Rock the Bells (Wu Tang)
Better Than: A sharp stick in the eye, as I always say.
After slashing three major acts from the lineup and starting the obligatory two hours after opening, Rock the Bells (corporate festival, joyous celebration, nostalgic movement?) rarely failed to disappoint Saturday at Myth in Maplewood. Apparently, the affluent, abhorrent suburb is the new home of hip hop. But most of the fans Saturday, regardless of their class, race or age (usually upper middle, white and 21 on average, respectively), showcased genuine adoration and respect for each act; this is even more amazing when you consider that although they are all still making relevant music these days, the bulk of these artists had their "hay days" in the mid to late '90s. Is rap so bad currently that shorties as young as 15 are seeking out music that was hot when they were sucking thumbs? In the end, my attitude towards mainstream hip hop's ever-evolving audience demographics is weary but conciliatory.
The sound was clean and loud, giving the room an instant and persistent energy, as host Supernatural (the freestyle king) put on a showman's performance in the long intervals between acts. (Seriously, does it really take an hour to haul some crates up to the booth and pass the mic to the left?) Jedi Mind represented before intelligent thug Immortal Technique ripped his usual brand of righteous rage and populist politics, a real crowd-pleaser for the underage cigarette smoking suburbanites. Seriously, rap concerts feature profound moments of mind fuck, such as watching a white mob of arm pumping youths chanting "we live that murder/murder shit, we live that gangsta/gangsta shit." Scary and hilarious. Then Pharoahe Monch came through with a live band and rocked it. The amble selection from his latest "Desire" showcased a mature and talented artist that deserves major shine. Talib Kweli still doesn’t do much for me live, as his rapid-fire and diminutive voice was washed out by ridiculous bass and ear-rending snares. Good time for a breather.
Nas was a true showman, going through a skilled mix of his most popular tracks. One man, one mic, with nary a hypeman or a DJ in sight. After an epic set, we were left high and dry (well, at least high) for over an hour before Wu Tang came through and made up for the wait almost instantly. Although my personally favorite member GZA mysteriously disappeared halfway through the set and never returned, just seeing all eight survivors on stage at once was worth the ticket price. Method Man played jester as usual, but his infectious crowd-surfing energy still makes him one of the best performers in the game. The live instrumentalists Wu featured (curiously including the bassist from System of a Down for half a song) were mainly annoying, adding steroids to the already too loud records (or am I just getting old?). In the end, I came away with minor ear damage, smelling of sweat and smoke, with some good memories (both created and confirmed), knowing a little more about 2007 (or, maybe, 1995) hip hop but still more confused than ever.
Personal Bias: 36 Chambers was my first love; I am almost certain I will get a Wu Tang tattoo sooner than later.
Random Detail: I ran into Monch in the VIP bathroom lobby, telling some girl about tickets to the, ahem, "gun show." (Though I think he was joking; but still.)
By the way: Sounds like next year's incarnation of Rock the Bells will be even more bananas than this year's line up; don’t sleep.
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