Mos Def at the Guthrie 8/23/10

Mos Def
Guthrie Theater
August 23, 2010

The Guthrie is the last place you would have expected Mos Def to play a set, but the Live at the Guthrie series, which has brought the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Robin Williams, definitely kicked it up a notch in the mass appeal of hip-hop in this corner of the Midwest by inviting him to take the stage Monday night.

I'll get one major gripe out of the way: as tickets went for $46-48 a pop, it was easy to see that many of the people there were the who's who of TC elite. Everyone was dressed to the highest degree and seemed to represent the term "urban professional." While it's great that a new and bolder audience got to discover the Guthrie, I was disappointed by whoever decided the ticket prices. Paying that much for a seat automatically creates a class divide, and we all know that music should unite and not divide fans of musicians. This is particularly poignant for such a diverse population in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Imagine the amount of young people who could be inspired by Mos Def and opener Dessa in such a beautiful performing space if they were given the chance (or money as it seemed to be). You would have been hard-pressed to find anyone under the age of 21 in the Wurtele Thrust Stage last night.

Either way, the electricity of each performer's presence can't be denied. Dessa was beautiful as always, appreciating a uniform standing ovation by the end of her last song, and joined by the wonderful Aby Wolf on backing vocals. Her band was succinct as all hell, Sean McPherson enjoyably singing the words to every song with obvious passion even without a mic in tow. Dessa's rise to fame within the Twin Cities hip-hop scene and newfound national success reminds one of Mos Def's early recognition in "Black Star," his collaboration with friend Talib Kweli back in 1998; she and her crew are going to do some amazing things in the coming years.

Mos Def at the Guthrie 8/23/10
Mos Def at the Guthrie 8/23/10
Mos Def at the Guthrie 8/23/10

Mos Def took the stage with an altered, bright red radio microphone which reminds me a lot of what Janelle Monae uses, and throughout the night, I couldn't help thinking he was a lot like her: sliding across the floor on the tips of his toes, dressed in bright white loafers and too-short trousers, spinning and whooping at the crowd to shout with him. His act was impeccable, but you could tell he wanted more, continually asking for the lights to dim so he could basically get groovy without feeling self-conscious. He had bass-heavy samples which must have taken years to clear based on the shear number we were hearing, and oftentimes he was striking up a duet with the female vocals of some lost, forgotten 50s Motown hit. In my opinion, the highlight of the night came with "Auditorium (Feat. Slick Rick)" as the audience shouted "WHAT IT IS!"

With his political, unapologetic lyrics, it's hard not to be captivated by what Mos Def says. The crowd at the Guthrie was definitely into it, showcasing their love by either dancing awkwardly (to be expected since this was in a theater with no personal room), holding lighters up (which security guards promptly extinguished), or snapping continuous flash photography (which subsided as security guards kept running down the aisles to reprimand people). In the end though, the genre got its justice and here's hoping Mos Def comes back to play a show with a larger, more diverse crowd from all corners of this state, thereby striking a chord within a lot more people who are waiting to be inspired.

Critic's Bias: I really only started listening to Mos Def when I got to Minnesota, and was further floored by his take of "History" on Letterman featuring the women of Dirty Projectors.
The Crowd: As mentioned above, a pretty polite group of people dressed for a night at some super-trendy club.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I feel like I'm in a 90s throwback." or "I LOVE YOU MO!"
Random Notebook Dump: One guy with a lighter attempted to agitate a Guthrie staffer by flicking the flame on top of the guy in front of him.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Jon Behm.

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