long hard road for many of these guys and the original infant enthusiasm is only a spark of what it once was. Saturday night, as good and powerful as the high-spirited De La Soul gave it to us, just lacked certain energy that other rhyme whizzes I had previously seen, like The Pharcyde or People Under The Stairs, possessed in their performances.

Dres of Black Sheep and Jarobi of A Tribe called Quest, forming the new group, Evitan, preceded De La Soul. They had a genuine, boundless good quality about them which revved us up for the headliner. Being their first performance in Denver, there were a few kinks that mostly seemed audio related, but they were fantastic. Vibrant, smooth and sharp, and retaining the mellow style of inaugural hip hop, they meshed well together. These groups are notorious for being verbose between songs, spending a good amount of time in conversation amongst themselves, but I was pretty stoked the entire time Evitan was onstage even while they babbled back and forth to complain about the crowd’s gusto and letting us know eighteen thousand times this was their first show in Denver. The talking was sometimes a welcome invitation to relax and take in the atmosphere. There was certainly a good amount of time to do it. As a teaser, they did “The Choice is Yours” by Black Sheep, inviting us to scream “pick it up pick it up pick it up” which got the crowd roaring. They really picked it up towards the end for a great stretch leading into De La Soul.

De La Soul came on in true blasé rapper custom with barely an introduction diving immediately into their first song. The crowd was pumped but also hesitant to the interruption. They warmed us more with the next two familiar songs, “Grind Date” and “Ooh,” two of my favorites, before engaging. The group also struggled with audio problems often stopping mid-set and then picking it back up, even going a cappella a couple times. Since they never addressed it, it was hard to tell if it was a purposeful pause to rest and regroup, to adjust the bass and audio problems, or to take a sleuth smoke break. And even though they stopped to engage us, it was not with the same ferocity that other rappers have. As I just got to witness The Pharcyde’s triumphant comeback, it is quite the task to top a group who subtracted two members and still performed with the energy of four year olds who drank nothing but soda and Slurpees all day and then were told they could hop around a giant stage for an hour. De La Soul had a lot to live up to in my head. Some of their tactics were a tad trite but still useful and they implemented the old stand-by  where the ladies say “oh” and the men say “hey” (they are from the eighties after all) and paired the two sides of the theatre against each other. My side was invited to yell “fuck that side over there!” When we were asked to throw our hands in the air and parrot our leaders we obliged, yes, but all the audience participation seemed strained and resistant until more popular songs like “Me Myself and I” or “The Bizness” came on. Jarobi joined the crew on stage to perform, reigniting the audience and bringing us right back into the inception of classic hip hop with two pivotal forces, A Tribe Called Quest and De La, throwing verses alongside one another.

While both did their fair share of moving the crowd, it seemed forced at times. Shows like this welcome the practice of standing around being unsure of what to do until some instruction is directed at the audience. Group participation gives these shows a more organic feel and instills more allegiance to the emcees than some of the electronic shows I have attended. What I was more interested in was the crowd: it was A LOT older. This could have been why the energy was so mild. My friend and I watched a woman of at least sixty-five shuffle by with enormous glasses and little coat to take off wandering into the pit and never return. I am still worried about her. Of course, the group was born in 1987 so I imagine they have some real old hip hop heads following them who are just as excited as I was to see them in Denver. It felt more sincere and authentic to be surrounded by such a diverse group of people who still very much got down, even more so than my friend and I. We enjoyed watching different ages and ethnic groups come together, dance and celebrate. That probably was the most inspiring and beautiful part of the evening and one of the most inspiring things about the connectivity of classic hip hop.

Without a doubt, De La Soul delivered a decent show. They hardly missed a beat but they did stop everything habitually and it was unclear whether this was planned or not. There was a felt sense of boredom, miscommunication or frustration. They even ended pretty abruptly after about forty five minutes of playing with almost a third of the crowd already gone.  De La Soul is still alive and kicking and kept up with their rhymes the entire time. They never sounded winded; probably using those unwelcomed pauses to catch their breath, and still clicked very well together on stage. Although Maseo was absent, they gave due kudos to their new DJ who also spun for Evitan, and even made sure to give props to Biggie on the anniversary of his death. I am elated to see Jarobi back in action and De La Soul touring again. Both are going to go on for (fingers crossed) much longer but I can sense they are definitely slowing down.

Review by Sarah Gawricki.

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