“Hotter than Africa.” That’s how co-headliner Talib Kweli described the atmosphere at the 9:30 Club on March 29. Metaphorically, of course, thanks to the blazing music being pumped out by New Orleans funk group the Soul Rebels. But literally too- the abnormally warm weather outside combined with the mass of bodies inside to push the mercury through the roof.
All of which would seem to indicate a hopping show. But the problem with a sold-out funk show is that the density of crowd-goers makes it nearly impossible to actually get in a groove. There’s no room to dance; there’s barely enough room to twist from side to side, trying to avoid spilling your beer or accidentally groping the dude in front of you.
Without the physical release of dancing, the show then had to fall back on to the music on its melodic merits. And while the horns blared and the drums pounded out the rhythm, a set full of instrumentals gets stale after a while, especially under these circumstances. Worse, the band’s attempt to interject some energy by means of covering crowd favorites fell flat. Leading the crowd in sing-alongs of “If I Ruled the World” and “Alright” is White Ford Bronco territory.
Thankfully, the headliners were up to the challenge. GZA, as expected, drew the loudest cheers (and the obligatory “Wu/Tang” chants, which sound like a parody coming from the predominantly white crowd). His performance showed how a legend, a true professional, runs his game. He isn’t motor-mouthed like Eminem, or full of playa smooth like Jay-Z. Just laid-back, smooth, biting rhymes dished as effortlessly as breathing, illustrated most clearly on an acapella version of his Big Bang Theory homage, “The Spark”. Somewhere up there, Stephen Hawking is smiling and shouting out to Wu-Tang.
Following GZA, Talib Kweli was a bit of a letdown. He has more natural energy and stage presence, which worked well with the Soul Rebels’ backing. But his rapping just didn’t quite match up to GZA’s, and even he noticed that his performance had failed to raise the energy in the venue. Thankfully, the show ended on a high note, thanks to a virtuoso showing by Stevie Wonder band member Frédéric Yonnet during the encore. Emulating his guru down to the last note, Yonnet gave a spectacular harmonica performance that was hotter than July, showing that the only way to beat the heat is to turn it up.
- Quiet Storm (Mobb Deep cover)
- Rebel Rock
- Paid in Full (Eric B. & Rakim cover)
- Slide Back
- Black Rebel
- Get Freaky
- Respected Destroyer (Brandee Younger cover)
- If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) (Nas cover)
- Living in the World Today (with GZA)
- Duel of the Iron Mic (with GZA)
- Liquid Swords (with GZA)
- The Spark (with GZA) (acapella)
- Shimmy Shimmy Ya (Ol’ Dirty Bastard cover) (with GZA, featuring Talib Kweli)
- Push Thru (with Talib Kweli)
- Hot Thing (with Talib Kweli)
- The Blast (Reflection Eternal cover) (with Talib Kweli)
- I Try (with Talib Kweli)
- Alright (Kendrick Lamar cover)
- Get By (with Talib Kweli, featuring Frédéric Yonnet on harmonica)